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Spartan warrior holding spear and shield.

How the Spartan Arsenal Helped Make Them Some of The Deadliest Warriors of the Ancient World

The ancient Greek city state of Sparta is renowned for its military prowess. As a militaristic society, Spartan males were trained to be warriors from a young age, and this was the only career they would know. In battle, a Spartan warrior was equipped with an arsenal of weapons that enabled him to effectively handle any situation that he encountered on the battlefield. The combination of these weapons and the Spartan’s lifelong martial training made him one of the deadliest warriors in the ancient world.

The Spartan Spear

The primary weapon of any Spartan warrior was his spear, which was known as a dory. This weapon is believed to have been 2.1 – 2.7 meters (7 to 9 feet) in length and the shaft was made either of cornel or ash wood. Both woods were chosen for their strength, and while the former is extremely dense, the latter is known for its lightness. A piece of leather would be wrapped around the part where the spear was held, so as to afford the warrior a better grip.

At one end of the dory was the spearhead, which was leaf-shaped and made of iron. At the other end of the spear was a bronze butt spike known as a sauroter (meaning ‘lizard killer’). The spike acted as a counter-balance to the spearhead and allowed the spear to be planted upright in the ground when not in use. Additionally, the spike could be used as a secondary weapon if the spearhead was broken or lost or used to stab enemies lying on the ground as the Spartans marched across the battlefield.

The Spartan Shield

The Spartans wielded the dory with one hand, which allowed them to hold a shield, known as a hoplon or aspis, in the other. This shield was round and large, measuring about 91 centimeters (36 inches) in diameter. The hoplon consisted of a thick layer of wood at its center, with bronze on the external side, and leather on the internal side. An armband, known as a porpax, allowed the shield to be slid up the warrior’s forearm, while a handle, known as an antilabe, could be gripped thus giving him better control of the shield. Although the shield was mainly a piece of defensive equipment, it could also be used as a blunt weapon to bludgeon an enemy.

Spartan warrior with shield. (DM7 / Adobe)

Spartan warrior with shield. ( DM7 / Adobe)

The Spartans’ shield was a powerful symbol of their strength and resilience. Warriors would pass down their shields to their sons, so it would remain in the family for generations. Spartan mothers would pass the shield to their son before war with the words “Return with it or carried on it”, in other words, victorious or dead.

The letter lambda (Λ) was painted on Spartan shields from around the 420s BC and became a widely used Spartan symbol. It stood for Laconia (a region of Greece in the southeastern part of the Peloponnese peninsula) or Lacedaemon (a mythical king of Laconia).

Set of ancient spartan weapons and protective equipment. Spear, sword, gladius, shield, axe, helmet. (Dmitrii Korolev / Adobe)

Set of ancient spartan weapon s and protective equipment. Spear, sword, gladius, shield, axe, helmet. ( Dmitrii Korolev / Adobe)

Weapons for Hand-to-Hand Combat

For close hand-to-hand combat, the Spartans were equipped with two types of swords, both of which were secondary weapons . The first was the xiphos, a short sword with a leaf-shaped straight blade. Such swords were used by other Greek warriors though the ones used by the Spartans were shorter, measuring 30.5 – 45.7 centimeters (12 to 18 inches). By reducing the length of the blade, the Spartans increased the weapon’s maneuverability, making it easier to wield during close quarter combat. The xiphos was used as a thrusting weapon and Spartan warriors often targeted the groin or throat of their enemies. The second type of sword used by the Spartans was the kopis, which had a thick, curved blade. Unlike the dory or xiphos, the kopis was used as to hack and slash at the enemy, just like an axe.

Spartan warrior in battle dress with sword. (storm / Adobe)

Spartan warrior in battle dress with sword. ( storm / Adobe)

Spartan Armor

The armor used by the Spartans was similar to that used by other Greek warriors. The Spartans wore a cuirass or breastplate to protect their torso. Initially, this was made of bronze and was a thick and heavy piece of equipment. By the 5 th century BC this was replaced by the linothorax. This was a composite armor made of layers of linen / leather. In addition, the Spartans wore greaves to protect their legs and a helmet to protect their head. The latter was made of bronze and was of the Corinthian type. On the top of the helmet was a horsehair crest which made the warrior appear taller and more imposing.

Spartan armor / breastplate. (pit3dd / Adobe)

Spartan armor / breastplate. ( pit3dd / Adobe)

Top image: Spartan warrior holding spear and shield. Source: serhiibobyk / Adobe.

By Wu Mingren                

References

AncientMilitary.com, 2019. Spartan Weapons. [Online] Available at: http://www.ancientmilitary.com/spartan-weapons.htm
Legends and Chronicles, 2019. Spartan Weapons – Ancient Spartan Weapons. [Online] Available at: http://www.legendsandchronicles.com/ancient-weapons/spartan-weapons/
Penadés, A., 2016. Bred for Battle—Understanding Ancient Sparta’s Military Machine. [Online] Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/archaeology-and-history/magazine/2016/11-12/sparta-military-greek-civilization/
ravenadmin, 2019. The Weapons of the “Ideal Warrior”. [Online] Available at: https://ravencresttactical.com/weapons-ideal-warrior/
The Warriors of Greece, 2019. Spartan Facts and Terminology. [Online] Available at: http://www.thewarriorsofgreece.com/facts.html

Comments

The last picture is obviously of a Roman, not of a Spartan armor. By the way, dropping the shield was the most dishonoring act of a Spartan hoplite, because the shield and holding one's position in the rung was crusial in maintaining the phalanx's cohesion, as the fighting technique was of thrusting the full weight of the phalanx agains the opponent's until breaching it, and not engaging in individual fighting (from the beginning) as in Homer's era . The horsehair crest was usually positioned across the helmet for officers to distinguish them, and Spartans had an edge on weapons technology as well, as these were made mostly from steel that iron.

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