Greek shields from at leastern the later eighth century BC onwards were frequently decorated via abstract or figurative blazons.

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Towards the finish of the eighth century BC, the primitive Greeks developed a huge, round shield (aspis) that was to overcome Greek warfare from that suggest onwards dvery own the Hellenistic era. It’s often described as an “Argive” shield.


The Aroffer shield was round, about a metre or even more in diameter. It was convex (“hollow”, as the ancient resources would have actually it), and also featured a main arm grap (porpax) through which the left arm was put, while the hand ordered a take care of (antilabe) near the shield’s edge. Often, tright here was another antilabe on the opposite edge, which perhaps offered as a spare. This shield kind is linked through the ancient Greek hoplite, yet it was emphatically not primarily recognized as a hoplon, nor did the hoplite derive his name from this shield.

Tright here was at leastern one major variant of this form of shield. The scene from the black-figure vase that’s used as this article’s featured photo, for example, functions a so-referred to as “Boeotian” shield: it’s equivalent to the Arprovide one, yet regularly (not always!) oblong in shape and also, characteristically, has two scallops reduced from the side. Some modern commentators have argued that this kind of shield never really existed, yet I beg to differ.

The Arprovide shield was made from planks (presumably greatly oak). The rim was flat and mostly reincompelled with bronze. Sometimes, the whole outer surface was extended by a thin sheet of bronze. Some modern authors imply the outside might also be defended by leather (such as ox hide), but there’s no primitive proof for this.ShowFor instance, Everson 2004, p. 121. An Etruscan shield of this kind, presently in the Museo Gregoriano (Vatican), still had actually traces of leather lining on the inside.ShowConnolly 1998, p. 53. The porpax consisted of bronze and also was offered to reinforce the shield in the centre, wbelow it was extremely thin.

Shield blazons

One characteristic of this new kind of shield is that it often sported a blazon. Herodotus attributed the Carians through inventing shield blazons, however this has mostly been discarded by modern commentators.

Regardmuch less of that developed shield blazons, they appear first on pottery of the late eighth century and are associated with round, most likely Aroffer shields. Because of the double-grip building, the shield is carried on the forearm in a details way, allowing pictures to be painted on it via a clear up and also down. (Obviously, if the warrior grabbed the second antilabe, as listed earlier, the image would certainly be upside dvery own.)

Nonetheless, not all shields featured blazons: there are plenty of vase-paintings that leave the shield surface blank or painted a solitary colour. Other shields featured abstract fads, such as spirals or a variety of flat circles. But the a lot of striking are shields that function blazons in the form of animals, monsters, or – even more hardly ever – huguy numbers. And while many of these blazons show up to have actually been painted on, we have actually examples of bronze blazons from e.g. the Panhellenic sanctuary at Olympia that were cut from sheets of bronze and featuring incised details.

On the left is the bronze dealing with of a shield recorded by the Athenians from the Spartans at the Battle of Pylos in 425 BC (as suggested by the inscription), throughout the Peloponnesian War. At this time in the Agora Museum, Athens. On the appropriate is a bronze shield blazon from Olympia featuring a Gorgoneion (head of a Gorgon) in the centre, with wings around; dated to the first half of the 6th century BC.

Shield blazons were occasionally expected to terrify one’s adversaries (at leastern symbolically). Such was probably the case with the Gorgoneion – the head and face of a Gorgon, a mythical creature via hideous attributes and also snakes instead of hair, of which Medusa is the finest known instance.

In various other instances, shield blazons were connected to the owner of the shield, and also therefore should have actually had some personal meaning. In some instances, the meaning could not be hard to guess: a lion would certainly symbolize toughness and also courage, for example, while a snake was a symbol of wisdom and immortality (because snakes sloughed off their skins at continual intervals, the prehistoric Greeks believed they repeatedly renewed themselves).

Of Sophanes, the son of Eutychides, bravest of the Athenian fighters at Plataea (480 BC), Herodotus composed the complying with (Hdt. 9.74; transl. Purvis):

Two different stories are told around him: one, that from the belt of his breastplate he lugged an iron anchor slung from a bronze chain, which he would certainly throw whenever he drew close to his opponents so that when they broke out of their place in the ranks to attack him, they would certainly be unable to budge him; then, as soon as his enemies were in flight, his tactic was to pick up the anchor and chase them via it. That is just one of the stories; according to the various other <…>, he did not actually wear an anchor attached to his breastplate, however instead had an anchor as an emblem on his shield, which never ceased moving and also was constantly in swift movement.

Then, of course, there’s also our excellent frifinish Alcibiades (ca. 452-404 BC). His golden (!) shield supposedly sported the photo of a thunderbolt-wielding Eros (Plut. Alcibiades 16.1-2). Eros was the kid of Aphrodite, referred to in Latin as Cupid, and was normally armed through arrows. Alcibiades’ shield emblem was a less-than-subtle referral to his sexual prowess. As Hans van Wees points out, shield blazons were criticized by some in the fifth century BC as “betraying boastfulness and aggression, in contrast to the ‘modest’ undecorated shield of the wise man, and also the basic white-painted shields of the prevalent soldier.”ShowVan Wees 2004, p. 54.

In the movie 300 (2006), as in Frank Miller’s original comic book, the Spartans carry shields through the Greek lambda on them. In reality, they didn’t begin using these till approximately the time of the Peloponnesian War, or around 5 decades after the moment period portrayed in the film. They likely also wore red tunics, not cloaks as presented below (though Xenophon isn’t extremely clear in this instance). The Corinthian helmets that they wear likewise don’t confirm to any recognized types: the major trouble is the elevated forehead plate. See also my review of the movie.

Nation-specific shield blazons don’t show up until fairly late. The best-known of these are the Spartan lambdas or Λ, a reference to Laconia, the region conquered by the city of Sparta. However before, these don’t show up to have been supplied before the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC), about which time they are referenced by the Attic playwideal Eupolis (of whose occupational just fragments remain). But the Spartans were far from typical: according to Xenophon, they were additionally noteworthy for having actually a unicreate battle-dress, consisting of a red item of clothing (Xen. Spartan Constitution 11.3), many likely a tunic rather than a cloak.ShowVan Wees 2004, p. 54 through additionally references. Other Greeks presented a far more diverse photo on the battlefield.

It’s not until probably the finish of the fifth and also the early on fourth century BC that some Greek states began to sport nationwide emblems on their own shields. The many famed of these are the Thebans, that decorated their shields through the club of Heracles. Acomponent from them, we hear of the world of Sikyon painting sigmas on their shields and also the Mantineans utilizing the trident. Not coincidentally, such icons were likewise used on coins.ShowSnodgrass 1999, p. 67.

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However, for other cities, including Athens, we find little bit evidence for the widespreview use of some sort of national symbol on shields. Some have actually tried to analyze the shield blazons as representing particular family members, based greatly on shields shown on Attic pottery, but these have actually mainly prrange to be fruitless. Many likely, eexceptionally warrior in a lot of city-states ssuggest picked a blazon that he felt finest represented him.