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is what made
a Greek warrior a hoplite, because he could not stand in
without it. Oddly enough, the shield
refer to as the hoplon was called aspis by the
(We may use the incorrect word on this site through
habit--just be aware of the truth and please take no
offense at our
It was a deeply dished wooden shield with a flat or
angled rim, a band
for the arm (porpax) at center, and a handgrip
(antilabe) near the
Earlier ones seem to have been covered with leather,
with a thin bronze
covering on the rim, but by the late Archaic period it
was common to
the entire front with a thin facing of bronze.
ALERT: New examination of the evidence shows that Connolly and Sekunda's reconstruction of the cross-section of the wood core is incorrect!! Close analysis of the Vatican shield remains by Dr. G. Jeronomides shows that the wood was c. 2 cm thick at the center, tapering down to about 1 cm at the edge. This makes sense, as most other cultures used shields that were thicker at the middle than the edges, and it also results in a lighter and more maneuverable shield.
distinctive interior of the aspis, showing the central
porpax, the handgrip or antilabe near the rim, and the
cord. The shield at left is lined with deerskin,
that at right
with wool felt.
Hoplologia: Building an Aspis--http://www.hoplologia.org/aspis.html
Aurora Simmons does will make you weep with envy.
Aspis construction and notes--http://www.4hoplites.com/Aspis.htm
There are several excellent
discussions on the Roman
Talk board. Do a search on
RAT or browse back through old threads in the Greek sections to
Photos! (W/ details on wood thickness, etc.)
Hoplite shield construction
Mounting a Porpax
In the newer Osprey Warrior
volume #27, Greek Hoplite 480-323 BC, Nick Sekunda shows
core being composed of several wide slabs laid edge to edge and
and shaped by turning on a lathe, like a large bowl. Peter
explains that the Greek word for "shield maker",
roughly translates as "one who puts together lyres and shields by
Thin laths are then laid cross-grain around the rim. The
covered by leather, fittings attached, then the bronze facing is
to the front with pitch and the edge neatly worked around the rim
there are no pleats or puckers. Luckily, they "cheated" on
part at least some of the time: on a shield facing in Piraeus the
has been clipped into "tabs" about 2" wide, as I did on mine, so
fold around the back much more easily. Then a flat ring of
was laid over the back of the rim to hide the tabs.
A word of caution: John
in the Classical World shows a drawing of the inside of a
page 35. At its left edge is a strange detail which I
an attempt to show the layers of leather peeled back to reveal the
underneath. It's not some sort of fixture!
|Front and back views of Jon Martin's aspis. He dished the facing from a single sheet of copper (being unable to get bronze) and pieced the rim. The Greek letter lambda on the face was used by Spartans (Lakedaimonians) during the Peloponnesian War era.|
| This is
George Marcinek's shields, by Manning
Imperial. The face is simply painted wood,
without a leather
or metal facing, but what a lovely paint job!
The only commercially made aspis known to be reasonably accurate (though too heavy) is made by Daniyal Steelcrafts in India. It is available through Kult of Athena and other vendors, either unpainted or with a variety of painted emblems.
nicer one is from Manning
He offers wooden cores correctly turned on a lathe from parallel
glued side-by-side, with your choice of fittings and coverings,
including complete brass facings! I don't know about
or weights. Not cheap, and remember the shipping...
There are two sources that I heard about some years ago, and I
know if they are still in business: Michael Broyles,
yahoo DOT com, wooden blank c. $450 plus shipping. Any
be extra. Also Wulf in the UK,
wulf.lighting AT virgin DOT net,
or sabre.wulf AT virgin DOT net, though I don't know what sort of
he does nor what the cost
be. He made most of the shields shown on the Hoplite
The old Deepeeka #AH3721 "Greek shield" is
too small with ugly bolts around the rim, crappy fittings, and a
big Viking boss in the middle! Their newer #6116
Shield may be usable, but might not even be available because no
has been able to get a look at it.
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The construction method
here uses rings or donuts of wood stacked and glued together, and
told to me by Toe Johnson in Australia. Plywood is often
but for my second shield I used poplar 1x8 plank (3/4"
is NOT a historical method, but is a *little* easier to accomplish
the average modern basement. You will need four hand-held
electric power tools: jigsaw, planer, belt sander, and angle
grinder (with flap sander). Oh, and a drill. Yes, this
be done without power tools, but don't say I didn't warn you...
