Subject: ὁπλίτης heavy infantry hoplite
Culture: Archaic Greek
Setting: Archaic period, Greece 8th-6thcBC
Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)
* Raaflaub/Rosenstein eds. 1999 p131 (Kurt Raaflaub, "Archaic and classical Greece" p129-161)
"In the archaic period (750-480) many poleis evolved through a phase of economic and social crisis toward a more balanced constitution. While private or semipublic raids for cattle or booty continued, wars in this period became increasingly communal. They were mostly local affairs, fought, on a fairly small scale and in long intervals, between neighboring poleis over the control of fertile border lands, and usually decided in a pitched battle between citizen armies. Such intercity rivalries, for example between Argos and Sparta, continued for centuries. Sparta was the first polis to form a system of regional power. Following the conquest of Lakonia and Messenia (eighth century), some communities became dependent poleis (periokoi), while large parts of the subjected populations were enslaved (helots), cultivating the farms of the Spartan citizens (Spartiates) but also posing a constant threat. As a consequence, the Spartiates gradually developed a strictly regulated system of communal life. From about 550, Sparta dominated much of the Peloponnese through its hegemony, based on military supremacy, in a system of alliances (the Peloponnesian League). Despite its size, Athen played no major role before the late sixth century. Until the middle of that century, the Greeks remained outside the power sphere of the Near Eastern empires, but then the Lydians under Croesus, followed by the Persians under Cyrus, expanded their empires to the shores of the Aegean, subjecting the Greek poleis of Asia Minor to their rule."
* Esposito 2020 p1-2
"With the creation of the early polis, most of the villages disappeared and the oikos communities resettled inside the new urban centres. As a result, a new military system had to be created in order to guarantee the defence of the cities: the few ruling aristocrats could not raise substantial military forces and thus could not protect the expanding interests of their poleis. Commerce and colonization were becoming increasingly important activities, which involved hundreds of merchants and artisans: economic rivalries between nearby cities began to develop, as well as political struggles inside the same cities. Each polis was an autonomous state that controlled the surrounding portion of countryside; as a result, each city-state now needed autonomous military institutions. Basically, each able-bodied male living in a polis was a potential soldier and thus had to serve for the defence of his state as a citizen-soldier, a fighter whose right to be a citizen and whose social position were strongly linked to his military obligations. Those who were not able to serve in the military due to their age or to physical reasons were not considered as proper citizens. In addition, especially at the beginning of this new historical period, the personal economic position of each individual played a very important role in determining his military function. only those few men who were rich enough to buy the full panoply of a heavy infantryman could be considered as full citizens. The poorer individuals could serve only with auxiliary roles and thus had little importance in the political assemblies. The position occupied in the army reflected the wealth of a man, while his political rights were directly linked to the economic capabilities of an individual. This would change only in later times, when the full development of democracy led to various cities to implement important military reforms."
* Museum of Fine Arts > Art of the Ancient World
"Conflicts between Greek city-states were frequent. Soldiers were largely volunteers who fought between March and October, when the weather allowed for easier troop movements. Elite warriors wore up to seventy pounds of equipment, including a thrusting spear with iron tip and butt, iron sword, bronze helmet, bronze chest and back armor, shin guards, and a large, round shield called a hoplon. These heavily armed foot soldiers, called hoplites, were trained to fight in phalanxes (hundreds of men across and eight or more deep), overlapping their shields for protection. Hoplites formed the primary Greek fighting unit for centuries. ..."
* Sage 1996 p29
"The Greek term for this type of heavy armed infantryman is hoplites, which is derived from the word hoplon. Though this word is used in both the singular and plural to signify armor and weapons, it is also occasionally used ... of the great shield which the hoplite bore, and this seems to be its basic meaning in this context. This derivation is further evidence for the connection of this shield to fighting in phalanx formation and so to the link between the equipment and the formation."
* Raaflaub/Rosenstein eds. 1999 p132-133 (Kurt Raaflaub, "Archaic and classical Greece" p129-161)
"Phalanx fighting was a remarkable form of warfare, different from any other. Two armies met each other on level ground; they were arranged in dense in dense formations, several ranks deep (the 'phalanx'), the soldiers equipped uniformly with the panoply consisting of helmet, corslet and greaves, spear and short sword, and the big round shield (hoplon, hence hoplites). Mounted or light-armed troops, if involved at all, played a minor role. After the two armies clashed, heavy fighting with spear and sword went on for a while before the soldiers in the front ranks locked shields and tried to dislodge each other by pushing and shoving (о̄thismos), those in the front being pressed forward by those in the back. All thus depended on maintaining the formation; as soon as one side gave in, the ranks were broken and the battle usually was over. Since the goal was to defeat, not to annihilate, the enemy, the fleeing losers usually were not pursued and casualties, though potentially serious, often were limited."
