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So, I wanted one of my species in a world of mine to primarily use tridents as their weapons. I'm not sure of their location outside of a mesa. I did a little research and tridents were indeed used in ancient combat, but as far as I could tell they were rare and mostly used by fisherman taking up arms. But, I'm not asking for that, I want tridents to be at least somewhat commonplace and not as a weapon to be used in a pinch. Looking on other sites, it seems like tridents are a farfetched thing as a intentional weapon that isn't just to show off since the same metal used to make the trident could make spears instead.

I am not asking for ornamental weapons, nor improvised, and preferably not anything connected to some religion or tradition although that is acceptable. The only benefit I can see for a trident is the disarming factor, but maybe there's something I missed. It's also worth noting this is a medieval-esque technology period, although a little handwavium and suspension of disbelief is acceptable, and worse comes to worst I can always say they live on the coast and choose tridents simply so their weapons have more utility.

In summary, what would cause a military to choose tridents as the main weapon to outfit their soldiers with instead of anything else such as a spear?

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  • $\begingroup$ @Seallussus It does work, but I'll wait for other answers to see if there's a reasonable explanation for trident-tridents, and not trident-imitating spears. I do suggest making it into an answer, so you can potentially get accepted if nothing more appealing comes along. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Jan 11 at 19:13
  • $\begingroup$ It does not totally fit as an answer and I just like to follow OPs ideas and direction when it comes to answers. So. It's a comment. Anyway if it helps in anyway that's good enough for me. $\endgroup$
    – Seallussus
    Jan 11 at 19:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Seallussus Thanks though! I'd give you a reputation boost for it if I could. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Jan 11 at 19:19
  • $\begingroup$ Related: The Greeks had it right when they armed Poseidon with a trident. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Jan 11 at 19:46
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    $\begingroup$ You can easily turn it into a slingshot with just a rubber and ;D $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Jan 12 at 7:03

11 Answers 11

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A Few Thoughts:

Although the trident is somewhat limited as a weapon, I can think of several good reasons to use them.

  • Tradition: Cultural reasons are often more powerful than you might think. A great hero of the past used a trident, and the culture was once a nautical one. There are a wide variety of pole-arms used in the middle ages, and the heads were sometimes rather complex. Incorporating additional tines to make any of them more trident-like to honor this ancient tradition is not so far-fetched.
  • Military obligations: In a society bound by rules designed to make wars less devastating, perhaps the culture has designated only certain weapons as acceptable for military use. In much the same way crossbows weren't supposed to be used against fellow Christians in the middle ages, the awkwardness of certain weapons is seen as slowing the lethality of battle. This also works if your society has good healing - shallow stabs from multi-pronged weapons through armor might disable but not kill.
  • Modified Boar spear: Perhaps your world has a large number of large, suicidality aggressive animals/enemies, such that it is critical in battle to stop a huge charging beast with a spear with a large cross-guard.
  • Small opponents: A trident is designed with multiple tines to maximize the ability to stab (and hold) small opponents. If your world has small enemies that are hard to hit with single-tined weapons, those with multiple tines might become more critical. Damn those fairies, they are SO hard to kill, and all their weapons are dripping poison. Keep them at arms reach, impale them, then slam them on the ground repeatedly until they are mangled to a pulp.
  • Near-indestructible enemies with no vulnerable places: If you have enemies that die VERY hard (werewolves, vampires, zombies, etc.) Then forked and tined tridents will stab and hold them. Plunge them up and down to rip and tear. Pin them with multiple tridents, then pour oil on them and light them on fire.
  • Multiple opponents with unique vulnerabilities: So your trident has one tip that's a wooden stake, another with silver, and a third with cold iron. So when fighting the combined forces of the werewolves, vampires, and elves, you have one weapon that can engage all of them instead of having to switch or limit a small part of your army to effective fighting.
  • Underwater/specialty enemies: Perhaps you have a devil rat or fish/eel-like creature you need to fight (in the water or otherwise) on a regular basis. While you don't ALWAYS need to fight them, the need for a trident-like weapon (the best for the specialty enemy) can crop up at any time, so it's much more practical to carry one all the time, and have specialized weapons around for other kinds of fighting. Still, you don't always get to choose the tool you have, and everyone HAS a trident with them all the time. It's considered unethical to deny anyone a trident at all times due to the risk of sudden attack, so even at formal occasions, people bring their tridents with them. Better safe than sorry.
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    $\begingroup$ ...and you could have a crosspiece to fit the classical spear, bayonet-like, so a short spear becomes a trident. Best of both worlds! :-D $\endgroup$
    – LSerni
    Jan 11 at 20:21
  • $\begingroup$ And in a pinch you can use them to go fishing. $\endgroup$ Jan 14 at 7:31
  • $\begingroup$ Regarding the crossbow thing, the original prohibition by Pope Innocent II included all archers, not ust crossbows. Realistically though AFAIK (and was able to find) nobody actually cared much about the ban, the same declaration also prohibited warfare from Wednesday to Monday and also prohibited jousting tournaments ( web.archive.org/web/20120229045554/https://www.ewtn.com/library/… ) $\endgroup$ Jan 14 at 11:05
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Tridents grow on trees.

