THROWING the javelin ¹³⁷ is another event that has been revived in modern times. It had long been practised in Germany, Finland, and Scandinavia, and since the revival of the Olympic Games has become popular in America. But to-day it is merely a form of athletic exercise; to the Greeks and Romans the javelin was the ordinary weapon of war and of the chase, and every boy learnt to use it. It was the special weapon of the Athenian ephebos, who is generally represented with a pair of javelins in his hand. From the time of the Peloponnesian war, when the value of light-armed troops and cavalry began to be realized, competitions in javelin-throwing multiplied and special trainers in javelin-throwing were employed by the state at Athens and elsewhere. At the great festivals it was only one of the events in the pentathlon.
136. Fastening the amentum. Attic r.-f. kylix. About 520 B. c. Würzburg, 469. Jüthner, Ant. Turn. Fig. 37, cp. Fig. 133.
Javelins are among the commonest objects represented on the vases. They are straight poles nearly equal to the height of a man and almost the thickness of a finger. They are usually pointless and often provided with a blunt ferule. Xenophon recommends cavalry soldiers to use in practice javelins furnished with a rounded cap or ball.¹³⁸ Such ferules and caps served not only for protection against accidents but to give the head of the javelin the necessary weight without which it would not fly properly. Blunt javelins could only be used for distance-throwing, and the competition in the pentathlon was for distance only. For target practice pointed javelins were necessary, and their use in the gymnasium is shown by the speech of Antiphon¹³⁹ in defence of a youth who accidentally killed a boy who crossed the range as he was throwing. On vases which represent throwing on horseback at a target pointed javelins are always used.
THROWING JAVELIN WITH AMENTUM
137. WARRIOR THROWING JAVELIN UNDERHAND. Attic b.-f. kylix. 2nd quarter of 6th century. British Museum, B. 380. J.H.S. xxvii, p. 252.
138. HUNTERS THROWING JAVELINS. Detail from François vase, b. f. volute-krater. About 560 B. C. Florence. J.H.S. xxvii, p. 253. F.R. 13.
139. PENTATHLON. B.-f. Panathenaic amphora. About 525 B. C. British Museum, B. 134. Jumper, diskos-thrower, two javelin throwers. The foremost javelin thrower has his javelin at the carry, the other poises it in the position of aiming. The fingering of the amentum is very clearly shown, cp. Fig. 148.
140. CAVALRY THROWING JAVELINS WITH AMENTUM. Attic b.-f. dinos. About 560 B. C. Athens, Acropolis Museum. The javelins are just being thrown and are held only by the amentum. Graef. pl. XXXI.
141. Illustrations of the use of the throwing thong. a, b. The amentum. Jüthner, Ant. Turn. 47, 48. c. Detail from B.M. vase, B. 134. d. The ounep of New Caledonia.
The athletic javelin was a light weapon and was thrown by means of a throwing-thong, called amentum ( γκ λη). It was a leather thong a foot or eighteen inches in length, and before use was firmly bound round the centre of the shaft in such a way as to leave a loop three or four inches long in which the thrower inserted his first, or his first and middle fingers. The point of attachment was near the centre of gravity, in the light-headed athletic javelins almost in the centre of the shaft, in the heavier javelins of war or the chase nearer to the head. Possibly its place varied according as the javelin was to be thrown for distance or at a mark. By putting the amentum behind the centre of gravity it is possible to increase the distance thrown but at a sacrifice of accuracy. In Fig. 136 we see an athlete winding the amentum tight round the shaft.
The amentum was no invention of the gymnasium but was adopted from war and the chase. In Fig. 137 we see a fully armed warrior preparing to throw a javelin with a sort of underhand throw, a throw in which certain savages are said to be extraordinary skilful. The more usual overhand throw is shown in a hunting scene on the François vase (Fig. 138). The hunters advance with arms drawn back and fingers inserted in the thongs precisely in the manner which Xenophon recommends.
142. JAVELIN THROWERS. Attic r.-f. kylix. About 490 B. C. Munich, 2667. Jüthner, Ant. Turn. Fig. 41. The position of the youth to the right is a moment later than that of the youth on the left. The fingering of the centre figure is difficult. Unless it is a mistake of drawing, he must reverse the javelin completely before throwing.
143. ATHLETES ADJUSTING THEIR JAVELINS: perhaps in readiness for a lesson in javelin throwing. R.-f. psykter. Boston. Same vase as Fig. 51.
144. JAVELIN THROWER. Attic r.-f. stemless cup. About 420 n. C. Berlin, 2728. Photograph from Museum. The pillar probably marks the place from which the throw is to be made.
145. JAVELIN THROWER. Attic r.-f. kylix. About 525 B. c. Cambridge. Photograph from Professor Beazley.
[On pictures of javelin-throwers see also Caskey and Beazley Attic Vase Paintings in Boston, ii, p. 4].
The use of a throwing-thong of this type seems to have been widely distributed throughout Europe.¹⁴⁰ It was known at an early date in Italy and was used by Etruscans, Samnites, and Messapians, but does not appear to have been used in the Roman army till after the Punic Wars. The tragula, the weapon of the Spanish, was thrown by means of an amentum; in Caesar’s time it was the weapon of the Gallic cavalry. There is reason to believe that the light javelins found at La Tène were similarly thrown. The amentum was certainly known in Denmark in the early Iron Age. On the shafts of spears found at Nydam there were rivets for fastening the cord, and in some cases portions of the cord were found between the rivets. Lastly, we find it frequently mentioned in old Irish stories, and it is said to have been introduced into Ireland by Gallic mercenaries in the fourth century B. C.
