Spartan panoply at Thermopylae - Printable Version

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Spartan panoply at Thermopylae - Invictus_Thrax - 07-07-2015

Hi guys,
I'm in a serious debate about the panoply of the homoioi during the battle of Thermopylae.
I have the feeling a lot of people have this vision about the spartan warrior which they like to be true but in fact is not. (Corinthian helmet, muscle thorax,...)

Personally I believe the spartans used their shield as body armor and a open helmet for phalanx warfare. The upper part of the picture to be more truthfully but the main group believes the lower part to be true which I think is completely wrong.

Can anyone enlighten the topic please with eventual source information would be great. I know their are a lot of specialist here who know a lot more about the subject than me. A lot of thanks in advance!!

Spartan panoply at Thermopylae - Antonius Insulae - 07-08-2015

The "300"-movie Spartan image is completely wrong (as you are probably aware of).

Spartans didn't use Corinthian helmets at Thermopylai. They have abandoned the use of Corinthian helmets before the battle took place (can't remember when exactly). Spartans used pilos helmets at the Hot Gates, since they gave broader vision and didn't impair hearing. They were also lighter, and breathing was easier while wearing them. Spartans also said themselves that they had no fear in their faces to hide behind a helmet, and that was the reason they used pilos-helmets. All the illustrations show pilos helmets without chin straps, but would they really hold in place while fighting, without tying them below the chin?

As for the armour I'm not so sure as I am about the helmets, but it's probable that some of the Spartans used body armour, and some maybe not. Greaves were of course used by everyone, but maybe bronze thorakes or linothorakes were used by wealthier men. Aspis shield was of course the main defence, and you don't necessarily need a body armour when fighting in a Greek phalanx holding an aspis.

For weapons they used dory, spear, as the main weapon, as usual. Striking overhand above the shieldwall. Secondary weapon was a short sword similar to xiphos used by all Greeks, but shorter. It might be sometimes called xiphidion, a little xiphos. It was handier than a long sword in close quarters if the shieldwalls clashed together and spear couldn't thrust so near. Spartans bragged again that they had no fear of coming close to their enemy and thus didn't need longer swords.

I don't remember sources for these bits of information now, but they came from various studies and articles by researchers I've read. I hope this helps at least a little. Someone can add corrections about the body armour, if there are corrections to be made.

Spartan panoply at Thermopylae - Giannis K. Hoplite - 07-08-2015

I'm sorry but I have to challenge virtually everything said in the previous post. I believe that there will be not one source to back up any of the above conclusions.

I am happy to be proven wrong, since this would mean there's a substantial amount of sources out there that I'm not yet aware of.


Spartan panoply at Thermopylae - Doc - 07-09-2015

I am not in a position to contribute directly to this topic since I primarily focus on the Roman period....BUT.....that musculata in the lower photo was made by Matt Lukes and was used by the game makers without asking him first. They removed the epomides but the rest of the armor is what Matt made. I know, because I own that musculata. It was adopted by looking at certain Italian examples and the only known Roman one in D'Amato's book.


Spartan panoply at Thermopylae - Giannis K. Hoplite - 07-09-2015

Yep, I have informed Matt about this since the photo first came up by the game developers. However it is not clear if the photo is painted using your cuirass as a model, in which case I suppose they haven't misused copyright.

By the way, I would love to see your roman impression with the musculata!

Spartan panoply at Thermopylae - Vindex - 07-12-2015

We know the Spartans looked different to the Phokians because Ephialtes says so (Herodotos 7.218.1) so something clearly defined them; may just have been their shields if they had the lambda on them at this time (not known for sure I believe). Whatever it was, something was significant enough for Ephialtes to instantly differentiate the Spartans from the other Greek forces.

We also know that the Persians chose to remain at a distance even though the Greeks had no spears left and the "barbarians overwhelmed them with missiles" (Herodotos 7.225.3). This could be argued as a case for or against armour but one would like to know how Heordotos found this out if all the Spartans were killed. Perhaps a surrendered Theban passed on the details after the battle (but since the Thebans dropped their arms and surrendered one would wonder if a source of a traitor would be believed?).

Spartan panoply at Thermopylae - Prowler0508 - 07-14-2015

Herodotus has Ephialtes differ Phokians from Spartans, which shouldn't have been much of a problem, not necessarily Spartans from all other Greeks.

