THE ANCIENT GREEK HOPLITE

WEAPONS               3/28/14

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SPEAR

       The spear (dory in Greek) was the main weapon of the hoplite, made of ash and seven or eight feet long.  The head (aichme) was usually iron and was "leaf-shaped" and socketed.  Some had midribs, part- or full-length, many did not.  Sizes varied quite a bit, from about 5 inches to over 2 feet, but a common range seems to have run 8 to 12 inches.  Socket diameters for those spearheads varied from about 3/4" to an inch, up to maybe 1-3/8" for the largest heads (those are unusual!).   On some spearheads there is a visible split or seam showing how the socket was formed by wrapping it around a conical mandrel.  On other examples this has been closed up (presumably forge-welded) and is not immediately visible. 

       At the bottom of the spear was a bronze buttspike (sauroter or "lizard sticker") c. 9 to 18 inches long, usually with a tubular socket and a tapered square-section spike.  These were cast in such a way that they were hollow almost all the way to the point, though they were still twice as heavy as the spearhead to serve as a counterbalance.  It can also serve to stick the spear upright in the ground, but there is actually no real evidence that it was meant to be used as a weapon.  There are a few iron examples of buttspikes as well, apparently made in two pieces since there is usually a bronze collar where the spike and socket meet.

       Generally the spearhead and the buttspike socket has one or two small holes near the opening, for a small nail or even a wooden peg to secure it to the shaft.  (No screws, please!)  The wood needs to be whittled or rasped to fit the socket as well as possible (and straight!), and glue can be used to assure a firm fit.


Tom Kolb's spearhead is one of the best I've seen, from Manning Imperial.  Just under 10" long, and the socket is about 7/8" diameter.  Very light and nicely shaped.

My spearhead is 11" long overall, and was hand-forged long ago by a fellow named Brock.  (The 4 little circles are his maker's mark.)


My second spearhead is ground down from an old Museum Replicas "Large Spearhead", originally a triangular 19-inch monster.  I lopped 3" off the socket and 4" off the blade, so now it's under a foot long and looking quite nice.  I thinned the blade some, and reduced the ugly weld lump where the blade met the socket.


My buttspike is based on the one in the Osprey book The Spartan Army, also made by Manning Imperial.  A very lovely casting, but simply too heavy.  It is 14-1/2" long, and the socket is 1-1/8" in diameter. At first the weight was 3 pounds, but I ground it down to 2 pounds. 

       However, Manning does MUCH better ones now!  http://www.manningimperial.com/item.php?item_id=619&g_id=1&c_id=14 


I had another go at my buttspike, cutting an inch and a half off the point and regrinding that, then fluting the faces.  Also took a layer off the socket area, losing that nice fake seam line but also another half pound of weight. 

       The Olympia report shows a number of iron buttspikes identical in appearance to the cast bronze ones.  They consist of a tapered square-section spike with a spiked *tang* which would have been set into a hole in the end of the wooden shaft.  Surrounding wood at that point (to prevent splitting) is a tubular iron socket, which in some cases at least is clearly just a rectangle of iron sheet formed into a cylinder, with a visible open seam.  Where socket meets spike is a bronze ring, with a large raised rib around the middle, exactly like the raised ring on the cast bronze buttspikes.  And at the top of the iron socket is a flat bronze band or tube, again as seen on the all-bronze versions.  Both bronze rings or bands keep the iron socket closed and in place.  The obvious conclusion is that iron buttspikes developed *first*, and were then copied in cast bronze!  As seen on my bronze sauroter, in its original form the middle socket part has a false seam, mimicking the seam on an iron socket.  There is no other reason for the details on the cast bronze sauroter: they imitate an iron ancestor.

So here is my first attempt at an iron sauroter!  The spike itself is narrower at the top than I wanted, but it was what I had on hand.  The iron part of the socket is just scrap steel sheet wrapped into a tube.  I am not sure that any nail was used on the originals, but in this case it goes through the brass band, the iron tube, and the tang of the spike itself, to hold everything firmly in place.  The brass joint ring is soldered to the iron tube.


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       It is surprisingly (and frustratingly) difficult to find a good spear.  There is no commercially-made Greek spear available with decent shaft, head, and buttspike, so you either need to have one custom made, or modify an existing spear, or build your own from purchased parts.  Reproduction spearheads are frequently too large, and shafts are often too thick.  Ancient spears were thinner and lighter than many people realize!   A shaft thickness of about an inch is fine.  As impressive as a thick spear with a large head can be, a smaller and lighter one is much easier to carry and maneuver!  Might fit in your car better, too, eh?

