THE ANCIENT GREEK HOPLITE

WEAPONS            10/16/14

Hoplite Home Page
Clothing Helmets Photos Other Greeks, and Others
Shield--Aspis/Hoplon Armor Weapons
Bibliography The BRONZE AGE

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, typically with a tubular socket and a tapered square-section spike.  This was approximately 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 little evidence that it was meant to be used as a weapon.  There are iron examples of buttspikes as well, some 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 "alpha" 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, but some toy company copied them onto their Greek hoplite action figure's spear!


My "beta" 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.

The BEST commercially available off-the-shelf spearhead is the "Small Spearhead" from Kult of Athena, item number 1823092900, http://www.kultofathena.com/product.asp?item=1823092900 .  I bought 2.  They are 9" long and weigh 8 ounces apiece, with a c. 1" socket.  The socket is split, and you can see traces of the hand-forging process between socket and blade.  Excellent price, too!  



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.


    Also found at Olympia were a number of tubular sauroters, mostly bronze but at least one made of iron.  The smaller one was very easy to grind out of a modern chrome-plated brass flagpole buttspike!  But it's not heavy enough to serve as a counterweight.  The larger one started as a door handle, 1" diameter solid bronze (an unused one shown at right).  Grinding the outside to shape was no problem, but lacking a 3/4" drill bit suitable for metal I had to try boring the socket out with a series of smaller bits, breaking a half-dozen in the process and dulling several more.  (So that other door handle can darn well stay a door handle for now!)  But now it's a nice 1-pound sauroter. 


----------------------

       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 was about the maximum.  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 is 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 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 too angular, and will need some grinding to be acceptable, 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.

Peavey Manufacturing carries ash poles of various sizes, and will even produce custom dowels for spear or pike shafts:  http://www.peaveymfg.com/ 



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.  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 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.
       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. 
       The 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).




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.  I found that the 40-grit flap sander was the best tool for removing metal quickly and with good control.  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 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 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.
       Wooden 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 from Philia.
 
       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.