But regardless, I would expect all Greeks recognizing Spartan contingent anyhow, since, especially such a picked group as one on Thermopylae, would include one of the richest, well equipped hoplites you could get at the time. Imagine seeing very random groups of hoplites with all kinds of equipment, age and shape, and then a group of long haired(?), well conditioned (following Xenophon Spartans distinguished themselves in this area), and more importantly well equipped and well organized men, with a possibly greater number of non combat personnel than others. You would know who are you dealing with even though they weren't as uniform in either equipment or blazons as pop culture has us believe.

I am still not fully convinced about the whole blazon thing being THAT defined as some on this forum suggest, but I guess there could have been some recognizable shield devices as well (not the lambda though).

Concerning 7.225, I wouldn't be as literal. Life was never a video game. You always have other non combatants, civilians, logistics, Spartans had helots or maybe even Periokoi, you had thousands of Greeks on Persian side etc. Information shouldn't have been too hard to get. You always have witnesses to those kind of events.

Spartan panoply at Thermopylae - Giannis K. Hoplite - 07-19-2015

I agree with Gordon's post.

RE: Spartan panoply at Thermopylae - JoshoB - 11-03-2015

There's a lot of nonsense in this thread. When in doubt, return to the original sources.

Our main source for Thermopylae is, of course, Herodotus (book 7), and nowhere does he give a detailed description of what the Spartans wore. At 7.208, Xerxes sends a spy to the Greek camp and it so happens that the Spartans are outside the wall at that moment, exercising and combing their long hair. That's it. And when the Persians follow the path that Ephialtes pointed out to them, they run into the Phocians which they mistake for the Spartans (7.218). It's only after the Persians ask who they are that they realize they're not Spartans. 

As regards the equipment that the Spartans would have used at Thermopylae, we have to turn to finds of armour and weapons at sanctuaries and to vase-painting. There's no reason to assume that the Spartans would have been different in this regard. They would have used bronze bell-shaped cuirasses or linen corslets; muscled cuirasses, as mentioned earlier, were not used until later in the fifth century BC. The same goes for pilos helmets -- not until. ca. 450 BC. Shield blazons would have followed the Archaic model (i.e. "anything goes"); use of "state" symbols, such as the Lacedaemonian lambda, didn't appear until the time of the Peloponnesian War. (We actually spend some time discussing this in our latest Ancient Warfare podcast, on issue IX.2 (Theban ascendancy), which will be available online around 13 November. )

The notion that you didn't need armour if you were fighting in tight formation is nice, but not corroborated by the evidence. In fact, some modern commentators have argued that fighting in formation didn't happen until after the Persian Wars, though I think it can be dated to around this time or slightly earlier (see my book, Henchmen of Ares). The pictorial evidence is clear, though, and commonly depicts the use of some kind of body-armour. Again, by the time of the Peloponnesian War, there seems to be more variety and some men were certainly equipped more lightly (pilos helmet and tunic). Bronze greaves were common. Spear and sword were the main weapons.

As regards the red cloaks of the Spartans: most ancient sources use Aristotle as a starting point, but the earliest sources we have for this are Xenophon's Constitution of the Lacedaemonians (11.3) and Aristophanes' Lysistrata (line 1140). The latter was first performed 411 BC and the former is probably a bit later (must be in the first half of the fourth century BC). So, again, the evidence for the red cloak is fairly late and I doubt that the Spartans at Thermopylae were already using it (read: no evidence).

RE: Spartan panoply at Thermopylae - Dan D'Silva - 11-05-2015

(11-03-2015, 10:28 AM)JoshoB Wrote: ...  muscled cuirasses, as mentioned earlier, were not used until later in the fifth century BC.

Could you elaborate?  I have usually read it claimed that the muscled cuirass dates to the late Archaic, though I won't claim to have scholarly citations for that.

RE: Spartan panoply at Thermopylae - JoshoB - 11-05-2015

(11-05-2015, 02:56 PM)Dan D Wrote:
(11-03-2015, 10:28 AM)JoshoB Wrote: ...  muscled cuirasses, as mentioned earlier, were not used until later in the fifth century BC.

Could you elaborate?  I have usually read it claimed that the muscled cuirass dates to the late Archaic, though I won't claim to have scholarly citations for that.

