Rohatyn: A Slavic Bear Spear of the 12th Century

Since a rohatyn was meant to cause a broad and deep wound, it was only used on big and potentially dangerous animals such as bears, aurochs, and wild boars.

Rohatyn at a Glance

What were the main uses of the Rohatyn spear?

The Rohatyn spear was primarily used for hunting, particularly to target large and dangerous animals such as brown bears, aurochs, and wild boars. It was also utilized for military purposes, both by cavalry and infantry, during the Middle Ages and the early 18th century.

How did the crossguard contribute to hunting with the Rohatyn?

The crossguard, placed beneath the blade of the spear, played a crucial role in hunting. It prevented the targeted animal, especially bears, from climbing up the spear by grabbing onto this part. This feature ensured the hunter’s safety and allowed for a swift renewal of the attack.

What was the significance of the decorative knobs on the Rohatyn?

According to historian Pavel Vinkler, the decorative knobs above and below the blade of this spear served two purposes. They not only enhanced the aesthetic appeal of the weapon but also acted as counterweights, ensuring better balance during combat or hunting.

How did the Rohatyn spear evolve over time?

This spear has a rich and ancient history, with variations emerging over different periods. In the 15th and 16th centuries, it closely resembled pre-Mongolian spears. New varieties began to emerge in the 17th century, with battle versions being developed specifically for piercing and slashing, capable of dealing with various types of armor. Eventually, firearms replaced the spear in military service by the late 17th century, but it remained in use as a hunting tool until the turn of the 18th century.

The rohatyn was a hefty Slavic spear used in close-quarters warfare and big-game hunting. This cold weapon had a big, double-edged blade, and it was characterized by its long shaft. When it came to hunting bears, a crossguard was attached beneath the rohatyn’s blade, preventing the bear from climbing on the weapon by grabbing onto this part. A Ukrainian town shares the same name as this edged weapon. The above picture features various rohatyn spearheads (the first three) along with a sovnya spear at the bottom.

Type of weapon:Polearm
Other names:Bear spear, bärenspieß
Origin:Slavs in Eastern Europe
UtilizationMainly hunting, less often for military
Length:Total: 80″ (2 m), blade: 12″ (30 cm)
Weight:2–3 lbs (1–1.5 kg)

The Rohatyn Used for Hunting

Rohatyn spearheads
Rohatyn spearheads (the first three) along with other spears (middle) and the sovnya spear at the bottom.

Since a rohatyn was meant to cause a broad and deep wound, it was only used on huge and potentially dangerous animals such as brown bears, aurochs, and wild boars. Two hands were used to hold it while striking.

A crossguard was often placed underneath the point of the blade to prevent it from entering the wound too deeply, thereby keeping the beast at bay while not allowing the weapon to get stuck inside the animal and paving the way for a quick renewal of the blow.

Either the pointed end or the whole structure was known as a “rampage” in Russian. In fact, this piece gave birth to the Slavic idiom, “climbing the rampage”.

bear spear-rohatyn

The rohatyn’s wooden shaft was roughly as tall as an average man and was constructed to withstand the weight of the attacking beast while the other end of the shaft was planted firmly in the ground thanks to its pointed tip.

According to the historian Pavel Vinkler, above and below the rohatyn’s blade were two decorative knobs that also served to counterbalance the weapon.

This popular woodcut art from Russia depicts a bear hunter with his spear accompanied by his dogs engaged in a fierce pursuit. The first half of the 18th century.
This popular woodcut art from Russia depicts a bear hunter with his spear accompanied by his dogs engaged in fierce pursuit. The first half of the 18th century.

To make it easier for the warrior to handle the weapon, two or three metal branches were attached to the shaft. And for the wealthy, this part was adorned with golden or silver braid, silk ribbons, belts, and more.

The maximum length of a rohatyn was five cubits, or about 120 inches (3 m). The spear was often grooved to lighten it, but this rendered it unusable for cuts and limited it to thrusts instead.