Since my first shield was
thick at the edge of the bowl, made from miscellaneous plywood and
and covered with 5-ounce leather, it weighed 18 pounds. An
attempt to reduce the weight resulted in a lot of mess, a worse
appearance on the back, and the loss of only one pound
So for my second shield, my main goal was lightness! I
that poplar or birch plank would weigh less than even pine
in any case do NOT use oak or other dense woods.
Start by drawing a
full-size, half-width cross-section of the aspis.
that with your arm through the central arm band, the edge of the
curve neatly over your shoulder. Draw it as if it is
flat, face up. Draw a series of parallel horizontal
it, the intervals between them corresponding to the thickness of
For any particular layer, the point where the upper line crosses
of the cross-section determines the inner radius of that ring, and
point where the lower line touches the outside of the
you the outer radius. Now you know exactly how big to make
|I used the template from my first shield to trace the outline of my second, but made the cross-section thinner, the bowl a little shallower on the inside, and went with a flat rim instead of sloped. This worked out to six layers, each 3/4" thick, plus a 1/4"-thick rim. The table at right lists the approximate inner and outer radii of each layer.||
|Next, I traced out each layer on brown paper
cut them out. Layer 3 was so squirrely to work with that I
to cut out the insides of the remaining layers. Easier to
outer line with a full sheet, then just use a compass to
draw the inner
line (set the compass to the width of the layer, and follow
line with the point while drawing with the pencil).
|The wood is 1x8 poplar planks, so 3/4"
thick. I bought 2 eight-foot planks, and 2 pieces 3 or
long. It turned out that a foot or two less would have
enough, not a big deal. I traced each pattern onto the
several segments, with each one marking the pattern where it
wood in order to know where to start the next segment.
segments can be nested inside others. Each segment,
corresponding pattern section, are marked with the number of
and the number of the segment, e.g. 2-3, 5-2.
|All the wood for the bowl cut out, using a
hand-held electric jigsaw. Made a lot of dust!
weight of the wood at this stage was 15 pounds.
|Gluing starts with layer 6. I laid the
segments out on the paper pattern (with a layer of plastic
gluing paper to wood!), to be sure they were in a
circle. You can
see that I have drawn the circumference of layer 2 on layer
3, to make
certain it is properly centered. Shims or props are
to support parts of the ring. Dry-fit all the parts
then use plenty of glue to avoid any gaps. I used
|Layer 2 glued in place, with weights (plastic
bags with lead printer's type, very handy!). I allowed
half hour for the glue to set in each layer before starting
and let the whole thing dry overnight before even attempting
to move it.
|Outside of the bowl so far. I forced
into as many cracks and gaps as I could.
|Inside of the bowl.
|Thirty minutes with the electric
planer, and most of the wood removal is done on the outside
bowl. This took literally weeks with a rasp, on my
shield! You can see the kind of mess this makes, hence
a big tarp
spread out on the deck. Be a little careful, since the
will gouge too deep if given a chance. But this is THE
tool to have before even considering a project like this,
|The goal is to eliminate the little steps
between layers, to make the entire surface smooth and
So the planer is followed by the belt sander with a couple
coarse belts (80 or 60 grit). The first step proved a
tenacious to eliminate, since that entails removing wood
widest area. Closer to the rim, things went much more
quickly. Try to avoid going *too* deep--those steps
depth markers, as it were, so just barely smooth them away.
|For the inside, I tried the planer but could
only reach a little of the innermost step, as I suspected.
doesn't fit inside curves like that. So I spent a half-hour
or so with
hammer and chisel, quickly and roughly chopping out whatever
be removed easily, mostly from the second step. Then
or 40 minutes with the angle grinder, and the inside is
done! Makes incredible dust. I had to go over it
belt sander, because the angle grinder doesn't make an even
surface. This is the time to fit the rim to the bowl,
did not attach it yet. Make some pencil marks so that
you can get
it lined up when the time comes. The finished weight
wooden bowl was 6-1/4 pounds, and one pound for the rim.
|The fittings are based on those shown in vase
paintings. The porpax and antilabe loops are 18 gauge
while the porpax extensions and discs for the carry-rope
24-ga. The rings are cut from heavy copper pipe.
