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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

William Davis, A Day in Old Athens


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The Armed Forces of Athens













Page 6

The Panoply of the Hoplite


    We have passed out one of the gates and are very likely in a convenient open space south and east of the city stretching away toward the ever visible slopes of gray Hymettus. Here is a suitable parade ground. The citizen soldiers are slipping on their helmets and tightening up their cuirasses. Trumpets blow from time to time to give orders to "fall in" among the respective "lochoi" and "taxeis." There is plenty of time to study the arms and armor of the hoplites during these preliminaries.

    A very brief glance at the average infantryman's defensive weapons tells us that to be able to march, maneuver, and fight efficiently in this armor implies that the Athenian soldier is a well-trained athlete. The whole panoply weighs many pounds.[6] The prime parts in the armor are the helmet, the cuirass, the greaves, and the shield. Every able-bodied citizen of moderate means has this outfit hanging in his andronitis, and can don it at brief notice. The helmet is normally of bronze; it is cut away enough in front to leave the face visible, but sometimes a cautious individual will insist on having movable plates (which can be turned up and down) to protect the cheeks.[7] Across the top there runs a firm metal ridge to catch any hard down-right blow, and set into the ridge is a tall nodding crest either of horsehair or of bright feathers—in either case the joy and glory of the wearer.

    Buckled around the soldier's body is the cuirass. It comprises a breastplate and a back piece of bronze, joined by thongs, or by straps with a buckle. The metal comes down to the hips. Below it hangs a thick fringe of stout strips of leather strengthened with bright metallic studs, and reaching halfway to the knees. From this point to the knees the legs are bare, but next come the greaves, thin pliable plates of bronze fitted to the shape of the leg, and opening at the back. They have to be slipped on, and then are fastened at the knees and ankle with leathern straps.

    But the warrior's main protection is his shield. With a strong, large shield you can fight passing well without any regular body armor; while with the best outfit of the latter you are highly vulnerable without your shield. To know how to swing your shield so as to catch every possible blow, to know how to push and lunge with it against an enemy, to know how to knock a man down with it, if needs be, that is a good part of the soldier's education. The shield is sometimes round, but more often oval. It is about four feet by the longest diameter. It is made of several layers of heavy bull's hide, firmly corded and riveted together, and has a good metal rim and metal boss in the center. On the inside are two handles so that it can be conveniently wielded on the left arm.[8] These shields are brilliantly painted, and although the Greeks have no heraldic devices, there are all manner of badges and distinguishing marks in vogue. Thus all Theban shields are blazoned with a club; Sicyonian shields are marked with the initial "Sigma" (S), and we note that the Athenian shields are all marked Alpha (A).[9]


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