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| The shield
is what made
a Greek warrior a hoplite, because he could not stand in the phalanx
without it. Oddly enough, the shield
refer to as the hoplon was called aspis by the Greeks.
(We may use the incorrect word on this site through force of
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 armband or
porpax, the handgrip or antilabe near the rim, and the carrying
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
Everything 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
Army Talk board. Do a search on
RAT or browse back through old threads in the Greek sections to find
Making an Aspis - Ring Method (Visual Aids)
Thank you, Chris B! Yea, the photos are still there!
Making an Aspis,
Turned Aspis Project in Progress
Hoplite Shield Designs
Vatican shield photos!
Constructing and mounting a porpax
Some Aspis Revisionism
Shield emblem for my 5th c. hoplite impression
In the newer Osprey Warrior
volume #27, Greek Hoplite 480-323 BC, Nick Sekunda shows the
core being composed of several wide slabs laid edge to edge and then
and shaped by turning on a lathe, like a large bowl. Peter
of The Phalanx
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 back is
covered by leather, fittings attached, then the bronze facing is stuck
to the front with pitch and the edge neatly worked around the rim so
there are no pleats or puckers. Luckily, they "cheated" on this
part at least some of the time: on a shield facing in Piraeus the edge
has been clipped into "tabs" about 2" wide, as I did on mine, so that
fold around the back much more easily. Then a flat ring of bronze
was laid over the back of the rim to hide the tabs.
A word of caution: John Warry's
in the Classical World shows a drawing of the inside of a aspis on
page 35. At its left edge is a strange detail which I believe is
an attempt to show the layers of leather peeled back to reveal the wood
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 one
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 slabs
glued side-by-side, with your choice of fittings and coverings,
including complete brass facings! I don't know about thicknesses
or weights. Not cheap, and remember the shipping...
There are two sources that I heard about some years ago, and I don't
know if they are still in business: Michael Broyles,
yahoo DOT com, wooden blank c. $450 plus shipping. Any covering
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 great
big Viking boss in the middle! Their newer #6116 Athenian
Shield may be usable, but might not even be available because no one
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 used,
but for my second shield I used poplar 1x8 plank (3/4" thick).
is NOT a historical method, but is a *little* easier to accomplish in
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 can
be done without power tools, but don't say I didn't warn you...
Since my first shield was too
thick at the edge of the bowl, made from miscellaneous plywood and oak,
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 overall.
So for my second shield, my main goal was lightness! I suspect
that poplar or birch plank would weigh less than even pine plywood, but
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 body
curve neatly over your shoulder. Draw it as if it is lying
flat, face up. Draw a series of parallel horizontal lines
it, the intervals between them corresponding to the thickness of your
For any particular layer, the point where the upper line crosses the
of the cross-section determines the inner radius of that ring, and the
point where the lower line touches the outside of the cross-section
you the outer radius. Now you know exactly how big to make each
|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 and
cut them out. Layer 3 was so squirrely to work with that I decided not
to cut out the insides of the remaining layers. Easier to trace the
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 the outer
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 4 feet
long. It turned out that a foot or two less would have been
enough, not a big deal. I traced each pattern onto the wood in
several segments, with each one marking the pattern where it left the
wood in order to know where to start the next segment. Many
segments can be nested inside others. Each segment, and its
corresponding pattern section, are marked with the number of the layer
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! The total
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 to avoid
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 needed inside
to support parts of the ring. Dry-fit all the parts first, and
then use plenty of glue to avoid any gaps. I used regular Elmer's
|Layer 2 glued in place, with weights (plastic
bags with lead printer's type, very handy!). I allowed a good
half hour for the glue to set in each layer before starting the next,
and let the whole thing dry overnight before even attempting to move it.
|Outside of the bowl so far. I forced glue
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 of the
bowl. This took literally weeks with a rasp, on my first
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 planer
will gouge too deep if given a chance. But this is THE essential
tool to have before even considering a project like this, trust me!
|The goal is to eliminate the little steps
between layers, to make the entire surface smooth and unbroken.
