Reenactment guidance and ideas Written by Hoplites, for Hoplites
Recreating the Ancient World
Combatants in Greece
in the 5th Century B.C.
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Equipment For Displays
Dressing the Set
One of the major challenges for re-enactors of this period is the limited amount of artefacts in existence (published and accessible) against which to base any manufacture or commissions, coupled with the fact that commercially available material is often hard to obtain and not particularly that accurate. This can create problems, but good sources of manufacture do exist and provided you can provide accurate descriptions of what is required, some excellent solutions can be found.
The Standard Display
For events, the only practical approach is to represent a camp of some description but, as you might already know, Hoplites on the march would usually resort to the warmth of a fire (if they had carried fire with them) and simply wrap their cloak around for comfort. As far as is known, only one example exists of a 'Greek' tent, and that is taken from a later, Roman theatrical depiction of the Greeks. So accuracy has to be questioned.
However, both to create an effective crowd display and to provide some degree of control of your equipment, some form of tentage is a practical expedient. But what?
Choices are really a major construction, in the style of an oblong temple with an A-framed roof, or to go to the other end of the scale and construct what in British military terms would be a 'basha'. Essentially a stretched piece of material that provides a degree of non-permanent shelter. Something that, with a bit of creativity in build, can provide the right 'feel', but also be justifiable in interpretation when talking to the public.
From various sources can be found the ancient Greek variation of a military backpack. A design that stood the test of time and can be found in both medieval and later periods but is essentially constructed in the same manner. It is a 'backpack basket' and many suitable models can be found through re-enactor suppliers relatively easily within the UK.
Whilst commonly manufactured from wicker, which is essentially the wrong material, once again this does fit within the spirit of display and the material differences give the re-enactor yet another element of discussion with the viewing public. It also makes an ideal container for re-enactor hoplites, by which they can regulate the desire to spend money. If your equipment cannot fit in the basket or be carried with you at the same time - don't buy it!
Are an ideal way of providing texture to a display. Goatskin, sheep, hare (rabbit skin makes a good substitute) and deer are all suitable and can be obtained cheaply from traders for between about £5 and £15 (2005 prices) for poorer pelts. Also fairly available are printed hides, usually used within the film industry. With a little bit of magic a calf or rabbit skin can be printed to represent leopard or ocelot. Again, if you seek out the flawed prints these can be acquired for very reasonable amounts.
In sourcing iron tools, there are a number of period examples from around Europe that give insight into the variety that might have been in use during this period. One interesting academic paper (Tsetskhladze, G.R; 1995) even speculates on the potential of iron tools being supplied from the Scythian area of Colchis - where the legendary Jason sailed to in search of the Golden Fleece.
The reality was that the Greeks were a colonising nation and it is not unrealistic to suspect that trade goods did exist on the mainland. For the purpose of reenactment, therefore, this does give a practical basis for gauging the design of iron tools displayed and some flexibility in obtaining examples. The illustrations accompanying the Tsetskhladze paper, for example, suggesting that in many ways, a basic knife is a knife is a knife and there is little deviations from a basic blade with a handle during this period.
Setting aside any very distinctive designs from elsewhere in Europe at the time, therefore, illustrated alongside this article are two copies of the 'Abington B' knife (circa 350 BC) and a very basic axehead. Each of which could be used, justifiably, for display and living history purposes.
One of the key, distinctive pieces associatted with the hoplite is their armour. Guidance on making armour can be found here.
LET THERE BE FIRE
It is strongly believed that despite the incredible feats of technology the ancient Greeks were not actually very capable at making fire. Indeed, there were known to carry fire around with them in firepots, despite the obvious dangers that might bring. Aboard wooden ships for example.
Despite much searching, and discussions with foremost academics, it has not been possible to establish quite how fire might have been made. Perhaps the origin of the 'eternal flame'?