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Written by Hoplites, for Hoplites

Recreating the Ancient World

Combatants in Greece

in the 5th Century B.C.

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The ASPIS

Aspis or Hoplon?

Source?

There are essentially two, mainstream commercial sources of an ASPIS, an occasional 'bespoke' manufacturer and the option to 'go it alone'. When deciding on your choice, think hard and fast about what you actually need.

Commercially, well the most identifiable source is Manning Imperial in Australia. Like all of the items examined from this workshop, the Aspis produced is of good quality but there are provisos. Essentially shape and weight (in the early build shield - see below).

Building shields is a labour intensive process, so it would be wrong to debate cost. Indeed, if a true labour cost was added it would certainly be a lot more than the A$860 (approx £350 - Jan 08 prices) to over A$1000 (plus postage of course, and import duties if you are buying internationally). So the base cost is not unreasonable at all. However....

Overall diameter (we have seen) is around 84cms, which is fine, but it is designed with a fairly shallow bowl which means that when carrying it you need to take the weight almost entirely on your left arm. And there is some weight to carry, as it is noticably heavier than the 14lbs discussed earlier on this page.

NOTE: The model pictured is relatively unsuitable for reencating BUT this has been substantively reworked and the current model featured is much more attractive and appears to be a better design. At around £380 a finished bowl not an unrealistic price.

Manning do work to commisions though and it is highly likely that if you approached them with a revised design they would be prepared to quote for doing it - but it is worth checking out the site anyway.

One other, 'potential' commercial item is the aspis promoted by Deepeeka as their shield, code AH6116. The word 'potential' being used because this is one item that seems to be as rare as hen's teeth and despite trying and even, at one point, liaising with Deepeeka directly, it has not been possible to source even one example for testing or review. This may now be delisted.

There is another 'INDIAN' build shield though which can be turned into a very serviceable and useable shield and is in manufacture. At around £125 delivered this makes re-enacting with a 'proper' shield an achievable goal. We have been working with the manufacturer to help improve build quality and are some way towards achieving this, although it is planned to make further amendments during (2008).

It will take up to£50 to finish (although the latest versions obtained look as though £35 is a more realistic figure) and correct this shield to a good standard finish, but it is still a very attractive proposition. The following is a finished version:

Currently these are not easily obtainable BUT we understand that a German retailer will be getting stocks in 2008. The Hoplite Association has just taken delivery (Jan 2008) of 10 of these and the build quality is very good - for a 'basic' shield. They are a shallow bowl, as can be seen from the unfinished pictures below,....

...1 metre in diameter. With a wooden core and material cover (as supplied) they are deemed acceptable for HA use and the Association will be sourcing more. Further details and links will be posted as soon as we have confirmation of commercial availability.

This brings us to specialist / bespoke manufacturers.

Original Hoplite Association designs have generated two basic shields, with differing constructs. However these are not really 'commercial' sources as such so availability can be highly variable.

The most desirable, expensive and longest production time item is the original 'Wulf' shield. These are around 93cms diameter, built from a combination of pine and lime wood, have latted bowls and will give a final, finished weight of 14lbs with no problems at all. They also have a good bowl, a deep one, and are VERY robust, despite being offered as display items only we have never see one suffer with even the most extreme abuse. Usually supplied as a 'blank' (sans fittings). Wulf is now manufacturing again but this particular design might be limited in availability. Email Wulf for more information.

 

 

From this same source is a new aspis. An excellent shape, and by far the favoured for ease of use. Designed using the dimensions and shape of the 'patroklos' shield and build entirely of pine. 90 cms diameter, 7cms internal rim, with a distinctive bowl shape. These are cheaper than the above version, HOWEVER, these are now being built again (Feb 2008). Email Wulf for information.

Or 'going it alone.....

The final, and seemingly increasingly popular (and practical) solution if newsgroup postings are anything to go by, is building your own. As mentioned earlier, there is a pattern available on the web on the Matthew Amt site, BUT it is suggested that you use this as a guide only and not as a definitive model.

The process of making a pattern is relatively simple, but consider your build materials and what you are going to actually use the shield for when making one. A shallow bowl is fine if its primary purpose is to stand in the corner of a room and look pretty. As is a relatively heavy weight though, if you intend to carry it for any period you may wish to consider a more practical curve. Depending, of course, upon the period your shield relates to and the source illustrations you are attempting to recreate.

Please refer to as many original illustrations as possible. it is a big job building your own and after all that effort you want to be totally happy with what you produce!

If this is for use, however, you need to take account of the comments on this page.

Shields - what to consider.......................

Perhaps the most difficult item to source for any prospective Hoplite recreation is the ASPIS. There are very limited commercial sources which leave, for many, going it alone. So what exactly are your options and what will they cost?

Let us begin by considering just what we are looking for.

From the perspective of the 4Hoplites, we are seeking something that gives a fairly good representation of the original - with the intention of actually using it in displays/drill/demonstrations. So this means more than having something that 'looks' like an Aspis - it means having something that can be carried for extended periods whilst marching or drilling, it means having something that can withstand the constant misuse of transport, camping and handling on display; and it means having something that also stands up to inspection by fellow re-enactors and public alike, who are seeking accurate portrayals in all we do.

Against this it has to be accepted that there was no 'authorised' pattern against which the aspis would have been made. There is also little by way of tangible archeological evidence and illustrative detail is generous in its lack of specific detail... so reasoned interpretation and the occasional 'leap of faith' again come into play.