porpax extensions are plain strips, but many are
that the individual fronds of an acanthus leaf motif were a
my skills and patience, and went with a simpler sort of
|My lovely wife donated some old red wool felt
for the inside lining. I glued it in from the center
and it is stretchy enough that I had no puckers. The
is for covering the back of the rim. Then I nailed the
in place, pre-drilling all the holes. On the outside,
grooves in the wood to clench the nails and "cotter pins"
rings) into, so that nothing would stick up above the
The tips of the nails and pins are bent 90 degrees before
that they stick back down into the wood. Measure and
carefully to get everything in place and straight!
|After clenching all the nails and pins, I
covered everything generously with Plastic Wood, also
filling in any
likely gaps, steps, or other irregularities. After
to dry thoroughly (outside, phew!), I sanded again with the
|The front I covered with red denim (*before* attaching the rim!). Thin leather is preferable, but beyond my budget for this project, unfortunately. You'd need a c. 36" diameter circle of c. 2-ounce leather, not an easy thing to find. In any case, the denim went on better than I expected, just stretchy enough to be free of major puckers. After the glue dried I trimmed off the excess fabric and glued the rim in place, reinforcing it with small nails every few inches. Be careful not to get glue all over the lining, or to let nails poke out through the surface of the bowl!|
|Then I glued the felt lining down over the back of the rim, and was again able to do it without puckers. Yea! The color isn't actually quite as garish as it looks in these photos, but there is some mottling due to old water damage.|
|Having cleverly remembered to trace the rim
on heavy cardboard before attaching it to the bowl, I then
pattern for cutting thin leather to cover the front of
it. I left
a little extra width so that it could be folded around the
glued down at the back.
|One of the pieces of leather was soft enough
simply glue in place, with a couple clamps. For the
rest, I wet
the edge using a syringe, folded it around the edge of the
clamped it in place using wood and cardboard shims to
prevent any clamp
marks in the leather. After letting it dry overnight,
I glued the
leather into place. The antilabe is 3 leather thongs,
through the upper loop, braided together, and tied off below
loop. The carrying cord is jute or hemp.
|The leather rim is painted with casein/milk
paint. I decided not to paint the bowl, which in
retrospect was a
bad idea. If it were painted, any mistakes in painting
emblem could be painted over--as I found out the hard
shields were most likely painted in ancient times! Go
they did, eh?
|Yea, it's a shield! The bird is taken
a couple vase paintings. While working through several
on paper, I was trying to make it more realistically
realized how far I was straying from the evidence and went
back to the
vase painting! This is also casein paint, so I will
let it cure
for a few weeks before giving the entire surface a coat of
The final weight is 9-1/2 pounds.
FURTHER CONSTRUCTION NOTES, based on the construction of my first shield.
I used a variety of plywood scraps, all different in
thickness, and had
to match each piece to where it would fit in the
Obviously planning is simpler if all your wood is the same
thickness! This diagram is for half-inch
be thickest (c.
cm or c. 3/4") at the center and thinnest (1 cm or 3/8")
at the edge of
the bowl. (Actually it looks like I drew the
center a little
thin, but that will save a little weight!) The total
size of this
shield is 34" in diameter and 5" in depth.
Glue the rings together,
sure they are centered. You can add pegs for more
For ease of smoothing, don't glue the body to the rim yet.
SMOOTHING--Once the glue is dry, the fun begins: making the whole thing smooth, inside and out. For the outside, I used a drawknife near the edge, and a chisel closer to the middle, to remove as much obviously extraneous wood as possible. Be careful about the grain of the wood--hitting it at the wrong angle can rip up more than you want to remove. But I found that otherwise there was not much problem with big holes needing puttying. Most of the rest I did with a rasp, which was hot and strenuous but faster than I had expected. Use a nice big rasp and don't be timid with it. PLEASE GET POWER TOOLS!! Planer, angle grinder, belt sander. (I was only able to borrow a belt sander when I was mostly done.) It can be helpful to smooth out a strip c. 2" wide from edge to center as a guide and test area. The idea is to eliminate any trace of the steps, but not to go any deeper. Do a lot of eyeballing and run your hand CAREFULLY over the surface to find high spots.
That's Jon Martin's aspis in progress at right, looking much like mine did at that point.