pitchforks

http://laviecevenole.blogspot.com/2009/06/sauve-and-pitchfork.html

For a working hay fork, this takes eight years on the bush, with well-gauged pruning all the while. If more than ten days lapse without trimming, the year's harvest can be lost. Once the fork is ready and cut from the bush, it is transferred to a 100 C oven, where as the sap sweats out, the branch warms and becomes flexible. The bark is then easily stripped, and after adroit adjustments (all this using the original, highly specialized tools), the branch is returned to a warmer oven in which it is hermetically sealed and smoke-cured for a day, resulting in its light brown hue.

There is a plant in the area of your people that turns out first rate tridents, just like this tree turns out fine pitchforks. It is less work to make tridents than other weapons. If you make it into a spear, your compadres will shake their heads and ask why you want just one when you could have three?

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    $\begingroup$ That's quite clever $\endgroup$
    – Stilez
    Jan 12 at 21:40
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    $\begingroup$ This answer is amazing yet the idea that they actually grow on trees feels like some sort of weird fever dream. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Jan 13 at 17:57
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More holes per hit. Your soldiers are fighting creatures that can deal well with deep wounds, but not so well with lots of them.

Say, at least some of the time, you're fighting some amorphous creature with a thick skin that prevents the stuff coming out. Think huge Paramecia. Poking a deep hole into the liquid inside won't do much good, and a few small holes in the surface can be sustained, but as soon as the goo seriously starts leaking, you start dealing real damage to your enemy.

This is especially true if the creatures you're fighting are relying on pneumatic or hydraulic action to articulate and move limbs.

With a little bit of handwaving, such a creature might even be anthropomorphic. In fact, some humans have hydrostatic organs that work like that.

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There isn't a practical reason to select the trident as a primary weapon. The only well documented use of tridents in combat was in ritualized gladatorial fights where a net and trident armed Retiarius would fight a heavily armored Secutor. This was intended to be a dramatization of the battle between fisherman and fish.

In a military context tridents are almost universally worse than the spear, being heavier, more awkward and more expensive. The closest militaries got to tridents were some of the more exotic pole arms but those usually didn't stick around for long outside of ceremonial roles.

You can either handwave this and not explain why, which if your storytelling is good enough, should be easy; look how easily we bought into laser swords in Star Wars. Or you could say their spears have vestigial spikes near the base of their shaft for some sort of aesthetic reason.

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    $\begingroup$ There isn't a practical reason to select the trident as a primary weapon denies that a sufficiently-creative worldbuilder can come up with a counterexample, which is rarely a good assessment. Further, it appears the other answerers already have $\endgroup$ Jan 13 at 1:00
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  • well in close formation at least, compare to spear, now a single person can wield three or multiple pointy tip in a row for a single weapon, that can help mitigate or close the gap in the formation and prevent opponent to get closer and harder to dodge, and can prevent horse charge or intimidate the horse despite their numbers is lower.

  • can increase chance for the hit including for throwing.

  • can giving more wound for single stab to help bleeding them faster or increase the chance for hitting important organs, also it can be a bit similar like halberd if the two side is change into blade edge instead of pitchfork type.

  • outside of disarming as OP already mentioned also can help block or binding or caught opponent attack or weapon or prevent blade sliding too (like sword cross guard) in close formation without needing to change the weapon direction much or sacrificing/use the shaft to block that can disturb or get prevented by the close formation, and it can help keeping your hand or finger safe (in case of two-hand trident type weapon).

  • it also help prevent the tip to pierce too deep and make it stuck or harder to pull out, but this depend on the angle and the type of the trident blade or tip it can also end up stuck though which may or may not be good depend on the situations or the enemy type, or to prevent enemy to keep charging despite getting impaled like boar spear do.

  • if the trident is only has two tip instead, it can also be use as man-catcher so you can capture opponent as prisoner for ransom.

  • oh yeah also just like war scythe, they can easily reuse or modified into civilian tools back after battle, like for fishing or use it like pitchfork etc to cut cost for easy/cheap weaponise militia or peasant.

the cons is it can get tangled with each other if not trained well in formation or coordination at least outside of the chaotic in battle, regarding the heaviness at the end point, theres many spear type that has heavy weight at the end point and theres also a way to brace it to prevent the body stress.

since after rereading i found out it have or mean for unknown species element to it, i can see them use well against underwater creature at least, especially the small size one, due to the bend of light or refraction (assuming your species is on water), but it can also use well underwater to give a greater chance to hit the opponent compare to spear thrust, since thrust wont get hindered much underwater compare to slashing or slamming motion, and if the trident have blade edge it can also use to push and draw cut or slicing motion at a distance, so maybe your species is a mermaid or underwater type species, that can justified the trident as standard weapon in their underwater battle, while regarding on land, using it to thrust small species seem like a chore, since they can just use wider surface weapon to slam them or slashing multiple of them just fine compare to underwater due to the water force/drag, unless the small creature is immune from blunt impact or slash cut.