Sure. Eero Jarva discusses the relevant material in depth in his Archaiologia on Archaic Greek Body Armour (1995), where the muscled cuirass corresponds to his type III (pages 30-32). The earliest evidence is a specimen from Olympia that excavators believed date to the early years of the fifth century BC (always difficult), and the earliest depictions in Attic vase-paintings date from around 480 BC or a little later.

Jarva suggests they're a feature of the Early Classical period rather than strictly Archaic, and they certainly don't seem to be as popular as the bell-shaped cuirass was or the linen corslet became from the later sixth century BC onwards. By the time of Xenophon (On Horsemanship 12.1–5), at least, muscled cuirasses seem to have been used largely by cavalrymen rather than infantry.

It's not entirely impossible that someone at Thermopylae used a muscled cuirass like this, just unlikely in my opinion.

RE: Spartan panoply at Thermopylae - Giannis K. Hoplite - 11-06-2015

Nice posts by Josho! Spot on, of course!

RE: Spartan panoply at Thermopylae - JoshoB - 11-07-2015

One more addition...

The idea that someone read/heard somewhere that muscled cuirasses were an invention of the Late Archaic period and/or typical for the Spartans bothered me a bit, so I did some digging around to see what the source for that idea might have been. Tim Everson's Warfare in Ancient Greece: Arms and Armour from the Heroes of Homer to Alexander the Great (2004), which is pretty solid, has some further details about muscled cuirasses on pages 140–145, which offers a convenient overview.

In any case, apparently Nicholas Sekunda, in one of the Osprey books (1999's Spartan Army) suggests that muscled cuirasses were typical for the Spartan army by at least the early fifth century BC (as per plates E and F). Like Everson, though, I find that very hard to believe, precisely for reasons that Everson highlights in his book (page 142): those muscled cuirasses were expensive to make and required more work than the bell-shaped cuirasses, so it seems highly unlikely, in a period where most hoplites shifted to linen corslets, that the Spartans would favour wearing muscled cuirasses en masse.

So I think Sekunda's book is probably the source of that idea, and it's something that isn't supported by the evidence at all.

RE: Spartan panoply at Thermopylae - Dan Howard - 11-07-2015

A lot of Sekuda's claims can't be supported by the evidence.

RE: Spartan panoply at Thermopylae - Romilos Lfc Fronimides - 08-12-2016

I crossed this topic from elsewhere and I've read many non-historical comments.
I'm Greek... I'm fanatic History freak... and Illustrator (actually, I was the Senior Art Director of "Hegemonia: City-States" mod of "Rome: Total War" game).
I made many times illustrations about the ancient Greek hoplites and ESPECIALLY for my beloved Spartans. I also had a short communication with Professor Paul Cartledge.

(My avatar is a small detail from a paint of mine for a book, "The last Stand of Spartans". You can see a Spartan Olympics' winner - which he had the pride and permission to wearing his victory olive wreath over his helmet; has painted over his shield the "Dokana" Sparta-State's official "flag-symbol", and he was fighting aside the king as bodyguard, the highest tribute for a Spartan! Behind him, a long hair only-beard Spartan with long-high crest helmet is dropping dead after an arrow hit, a dead officer near by him, while a wounded man trying to recover his body)...

In that period of time, during the Persian Wars, the Spartans (actually "Lacedaimonians", not "Spartans", is wrong) they had EXACTLY the look of the most heavier full-plate Greek panoply hoplite you ever crossed. They loved hearing the (terrible for hearing/seeing) Corinthian helmet with long crests (and some times high-crests, attached on poles over the helmet). The wearing heavy "bell-type" cuirass, leg-knee bronze protections, the heavy "Aspis", the "Dory" and the "Xeale" (or "Xiali"), a short version of "Xiphos" (leaf two-edged sword) - mostly attached INSIDE the shield for faster and better draw...
...I made few trips to Laconea (Sparta) to the Spartan Ancient History Museum and to other museums and talked to many people, before to start creating images...

...These nude-like figures, with "Pylos" helmets, without any metal parts and with the famous "Lamda" letter on their shields, ARE VERY LATER look of the Spartan army during the "Athenian War" (according to Spartans), the Peloponnese War during Pericles' era.

Do a research first, before your desire to comment on a historic topic, please.