* Matyszak 2017 p121
"The original archaic helmet was a sort of metal bucket with eye-holes. In the archaic era this slowly evolved to a design known -- to modern researchers -- as the Corinthian helmet. This was technically a helm, as it covered the full head and face. ('Helmet' is the diminutive of 'helm', as for example 'piglet' is the diminutive of 'pig'.) Usually beaten from a single piece of bronze or brass, the Corinthian was a distinctive item of armour that had the added advantage of making the wearer look formidably inhuman."
* Cole 2021 p38
"The hoplite's helmet from around the 7th century BC was the 'Corinthian' pattern (named because it appears on Corinthian pottery, and also because Herodotus straight up calls it a Corinthian helmet) that protected the head, neck and face, leaving a kind of Y-shaped opening for seeing and breathing. This helmet, made from a single sheet of bronze, offered great protection, but limited vision and hearing and could also make the wearer overheat."
* Esposito 2020 p188
"The Corinthian, Chalcidian, and Attic helmets were all linked together and were part of a common evolutionary process that started during the Greek Dark Ages. At the same time, in addition to the Corinthian one, another kind of helmet was also developed: the Illyrian helmet. This evolved from the so-called Kegelhelm (a cone- or skittle-shaped helmet) produced during the Archaic period in Central Europe and brought into the southern Balkans by the Illyrians."
* Warry 1980 p44-45
"Greek Hoplite Helmets The evolution of the hoplite and his equipment engendered two main types of bronze helmet, known today as the 'Corinthian' and 'Illyrian.' Such helmets were prized possessions and often passed from father to son. The Corinthian was produced by beating metal over a stake and tailor-made so as to be very close fitting. On pottery and sculpture these helmets usually appear with crests, but a close study reveals that in practice a large number lacked them. Crests were usually made of horsehair set in wood, rather like a broom. As horsehair is difficult to dye, the bristles were normally left unstained; black, white and chestnut were common natural colours. Little is known about helmet linings but it is believed that felt may have been glued inside. What is certain is that skull-caps of felt or wool were worn, to keep hair in position and perhaps as padding."
* Sekunda/Hook 2000 p11
"The helmet ... was not expected to ward off all blows: strength was sacrificed for lightness and reasonable all-over protection. Hoplites used several varieties of close-helmet which must have seriously restricted hearing and vision. The inside was sometimes lined with fabric, but lacked the strap suspension system found in modern helmets. Blows to the head must have frequently resulted in injury. Hoplites are normally shown wearing nothing under the helmet, though occasional representations show that a cloth headband, or caps of various styles, were often worn for comfort. Homer (Il. 10.258) terms the leather cap worn in battle kataityx, but we do not know if this term was used later for 'cap-comforters' of this type.
"The brightly dyed horsehair crests attached to Greek helmets were mainly designed to make the hoplite appear taller and more imposing." [reference omitted]
* Wilkinson 1971 p13
"Since most of these helmets made it impossible to recognize the wearer, it became the custom to fit the helmet with a crest. Some were of beaten bronze and took the form of 'ears', great, sweeping curves, or simpler shapes; others were fashioned from horsehair."
* Esposito 2020 p184-185
"At the beginning of this period, the standard armour worn by Greek hoplites was that commonly known as bell cuirass, due to its shape, or Argive cuirass, because its oldest example has been discovered in Argos. This kind of armour derived from the previous models employed during the late Mycenaean period and was introduced on a large scale during the closing phase of the Greek Dark Ages. It consisted of a front adn a back plate made of bronze, simply decorated in the form of the anatomy of the torso: this decoration was very basic and consisted of just a few lines. The two plates were assembled together thanks to two tubular projections that were fitted into corresponding slots and held in position with two pins, and also by two loops placed at the bottom of the left side (one on the front plate and one on the back plate). The plates were held in position on the shoulders with two iron spikes placed on the front plate which passed through corresponding holes on the back plate. In addition, under the left arm and at the left hip, the rolled-over edge was opened up to form a channel that held the front plate of the cuirass in position. Around the neck, arm holes and bottom edge of the cuirass there were embossed ridges created by rolling forward the bronze. The overall shape of the cuirass resembled that of a bell, being much larger in the bottom half. The Argive cuirass was usually worn together with several additional components, which made it quite heavy but very effective: a semi-circular plate known as a mitra, suspended from a waistbelt worn under the cuirass and protecting the abdomen; shoulder guards; arm guards (for the right arm only); thigh guards; greaves; ankle guards; and foot guards. All these additional protections were made of bronze and could be decorated with incisions in the same fashion as the cuirass. These literally made early hoplites look like 'men of bronze', particularly when added to by a helmet and shield made from the same material. As time progressed, due to the new need for mobility and speed in combat, these additional elements fell into disuse, apart from the greaves."
