|Hoplite Home Page
||Bibliography||The BRONZE AGE|
|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.
|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.
|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.
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.
The tang area was quite thin, around 2mm, abruptly
thickening at the base of the blade. 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
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.
There is some doubt that the shorter shoulders with a one-piece guard actually existed. The shoulders were hammered out quite thin, and it's possible that they have corroded away in some cases, leaving the stubs. The few drawings of what look like one-piece guards still in place could also be in error due to corrosion, etc. So the full-width guard tang with scale construction guard is the best-documented option. Certainly a one-piece guard can be considered for improving a less accurate reproduction sword with a rod tang that needs to be rehilted.
bottom edge of the guard is straight, never curved,
with an optional semicircular or 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).
guard reconstruction by Dave Akers, viewed from the
blade. The "bridge" where the bottom of the grip will
be inserted is clearly visible.
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.
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
parts from hardwood, 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
| 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!
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.
scabbard covered with blue linen, bone throat made in two
pieces, bone and steel chape. I call this style
of throat "winged"--this one is based on the Olympia
example, though others are visible in artwork. The
chape is based partly on the fragmentary iron and bone
remains found with this sword, and partly on a bone chape
| Both of
these scabbards have a pair of metal rings attached by
leather thongs, making an X pattern on the front. The
baldrics show two different interpretations of the "ladder"
effect commonly seen in vase paintings. The upper is a
simple strip of leather with slots cut in it, leaving
"rungs" at regular intervals. The lower is 2 hemp
cords connected by bronze bands--in some depictions the
"rungs" do seem to be separate pieces of some sort.
out two pieces of bone that fit the scabbard, each other,
and the sword hilt is nearly impossible. There is also
practically no information about how the throat was attached
to the scabbard core, so I hollowed it out to fit over the
thinned-down wood. The one-piece ivory throat
from Olympia (#1338 in the scan
from Baitinger) has a slot that is wider in the
middle, so the scabbard wood was narrowed into a projecting
"tab" to fit that. (Naturally I completely missed that
little detail in building my first couple scabbards...)