Kult of Athena offers a Small Spear Head which looks excellent, http://www.kultofathena.com/product.asp?item=1823092900 
--Spearhead 1823092800 looks good, seems a bit large to me
--Arms and Armor Greek Javelin AA227, very nice, don't know if they offer the points without the shafts.  The point would be fine as a small spearhead.

     The late Mike Kasner has made buttspikes by soldering brass barstock to the narrow end of a brass firehose nozzle with the threaded end cut off (from a flea market), then grinding and cutting to shape.  He also made spearheads from old socketed chisels.

       Deepeeka's buttspike actually looks reasonable!  You may be able to buy it alone, though most places only offer it as a set with either their steel spearhead or a bronze one.  The steel spearhead looks good in photos but is HUGE.  Cut it down by at least a third, and lop a couple inches off the socket as well, and it might work.  The shaft it comes with makes a great telephone pole.  The bronze spearhead is actually reasonable in shape, if a bit angular, but would not have been common in the Iron Age.

As usual, Windlass/MRL has nothing usable.

http://www.torringtonbrushes.com/window-brush-handles.html --1" x 6-foot hardwood pole, cheap.  Add point and buttspike and you'll have a nice 7-foot spear.


SWORD

       The blade of the hoplite's sword (xiphos or machaira) is described as "leaf-shaped", and varied in length.  The best-known examples are roughly two feet long, but many originals are shorter.  The blade was iron (not bronze!), and sometimes had a midrib, but many were plainer with a lenticular or flattened diamond cross-section.  It seems that midribs predate the other options, but I don't know for certain when blades without ribs first appeared.  Though the blade is usually shown as fairly broad, much narrower ones are known.  I suspect that many modern reproductions are too large!  Those who have been fortunate enough to handle original Greek swords always remark on how small they are, thin and light.

       NOTE:  Much popular information on Greek swords comes from Peter Connolly's "Greece and Rome at War."  However, all the archeological examples he shows are from ITALY, and construction methods tend to be different from the Greek examples.  Overlying hilt plates of iron or brass are not common in Greece, and again may be a more northern fashion (Macedonia and Thrace).

       The tang of the Greek sword basically matches the outline of the hilt.  Some examples have a flange along both sides of the grip area, but on others the tang is simply flat.  There are NO rod tangs (such as Roman or medieval swords typically have).  Richard Hook's reconstruction of the xiphos in Nick Sekunda's Osprey book shows a rod tang, but that is incorrect.

       The grip is made of wood or bone or ivory in a "scale" or "slab" construction, with a shaped plate applied to either face and riveted through the tang.  The guard and pommel *could* be made in the same way, but could be done in other ways (below).

       The blade at left was made by Dave Akers, and he kindly permitted the use of his photograph.  Buy swords from him!
       The tang can match the entire outline of the guard, flaring out to as much as 4-1/2" wide, with pointed ends.  In this case the actual guard is applied by scale construction like the grip, and can be wood, bone, ivory, iron, or possibly bronze.  I call this option the "full-width guard tang" (snappy, eh?), and it was used from at least the 6th century BC to the late 4th.

       Alternatively, the tang can flare out into stubbier "shoulders", as with the right-hand example, with the guard itself projecting beyond.  In this case the guard is *apparently* a single solid block, iron or possibly organic, with a slot cut through to slide down over the grip tang and rest on the shoulders.  The bottom is grooved so the top half of the shoulders are actually recessed into the guard.

       I do not know when the shorter tang shoulders for a one-piece guard first appear.  They are shown on smaller swords that seem to post-date the Persian Wars, but could have been in use in the Peloponnesian Wars.  Certainly a one-piece guard is an option to consider for improving a less accurate reproduction sword that needs to be rehilted. 
       The bottom edge of the guard is straight, never curved, with an optional U-shaped notch in the center.  The top edge tapers or curves downward at each end, and the top itself is rounded off to a semi-circular cross-section.  It is not thick or bulky in any way.  It also seems that there is often a gap in the middle between the guard itself and the tang or blade, so that a tab or extension on the bottom of the grip scale slides under the guard, secured by 2 (or more?) rivets.  In other words, the two ends of the guard are connected by a "bridge" in the middle which passes over the bottom of the guard.

       The profile of the upper edge of the guard can be quite elegant.  It can be "double-tapered" like C at left, with a "valley" near the grip then rising and tapering off again near the tip.  Or it can simply taper down from the grip as with example A.  Type D and E have a "saddle" in the middle.  On several Macedonian examples, the center spike on E was decorated as an acanthus leaf or even a scorpion.

