A Brief Overview of Sparta and Spartan Weapons
Spartan weapons are still very popular antiques among collectors, and the history of Sparta has often been the base for movies. The Spartan history was primarily delivered by ancient historians who lived outside of Sparta because the actual city had only one living historian. Most of the ruins were discovered in the 20th century and archaeological excavations have decreased over the years.
Homer was one of the ancient historians who wrote about Sparta and described various hills and valleys in the area. The city of Sparta was situated near a river and was surrounded by various mountain ranges so that it was protected even without city walls. The time of settlement remains unknown, but it is assumed that the first people arrived in Sparta around 900 BC. Why the city ended up with the name ‘Sparta’ is also not clarified, but researchers believe that it was the name of a rather small community that joined with others and spread throughout the South. One of the major acquisitions during the expansion of Sparta was the Temple of Apollo. However, while the rest of Greece expanded as well and commenced colonialisation, Sparta remained secluded.
Although the Spartan army and the Spartan wars are important elements of European history, there is little reference available in literature. The only written documents were delivered by poet Tyrtaios and numerous non-Spartan writers. However, there is a range of surviving art that shows pictures of Spartan weapons, battles and soldiers. In addition to that, there were a few archaeological excavations of soldiers’ graves that date back to 725 BC. While the Spartan army has always been known as one of the strongest in the Old World’s history, it is surprising that the most essential forces were average citizens of Sparta who represented the infantry. Their armours were similar to any other army at the time, with a basic equipment of shield, cuirass, helmet and leg piece. This equipment was certainly very pricy and soldiers had to buy their own – today’s army benefits were not yet introduced.
Here is a quick overview of what Spartan weapons and equipment were like.
- The Shield
Shields were usually round and large enough to cover the soldier’s entire upper body. It is fair to say that it may have been the most important part of the overall equipment because it was the primary defence. It was usually made of wood with a bronze frame and later on an entire bronze coating. On the inside, there was a type of armband that was wrapped around the soldier’s elbow, and a second handle to control the shield.
- The Cuirass
Two bronze disks were tied on either shoulder and formed a shield for the upper body. The hips were also protected by bronze shields, but they were fastened a little looser to enable free movement. Although this armour was heavy and stored a lot of heat, it was used for over 200 years and was then replaced by an overall more flexible and lighter model.
- The Helmet
Helmets were made out of one piece and usually covered the entire head – only the eyes were free. The major disadvantage was the limited hearing, and an alternative version of helmet was soon introduced that left space for the ears and improved the overall performance. The helmet was primarily a psychological defence as soldiers felt more secure with it, thus performed better due to their increased confidence.
- The Spear
This is a 2-3m long, heavy stick with a thick iron point that was used to either throw at enemies or in a duel. However, the spear was often too heavy to be used successfully in close combat.
- The Sword
Due to the fact that spears were of limited use on the battlefield, swords were the primary weapon used in all Spartan wars. While there are many different types, all of them were of rather short nature and a crucial weapon.
Imitations of ancient Spartan weapons can be found quite easily on the internet or in collectors’ stores.