Its role was essentially to offer protection from the neck to above the knee, to facilitate the 'mutual protection' capability of a formed phalanx and to create working space in the dish of the shield for the individual hoplite - both to facilitate the 'push' and to be able to access personal weapons.

So what are the important considerations in reconstruction? For use these are as follows:

Weight...........

Archeological estimation puts the shield at around 14lbs finished weight, which is heavy enough, but not too heavy to carry for extended periods provided that the shape is correct. Build experiments, and with access to the Hoplite Association members we have played with around 16 variants, have demonstrated that this finished weight is very realistic... provided you plan the build carefully and use the right materials. It is possible, and we have examples, to add a few pounds to this (particularly if you build using plywood), create a fairly shallow bowl (to maximise materials and save cost) and to end up with something that looks good on the ground but that nobody wants to carry when it is time to drill!

The solution when building yourself? Get the shape right, create a good pattern, accept that you will need to buy wood to make the pattern, not make the pattern to fit the wood available and be prepared to do a lot of sanding...

Shape.............

An aspect of debate, and one fuelled by limited archeological evidence and inconsistent illustrative evidence.

To a degree, therefore, this can be a matter of preference (within the realms of supporting evidence); but before making a choice, consider the practicalities of use.

The dish needs to be able to accomodate the shoulder to enable the weight to be taken on it, there needs to be sufficient depth to accomodate the porpax without it extending beyond the bowl and, ideally, you should be able to just grip youe dory in your left hand should you need to.

This suggests that an inner depth of around 16cms would be correct and a good indication of the validity of this can be gained from the Patroklos illustration below.

By using basic maths and creating a size scale from the limb proportion of the seated figure, it is possible to both model and create a scale for the shield on which he sits. OK, one lone shield illustration, but a good basis for construction and, it has to be said, a very attractive shape! This not only gives us depth, but a good, usable shape and a workable diameter. Discussed below.

Size.............

The source of further debate and dispute in the Association, logic would dictate that to equip a phalanx and for it to be effective in locking shields, then they should all be of the same diameter. Finds, though, seem to suggest diameters between 80cms (which is quite a handy size, but noticably small) and 1 metre (which is BIG). This demonstrates that standardisation was probably not the case BUT it is reasonable to assume that there would be some degree of consistancy as there cannot have been that many manufacturers and over the years a degree of familiarity and similarity would probably have occured.

We have shields at both extremes and at various sizes inbetween. The real issue though is not really the overall diameter but the depth of the rim. Too deep and it can be virtually unusable with a corinthian (cheeked) helmet.

Our advice - again using the Patrokolus illustration, 90cms overall diameter with an inner rim depth of 7cms is realistic. A good size for most people and the rim will be practical if you intend to use your aspis in reenactment activities.

Materials.............

Building yourself, well the easy solution is circles of plywood, bonded together and sanded back to shape. But ply is heavy and whilst this might offer a quick solution, you either have to use quite a few sheets for complete circles, cut to maximise circles from fewer sheets (and thus compromise on the shape), or use a number of joined, part circles in the build to make up the shape.

Viable and practical, and a good many people have taken this approach (arguably the primary catalyst being Matthew Amt and the instructions on his site - see notes in column on right). The challenges though are shape, weight and, how you bond the circles.

The alternative is to build from 'real' wood; and if you take this route it is a much more complex build. You either need to 'create' the circles from straight lengths or use this technique together with shaped lathes for the bowl. An approach that is really for a good carpenter or capable woodworker, but one that will get the aspis into the correct weight-band and allows excellent shape control.

For finishing? Well for reenactment use these are generally lined with leather, both inside and out. With the outer being painted.

The technique, once you have the shield blank, is to line the inside first (pig leather is good for this, and you can get a good finish if you use 8 segments), then attach the porpax and whatever handgrip or internal fittings you require.

A well made and reasonable thickness shield (which will be around 1cm thick over the bowl) would allow you to screw fittings on and then grind back the screwheads/fittings - whether screwed from the front or back.

Then you will be able to put the facing cover on. Again, pig leather will work well, albeit giving a fairly thin covering. More ambitious would be a thick cow hide, and if properly soaked and then stretched into position for drying (you would need to make a ring to hold it down to the rim for this technique), the finish would be a relatively impervious, solid cover.

Bronze facing? Good luck... modern metalworking techniques seem to have lost the art of working sheet bronze in the way that our ancestors did. You will need a fairly thin sheet, max.5mm thick or probably a lot less, a lot of patience, skill and deep pockets.....

We often receive emails enquiring about various aspects of recreation and the name - hoplon / aspis is a not uncommon topic.

One of the strands of disccussion resulted in the attached argument, which is appended for anyone interested. (Many thanks Pyros)

Apologies for the stagnated structure, but we did not want to bias what was being said by rewriting any aspects of it.

Consider though, when reading this, that the later references which connect hoplon to shield are drawn from a source at the time of Alexander, quite a few years after the hoplite name was established.

That usage and abusage of language in modern times demonstrates quite clearly that original meaning can be changed over time. So could it not have become the case that the shield became called a hoplon over time as it was the main tool of war that distinguished a hoplite from any othe form of troop?

Also, as clearly stated at the outset, the first meaning was: TOOL,
INSTRUMENT; and a later meaning was the tool of war = weapon.

We also have a latin source for a greek term, and issues of interpretation and translation come into play.

There are other observartions that could be drawn as well, but of course it is always possible to create counter arguments when tangible evidence is not present..... so.....you decide...!