So the planer is followed by the belt sander with a couple of fresh
coarse belts (80 or 60 grit). The first step proved a bit
tenacious to eliminate, since that entails removing wood over the
widest area. Closer to the rim, things went much more
quickly. Try to avoid going *too* deep--those steps are your
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. It just
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 wood could
be removed easily, mostly from the second step. Then another 30
or 40 minutes with the angle grinder, and the inside is nearly
done! Makes incredible dust. I had to go over it with the
belt sander, because the angle grinder doesn't make an even
surface. This is the time to fit the rim to the bowl, though I
did not attach it yet. Make some pencil marks so that you can get
it lined up when the time comes. The finished weight for the
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 bronze,
while the porpax extensions and discs for the carry-rope rings are
24-ga. The rings are cut from heavy copper pipe. Some
porpax extensions are plain strips, but many are decorated--I decided
that the individual fronds of an acanthus leaf motif were a bit beyond
my skills and patience, and went with a simpler sort of leafy look.
|My lovely wife donated some old red wool felt
for the inside lining. I glued it in from the center outwards,
and it is stretchy enough that I had no puckers. The excess felt
is for covering the back of the rim. Then I nailed the fittings
in place, pre-drilling all the holes. On the outside, I cut
grooves in the wood to clench the nails and "cotter pins" (for the
rings) into, so that nothing would stick up above the surface.
The tips of the nails and pins are bent 90 degrees before clenching, so
that they stick back down into the wood. Measure and mark
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 allowing that
to dry thoroughly (outside, phew!), I sanded again with the belt
|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 out
on heavy cardboard before attaching it to the bowl, I then had a
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 edge and
glued down at the back.
|One of the pieces of leather was soft enough to
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 wood, and
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, doubled
through the upper loop, braided together, and tied off below the lower
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 on the
emblem could be painted over--as I found out the hard way. Plus,
shields were most likely painted in ancient times! Go with what
they did, eh?
|Yea, it's a shield! The bird is taken from
a couple vase paintings. While working through several iterations
on paper, I was trying to make it more realistically crow-like, then
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 wax.
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 cross-section.
Obviously planning is simpler if all your wood is the same
thickness! This diagram is for half-inch plywood. The
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, being
sure they are centered. You can add pegs for more strength.
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 about
2 weeks. It was a heck of a lot of work, and faster than sitting
around not doing it at all, but I am SO glad I have better tools now!
COVERING--Certainly a complete
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 internal
in place--to an armorer of proven ability, so he can fit the facing
Fortunately, not every aspis
had a bronze facing. At least some were covered in leather and
had a bronze rim. Some reenactors simply give the wood core
coats of paint to hide the wood seams. My aspis is covered in
ounce leather--too thick! Use nothing heavier than 2-ounce
leather. I just used the rim to trace the circle I would need
it's a little bigger than the distance over the curve of the
Wet the leather completely, stretch it over the body, and staple it in
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
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.
FITTNGS--The porpax (armband)
loops for the grip (antilabe) are cut from 18 gauge bronze, and are
with bronze nails bent over on the outside of the wood. I used
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 lie
which helped a lot. Also, bend the tip of each nail over before
it down flat, which sends the tip into the wood. Hold a
behind the wood to absorb the impact of hammering. The rings for the
cord should be mounted so that the cord passes straight through them
having to make any sharp angles. The grip is made of twisted or
leather thong. At this point you can actually pick up the
and see how it fits over the shoulder. Neat, eh?
Close-up shots of the porpax and antilabe. I decided to keep the
porpax very plain, but the edges are flanged outwards for
comfort. With a little better planning, the tassle on the
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 linen
cord twisted together for the carrying cord. A little
resulted in the right length for slinging the shield on my back with
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 comfortably
in the small of my back, and apparently even keeps the lower rim from
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 that
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 an
too large, so I had to cut it into pieces and trim the inner edges to
My finished rim is 5 pieces, overlapped and nailed. Moral:
MEASURE, MEASURE!! And then MAKE PATTERNS!! Don't be afraid
to spend several evenings just sitting a staring at pictures, parts,
and measurements, it will save you much wailing and gnashing of
I used .020" brass, which worked quite well. Anneal the part that
will be folded over the edge, and add any etched or embossed decoration
that you want (I went with etched triangles, effective and as
as I wanted to get.) Knowing that I would not be able to avoid
in the brass at the back, I preferred to cut slits about an inch and a
quarter apart to create overlapping tabs. This is actually how at
least one surviving original was done, with a flat ring of bronze added
to cover the tabs. I added a strip of deerhide to cover my tabs
when I found that they constantly snagged on everything!
Front and back of the rim of my shield. Each seam on the front is
secured by 2 small brass nails, and you can also see the (rather faint)
zigzag line that I scribed into the brass. On the back, you can
see the overlapping tabs, a seam in the leather backing, and the
stitching that secures the blue rim backing to the gold deerhide inside
The finished weight of my
aspis is about 18 pounds, similar to Connolly's reconstruction.
That's too much! If you make the edge a lot thinner
than mine, you'll be able to cut several pounds from that weight.
I have coated the brass rim with neatsfoot oil in an attempt to keep it
from tarnishing, because it will be VERY difficult to polish!
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