Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>418BC Spartan hoplitēs
Subject: ὁπλίτης heavy infantry hoplite 
Culture: Spartan Greek
Setting: Peloponnesian war, Spartan Hegemony, Greece 431-371BC
Evolution: ... > 1200BC late Mycenaean e-qe-ta > 750BC Archaic Greek hoplitēs 490BC Classical Greek hoplitēs > 418BC Spartan hoplitēs


* Cole 2021 p22-23
"Thanks to 300, the Spartans have been seared on the public consciousness as masters of war.
    "But there's one small problem.
    "They weren't.
    "In fact, even a cursory examination of the historical record reveals that the Spartans lost again and again. The literary sources show us Spartan kings running from fights, failing in the heat of battle, outsmarted and outmaneuvered and just plain outfought. Spartans floundered and died in the waters off the coast of Naxos, outsailed by the Athenians they'd so recently beaten in the Peloponnesian Wars (404 BC). At Leuctra in 371 BC, their greatest warriors were run down and killed by another 300 -- the Sacred Band of Thebes (which disputed legend has as 150 pairs of homosexual lovers) -- who not only crushed the Spartans, but killed their king in a battle so decisive that a Spartan relief army opted to retreat rather than take vengeance. Even Thermopylae in 480 BC, the battle that made the Spartans' reputation, while certainly a propaganda victory, was little more than a speed bump beneath the wheel of the Achaemenid war machine that went on to rampage across Greece unopposed, burning Athens to the ground.
    "This is not to say the Spartans were not great warriors at all. They absolutely were. For a time, they did produce the finest heavy infantry in Greece, a fighting force that propelled them (with help from incompetent enemies and plenty of Persian gold) to a brief hegemony over the entire land. The Spartans enjoyed some truly glorious victories, at Mycale and First Mantinea, at the Nemea and Aegospotami, but these are equaled by truly disastrous defeats."

* Ray 2010-02 online
"Military historians have tended to focus on the severe boyhood training regimen in Sparta (the agoge) and the potent combination of hardy physique and iron-willed martial philosophy it promoted. But the Spartan way of war was not simply a matter of outstanding individual toughness, strength, or even weaponry skills. Superior tactics played key roles as well—discretion was often the better part of valor for Spartans. They were adept at assessing battle odds and, should these not be to their liking, heading home without a fight.
    "Despite its fierce image, Sparta had a more extensive record of dodging armed confrontations than any other Greek city-state. It was not unusual for Spartan commanders to turn back before crossing a hostile border if the omens were bad. And even on the brink of combat, they might still choose to avoid action. Spartan King Agis II (427-400 bc) once claimed that 'Spartans do not ask how many the enemy are, only where they are,' but on at least four occasions he personally refused engagement with the enemy."

* Cole 2021 p57
"Many scholars refer to the Spartans as the only truly professional warriors in ancient Greece.
    "But this is just another element of the Bronze Lie.  The Spartan Peers were certainly far more disciplined and organized than their contemporaries, but they were not full-time warriors in the modern sense of the word 'professional.'  Rather, ... they were full-time aristocrats enjoying lives of leisure, a portion of which was spent in training for war."

* Cole 2021 p61
"Remember that most ancient Greek hoplites were amateurs, full-time farmers and only part-time warriors.  Xenophon's point is clear: 'if you watched them, you would think all other men mere improvisers in soldiering and the Spartans the only artists in warfare.'
    "Clearly, Sparta's apartheid system allowed its elite Peers to train full-time for war, and thus made them some of the most disciplined heavy infantry in the ancient world.  But we shouldn't oversell the idea that the Spartan Peers lived a life of endless disciplined training.  Given the relatively amateur status of their enemies, it's far mor likely that the Spartans trained somewhat, and that this alone gave them an edge over other Greeks."

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Sekunda/McBride 1986 p5
"At the turn of the 5th century the Greek battlefield was dominated by the hoplite, a fully armoured spearman whose main defence was his round bronze shield.  The Spartans were masters of hoplite warfare due to the strict code of Spartan upbringing -- the agoge.  From the age of six the young Spartan warrior lived in barracks, and only after the age of 30 was he able to return to normal family life.  In this way military supremacy over the subordinate population was guaranteed."

