Greek Hoplite Armor & Weapons
The battle equipment of the Greek Hoplite was not standardised,
although there were doubtless trends in general designs over time,
and between city-states. Hoplites had customized armour, and possibly
family symbols on his shield. The equipment might well be passed down
in families, since it would have been expensive to manufacture.
average farmer-peasant hoplite typically wore no armour, carrying
only a shield, a spear, and perhaps a helmet plus a secondary weapon.
A more well-to-do hoplite would have linothorax, armour
composed of stitched/laminated linen fabrics that was sometimes
reinforced with animal skins and/or bronze scales. The linothorax was
the most popular type armour worn by the hoplites, since it was
cost-effective and provided decent protection.
Spartan Hoplite with linothorax
Spartan Lochagos (captain)
with muscled armor
Detail showing the Argive shield grip
The richer upper-class hoplites
typically had a bronze breastplate of either the bell or
muscled variety, a bronze helmet with cheekplates, as well as
greaves and other armour. The design of the helmets used varied
through time. The Corinthian helmet was at first standardised and was
a very successful design. Later variants included the Chalcidian
helmet, a lightened version of the Corinthian helmet, and the very
simple Pilos helmet worn by the later Spartan hoplites.
Hoplites carried a circular shield
called an aspis (or
hoplon) made from wood and covered in bronze, measuring
roughly 1 metre in diameter. This large shield was made possible
partly by its shape, which allowed it to be supported on the
shoulder. The revolutionary part of the shield was, in fact, the
Known as an Argive grip, it placed the handle at
the edge of the shield, and was supported by a leather fastening (for
the forearm) at the centre. This allowed the Hoplite soldier more
mobility with the shield, as well as the ability to capitalize on its
offensive capabilities and better support the Phalanx. It spanned
from chin to knee and was very heavy - weighing 8–15 kg (17.6–33
The primary weapon was a spear called a
accounts of its length vary, it is usually now believed to have been
seven to nine feet long (~2.1 – ~2.7m). It was held one-handed, the
other hand holding the hoplite's shield.
The spearhead was usually a curved leaf
shape, while the rear of the spear had a spike called a sauroter
('lizard-killer') which was used to stand the spear in the ground
(hence the name).
It was also used as a secondary weapon if
the main shaft snapped, or for the rear ranks to finish off fallen
opponents as the phalanx advanced over them. In addition to being
used as a secondary weapon, the sauroter also doubled to balance the
spear, but not for throwing purposes.
Spartan spearhead and sauroter
Greek Hoplite in battle
It is a matter of contention, among
historians, whether the hoplite used the spear overarm or underarm.
Held underarm, the thrusts would have been less powerful but under
more control, and vice versa. It seems likely that both motions were
used, depending on the situation. If attack was called for, an
overarm motion was more likely to break through an opponent's
defence. The upward thrust is more easily deflected by armour due to
its lesser leverage. However, when defending, an underarm carry
absorbed more shock and could be 'couched' under the shoulder for
It should also be said that an overarm
motion would allow more effective combination of the aspis and
doru if the shield wall had broken down, while the underarm
motion would be more effective when the shield had to be interlocked
with those of one's neighbours in the battle-line. Hoplites in the
rows behind the lead would almost certainly have made overarm
thrusts. The rear ranks held their spears underarm, and raised their
shields upwards at increasing angles. This was an effective defence
against missiles, deflecting their force.
Hoplites also carried a short sword
called a xiphos. The short sword was a secondary weapon, used
if or when their spears were broken or lost, or if the phalanx broke
rank. The xiphos usually has a blade around 2 feet (0.61 m) long,
however those used by the Spartans were often only 12–18 inches
long. This very short xiphos would be very advantageous in the press
that occurred when two lines of hoplites met, capable of being thrust
through gaps in the shieldwall into an enemy's unprotected groin or
throat, while there was no room to swing a longer sword or use a
spear. A tactic used later by the Roman legions where the short
gladius could be used to greatest effect.
Such a small weapon
would be particularly useful after many hoplites had started to
abandon body armour during the Peloponnesian War.
Hoplites could also
alternatively carry the curved kopis, a particularly vicious
hacking weapon. Spartan hoplites were often depicted using a kopis,
instead of the xiphos, in Athenian art, as the kopis was seen as a
quintessential "bad guys" weapon in Greek eyes.
Greek Hoplites engaging the enemy
Spartan kopis sword