Athenian Hoplite of the Persian Wars
In pitched battle, the army formed a single phalanx of 10,000 men, a kilometre wide, eight ranks deep, protected by a wall of overlapping shields with a hedge of spear-blades projecting above.
At a Glance
- Shield design: either individually chosen or representing clan, neighbourhood, or tribe
Clothing and Jewellery
- Linen corselet: layers of linen glued together to a thickness of about 5mm to form a series of strips and plates held together with straps and ties
- Long thrusting-spear: between 2 and 3m in length, with leaf-shaped iron blade and pointed iron butt
- Sword: about 60cm in length, double-edged and leaf-shaped
- Helmet: of ‘Korinthian’ type (i.e. with face enclosed by cheek-pieces and nose-guard, with dyed horse-hair crest, and head protection from leather lining or woollen cap.
- Greaves (optional): muscled lower-leg guards of bronze, flexible enough to clip on and off
- Shield: between 80cm and 1m in diameter, and formed of bronze facing, wooden core, and leather lining, plus armband, handgrip, and other internal fittings
The Athenian Army was a city-state militia in which every able-bodied, adult, male citizen was obliged to serve. Men were ranked by wealth, and their service obligation reflected their resources. Roughly a third, mainly formed of prosperous peasant-farmers, were deemed rich enough to equip themselves to fight as hoplites – heavy infantry – in the phalanx.
The panoply – the full set of arms and armour – was expensive. Items of equipment were almost certainly passed down the family line and replaced only when necessary. There was therefore no official uniform or standardised equipment, and the appearance of a hoplite phalanx would have varied from man to man. Each, though, would have had the basics of helmet, shield, spear, and sword. Most would have had some form of body-armour, and some may have had greaves on the lower legs, and perhaps a guard for the right arm and hand.
Hoplite helmets were made of bronze in a variety of designs. The most popular was the Corinthian helmet, which covered the whole of the head, leaving only the eyes, nose, and mouth clear. The helmet was surmounted by a crest of dyed horse-hair. Body-armour was of bronze for those who could afford it, typically in the form of a muscled cuirass, but most men seem to have made do with the linen cuirass, a stiff shirt, and shoulder plates, all formed of many layers of linen glued together. Leg, arm, and sometimes hand and foot guards were very much the exception.
The round hoplite shield, which had a convex shape and could be up to a metre across, comprised a core formed of wooden strips covered by an outer plate of bronze. Weighing perhaps 7 kilos, the shield was held using an arm-band combined with a hand-grip.
The hoplite’s principal armament was a thrusting-spear between 2 and 3m in length, with a long, leaf-shaped iron blade at the top, and a spiked iron butt at the bottom. His secondary armament was a double-sided, leaf-shaped slashing sword of about 60 cm length.
Good basic article. The linen cuirass became standard under Alexander. His Greek mercenaries retained the bronze one for some time.
The heavy infantry shield wall continued to be a popular and effective drill through the Dark Ages.