* Ray 2010-02 online
"Classical Greeks fought in a dense linear formation or phalanx as armored spearmen known as hoplites. These hoplites were protected from their ankles up by greaves, cuirass, shield, and helmet as they stood close alongside each other in ranks that could be many hundreds of men wide. This allowed them to present a broad front that was hard to overlap or outflank. But there was a limit to how thin a formation could be without falling into disorder. Thus, most Greeks tried to form a file at least eight men deep to accept battle. Spartans, however, could advance and maneuver effectively in files as slim as four men. Those in the first three ranks struck overhand with their spears at the enemy front, and the fourth rank joined rows two and three in pressing shields into the backs of their fellows in a concerted effort to shove through the opposition, a tactic called othismos. This ability to maneuver when short-handed yielded success several times, most famously against a much larger Arcadian army at Dipaea in 464 bc.
    "Most Greek armies advanced with men shouting encouragement and issuing distinctive battle cries. They would then rush the last few yards into close action. In contrast, Spartans moved forward slowly in measured steps to the sound of pipes and the rhythmic chanting of battle poetry. This allowed them to keep excellent order all the way into engagement. Moreover, the Spartans saw their opponents’ noisy rush as amateurish, signaling false bravado to suppress fear. Their own deliberate and disciplined pace was meant to set a tone of both overwhelming confidence and deadly menace. So unnerving was this approach that many foes broke and ran before first contact."

* Sekunda/Hook 1998 p7
"Lakedaimon played a key role in the Persian War.  However, the regent Pausanias, though victor at Plataea, plotted to bring Greece under Persian domination.  Consequently, Lakedaimon lost much of her prestige.  The Athenian leader Themistocles also worked against Lakedaimon's influence and built up Athenian imperial power.  However, possibly the greatest blow to Lakedaimonian supremacy was the catastrophic earthquake which struck Sparta in 464.  A third Messenian War followed (465-460) and then the First Peloponnesian War with Athens (460-446), both of which Lakedaimon survived, though with its manpower severely reduced.  In 431 Lakedaimon was dragged into the Peloponnesian War with Athens when its allies threatened to leave the alliance if Lakedaimon could not defend them against Athenian expansion."

* Joseph 2018-04-16 online
"The militia armies of citizen-solders were not highly trained, and had difficulty moving in any direction but forward. The Spartans were different: they were professionals, trained in arms and in maneuver. Their phalanx was composed of regiments, and the regiments of companies, and so on, each commanded by an officer. This professionalism allowed their phalanx a degree of maneuverability which they put to good use at Mantinea."

* Mayor 2009 p30-31
"'As fighting became more destructive,' notes historian Peter Krentz, 'a new, nostalgic ideology of war developed.'  Krentz was speaking of Greece after the savage Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC), but his words could also apply to modern historians who imagine that wars were somehow more humane and fair in antiquity.  As historian Josiah Ober remarks, however, 'Any argument which assumes that a universal sense of fair play and decency was an innate part of early Greek military culture is easily falsified.'  The tension between the 'fair fight' and 'winning by any means necessary' was evident from the very beginning."


* Sekunda/Hook 1998 p29-30  [PLAGIARIZEDFields 2013 p143-144]
"After the shield, the most important piece of hoplite armour was the helmet.  In the Archaic period the most popular type in Sparta, as in the rest of Greece, was the Corinthian helmet, which was being produced by 700.  The helmet completely enclosed the head, and, though vision and hearing were restricted, the protection offered was especially valued in the spear-fighting of hoplite warfare.  Other more open-faced types also seem to have been used by the Lakedaimonians.
​    "When Lakedaimonian battlefield tactics started to develop in the 5th century, the Corinthian helmet was replaced.  Good vision and hearing in the phalanx were becoming more important as increasingly complex manoeuvres were executed at the signal of the trumpet.  Consequently, a new type of helmet, the pilos-helmet, was adopted at the same time as the cuirass was abandoned.
    ​"...  The pilos-helmet repeated the shape of the felt pilos cap in bronze.  Presumably pilos caps were sometimes worn under the helmet for comfort, giving rise to helmets of this shape.  Once adopted by the Lakedaimonian army, it became as much a Lakonian symbol as the crimson exomis, and was copied by many armies both inside and outside the Peloponnesian League."

* Cole 2021 p38
"In the same period that body armor began disappearing, hoplites also replaced the Corinthian helmet with other patterns, most notably the simple, conical pilos style which was little more than a bronze (and later felt or leather) cap covering the back and top of the head.
    "The hoplite's helmet usually had a stiff and highly decorated horsehair crest.  Apart from decoration, this crest was meant to make the hoplite appear taller and more intimidating.  These crests almost always ran from front to back, but Spartan officers and kings may have worn transverse (side-to-side) crests."

