The length of the sarissa

Christopher Matthew*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


In an age when size really did matter, the length of the long pike (sarissa) employed by armies of the Hellenistic Age (c. 350-168 BC) was consistently altered by successive armies trying to gain an advantage over their opponents. These alterations are well attested in the ancient sources - albeit in an ancient Greek unit of measure. But how big were these pikes in terms of modern units of measure? This has been a topic of scholarly debate for some time. This article engages with these debates, and the evidence and theories that these arguments are based upon. A critical review of this evidence not only allows the changing length of the sarissa to be calculated in a modern unit of measure, but also examines descriptions in the ancient sources that suggest the forerunner to the Hellenistic pike phalanx was created a generation before the rise of Macedon as a military power in the mid fourth century BC. This, in turn, allows for the configuration of one of the weapons that changed the face of warfare in the ancient world to be much better understood.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-100
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


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