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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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Primary Weapons

The Stabbing Spear (Dory)

The primary weapon of the Hoplite was the long, stabbing spear. A heavily counterbalanced weapon that was designed to be used in close formation and that had a number of design features built in. To begin with, the counterbalance weight, known as the sarouter or 'lizard sticker' helped bring the centre of gravity back to around 2 feet from the bottom. This 'shifting' of the centre of balance was also aided by using a tapered shaft, most likely at around 1.5 or 1.25 inches at the base thinning to around 1 inch or .75 inches at the front.

To compliment this, the spear point itself, generally illustrated as a leaf shaped blade with a central, re-enforcing ridge, it is hypothesised would have been quite small.

Archaeological finds abound of spear points (aichme) and these come in a wide range of sizes but as many have been found in isolation of other, component, spear elements it is not always easy to draw a relationship between their use with a hoplite long spear and the possibility of use with other spears. The main lesson from re-enactment though is that 'the larger the aichme, the heavier it is and the heavier it is the more difficult it is to bring the overall centre of gravity of the spear back far enough'.

'Far enough' being gauged by the ability to hold the spear vertically against the body, at the centre of gravity, with the point of the sarouter clear of the ground. It being impossible to drill without being a danger to colleagues if this cannot be achieved.

It has been hypothesised, therefore, that many of the larger aichmes found would have belonged to hunting spears where the relationship between length and centre of gravity, in the sense of phalanx fighting, is less critical. Many of the illustrative sources of hoplite spears are from vases and it seeming reasonable to conclude that artistic licence might well account for some of the seemingly impossible sarouter / aichme relationships. To set against this, however, there are finds of sarouters that have had lead collars added to increase the weight, and so it is likely that some unbalanced combinations would have existed. At least visually.

Amongst the illustrations accompanying this article is one of some of the aichmes currently being used by the Hoplite Association. The larger blades have been manufactured by one of the association armourers' and the smaller is from Manning Imperial in Australia. The larger blade only being practical by having these made in two pieces - that is, they are hollow in the middle.

On to the point of engagement and the implications this might have on a spear that extends 5 feet or more in front of the user.

In a 'one-to-one' fight, this has obvious advantages, but in a phalanx engagement, where the objective is to close on the enemy and once set in motion this is exactly what a phalanx would do, being face to face with an opponent mitigates, somewhat, the initial length and effectively renders the 'business end', or aichme, pretty useless.

Not, you might think, a design oversight but something that the design takes into account.

There are accounts of spears cracking on impact and if you think of this in the same vein as the cavalry lances where the weapon was used for initial shock and impact then, once this is achieved, the potentially 9 foot spear will be reduced to 3 or 4 feet and at this length it becomes a more useful close quarter weapon.

One of the early debates within the society was around the argument that the sarouter was, in fact, partially designed as a secondary weapon and we were initially convinced that this was not the case. Particularly when you consider that there are many variants of these and, whilst heavy, not all have a pointed end. With the benefit of experience and hindsight, however, it now seems quite feasible that this was, indeed, not a secondary issue but in reality one of the primary uses of this weapon.

To support our own experiences, there are accounts of other secondary weapons, specifically swords, rarely being drawn, helmets and armour have been found with the distinctive square sectioned (one of the most popular designs) sarouter hole and, perhaps more importantly, in the push of an engagement and with the weight and lack of movement caused by the hoplite panoply, a 'bird in the hand is worth two in the bush'.

Also illustrated alongside this article are some of the sarouter designs used by the association. The second one down was produced by Manning Imperial, the others are all from Association armourers.

Secondary Weapons

The Sword

Many representations, both on vase paintings and in sculpture, show hoplites wearing or brandishing swords. These are most commonly of the leaf blade type (commonly referred to under the generic term for sword, which is xiphos) or of the re-curved type (kopis). There has also been one that appears to depict a blade similar to a medieval falchion.

Setting aside the inevitable degree of 'artistic licence' that exists in these sources, there are plenty of archaeological finds that provide 'real' patterns against which reconstructions might be undertaken. One thing these demonstrate though is that whilst there are two dominant types of sword, actual, individual examples will vary widely. This is not that surprising when you consider that these would have been manufactured in small forges around the Hellas, without the benefit of the rigorous military patterns that are a feature of even slightly more modern armies.

As far as can be established, whilst hoplites would receive training in the art of phalanx warfare, with dory and aspis, any training in the use of a sword was down to the individual to arrange. Consequently, sword skills amongst the ordinary hoplite would probably not be that strong and there are suggestions that drawing a sword during battle was an exception rather than the rule.

This combination of factors further supports the arguments (under the article on the hoplite spear) for the dory itself to have two aspects to its fighting use. Again, not surprising when you also take into account the fact that these were not professional soldiers and thus any weapons used needed to have an element of ease of use in their application. The spear point for attack and, when broken, effectively a club for close quarter use.

On this very point, if you now examine existing swords it can quickly be seen that the two designs create 'blade-heavy' weapons which are more akin to an axe than the graceful sword we would equate to later periods and being designed for overhead hacking more than fencing. Something that would make sense when you consider the restrictions of a hoplite shield in use and the limited training that would be needed for an untrained person, such as a farmer, to be effective with a sword of this type.

In the illustrations that accompany this article are examples of both types. Hoplite Association armourers have produced a number of examples, with display (mild steel) blades and tempered, fighting blades. Examples of commercial swords are referred to elsewhere on this site and suppliers are suggested in the links page. The examples on this page feature both types. The leaf blade swords are both commercial models, although one has been re-balanced for fighting displays with the addition of a bronze pommel. All of the kopis examples are of Association build or commission (in the case of the top one which was produced by Valiant in Australia).

The next article to appear will be on the Aspis. However, this has been delayed due to the amount of work being done to capture shield designs from academic sources. it will not now appear until early 2006.

All articles on equipment have potential commercial sources highlighted under the links and acknowledgements page. However, some bespoke items will be identified that are manufactured by associates of the "4 Hoplites of the Acropolis".

These will be identified within the text and for purchase enquiries, please click here and these will be circulated to the appropriate manufacturer for a response. Do not forget to provide full details of the item/s you are interested in.