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Tridents are dual purpose.

Come harvest time, they are essential tools for collecting wheat, making hay, building haystacks, and assuring the health and prosperity of your population through the winter.

This is also superb exercise to keep the troops in tip-top physical condition.

Any third use, such as spear fishing in shallow rivers or lagoons, is a bonus.

Beyond that, the circumstances will depend on the details of your world.

Speculating : if they live on a large mesa, they may farm it, and appear to all the world like a peaceful bunch of yokels, whose few iron tools are mere farm implements.

Until an unsuspecting army attacks.

You can't take a mesa by surprise : by the time you approach its heights, every peasant lad and farm girl has sharpened the tines of their formerly innocent pitchfork, and the mesa's edge is a ring of bristling steel...

You can fight an army, but you can't fight the entire population.

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    $\begingroup$ I love this answer and it's really unfortunate I can't accept two answers, but thanks for it anyway! I'll definitely try to implement this alongside the accepted answer. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Jan 13 at 17:59
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Tridents stop enemies from getting too hung on your weapon compared to a spear.

So it could be useful if there exists a common enemy force which is durable enough that they might willingly impale themselves on a spear and continue to run down the spear in order to close the distance with the wielder.

Or the enemy creatures might be gooey or soft and not so easily damaged by a simple spear pierce. In which case the outer prongs of the trident could be modified to be cut a circular path when twisted so they can making huge gaping wounds. The good ol' stab'n twist.

Or the tridents have single-shot explosive/shrpanel charges loaded into two of the three prongs. If you tried this with a spear you only have one charge at the ready and after you use it you have a tipless spear, AKA a stick. Not the best weapon of war.

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    $\begingroup$ Consider also less durable, but infectious enemies (another answer mentioned zombies and werewolves) - you'd want to stab those in such a way that you also ensured that they stayed at a distance $\endgroup$ Jan 12 at 17:43
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Actually, they are stun guns

Some of the more radical alchemists have designed a device that can harness the power of electricity and discharge it into enemies to subdue them without killing them.

Imagine a Bahgdad battery or Leyden jar strapped to someone's back. The terminals are connected to wires that run along the shaft of the trident, sheilded with wax and cloth or some available material. The center prong is negatively charged, while the other prongs are positive, or vice versa.

The electrident is of course an expensive and rare weapon, but it has so captured the imagination of the people, that many wield plain tridents in imitation.

Edit

As @Harabeck astutely pointed out, the third prong of the electrident is redundant. This itself is a historical artifact harking back to the culture's history as a seafaring people.

Elecbidents are not unheard of, but carry less prestige. There are indeed frequent flame wars on bulletin boards regarding the respective merits of each variation.

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    $\begingroup$ That would only require a bident. $\endgroup$
    – Harabeck
    Jan 12 at 22:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Harabeck The third prong is for uhhhh...safety purposes? Like a wall outlet lol. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Jan 12 at 23:44
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    $\begingroup$ The electrident is more tolerant of bad aim and enemies trying to maneuver off of the weapon than the elecbident. 2/3 prongs is all you need, especially when those damn vampires move so fast you rarely get all three prongs where you want them to go $\endgroup$ Jan 13 at 1:03
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    $\begingroup$ I've even heard of some ambitious smiths forging elecquintents to cover 2 axes of poor aim, although they can get quite top-heavy and thus usually have smaller prongs. $\endgroup$
    – JamesFaix
    Jan 13 at 1:16
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Phalanx

It makes a phalanx or hedgehog formation three times as prickly, making it a lot harder for the enemy to negotiate their way through it.

Thrown weapons

If your soldiers are skilled at throwing spears, then three spikes instead of one makes it easier to hit their target (though I'm not sure how this would affect aerodynamics, you could hand-wave that your men are particularly skilled at overcoming that)

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Hooking

Your trident can function as an elaborate winged spear. The wings on the spear can be used to hook an opponents shield. Thus, if your spear tip is beyond the shield of the opponent, you bring the spear shaft into contact with the shield and pull it back. The wing will collide with the shield and interfere with the opponent's use of the shield.

Winged spear tip
Source: Wikimedia of course

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Spearfishing experience

In spearfishing you use tridents when you see that the only available catches are small fishes. Single spears are more likely to break a chunk of the fish and then lose the grip. If your wounded prey swims under a rock and dies there you get nothing even if it was a good shot, tridents are more likely to remain hooked. Furthermore with tridents it's easier to catch a prey even if the aim wasn't very good. The drawback is that if you miss your target and hit a rock the trident gets easily damaged.

In combat I don't see much utility for them, they maybe better for unskilled fighters in close combat, nothing more.

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