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.
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.
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
--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.
blade of the hoplite's sword (xiphos or machaira) is
described as "leaf-shaped", and was roughly two feet
long. The blade was iron (not bronze!), and sometimes
had a midrib, but many were plainer with a lenticular or
flattened diamond cross-section. It's possible that
blades without ribs are from after the Persian War era, but
I don't know for certain. Though the blade is usually
shown as fairly broad, much narrower ones are known. I
suspect that many modern reproductions are too large!
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 a 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
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 guard could just be
straight, with the sword guard lacking the corresponding
notch. Also note that the throat is typically wider
than the body of the scabbard, matching the width of 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
Note that much of our knowledge
of hilt construction comes from Peter Connolly, whose books show
only examples from *Italy*. The sandwich construction with
iron plates seems to be an Italian fashion, though Matt Lukes
assures me that examples have been found in Greece. The swords
in the Olympia catalog are poorly preserved, but none have metal
The tang was flat and matched
the outline of the hilt, at least the guard and grip. To this
was riveted 2 plates for the grip, made of wood, bone, or
ivory. The guard was rather slender and apparently often made
of iron, though rivets are seldom seen so the 2 plates may have been
flush-riveted through the tang, or *possibly* forge-welded.
Construction details are often vague, but it seems that the pommel
could be a solid wooden piece, either secured by a short rod tang
projecting from the grip tang, or fixed by a pair of nails, one into
either grip plate from the top of the pommel. A hollow bronze
pommel is also known from Olympia, with 2 nail holes on top.
It's possible that in later eras this construction was superseded by
a simple rod tang, with the sandwich construction replaced by
simpler blocks of wood. However, there is no evidence
that I have seen for solid brass or bronze hilts.
In other words, a sword with a
solid brass hilt can be rehilted pretty easily by replacing each
piece with a similar (but more historically-shaped!) piece of
wood. Note that some replicas have curved guards--these should
At some point, the Spartans
began to use a much shorter sword, with a blade only a foot or so
long. Otherwise it was very similar in shape to the longer
hoplite sword. By the Peloponnesian War the Spartan short
sword was in common use in the rest of Greece as well. 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".
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 .
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 narrower! This matches the artwork
quite well, and I can't wait to make one!
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
Scabbards were most
likely thin wood covered with leather, with throats and chapes made
of bronze, bone, ivory, or possibly wood. The throat typically
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, seem to enclose the entire sword guard. It's
very hard to tell just what's going on in vase paintings, especially
from small photos. 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.
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
The three items at
right are identified as scabbard throats ("mouths"), though
the middle one at least would only fit a very narrow
blade--I'm wondering if it might be a guard instead.
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.
Manning makes THE BEST GREEK SWORDS. 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.
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
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. I am not seeing these 2 pieces at Kult
of Athena or By-The-Sword at the moment, but did see one on
--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