Forgive my loose usage of the term "Archaic", since
strictly speaking that includes the popular Persian War
era. In this case I mean the centuries before about
550 BC, when we can see significant differences in
clothing and equipment, compared to the Persian
Wars. While this era saw the rise of the hoplite and
the development of the phalanx itself, it is surprisingly
obscure in terms of literature and history. Between
the Trojan War and the Persian Wars, there are virtually
no commonly-known events or even personalities, so it can
be more difficult to communicate the significance of the
era to the public. There are archeological remains,
however, and there is certainly plenty of artwork in the
form of Black-Figure and Geometric vase paintings.
And there is cool stuff! The early form of Corinthian helmet, the narrower Doric chiton (with armholes at the sides), the bell cuirass, and the Naue II-type sword--subtle details which combine to give a noticeably different appearance overall. Javelins with throwing loops are commonly seen, or pairs of spears, implying a phalanx with its own missile capability.
Clothing: Narrow Doric chiton, generally with decoration on the hem, sometimes made in wrap-around fashion with the opening at the front
Helmet: Archaic Corinthian, Illyrian, even a Kegelhelm if you go early enough
Armor: Bronze bell cuirass, early greaves; upper and lower arm guards (right arm only) are also known, as well as thigh guards.
Shield with whatever "early" features can be traced (depth, rim angle, etc.), and early emblems
Spear, often with optional javelin with throwing loop.
Optional sword, Naue II style
|The Doric chiton is generally depicted as
narrow and not baggy, without the later pleats and draped
look. There is often decoration at the hem and
neck. Mine is made from an old blanket, and the color
is a shade that madder can give. The decoration is
embroidered with purple wool yarn.
|My Archaic helmet is described on the Helmets page.
|I made my "iron" Naue II sword by grinding it
out of 1/4" mild steel scrap with an angle grinder.
The blade is about 21" long, and the hilt is ebony (African
|Hoplite Home Page
|The BRONZE AGE
The changes from the Persian Wars to the Peloponnesian Wars
are subtle, but should not be glossed over or ignored. Probably one of
the most significant was that the Corinthian helmet was out
of style and would have been quite rare. Thracian and
Chalcidian types were the most common, and inexpensive pilos
or bell helmets were becoming popular. Body armor seems
to have been less common overall, though the muscled cuirass
and leather spolas were still seen. Much of these
changes accompany the growing use of mercenaries and
professional troops to supplement or replace the traditional
While light troops throwing javelins and rocks had long
supported the hoplite, Thracian mercenaries became popular
after the Persian Wars. These men typically fought
unarmored, carrying javelins and a shield called the
pelta, for which they are named. This was smaller
than the aspis and apparently made of wicker covered in
hide, and generally had a crescent shape. Thracians
wore distinctive caps (often of fox skin), colorfully
patterned cloaks, and tall lace-up boots.
At left is Dan Zeidler in his favorite Thracian kit. His cap is wool, and his boots are converted from modern "Apache" boots by replacing the fringe with flaps. He made his pelta from a pair of wicker door mats sewn together and cut to shape, covered with leather front and back. He frequently commented on its light weight, compared to the typical aspis...
At right, my own Thracian gear is worn for the first time by Chris Goshey. Eat my dust, Dan!
Here Quinton J. has deserted the barbaric Legio III
Cyrenaica (ahem!) to play peltast for the day. He
wears my wool Thracian cap and carries the (at that time)
unfinished wicker pelte that I got from Joe Balmos.
Finding fabric for a convincing Thracian cloak may be impossible without having it custom-woven! They all had horizontal stripes which were zig-zagged, crenelated, wavy, etc. Something of an approximation might be a blanket or serape of Mexican style, such as those from Crazy Crow Outfitters, http://www.crazycrow.com/pendleton-wool-blankets-and-accessories . But you'd want something at least 72" wide (with stripes horizontal). (Photo by David McDavitt.)