       Iron guards and guard plates can be flush-riveted, so that the surface is smooth.  Normal rivet heads (rather than flush-riveted) seem to be smallish and rounded.  Also note that rivets near the ends of a wooden scale guard plate can cause the wood to split!

       At least a couple guards are known that have a gold or other thin metal sheathing over wood or ivory parts.  This may be a Macedonian fashion, however--the best example is from Phillip II's tomb at Vergina.

       Example F, below, is my interpretation of a xiphos guard from Macedonia, 6th century BC.  It is shown in the Aigai ebook linked below, on page 159.  It is metal and may be hollow (over an organic core).




http://www.latsis-foundation.org/megazine/publish/ebook.php?book=75&preloader=1 
       Xiphos guard reconstruction by Dave Akers, viewed from the blade.  The "bridge" where the bottom of the grip will be inserted is clearly visible.
       The pommel is not completely understood.  On some swords the tang ends in a rectangular or squarish section which the grip section neatly flairs into--B at left.  This can have a rivet through it (often close to the grip), so the pommel was apparently made by scale construction as well, two halves riveted through the tang.  The height of this pommel tang tab can be as little as 3/8" such as on example C, to an inch or so.  There are original depictions of pommels that are small discs, which would perfectly fit on a short tab.  Conceivably, such a small pommel could be made as part of the grip, each scale simply expanding to a half-disc. 

       On other swords, there is a short rod tang or spike at the top of the grip, clearly for securing a solid pommel.  The tang would project completely through the pommel and be peened (flattened) like a rivet over a washer or metal cap.  This is actually visible in some vase paintings.  The widened base of the spike shown on A at left is to allow for a rivet hole, but it will also prevent the pommel from rotating.

       Pommel tabs like B and C definitely date back into the 6th century BC and may have been used for centuries.  Pommel spikes are seen on 4th century artifacts, but are also suggested by vase paintings from c. 500 BC. 



       The finished shape of the pommel itself was typically cylindrical or slightly tapered like a bucket (wider at the top).  Remains of pommels sometimes include metal rings or bands, either just for decoration or to help secure a two-piece pommel.  Pommels are also shown in artwork as hemispherical, and a wooden hemispherical pommel was found at Olympia (see below).  It has 2 iron nails vertically through it, which presumably were driven into the ends of the grip scales, though obviously this is tricky!  All too many surviving swords are broken off at the top, making it impossible to determine how their pommels were constructed or secured.

       My reproduction based on a xiphos from a grave at Vitsa, #418 in Kilian-Dirlmeier.  Here is the blade cut from 1/4" thick steel scrap (using an angle grinder), mostly ground to shape.  Final sanding and polishing has not been done.  The blade has a lenticular cross-section, and is 16 inches from point to guard.  The pommel section on the original is missing, so I decided to go with a pommel spike.  (3/15/14)
http://ancientreenacting.proboards.com/thread/689/new-xiphos 
       Hilt parts from wood (maple?), though the original guard was iron and the grip plates apparently bone.  My pieces of bone were not big enough, nor was I able to find a piece of steel for the guard among the junk piles that pass for my workshop.  Wood was certainly used for some hilts, since blades are found with rivets in place but no hilt parts remaining.
       Top view of the guard, showing the "bridge" into which the bottom of the guard plate will fit. 
       View of the guard.  I believe the ends should be narrower, but I don't want to risk the thing breaking!
           Hilt assembled!  The shoulders of the blade are visible, projecting through the top of the guard.  This is not unique!  At center you can see the bottom of the grip plate under the guard bridge.  The pommel spike is peened over a bronze washer.  The hilt rivets are made from bronze boat nails, with the heads cut off and peened at both ends.  The wood is coated with linseed oil.  Final weight is 1-1/2 pounds.






       Original xiphos from the collection of the late John Piscopo.  The blade is about 20 inches long and obviously very narrow!  (And slightly bent!)  The tang is broken off at mid-grip--it's alarming how common that is.

       Note that the modern paper tag has been inserted under the "bridge" of the guard.  The "saddle" in the middle is clearly visible, in this case rising not quite to a point.  The U-notch is also visible. The guard appears to be a 2-piece scale construction, judging by the way the blade flairs out to its tips. 


       I have not seen any information on what types of wood were used for hilt parts.  The popularity of bone and ivory suggest that lighter colored woods were preferred, such as holly, boxwood, maple, birch, etc.  Local woods such as olive are possible, and can be very attractive (if not easy to work with!).  Be aware that North American varieties of woods such as walnut and cherry are noticeably darker than the European versions.  Wood stains should be avoided in general, but oil such as linseed will protect the wood and will usually darken it somewhat.