This fixed amentum does not seem to have been used outside Europe, but somewhat similar contrivances survive to-day among uncivilized tribes. Such is the Ounep used by the people of New Hebrides and New Caledonia. It is a thickish cord, 6–8 inches long, with a loop for the finger at one end and a knot at the other. There is a projection about the centre of the shaft behind which the cord is placed and twisted over the knot in such a way as to unwind as the spear is thrown, remaining in the thrower’s hand. In New Zealand is found a combination of the throwing-thong and the throwing-stick. The latter is the commonest and probably the oldest contrivance for increasing the carry of the spear.
A drawing in the Ethnographical department of the British Museum (Fig. 141) clearly shows the working of the throwing-thong. As the javelin leaves the hand the pull on the amentum gives the javelin a half-turn, and like the rifling of the gun imparts to it a rotatory motion which not only helps it to maintain its direction but increases its carry and penetrating power. The carry is still further increased by the increased leverage given to the thrower’s arm. It is obvious that, as Philostratus tells us, length of finger was a great advantage to a javelin-thrower.¹⁴¹
The effect of the amentum on a light javelin was demonstrated by experiments conducted by the Emperor Napoleon III. It was found that an unpractised thrower who could only throw 25 metres unaided increased his throw to 65 metres by using the amentum. The meaning of this can be realized from the fact that the record throw in the revived Olympic games is less than 60 metres. It must be noted, however, that the javelin used in these games is a heavy one, weighing about 3 lb.
Two styles of javelin-throwing can be distinguished, one in which the javelin is held horizontally, the other in which it is pointed more or less upwards. The former is the practical style of war, of the chase, and for throwing at a target. The soldier or hunter must have his weapon ready for use at a moment’s notice. He therefore carries it with his fingers passed through the loop (διηγκυλισμ νος), usually sloped over his shoulder and pointing downwards (Fig. 139). From this position he raises his elbow so that the javelin is level with his head, the natural position for taking aim. He then draws his arm back to the full extent as shown in Fig. 140. In the actual throw the movement is reversed, arm and javelin travelling through the same positions, except that as the amentum unwinds the hand releases the shaft of the javelin which for the moment is held merely by the amentum.
146. Javelin thrower. Attic r.-f. kylix. About 480 B. C. Torlonia Museum, 270 (148). Jüthner, Ant. Turn. Fig. 49. This represents a moment later than that shown in Fig. 144. Note the outward turn of the hand.
In this practical style everything depends on accuracy of aim and rapidity of action. In an athletic competition the thrower may take his time. It is the difference between throwing in a cricket-ball from the long field and throwing it in a competition. The purely athletic character of this style is obvious from the fact that till the moment of the throw the head is always turned backwards, the eyes fixed on the hand holding the amentum, a position absurd for war or the chase or for taking aim (Figs. 142, 144, 146).
After carefully adjusting and testing the amentum (Fig. 143) and inserting his fingers in the loop, the thrower extends his right arm backwards to the full extent, while with his left hand he holds the end of the javelin and presses it backwards so as to draw the thong tight. As he starts to run, he draws his right arm still farther backwards, turning his head to the right, and extends his left arm to the front. The movement is clearly shown in Fig. 142 where we have three consecutive positions. From the position of the head it is clear that the run, as in throwing the cricket-ball, consists only of a few short steps. Immediately before the throw a still further turn of the body takes place, the right leg being bent and the right shoulder dropped, while the hand is turned outwards so that the shaft rests on the palm of the hand (Fig. 146). This turn of the body is followed by what modern athletes call ‘the reverse’. The right foot is placed in front of the left and the whole position of the body is reversed, the throw taking place off the right leg. The beginning of this movement is seen in Fig. 147.
147. Javelin thrower. The reverse. Attic r.-f. kylix. About 480 B. C. Formerly on the Roman market. From a drawing made by Jüthner, Ant. Turn. Fig. 43.
A comparison of these illustrations with photographs of modern competitors in this event shows how closely the ancient and modern styles resemble one another. The chief difference is in the use of the amentum. The modern athlete having no amentum has no need to turn his head to the right to watch his hand, and consequently can make more use of his run.
We have seen that from an early date the javelin was used on horseback both for war and for the chase. Plato ¹⁴² tells us that Themistocles taught his son to throw the javelin standing on horseback, and he recommends javelin-throwing on horseback as a useful accomplishment. Xenophon in his treatise on the duties of a cavalry officer urges the latter to encourage his men in javelin-throwing, and in his treatise on horsemanship he gives full instructions in the art.¹⁴³ At Athens there were competitions in this event as early as the fifth century. At the Panathenaic Games five amphorae of oil were given for the first prize and one for the second prize. There were similar competitions in Thessaly and other parts of Greece. In Fig. 12 we have a picture of the competition. A shield is set up as a target, with a wreath in the centre which perhaps served as a bull’s-eye, and the epheboi, fully dressed, gallop past, hurling their javelins at it as they pass. We do not know the method of scoring, nor have we any knowledge of target competitions on foot.