Groups of spearmen were trained to form rows across and files deep and to march in step. Grouping together helped maintain morale and the shield wall helped neutralize arrows. The key to success for columns of spearmen was to keep together and present a unified front of shields and spear points. A large group of disciplined spearmen must have been an imposing and intimidating sight to undisciplined troops and barbarian raiders.
Spearmen provided shock on the battlefield. Shock was the moment when the fighters on two sides actually came face-to-face for hand-to-hand combat. Spearmen simultaneously attempted to protect themselves from the enemy’s weapons with their shield while seeking an opening with their spear. At the moment of contact the noise level was tremendous as weapons clanged and men screamed. As a man in the front rank fell, the man behind pushed forward to take his place.
Hand-to-hand combat was a terrifying experience that any sane person would have liked to avoid. Soldiers could be motivated to participate in such a confrontation only through high morale, good leadership, and discipline. The moment of shock was a test of will. One side usually gave way and ran long before being wiped out entirely. Utter destruction was possible only if the routed troops could be run down or trapped before they reorganized or reached safety.
Battlefields became a place of maneuver as each side attempted to place its opponent in a position that was untenable without requiring the dangerous hand-to-hand clash. Columns were extended into lines to overlap the enemy. Troops that were flanked, facing enemies to both front and side, usually gave way before contact.
The importance of militia spearmen columns was that they had the ability to take ground. When they advanced, the enemy had to meet them or fall back. If the enemy did not have the will to meet them, the spearmen infantry was victorious, occupying the river ford, hillside, mountain pass, or other geographic feature for possession of which they were fighting.