I noticed some guys talking about spears and their superiority to swords on @Pandemic’s epic post. I decided to bail his post out by making a separate discussion for the topic.
This is my take on the matter, and obviously it is very complicated. I think we need to discuss at least two mediums, army combat and individual combat.
To start i’m going to debunk two spear related myths. In other similar discussions I see many people say something kinda like rock paper scissor “Sword beats spear spear beats cavalry cavalry beats sword” In single combat spears will almost ALWAYS win, even against two enemies.
The other one is that a sword could shear through the shaft of a spear. Only after the wood was already weakened from previous blows would a sword be able to break the shaft.
With those common myths out of the way I can start making a Venn diagram of sorts. (I probably missed a few points, feel free to add more) Obviously there are tons of varieties of both weapons, for the sake of argument lets assume the simple spear 6-7 feet, and a standard English long sword that all the movies use.
-Extra reach to keep enemies away
-Cheap to produce
-Easy to learn how to use
-Better against a cavalry charge
-Heavy and unwieldy
-Low resilience (due to damage in combat)
-Less potential for mastery
-High potential mastery
-Light and agile (provided it is a decently made blade)
-Very high resilience
-Very close combat
-Hard to learn
-Bad at stopping cavalry charges
Both weapons are limited after the battle lines begin to merge, spears maybe a little less so then swords but I would think insignificantly.
Once cavalry loses its momentum, swords and spears are about equal against them. Although spears are better at killing the rider.
The spear makes a very effective front line weapon, the sword tends to be better for charging and attacking.
Using a spears on horse back is much less effective then a sword on a horse. Because the spear offers less of an attacking surface and so it requires much more skill. Also crossing the spear over your horses neck is more difficult to do.
Swords have become very popular because there are a ton more stunts you can do with them on movies. Therefore most main characters use swords not spears. Even in sci fi, like star wars, they prefer light sabers as opposed to light spears.
Heavy armor and shields work better against spears. Although swords cannot go through most heavy armors a good stroke to the side of the helm can result in concussions.
I personally prefer using a sword over a spear, but in general a spear is a better weapon for an army to equip its soldiers with.
That’s all for now.