Most of this smoothing took
2 weeks. It was a heck of a lot of work, and faster than
around not doing it at all, but I am SO glad I have better tools
bronze facing is both the most desirable and the least
It should be quite thin, probably 22 or 24 gauge, definitely not
The best bet may be to send the finished wooden core--with
in place--to an armorer of proven ability, so he can fit the
Fortunately, not every aspis
had a bronze facing. At least some were covered in leather
had a bronze rim. Some reenactors simply give the wood core
coats of paint to hide the wood seams. My aspis is covered
ounce leather--too thick! Use nothing heavier than 2-ounce
leather. I just used the rim to trace the circle I would
it's a little bigger than the distance over the curve of the
Wet the leather completely, stretch it over the body, and staple
place. (Put the staples on the edge of the body that will be
to the rim!) When the leather is COMPLETELY DRY, pull out
the excess leather.
Before gluing the leather to the face, almost everything else has to be done! First, glue and peg or nail the rim to the body. Then line the inside of the body with leather--deerhide works well. Glue the middle first, then work around section by section, gluing and using a sandbag for weight, to keep the leather smooth. Then cover the back of the rim with leather, too, with several pieces if necessary. Where the rim and body lining meet at the inside angle of the rim, the Vatican shield shows a line of running stitches, to keep the leather from peeling up. The lining can be painted or dyed--I painted the rim lining dark blue but left the body lining its natural golden color.
loops for the grip (antilabe) are cut from 18 gauge bronze, and
with bronze nails bent over on the outside of the wood. I
washers for the rings for the carrying cord, and secured them with
pins made from strips of 18-ga bronze, which pass through copper
same as the brass ones I make for Roman armor. I cut little
in the front of the wood for the clenched nails and split pins to
which helped a lot. Also, bend the tip of each nail over
it down flat, which sends the tip into the wood. Hold a
behind the wood to absorb the impact of hammering. The rings for
cord should be mounted so that the cord passes straight through
having to make any sharp angles. The grip is made of twisted
leather thong. At this point you can actually pick up the
and see how it fits over the shoulder. Neat, eh?
shots of the porpax and antilabe. I decided to keep
porpax very plain, but the edges are flanged outwards for
comfort. With a little better planning, the tassle on
antilabe would have been at the *bottom*, not the top...
|Right: one of the ring fittings through which the carrying cord runs, shown about full size.|
I used 3 strands of heavy
cord twisted together for the carrying cord. A little
resulted in the right length for slinging the shield on my back
cord going horizontally across my shoulders and chest. The
still nests inside the rim to help support the weight. I had
that the porpax would dig into my back, but it rests quite
in the small of my back, and apparently even keeps the lower rim
Put Plastic Wood around the nails and split pins, just so that nothing sticks up too sharply from the face, and sand it smooth when dry.
NOW glue the facing on, similarly to the inside lining, starting at the center and then doing the outer section all at once, using a rope tied around where body meets rim to keep it tight until dry. If you want a leather rim, put that on, too. (Actually, since you'll want to stretch the leather over the edge, you may want to put it on before you put the leather on the back of the rim. My rim is brass, so I can't really help you!) Paint the front with an emblem or color scheme from a vase painting, etc. (I used the eye motif on a light blue background.)
RIM--For a bronze/brass rim,
need to calculate the proper radius very carefully, remembering
the rim is sloped you will essentially be making a slice of a very
cone. I tried to cut my rim from just 2 pieces, but made it
too large, so I had to cut it into pieces and trim the inner edges
My finished rim is 5 pieces, overlapped and nailed. Moral:
MEASURE, MEASURE!! And then MAKE PATTERNS!! Don't be
to spend several evenings just sitting a staring at pictures,
and measurements, it will save you much wailing and gnashing of
I used .020" brass, which worked quite well. Anneal the part
will be folded over the edge, and add any etched or embossed
that you want (I went with etched triangles, effective and as
as I wanted to get.) Knowing that I would not be able to
in the brass at the back, I preferred to cut slits about an inch
quarter apart to create overlapping tabs. This is actually
least one surviving original was done, with a flat ring of bronze
to cover the tabs. I added a strip of deerhide to cover my
when I found that they constantly snagged on everything!
and back of the rim of my shield. Each seam on the
secured by 2 small brass nails, and you can also see the
zigzag line that I scribed into the brass. On the
back, you can
see the overlapping tabs, a seam in the leather backing, and
stitching that secures the blue rim backing to the gold
The finished weight of
aspis is about 18 pounds, similar to Connolly's
That's too much! If you make the edge a lot thinner
than mine, you'll be able to cut several pounds from that
I have coated the brass rim with neatsfoot oil in an attempt to
from tarnishing, because it will be VERY difficult to polish!
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