* Müller/Kunter 1984 p16
"Die zivile spitze Stoffmütze oder der Spitzhut, Pileus gennant, und die phrygische Mütze mit meist nach vorm herabfallender Spitze, sowie mit Wangen- und Nackenstück, waren Vorbilder Für Helmformen. Die spitze Hutform des Pileus hatte beispielsweise der bronzene Spartanische Helm -- auch Huthelm gennant -- mit breitem eingezogenem, unten gerade geschnittenem Randstreifen."

* Esposito 2020 p189
"The Pilos helmet was a bronze version of the famous cap of the same name, which was worn by most of the Greek peasants during their everyday life.  The Pilos was a brimless skullcap made of felt, having a simple conical shape.  When at war, hoplites generally wore their Pilos cap under the helmet for increased comfort, as a result of which a new model of helmet with exactly the same shape as the cap started to be developed.  This was very comfortable to wear and easy to produce, to the point that by the end of the Peloponnesian War it had become the most common model of helmet produced in Greece and been adopted by the Spartan army as its standard helmet.  the Pilos helmet was quite tall and thus offered good protection for an infantryman against cavalry.  In addition, it was completely open and thus gave full vision to its wearer, only having a small visor around the opening."

* Cole 2021 p434
"pilos  a pattern of helmet. Conical and covering only the top and back of the head."

* Bennett 1998 p252
"pilos  Greek 'felt' helmet, particularly the close-fitting conical helmet thought to have been worn in Sparta.  The term's military meaning probably stemmed from the use of the word for anything made of felt, including shoes, mats and, especially, the linings of hats."


* Cole 2021 p40
"Each hoplite was armed with the doru or dory, an ash-hafted iron-tipped thrusting spear that ranged from 6 to 9 feet long.  It was backed by a bronze butt-spike called a saurōtēr or 'lizard killer,' presumably because it was used to spear lizards that strayed too close to the hoplite's foot as he stood waiting for orders.  In reality, it probably saw more service killing people than lizards, usually as they lay wounded on the battlefield.  It also served as a backup point in case the spearhead broke off."

* Coggins 1966 p20
"The main weapon was a heavy spear, some ten feet in length, which was used as a thrusting and not as a missile weapon. From a mention in the Anabasis of an Asiatic spear 'having but one spike' it may be inferred that the Greek spear had two -- the spearhead proper, and a spike on the end of the butt for planting it in the ground."

* Cassin-Scott 1977 p37
"A long spear was often used which had a head at either end; when the shaft was broken the weapon could be reversed and the fight continued."

* Cole 2021 p430
"dory  a roughly 7-9 foot thrusting spear with a leaf-shaped iron head and a bronze butt spike called a saurōtēr. Usually made of ash. It is sometimes called a doru."

* Weapon 2006 p40
"The spear was the hoplite's principal weapon, his short iron sword only being used if his spear was broken during fighting."


* Sekunda/Hook 1998 p31 [PLAGIARIZEDFields 2013 p143]
"There was nothing unusual in Lakedaimonian swords until the 5th century, when they began to get shorter.  By c.425-400 they had become exceedingly short, like daggers, as is testified to by numerous literary passages. ...
​    "The sword was probably shortened to make it handier in the crush which ensued when two phalanx lines met.  Normal Greek swords were medium-sized cut and thrust weapons.  When the spear was broken, they would normally be used overhand to slash at the head of the opponent.  The sword was shortened in order to encourage the Lakedaimonian warrior to use more effective thrusting attacks at the trunk and groin of his opponent.  Such attacks would have been especially effective when the armies opposing the Lakedaimons had started to discard their body armour too."

* Cole 2021 p40-41
"The Spartans began using shorter swords by the mid-5th century BC, to the point where they were little more than long knives.  Plutarch tells us that an Athenian teased the Spartan Eurypontid king Agis III that Spartan swords were so short a juggler could swallow them.  Agis gave the badass reply, 'even so, we can reach our enemies with them.'  Plutarch also has another Eurypontid king, Agesilaus II, saying that Spartans preferred shorter swords because they fought up close.  Like the 'come back with your shield or on it' maxim, he has yet another Spartan mother admonishing her son to 'add a step' to his strike when he complains that his sword is too short.
    "Spartans probably preferred shorter swords for easy handling in close fighting.  [....]
    "....  Either way, it's important to note that the hoplite was first and foremost a spearman and that the sword was a backup weapon.  Unlike the Roman legionary, the Greek hoplite was not a skilled individual fencer and unit cohesion was paramount in warfare of the period."