The Rich Past of the Hunting Rohatyn

The exact origins of the rohatyn are uncertain, but this weapon boasts a rich and ancient history. From the Middle Ages to the early 18th century, both cavalry and infantry used this weapon. The people of Ruthenia (Kievan Rus’) and Poland used it often in battle and to hunt enormous games.

According to one source, Daniel of Galicia, the first King of Ruthenia (Rus’), personally killed three wild boars with the weapon in 1255.

Boris of Tver's rohatyn spear weapon
Prince Boris of Tver’s weapon, 1425.

The most well-known example is Prince Boris of Tver’s weapon, who was the Grand Prince of Tver until 1461. This rohatyn was forged in the first part of the 15th century.

The images on its ferrule (spear-butt or socket) have been linked to Christian symbolism or to historical events in the life of Boris of Tver, although their precise significance is unclear. The weapon is specifically mentioned in the 1678 Kremlin Armoury:

The rohatyn is made of red damask, the ferrule is covered with intricately gilded silver — the engravings depict plants, people, and birds; on the edge of the ferrule, there are two lines with the inscription: ‘Rohatyn of Grand Duke Boris Alexandrovich’. The value of the weapon was estimated at 400 rubles

According to one estimation, 400 rubles in the 1600s would be equal to 2,000,000–3,500,000 USD today.

Until the turn of the 20th century, bears were still often hunted using rohatyn. Although relatively uncommon, “bear spears” were also present in Western Europe.

The Battle Rohatyn

An updated and pricier take on the traditional rohatyn. These weapons were used for hunting by the nobles.
An updated and pricier take on the traditional rohatyn. These weapons were used for hunting by the nobles.

Compared to the hunting species, the battle Rohatyns especially had enormous piercing strength because of their significant weight and could be used to slash or pierce anything, such as plate armor.

The spear’s steel tip varied greatly in size, and it was often in the form of a laurel leaf.

The whole length of the blade (including the ferrule or spear-butt) could be anywhere from 8 to 24 inches (20 to 60 cm), with a breadth that could approach 3 inches (7 cm). The width of the ferrule ranged from 1 to 2 inches (3 to 5 cm).

The regular rohatyn spearheads weighed between 0.45 and 0.90 lb (0.2 and 0.4 kg), whereas the whole spear weighed closer to 2.2 lb (1 kg). The rohatyn had the heaviest, most powerful, and widest spearhead of any Russian spear in history.

Rohatyn’s Historical Origin

Rohatyn spear

Similar to the boar spears, the rohatyn has its origins within the Eastern European populations. However, in contrast to the boar spear (a.k.a. “saufeder“) developed by the Germans during the Roman Empire era, the rohatyn emerged at a later time after the Slavic communities had firmly established themselves in the regions of Russia, Ukraine, and Poland.

According to historical records, the first sighting of the rohatyn occurred in the 12th century. In 1149, it was first mentioned as a weapon of war according to the Laurentian Codex.

In the 1444 campaign of Vasily II of Moscow against the Tatars, chroniclers recalled the combat usage of the rohatyn in the failed fight of 1377 between the Russians and the Tatar Khan Arapsha (Arab-Shah Muzaffar).

bear spear also known as Rohatyn spear
Bear hunting with a bear spear.

Beginning in the 16th century, the “feudal cavalry” (i.e., Landed Army) also used rohatyns. More than ninety percent (93%) of the over 200 analyzed spearheads from the 15th through 17th centuries in Russia were found to be made of rohatyn.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, this weapon closely resembled pre-Mongolian spears. And it wasn’t until the 17th century that new varieties started to emerge.

Both foot soldiers and mounted knights made effective use of battle rohatyns. The soldiers were able to halt battle horses and deal with troops wearing various types of armor.

The Russian army continued to utilize them until the late 17th century. Finally phased out of military service and replaced by firearms, they were popular hunting tools at the turn of the 18th century.

Description of the Rohatyn

This is an etching of a scene from a bronze plate from the time of Vendel (c. 540–790 AD) that was found in Öland, Sweden. On the right is a berserker, while on the left is Oden or Odin. Both with a rohatyn-like spears.
This is an etching of a scene from a bronze plate from the time of Vendel (c. 540–790 AD) that was found in Öland, Sweden. On the right is a berserker, while on the left is Oden or Odin.

