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Spartan Swords and Armor

or how to put on a Sword, Shield, Helmet and Jockstrap and Still Scare the Daylights out of your Enemy 

You know your civilization is tough when it's very name comes to mean "warlike".

The Spartans were renowned for their ferocity and for their military strength and skill. Of the Greek city-states, the Spartans were one of the few who actually had a standing army with professional soldiers. Most of the other city-states had sitting armies who would rarely stand at all. Okay, just jokes. Other Greek city states had armies composed of citizen soldiers who would arm and equip themselves at times of war, but no real standing professional army. The Spartans had a strict military philosophy that made them strive to be as strong and disciplined as possible and to do away with all other distractions (In addition to "warlike" the name Spartan has come to mean simple and sparse).

Ancient artwork on vases, urns and the like depict Greek warriors fighting nude or with very little armor. This is a stylized version of warfare -- a dreamy artistic interpretation of fighting, man versus man in the simplest, most pure sense of the term. Frank Miller, in his graphic novel 300, took his cue from these types of artistic renderings, giving his Spartan soldiers a jock strap, a shield, a helmet, a spartan sword and little else. This certainly looks impressive (particularly when your actors work out obsessively for 6 months before shooting) but is not exactly how Greeks fought. The hoplite, a standard unit in Greek militaries, was a heavily armored soldier, with a steel or bronze cuirass (breastplate for you who don't speak Spartanese), heavy greaves on their legs, vambraces on their arms, helmets and mud flaps with silhouettes of naked women on them (okay, no mud flaps). Thus armored, the hoplites were well protected from just about any type of attack and heavier, thus allowing them to push their opponents backward when meeting shield to shield.

Greeks fought as a unit known as a phalanx. They grouped themselves together tightly, using their shields to cover themselves and part of the soldier to their left. In this way, every spartan shield covered half of two people. Their own shield covered their left and their neighbor's shield covered their right, so that every soldier was fully covered from the knees to the shoulders. Their heads were protected by a large spartan helmet and their legs by sturdy iron or brass greaves (usually sculpted to look like legs). In their right hands, they carried a long spear with a rounded leaf-blade. The spartan spear typically had an iron or brass spiked butt which helped to balance it and could also be used to stab with if the spearhead broke. On their waist, Greeks carried a short leaf-bladed sword. This was used when the fighting got very close or their spears were mangled beyond use.

The fighting style of Greek soldiers (particularly the phalanx units) was fairly simple. They would march forward, sometimes at a run, and slam into their opponents. The two rival units would meet shield to shield, spear to spear, and begin shoving and stabbing at one another (This was exemplified in the movie 300 by the memorable scene of Leonidas' Spartans stylistically shoving their opponents off a cliff). When the soldiers of one unit started to fall, their unit tended to disintegrate like a chain with breaking links. When enough men fell in one formation, the remaining men tended to turn and flee, knowing that to stay was death. Greeks generally placed the strongest, most experienced warriors in both the front and the rear of the formation. The ones in the front bore the brunt of the initial charge. The ones in the back kept the unit together for as long as possible if things started to go badly (and also turn and face enemies that might flank them). Sometimes neither unit would gain a clear advantage and the fighting would break down into hundreds of small combats between the men, usually with swords.

The Spartan poet Tyrtaeus, a warrior himself, wrote extensively about the horrors and glories of phalanx formations. Like this little gem:

Our soldier should be disciplined in the work of the heavy fighter, and not stand out to the missiles when he carries a shield, but go forward and fight at close quarters and with his long spear or short sword, thrust home and strike his enemy down. Let him fight toe to toe and shield against shield hard driven, crest against crest and helmet against helmet, chest against chest; let him close hard and fight it out with his foeman, holding tight to the hilt of his sword, or to his long spear.

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spartan sword This spartan sword is an official, licensed prop replica from the 300 Graphic Novel by Frank Miller. This is no cheap knock off, it is the real deal!
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