* Shepherd/Dennis 2013 p34 caption
"The Spartan sword was famously short and only for use at very close quarters.  Plutarch records a mother drily answering her son's un-Spartan complaint about this with the suggestion that he 'add a step forward'."

* Matyszak 2017 p121
"The apocryphal Spartan mother probably gave her son a xiphos when she was preparing him for combat. When the lad observed that the blade was somewhat on the short side, his mother laconically advised, 'stand closer'."

* Withers 2010 p17
"The Spartans carried a slightly shorter sword of the same design as the xiphos.  This design probably influenced the later Roman gladius, or short sword."

* Burton 1884 p238
"Plutarch (in 'Lycurg.') tells us that a man in the presence of Agesilaus jeered at the Spartan blade, which measured only fourteen to fifteen inches long, saying that a juggler would think nothing of swallowing it'; whereto the great commander replied, 'Yet our short Swords can pierce our foes.'  And when a bad workman complained of his tool, the Spartan suggested with dry heroism, 'You have only to advance a pace.'"


* Lazenby 1985 p40
"The shield was apparently the standard hoplite one, usually called 'aspis', but one of the terms for which -- 'hoplon' -- had almost certainly originally given the hoplite his name.  Usually a little over eighty centimetres in diameter, slightly convex, but with a flat, offset rim, the shield was made of wood with a bronze rim and a thin bronze facing, which was kept polished.  It was carried by inserting the left arm up to the elbow through a bronze arm-band placed centrally (πόρπαξ) and gripping a hand-grip inside the rim (ἀντιλαβή), apparently made of cord." [references omitted]

* Cole 2021 p40
"The hoplite's shield wasn't significantly updated during the classical period, savae that an apron of leather or cloth was sometimes added to the bottom, starting around the late 5th century BC; it was probably as added protection against missiles, or as basic protection for men who didn't want to wear the heavy, hot, bronze greaves."

*  Klučina/Pevný 1997 p24-25
"The most important piece [of Greek hoplite armor] was a large, round, slightly bulged shield, which protected the warrior from neck to midthigh.  The shield's exterior was bronze, its center was wooden, and its interior was lined with leather.  A metal grip, often ornamented, hung from the inside of the shield, which was meant to fit the warrior's forearm comfortably.  On the interior of the shield, a cord was usually strung from one side to the other.  This cord allowed a marching soldier to carry his shield on his shoulders.  The shield, or aspis, was painted with a symbol known as an episema.  Sometimes this was an embossed decoration made of metal.  A popular episema was the head of the Gorgon."

* Matyszak 2017 p118
"In later years, when faced by missile troops, such as the toxophiliac Persians and their hosts of archers, hoplites sometimes attached a wide leather flap to the bottom of the shield to prevent low-flying arrows from damaging their calves and thighs."


* Sekunda/Hook 1998 p28
"At some point during the 5th century, possibly c.450-425, the Lakedaimonian army decided to discard their cuirasses.  Behind this move seems to have been a search for battlefield mobility as well as the need for rapid marching on campaign." 

* Cole 2021 p37-38
"[F]ull armor began to disappear at the turn of the 5th century BC until most hoplites, Spartans included, got rid of both body armor and greaves ​and relied entirely on their shield and helmet for protection.  This was probably a decision to increase mobility and prevent overheating as increasing missile combat (by 'missiles,' I mean anything launched or thrown -- rocks, javelins, arrows, sling bullets) made closing with the enemy more and more important."

* Sekunda/Hook 1998 p20
"Representations show, and texts describe, men doing dirty work like ploughing, sowing or potting naked.  Athletic nudity may have been ritual in origin.  At the start of the Archaic period light clothes were worn during athletic exercise, but they were eventually discarded completely.  The rigours of warfare -- marching and fighting in heavy armour often under the summer sun -- were hardly less demanding than those of sport and physical training.  Nor was warfare of less ritual significance than sport.  When we see representations of Spartans fighting without a tunic, we should not dismiss them as being 'artistic' or 'heroising': undoubtedly some are, but nudity in Greek art is, more often than not, a depiction of reality."

* Cole 2021 p46
"That homosexuality was a key component of Spartan life is underscored by the Spartan marriage custom of cutting the bride's hair short and dressing her in a man's military cloak.  In short, making her as mannish as possible in an effort to ease the Spartan man into his new role as a heterosexual husband."