Darts are airborne ranged
weapon A weapon, arm or armament is any implement or device that can be used with the intent to inflict damage or harm. Weapons are used to increase the efficacy and efficiency of activities such as hunting, crime, law enforcement, self-defense, and w ...
s. They are designed to fly such that a sharp, often weighted point will strike first. They can be distinguished from javelins by the presence of fletching (feathers on the tail) and a shaft that is shorter and/or more flexible. Darts are can be propelled by hand or with the aid of a hand-held implement, they can be distinguished from arrows because they are too short to be used in a bow. Darts have been used since pre-history. The plumbatae were lead-weighted darts thrown by infantrymen in Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Darts can be propelled by a number of means. The
uses leverage to increase the velocity of the dart, the kestros increases the range of propelled darts using a sling, and small poisoned needles that are propelled with pneumatic force from the exhalation of a person's breath with a
blowgun 300px, Demonstration of a blowgun by a Yahua hunter A blowgun (also called a blowpipe or blow tube) is a simple ranged weapon consisting of a long narrow tube for shooting Shooting is the act or process of discharging a projectile from a r ...
. In the modern era, darts have been used for recreation; in lawn darts and the game of
darts Darts or dart-throwing is a competitive sport in which two or more players bare-handedly throw small projectile point, sharp-pointed projectile, missiles known as dart (missile), darts at a round shooting target, target known as a #Dartboard, dart ...



Some of the earliest evidence of advanced tool use includes remnants of an early type of dart, which can be considered the ancestor of arrows as well as bows. Reconstructions of this system have a range of over one hundred metres (yards) and can penetrate several centimetres of oak. This technology was used worldwide from the Upper
Palaeolithic The Paleolithic or Palaeolithic or Palæolithic (), also called the Old Stone Age, is a period in human prehistory distinguished by the original development of stone tools that covers  99% of the period of human technological prehistory. It ...
(late Solutrean, c. 18,000–16,000 BC) until the development of
archery Archery is the art, sport, practice, or skill of using a bow to shoot arrows.Paterson ''Encyclopaedia of Archery'' p. 17 The word comes from the Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic ...
made it obsolete. The darts in question are much larger than arrows, but noticeably lighter than javelins. They have a weighted ''point'', often of
stone A rock is any naturally occurring solid mass or aggregate of minerals or mineraloid matter. It is categorized by the minerals included, its chemical composition and the way in which it is formed. Rocks form the Earth's outer solid layer, th ...
, on a removable foreshaft. This is held by friction onto a thin, flexible main shaft a few metres in length, with fletching and a (usually socket-like) ''nock'' at the opposite end. Since they are unlike anything in Western history, the term "dart" has been adopted after some debate. Some alternate terms for this missile have included the
spear A spear is a pole weapon consisting of a shaft, usually of wood, with a pointed head. The head may be simply the sharpened end of the shaft itself, as is the case with Fire hardening, fire hardened spears, or it may be made of a more durable mat ...
, but this term has fallen out of favour since in all other uses, spears are stiff enough to be used for stabbing. In its function, an atlatl dart is more like a combination between a bow and an arrow. Its similarity to a bow may not be immediately obvious, but in fact both serve to accumulate
energy In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the natural science that studies matter, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior thro ...
by Elasticity (physics), elasticity in a similar way. As throwing begins, a dart of this type is designed to flex in compression between the accelerating force at its nock and the inertia of its weighted point, storing energy. Late in this throw, as the point moves faster and so offers less resistance, the dart releases most of this energy by springing away from the thrower. Some energy may also be recovered by the fletching as the projectile "fishtails" through the air. However, this energy is far less than is commonly stated and only effectively increases accuracy by counteracting the downward force on the tail. To maximize elastic energy storage and recovery, such darts should be held only by the nock and allowed to pivot as they are thrown. This requires a special tool called a spear-thrower. In Western culture these might be called ''
'' borrowed from the Aztec, or in Australia the Aboriginal word Woomera (spear-thrower), ''woomera'' is used.

Plumbatae or martiobarbuli

''Plumbatae'' or ''martiobarbuli'' were lead-weighted darts carried by infantrymen in Antiquity and the Middle Ages. The first examples seem to have been carried by the Ancient Greeks from about 500 B.C. onwards, but the best-known users were from the Roman and Byzantine armies. The best written source for these tactical weapons is Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus, Vegetius's treatise known as ''De Re Militari'' (1.17):

Replacement by the arrow

In Europe, the spear-thrower was supplemented by the bow and arrow in the Epipaleolithic period. By the Iron Age, the amentum, a strap attached to the shaft, was the standard European mechanism for throwing lighter javelins. The amentum gives not only range, but also spin to the projectile. Archery may be easier to learn and have a faster rate of fire, yet perhaps this system's greatest advantage over the spear-thrower is that ammunition is easier to make and transport. Since the dart must store almost all of the system's elastic energy, more care, planning, and weight of elastic material must be invested in its construction. In archery, the bulk of elastic energy is stored in the throwing device, rather than the projectile; arrow shafts can therefore be much smaller, and have looser tolerance (engineering), tolerances for spring (device), spring constant and weight distribution than spear-thrower darts. For example, stone dart points from the same set tend to vary in mass by no more than a few percent, and computer simulations show that this is necessary for efficient operation. Similar constraints exist for the length, diameter, and materials quality of the shaft. If the same amount of attention and material are instead invested into a bow, projectiles can be made lighter (by a factor of five or more) and to less exacting tolerance (engineering), tolerances. This allowed for more forgiving flint (tool), flint knapping. Greater mass becomes an advantage over archery when penetration is an overwhelming concern, as when harpooning sea mammals. This class of dart was used by aboriginal Arctic hunters such as the Aleut people, Aleut until fairly recently.


