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arms and armour, Greek

Most Homeric references to arms and armour are best interpreted in connection with Minoan and Mycenaean armaments, known from such representations as those on the shaft-grave daggers (see mycenae). The characteristic armour here is a figure-of-eight-shaped shield made from a single ox-hide and swung from the neck by a strap. The only other protection was a helmet. The chief weapon was a long rapier-like sword. Towards the end of the bronze age this style was displaced by the use of a much smaller round shield carried on the arm; a change which involved the addition of a breastplate and greaves, while the sword became shorter and was used for cut as well as thrust. In the Homeric poems the champions begin by throwing spears at each other, and when these are gone they proceed to close combat with swords.

The standing type of the Archaic and Classical soldier was the hoplite, ultimately derived from the soldier of the transition to the iron age. The trend now was towards heavier armour and fighting based on weight of manpower. Shields were made of bronze and leather, and spears and swords of iron. In addition hoplites wore breastplates, greaves, and helmets as defensive armour. The spear as used by hoplites and cavalry (see hippeis § 2) had become a pike for thrusting, not throwing, and was usually some 2 m. (c.7 ft.) in length. Only light-armed troops and some light cavalry used instead the throwing-spear (ἀκόντιον‎). Along with the use of the spear as a pike, the sword (at least of the Athenian hoplite) had developed a short, straight-edged blade; it could only be used for very close fighting.

The 4th cent. saw the evolution of a more flexible type of equipment than the hoplite's. Experiments were first made with the peltast, but the final change was the establishment of the Macedonian type as employed in the phalanx. The spear (σάρισα‎) was increased still more in length to a maximum of just over 5 m. (17 ft.), and the shield reduced to a small target carried on the arm. The different ranks of the phalanx used different lengths of spear. The equipment for light-armed infantry and light- and heavy-armed cavalry was also specialized at this period. At all periods, soldiers competed over the excellence of their armour (e.g. Thuc. 6. 31. 3), some of which might be highly decorated. See war, art of, greek.


A. M. Snodgrass, Early Greek Armour and Weapons (1964).Find this resource:

    A. M. Snodgrass, Journal of Hellenic Studies 1965, 110 ff. (hoplite).Find this resource:

      A. M. Snodgrass, Arms and Armour of the Greeks (1967).Find this resource:

        N. V. Sekunda, “The Sarissa,” Acta Universitatis Lodziensis. Folia archaeologica 23 (2001), 13–41.Find this resource:

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