* Matyszak 2017 p123-124
"The older choice was bronze. This type of armour was slightly flared at the waist to allow the wearer to bend, and this flare has given the design its modern name of the 'bell cuirass'. As ever with body armour, every item as a compromise between lightness and protection. We know exactly the weight of one bell cuirass -- 3.36kg (7.4 lbs). This is the 'Argos cuirass' which was discovered almost intact.
"Modern reconstructions put the Argos cuirass on the light side, and suggest that a more common weight range was between 4-10kg depending on the wearer's strength and sense of vulnerability." [references omitted]
* Cole 2021 p37
"Prior to the 6th century BC, there's evidence of more complete armor, including vambraces (forearm protection), rerebraces (upper arm protection), ankle guards, cuisses (thigh armor) and even sabatons (foot armor, but all of this extra protection seems to have been discarded by the height of the classical period.
"[....] The bronze cuirass began with a distinctive bell shape in two pieces (breastplate and backplate), including a flaring lip over the hips."
* Gabriel 2018 p27
"By 600 BC the Greeks and Romans introduced the bell muscular cuirass made of cast bronze. Cast in two halves, front and back, the cuirass was joined at the side with hinges and locks or belts. The bell cuirass weighed about 25lb, was hot and uncomfortable, and slowed the soldier's movement, factors which worked against its wide use or adoption by other armies."
* 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."
* Sage 1996 p26
"The major offensive weapon was the heavy thrusting spear, between six and one half and ten feet (two to three meters) in length. It had a heavy iron head and a butt spike both for supporting the spear in the ground at rest and as a secondary weapon in case the point was broken off. This did in fact tend to happen."
* Wilkinson 1971 p11
"Earlier spears were for thrusting, leaving close combat to be decided by swords."
* 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."
* 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."
* Esposito 2020 p189
"The hoplite's main weapon was his spear, the dory, which was 2-3 metres long, with both its head and butt made of iron. The blade of the head was leaf-shaped, while the spike placed at the butt end was very thin and could be used to strike as well as to fix the spear into the ground."
* Sage 1996 p30
"This is the main offensive weapon of the classical phalanx. But it is clear that it had its limitations. In the tremendous onrush of opposing formations it was often shattered. Numerous holes in extant pieces of armor dedicated at Olympia and elsewhere show that it could be effective in piercing the corselet. It appears that the spear was thrust overhand with the main targets being the unprotected neck and genitals of the opponent."
* Ashdown 1909 p28
"The sword continued to be of the leaf-like form which prevailed in the Bronze Age, and was longer than the Roman sword of the following era. At the same time a sword was in use which was the prototype of the subsequent weapon: it had a long, straight blade slightly tapering from the hilt to the point, where it was cut to an acute angle for thrusting. A central ridge traversed both sides of the blade, and it was double-edged. Upon these swords and their scabbards a wealth of decoration was lavished by the Greeks. "
* Coe/Connolly/Harding/Harris/LaRocca/Richardson/North/Spring/Wilkinson 1989 p20-21 (Peter Connolly, "Greece and Rome" p20-29)
"The hoplite sword had a double-edged blade about 24 ins/60 cm long, waisted just below the hilt and then widening gradually, reaching its maximum width just over two-thirds of the way down and then tapering to a point. The tang was flat and very similar to its Bronze Age predecessor, being a complete cross-section of the hilt. The grip was formed by sandwiching the tang between two pieces of bone or wood and covering them, totally or partially, with a thin sheet of metal. The hoplite sword was essentially a slashing weapon, though some examples have long points and could have been very effective cut-and -thrust weapons, and was worn slung from a baldric over the right shoulder so that it hung almost horizontally on the left hip."
* Withers 2010 p17 = Withers/Capwell 2010 p265
"There is great irony in noting that the most successful sword design of the Ancient World was developed by the Greeks, who were ostensibly spearmen. The sword was never regarded as a main battle weapon and played a purely secondary role. Once the spears had been thrown or lost in battle, swords were then engaged to finish the conflict in a decisive manner.
"The main battle sword of the ancient Greek military was the xiphos. Introduced around 800-400BC, it comprised a straight, double-edged, leaf-shaped blade of around 65cm (25.6in), and was particularly effective at slashing and stabbing."
* Cassin-Scott 1977 p37
"The short thrusting sword was carried hanging from a leather strap over the right shoulder."
* Sage 1996 p26
"As secondary armament, the hoplite carried a short stabbing sword useful for close fighting."
* Sage 1996 p30
"The sword was a secondary weapon that was used if the spear was unserviceable."