       At left, my first sword and scabbard.  I made my sword from an old fantasy "medieval" blade, ground it into the shape of the Alfedena sword shown in Connolly (p. 103).  It started with a flattened diamond cross-section, and I ground the faces to leave a midrib down the center.   Since the blade already had an incorrect rod tang, I was forced to make the hilt from 3 blocks of wood, sandwiched by sheet steel plates,  and put pairs of rivets through the grip on either side of the tang, rather than single rivets through a proper flat tang.  Functional but historically unsatisfying!  I will probably change the hilt at some point to a more typically Greek style, without the overlying steel plates.


       The scabbard is wood covered with leather, with bronze chape and throat based on the Olympia finds. The throat is 18-gauge bronze, a little over an inch high.  Note the characteristic U-shaped projections or studs, which fit into the notch in the sword guard.  These are commonly seen on vase paintings, as well as on all three of the objects identified as scabbard throats from Olympia, but artwork seems to show that the top of the scabbard throat could just be straight, with the sword guard lacking the corresponding notch.  Also note that the throat is wider than the body of the scabbard, matching the width of the guard.


       The chape is also formed from 18-ga sheet bronze.  This simple object actually matches the typical chape seen in vase paintings--some are rounded, some rectangular.  Some do have the wider semicircular shape seen on the Italian examples, but these appear to be a less common form in Greece.  On the back of the chape you can see the nail which secures it--I decided not to put this in front as the original piece has!
       At right is the back of the suspension, showing two steel rings held by crossed leather thong.  Four small nails hold the thong in place.  Some scabbards clearly show four rings, others only two.


        While the Spartans are often said to have used shorter swords than other Greeks, the actual evidence for this is very shaky.  Shorter swords certainly did exist, and there are depictions of very small swords being used by hoplites who are identified as Spartans--partly because of their swords?  In any case, it is not clear just when blades of 12 to c. 16 inches in length became more common, so it's possible that blades of 18 to 24 inches are more appropriate for the Persian War era.  Note that while some people today use the term "xiphos" to refer specifically to the Spartan short sword, that was simply a general Greek word for "sword".


       My short xiphos also started as a fantasy-medieval sword, cut and ground to shape.   The blade is 15 inches long.  It also has an incorrect rod tang, so the hilt pieces are solid wood blocks drilled through to fit.  The pommel and guard are olive while the grip is probably maple.  For the top of the pommel I made a bronze washer, then de-modernized a square nut by sanding off the galvanization and heating to blacken it.

        The wood and leather scabbard has a wooden throat based on the ivory example from Olympia, and a plain chape of bronze sheet .

         

       If you already have a less historically-accurate sword with a solid brass hilt--or any non-historical hilt on a rod tang--it can be rehilted pretty easily by replacing each piece with a more historically-shaped piece of wood or bone.  Note that some modern swords have curved guards--these should be straight.

       My rough sketch of a short xiphos based on two examples from Olympia.  The blade is about 12 inches long by a mere 1-1/8 inches wide!  The blade flairs to about 2 inches at the hilt.   Three other sword fragments from Olympia seem to be in this size range, and the width matches the three scabbard throats found there.   So it would seem that the Spartan short sword is much better documented than we had thought--and often narrower!  This matches the artwork quite well, and I can't wait to make one!   Note the guard tang shoulders and short tab for the pommel.

Xiphos Research on FAR:
http://ancientreenacting.proboards.com/thread/585/xiphos-research 

Museum Catalogs in ebook format:  Take a couple hours and browse through every page!
http://www.latsis-foundation.org/default.asp?pid=92&la=2&libID=1 

     --Aigai has swords on pages 45, 67, 68, 139, 159, and 271, plus some spears on 48, 69, and 336, all from Macedonia.  (Type the page number you wish to jump to in the box at center bottom and hit Return.)
   http://www.latsis-foundation.org/megazine/publish/ebook.php?book=75&preloader=1 

     --Thessaloniki has swords on pages 100 and 156.
   http://www.latsis-foundation.org/megazine/publish/ebook.php?book=25&preloader=1 

     --Pella has swords on page 373, plus wonderful Illyrian helmets with gold foil decoration.
    http://www.latsis-foundation.org/megazine/publish/ebook.php?book=69&preloader=1 

An amazing reproduction:  http://www.myarmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=19541 

Laconian Short Sword discussion:
http://www.romanarmytalk.com/19-greek-military-history-a-archaeology/289456



       There was also the curved weapon we refer to as the kopis or falcata, with a single cutting edge on the inside of the curve.  It is very similar to the falcata used in Spain at the same general time, but there were regional differences.  Unfortunately, this is something I have never done much research on!  But here is an excellent discussion which should be chock-full of information:  http://www.myarmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=2729  Also see the ebooks above for several examples.