The details about this spear’s construction and various features can be gleaned from historical descriptions.

Most rohatyn spears were made of high-quality steel and had intricate engravings and embellishments. In some species, the spearhead was adorned with gold, and below it, there were decorative markings.

The central part of the spear could be decorated with gilded patterns, and some shafts were made of white bone with a scaly texture. Above the shaft, there could be more decorative elements, such as silver-gilded branches (decorative protrusions).

Some spears had intricately woven handles made of gold and silver thread, adorned with crimson accents. The mouthpiece (at the end of the spearhead) could be made of silver, and some examples were wrapped with a green silk strap. In terms of value, a decorative rohatyn spear could be worth 60 rubles.

Etymology of the Rohatyn

Rohatyn spear

In the “Hypatian Codex” under the year 1256, it is stated: “He, the warrior, wielded his sword, taking the rohatyn from his belt, swung it far and struck the Yatvyazhsky Prince from his horse.” At first glance, the term “rohatyn” appears to refer to a lightweight throwing weapon, similar to a javelin carried in a belt sheath.


However, based on the same Hypatian Codex, this weapon could be a blunt and crushing type, similar to a mace or club: In the 11th to 13th centuries, objects of this kind used for military purposes were called ‘rogvitsa,’ ‘rogovitsa,’ ‘rogditsa,’ or ‘rohatyn.’ In battle, the ‘rohatyn’ (worn at the belt) was aimed at striking the head and even thrown at the enemy.

Some historians also mention that the word may have Greek origins. Additionally, in the Polish language, the word “rohatyna” (meaning “spear”) is borrowed from Russian, while “rogacina” refers to the arrowhead.


In the Russian city of Veliky Novgorod, there is a street called “Rogatitsa,” and in Bosnia and Ukraine there are towns named Rogatica and Rohatyn, respectively.

Rohatyn in Scandinavia

bear hunting spear Rohatyn

The ancient Scandinavians had spears that were similar in design. In contrast to the shorter blade (8 in; 20 cm), the spear-butt could be up to 20 inches (50 cm) in length. Hand-to-hand combat was the primary means of using what the Scandinavians referred to as “spike in armor” spears.

It is easy to tell Western-made Viking spears apart from Slavic ones because of the decorative silver notches the latter added to the spear-butts.

The Scandinavian rohatyn in Egil’s Saga (c. 850–1000):

The spear’s head was two cubits (36 in; 90 cm) long and had a four-sided blade at the top. The upper part of the spearhead was wide, and the socket [spear-butt] was long and thick. The shaft was of such length that one could reach the socket with a hand while standing. It [socket] was very thick and reinforced with iron. An iron spike fastened the socket to the shaft.

Egil’s Saga (c. 850–1000)

Thorolf Kveldulfsson is a hero of the early part of Egil’s Saga who uses a rohatyn:

Thorolf became so enraged that he threw his shield behind his back and gripped the spear with both hands. He charged forward, slashing and thrusting at the enemies to his right and left. People scattered in different directions, but he managed to kill many of them.

Since a sword’s tip could easily crack upon impact with the thick socket of the rohatyn, wearing this spear conferred an edge over a sword-wielding fighter. The last battle in the 1995 film “The Viking Sagas” features such a spear.

Such spears saw service on both land and sea for the Vikings. By throwing a rohatyn-like spear into the enemy ship, the hövding (tribal leader among Scandinavians) would begin the boarding attack.

The later Swedish spears were also similar in design and they also served as support (or stabilizer) for musket shooting.


  1. Medieval Weapons: An Illustrated History of Their Impact – Kelly DeVries, Robert Douglas Smith – Google Books
  2. The Use of Medieval Weaponry – Eric Lowe – Google Books

By Alby Butler

Alby Butler is a writer for Malevus who specializes in historical weaponry. He obtained an undergraduate degree in history and went on to pursue a graduate degree in military history, during which he extensively researched the evolution and utilization of weapons throughout history.