Finished pelte below! The face is covered with thin leather whip-stitched on with hemp, and painted with milk paints. The porpax is two crossed leather bands (one of several variations seen in artwork), and the antilabe is twisted leather thongs. The carrying strap is woven fabric band. The shield is three feet wide.
the other main components. The cloak is called a
zeira, and while the originals presumably had all their
decoration woven in, I sewed everything on by hand.
The boots I originally made for fantasy use, largely a
15th century pattern. I opened up the front and
added laceholes and flaps. They are made of
deerskin. The cap is wool, and I'm not quite
satisfied with the pattern. There is usually a
turned-up bit across the front, but I wasn't able to make
that work with the flaps hanging down at the sides.
Some caps had no point or a flatter top, others had a
larger raised part (like Dan's, above), while the coolest
ones were made of fox or genet hide complete with the
animal's head at the front and the tail hanging down the
Clothing: Standard Ionic chiton, or narrow (Doric) chiton, or
exomis; shoes or low boots; chlamys
Iphikrates is said to
have replaced sandals with boots which were easier
to lace up, and these became known as "Iphikratids". While many
sorts of footwear are depicted in Greek art, we
don't know if any of the boots we see are supposed
to be Iphikratids.
Most likely they were an ankle-boot, since a
knee-high boot would presumably involve as much
lacing as any sandal.
Below are my Iphikratids in progress. I based the yellow paper pattern at top on Giannis' old sandal pattern, and made a cardboard and cloth mockup at bottom before cutting out the leather. I believe this to be a more accurate pattern, the upper wrapping around the back of the foot with no seem up the back. The edge of the uppers wrap under the insole and are glued to hold them until they are stitched. An insert fills the space between these edges. The outer sole is sewn on with "channeled" stitching, the stitch holes being driven into a shallow slit cut into the face of the leather, to protect the thread from wear. The last photo shows the inside, with a needle on each end of a single length of thread, and no channeling needed inside.
|Hoplite Home Page
|The BRONZE AGE
While the heavy infantryman of Macedonia and Hellenistic
Greece was referred to as a hoplite, and fought in a
phalanx, the modern term "phalangite" is often used to
distinguish him from the popular hoplite of 500 BC.
His weapon was the sarissa, a two-handed pike, and his
phalanx could be up to 16 ranks deep. It was a very
different form of combat!
At left, the debut of my Macedonian kit at the Virginia Junior Classical League convention, November 2014. The Phrygian helmet was made in India, probably by Al-Hammd, and it's actually a pretty good helmet. I am supported by a peltast and a thureophoros. I am actually holding my long spear in these photos, since having the assembled sarissa with a crowd of students around was just a tad dangerous! (Photos by David McDavitt.)
At right is the 2015 convention, and I decided to put the pike together for a while. It's about 19 feet long and approximately 9 pounds. And it's hard to get it all in one photo! Several of the teachers asked to try it out, which has never happened with a regular spear. It was also funny to see the students come around the corner and watch their eyes go up and up as their mouths hung open!
| The sarissa was originally
18 to 20 feet long and probably weighed 8 to 10 pounds. It could
be made of ash, though cornel wood is also mentioned. The shaft
tapered from about 1-3/8" at the butt to less than
an inch at the point.
There is no real evidence that the shaft was ever
made in two pieces, and in fact a number of surviving 16th
and 17th century pikes are tapered ash of that length, and
are known to be perfectly functional weapons. The head
would have been quite small and light to prevent the
sarissa from being unmanageable, and there was a heavier
Various artifacts have been identified as sarissa parts, though there is little artwork to confirm these theories, and reconstructions have met with widely varying success. A short piece of iron tube from Vergina has often been hailed as a coupling sleeve for a two-piece sarissa shaft, but this is complete speculation as well as unnecessary. There also seems to be a tendency to use the largest surviving spearheads as sarissa points, which of course is illogical considering the tremendous leverage they have at the end of a long pikeshaft. (Note that 16th and 17th century pikes always had small points!)
It should be noted that a two-piece sarissa shaft may be a matter of necessity for a modern reenactor, considering the problems of storage and transportation! It is also difficult to find ash poles of sufficient length. Beyond that, beware of reconstructions which are untapered or too flexible.