* Gabriel 2018 p30
"The difficulty in using the Greek tether shield-grip was that it required a great deal of strength and training to use effectively, factors that restricted military service in Greece to the nobility. In the sixth century BC, this grip was replaced by the Argive grip, a single loop through which the forearm could pass with another loop at the shield's rim held by the hand in a strong grip. This considerably reduced the strength and training required for use, so that the average citizen could now easily master the use of the shield. Mass production of these shields also made them cheaper. These developments made it possible to enrol [SIC] the common citizenry for war. Very quickly the practice of war shifted from the exclusive domain of the nobility to battles between disciplined groups of militia heavy infantry, bring into being the famous Greek hoplite."
* Coggins 1966 p20
"The shield was no longer the clumsy ankle length affair of Homeric days but was now round, some three feet or more in diameter. It was deeply dished and was held by a strap through which the left forearm passed, with a leather grip for the hand."
* Esposito 2020 p183-184
"The Greek hoplites derived their name from the most important element of their personal equipment, the hoplon round shield. Also known as the Argive shield, its introduction during the last decades of the Greek Dark Ages marked the beginning of the so-called hoplite revolution. This kind of shield, differently from the previous ones that had been employed in mainland Greece during the Mycenaean period, was quite convex and had a reinforced rim. In addition, it had an innovative grip that made its used particularly effective. This consisted of an arm band fitted to the centre of the shield on the back; the hoplite put his left forearm through the band and thus the shield was easily fastened. This simple but innovative system was completed by the presence of a strap, acting as a handgrip, near the rim. This was grasped with the left hand by the hoplite and made the danger of losing the shield unlikely, even during harsh close combat. These basic characteristics of the Argive shield, together with its dimensions -- 80-100cm in diameter, covering a hoplite from the chin to the knee -- made possible the introduction of hoplite tactics. Half of the hoplon always protruded beyond the left hand side of its user and thus could protect the right-hand side of the hoplite fighting next to him. If the hoplites were well trained, and a soldier had a good degree of coordination with the two comrades fighting on his sides, the phalanx worked perfectly as an impenetrable wall of shields.
"Each shield was made of hardwood and was covered with bronze or ox-hide on the external surface. The rim and arm band were made of bronze, while all the other fittings attached to the back of it, including the hand grip, were made of rawhide or felt. The back of the shield was lined with leather. The standard weight of a hoplon was about 7kg. The external surface could be painted with an infinite variety of symbols and decorations: these could be individual designs, reflecting the personal taste of a single hoplite, or collective ones that included the specific symbols of a particular clan, military unit or city. Over time, as individualism became a secondary factor in Greek warfare, city emblems became the most popular shield devices, generally consisting of the city's initial, such as alpha for Athens and lambda for Sparta (the Spartans called themselves Lakedaimonians). Other cities preferred using religious or traditional symbols, like the famous Club of Herakles for Thebes, Herakles being considered as the founder of the city. Animals (both real and fantastic), geometric patterns and everyday objects were also popular subjects. Sometimes the shield motifs were made of bronze and were painted before being applied on the external surface of the hoplon."
* Snodgrass 1999 p53
"[T]he most important single item in the panoply of the hoplite, from which indeed he took his name, was the great round shield or hoplon. It was much larger than the round shield of the preceding era: the regular diameter is about three feet, and one exceptional example was found to be nearly four feet across. The shape is gently convex, except that the rim is usually flat. The basic material was wood, reinforced with bronze. The whole shield sometimes had a bronze facing, and the rim was invariably faced with bronze, usually with a repousse cable-decoration. On the inner side was a bronze strip, sometimes short but more often running right across the shield, and bowed out in the middle to form a loop through which the left forearm was passed, up to just below the elbow. The arm-band, or porpax as the Greeks called it, was a new invention and peculiar in this kind of shield. At the edge of the shield -- the right-hand edge as seen from inside -- was a handle, the antilabe, a leather thong which was gripped by the left hand. This two-handled arrangement had many advantages: it helped to relieve the great weight of the shield, it enabled the soldier to release the antilabe, and it made it possible to hold the shield rigidly in an oblique position so that the enemy's weapons would glance off it. The telamon, or sling, for the heavy shield had finally been abandoned, which meant that the shield could no longer be left to hang from the back; this mattered especially on those regrettable occasions when the hoplite had to flee" ....
* 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 as an embossed decoration made of metal. A popular episema was the head of the Gorgon."
* Ashdown 1909 p28
"The great shield of the Heroic Age gave place to a round or oblong shield reaching only to the knee; it was concave to the body, and appears to have been decorated as a general rule: one invariable ornament was a flat band or border round the circumference. This shield was the true battle-shield of the heavily-armed hoplites."