Darts, plumbata and atlatls have been constructed by modern enthusiasts, either with ancient materials and methods or with high technology borrowed from modern archery. While some do this in the context of anthropology or mechanical engineering, many view the practice as a sport, and throw competitively for distance and/or for accuracy. Throws of almost have been recorded.

Types of traditional darts

Image:Yahua Blowgun Amazon Iquitos Peru.jpg, Demonstration of a blowgun by a traditional hunter The darts in use by the developers of the English language were used throughout Europe for much of its military history, though they were never a dominant weapons technology. They have also lent their name to quite a few weapons from other cultures.

Thrown darts

It is quite reasonable to speculate the darts used with ''atlatl''s were adapted from hand-thrown darts, which in turn were derived from light javelins. In Europe, short but heavy-pointed darts were sometimes used in warfare. These had a length of about and resembled an arrow with a long head and short shaft. The Roman model, the ''plumbata'', was weighted with lead. In some legions, five of these were carried inside each soldier's shield; reconstructions show a range of or more when thrown overhand in the fashion of a Stielhandgranate, German stick grenade.

Feathered darts

Feathered spears, often called darts or javelins, were used in medieval and Renaissance Europe, both as ceremonial objects and as weapons. It is possible no examples have survived, presumably due to their fragility or the deterioration of their fletching making them indistinguishable from spears, but they appear in multiple illustrations from the 15th and 16th century. As ceremonial items, they are shown held similar to scepters by military commanders and leaders such as Emperor Maximilian I. Many other illustrations show large darts being wielded as weapons, either on the battlefield or in smaller engagements such as judicial battles. Depictions show them as being four to seven feet long, with arrow-like feather fletching, barbed points and thick shafts comparable to conventional polearms, presumably able to serve for both throwing and hand-held striking. Some later artistic depictions suggest they may have also been used for hunting.


The kestrosphendone, or Kestros (weapon), kestros, was a sling (weapon), sling-launched dart, invented in 168 BC for the Third Macedonian War, probably similar to hand-thrown darts of the period. Casting one (according to surviving records) requires a specially designed sling with two unequal loops, though it is not clear whether this is a stave-sling or more closely resembles a shepherd's sling.

Blow darts

blowgun 300px, Demonstration of a blowgun by a Yahua hunter A blowgun (also called a blowpipe or blow tube) is a simple ranged weapon consisting of a long narrow tube for shooting Shooting is the act or process of discharging a projectile from a r ...
can be used to fire darts, as well. Often, these are quite small, and do little harm by themselves; instead, they are effective due to poison spread onto their points, from (for example) poison dart frog, dart frogs or curare.

Rope dart

This is a pointed weight attached at its blunt end to a length of rope or chain, which can be used to throw and retrieve it. It meets the definition above because it flies freely when no tension is applied to the rope, has a point and – in the form of a square of cloth – even has fletching. Rope dart, ''Shengbiao'' is a discipline of Wushu (sport), ''Wushu'' devoted to its use.

Swiss arrow

A Swiss arrow (also known as a Yorkshire arrow) is a dart thrown using a cord to make the dart go farther with the same power.

Modern darts

Of the darts still in widespread use, perhaps the closest to traditional thrown darts are lawn darts. These are large and heavy enough to be thrown by swinging, and to seriously wound a person when thrown. An indoor game of
darts Darts or dart-throwing is a competitive sport in which two or more players bare-handedly throw small projectile point, sharp-pointed projectile, missiles known as dart (missile), darts at a round shooting target, target known as a #Dartboard, dart ...
has also been developed. For competitive purposes, a dart cannot weigh more than including the shaft and flight and cannot exceed a total length of . They are designed to penetrate dart boards. Tranquillizer gun, Tranquilizer darts are related to the darts for blowguns, but include a hypodermic needle and a hollow reservoir resembling a syringe, which is generally filled with sedatives or other drugs. These are launched from a dart gun using compressed gas, a tuft of fibers at the back of the missile serving as both fletching and wadding. A type of dart still finds use in military engagements, in the form of flechettes. These are all-metal projectiles, often resembling nails that have had fletching (rather than nail heads) forged into them. They were used by American forces during the wars in Korean war, Korea and Vietnam war, Vietnam, but treaties have since been enacted to limit their use. Large flechettes are used as kinetic energy penetrators in many gun-fired anti-tank weapon, anti-armour projectiles.

See also

*Crossbow bolt


{{DEFAULTSORT:Dart (Missile) Projectiles Throwing weapons Ancient weapons Hunting equipment