        SCABBARDS were thin wood probably covered with leather or fabric, with throats and chapes made of bronze, bone, ivory, or wood.  The throat often had a U-shaped stud or projection on top (on each side of the slot for the blade), which mated with corresponding notches in the guard.  This is the vestigial remains of the arched guards and round-topped scabbards from the Bronze Age.   Some scabbard throats, especially Italian ones, have a lip around the edge so that the guard is partly or entirely recessed.  This can cause confusion when looking at vase paintings, particularly if there is a U-stud projecting up alongside the grip.  Scabbarded swords may *look* like they have large blocky guards, but when shown out of the scabbard the guards are always slim and tapered, while the empty scabbard still has a large rectangular throat. 


       Tafel 66 from Holger Baitinger's catalog of weapon finds from Olympia.  I have added (approximate) scales in inches and centimeters.  Items 1335 and 1336 are identified as pommels, the larger being hollow-cast bronze and the smaller one wood.  Note that both would be secured by a pair of nails driven into the grip (presumably on either side of the flat tang).

       The three items at right are scabbard throats ("mouths"), though the middle one at least would only fit a very narrow blade.  1337 is bronze, 1338 is ivory, and 1339 is bone, a winged style clearly visible in at least one vase painting.

       Item 1340 is identified as a scabbard chape, and while I was dubious at first it actually does match a surprising number of those shown in artwork.  So that's what I based my own chape on.  Item 1341 is also said to be a chape but is clearly a strap terminal of some sort. 

       The scabbard hung at the left side from a shoulder strap or baldric which often had narrow rectangular sections cut out from the middle to form a "ladder" effect.  It is clear from some vase paintings that this "ladder" could be formed by 2 cords connected at intervals by small bands of some sort, possibly bronze?  Other baldrics seem to be simple straps or cords.

      Here is George Marcinek's very nice sword and scabbard, made by Manning Imperial.   I am starting to question the ubiquitous cast chape with the lion head, since I have never seen such an artifact, but such a thing may be visible in artwork. 
       Deepeeka kopis owned by Jon Martin.  I'm not sure if the small scabbard knife is a Greek feature or Iberian, but otherwise it seems to be a decently made piece.

Dave Akers--pnzrfaust44april AT aol DOT com.  Custom blades, great work!

Fabrica Romanorum--Matt Lukes-- http://fabricaromanorum.shawwebspace.ca/   EXCELLENT swords as well as fabulous helmets, armor, etc.

Iron Age Armory--Shane Allee, http://www.ironagearmoury.com/xiphos.html, a FABULOUS xiphos.


DEEPEEKA HAS TWO NEW DECENT SWORDS!  AH 4214N Greek Sword(Bone Insert) "Alfedena" (be sure to note the "N"!); and AH 4231 Greek Sword (Bone Insert) "Campovalano" .  They are basically copied from Connolly's illustrations, and while they clearly have shortcomings (and may have clunky blades, for all I know), they are by far the best-looking mass-produced Greek swords available.  Frankly, I would advise having your sword custom-made by one of the craftsmen above.  I would not say that Deepeeka's new swords are "good", but they are certainly more historical in appearance than any other off-the-shelf "Greek" or "Spartan" sword. 

    --BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU ORDER!!  You will probably see Deepeeka's previous swords still for sale for years to come: Greek Xiphos Hoplite Sword AH4214 and Greek Brass Hilt Hoplite Sword AH4212.  The first has a more accurate hilt (solid brass being incorrect); the blades appear to be identical and look rather fat and badly shaped, but a few minutes on the grinder might improve them greatly.  Scabbards are passable.

I haven't seen any other commercially-made swords that look right, with the exception of the Del Tin falcata.  Windlass/Museum Replicas fails utterly.  There are things like the BudK sword or the "Spartan Lakonia" which might have a usable blade if you scrap the entire hilt and scabbard and rebuild them, but I would really recommend just having a decent piece custom-made in the first place!  More money and a longer wait, but you will never regret it.

       There is a discussion on the Sword Forum which has photographs of an original hoplite sword, 
http://forums.swordforum.com/showthread.php?s=3f86dde7c68ed9e4603c257d718f392d&threadid=25289


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Bibliography The BRONZE AGE