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"How uniform were Greek Hoplon?" Topic

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BigDan Supporting Member of TMP23 Jun 2017 2:59 p.m. PST

I have a boatload of Theban Hoplite I'd like to start painting and want to purchase some decals for the hoplon shields.

In the past I've seen uniform Lambda for Spartans and club for Thebans shields but am a bit skeptical of this level of uniformity. Has anyone seen or read anything to back this up or is it an invention of artists and miniatures painters/gamers?

I think maybe I will give my Sacred Band uniform shields and use miscellaneous designs with a sprinkling of clubs on different backgrounds or with different shield edging for my run of the mill Theban Hoplites.

When I finish with Thebes I will start on Sparta so anyone info or opinions on Spartans would be helpful as well.

Thank you,


wrgmr123 Jun 2017 3:50 p.m. PST

BigDan, my understanding is that you are correct, the only uniform unit of Thebians was the Sacred Band.
My Athenians are all different colors and shield types from LBM.

Spartans uniformly wore red and had the Lambda on their shields.

Although I'm positive there will be others that are more learned than myself.

Dn Jackson Supporting Member of TMP23 Jun 2017 4:53 p.m. PST

For what its worth, this is my theory: Once things really heated up in Greece and the Peloponnesian War was in full swing the governments started issuing equipment as the propertied class couldn't keep up with the demand placed on it. At this point I believe there would be some uniformity in shields and helmets, but in little else.

I also think the reason body armor became less common during this period was twofold: 1) the state is now issuing equipment and a shield is a lot cheaper than a shield and body armor and 2) the demand for mercenary hoplites exploded after the defeat of the mighty Persian empire by little Greece. So anyone who could afford a shield and spear bought them and hired himself out as a hoplite to anyone who'd pay.

But its just my theory.

Personal logo Herkybird Supporting Member of TMP23 Jun 2017 6:13 p.m. PST

Yes, standard Hoplon state designs only seem to have become the norm for major states during the Peloponnesian war, at least according to my WRG books.
I think Peloponnesian league Hoplites would have used the Lambda symbol, and the club of Heracles may have been used universally by Theban Hoplites, though possibly not by allied cities contingents, though I have no firm evidence for this view!

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP23 Jun 2017 6:25 p.m. PST

No one has a lot of primary source information, but what he have all seems to point in the same direction--no uniformity (except for those Spartan red cloaks) at the time of the start of the Persian Wars, and very substantial uniformity by Hellenistic times. I think Jackson's idea is valid: it's hard to make someone provide his own equipment and insist on absolute uniformity in a basically middle-class phalanx. As the armies grow more professional and the state or some mercenary captain provides the gear, things are different. But there's a lot of argument about the progress along that line at any given date, especially in the Peloponessian Wars. For what it's worth, my guess is that standard shields spread pretty quickly once they start. Soldiers really hate being killed by accident, and you can see national coat colors going all over Europe in one generation when THAT idea hits.

The one that bothers me is Brassidas' hoplite-armed helots. It could be my own prejudices, but it's hard for me to believe there wasn't some way to tell them from "real" Spartans.

custosarmorum Supporting Member of TMP23 Jun 2017 6:37 p.m. PST

I agree that during the Peloponnesian War states started equipping hoplites at public expense but these seems to be limited to those select hoplites (epilektoi or logades) who not only received equipment but extensive training, no doubt in an effort to mimic the Spartan system, at least on a small scale. The best example during the war were the 1000 Argives who Thucydides notes (5.67.2) were provided considerable training by the state. The Sacred Band are another example.

After the war, the trend of aping the Spartans continued. As I recall Xenophon mentions that the Ten Thousand were all clothed in red. There may have been some uniformity in shield devices as well. The use of the first letter of the polis' name (following the lambda model) seems to have proliferated as well with a sigma used at Sikyon and mu at Mantinea (I believe this is based on numismatic evidence).

As to shields in general, it is probably worth looking at Chase's study of Greek shield devices in art and literature. This is an old work and long out of print (Ares did a reprint in the 1970s that you can find occasionally but at exorbitant prices). You could try interlibrary loan.

custosarmorum Supporting Member of TMP23 Jun 2017 6:58 p.m. PST

The question of the Brasideioi and Neodamodes is an interesting one. I would guess that only Spartan citizens maintained the tradition of wearing their hair long but that is just a guess. The other question is whether non-Spartiates in the Spartan regiments also were somehow distinguished. For example, of the 292 (of an original 420) prisoners taken at Sphakteria in 425 B.C., only about 120 were Spartiates (Thuc. 4.38). So were only the true Spartiates uniformed as we imagine or were all of the men in the regiment dressed that way? Once again, I would guess only those Spartiates maintained the tradition of long hair but I don't know of any real evidence.

JJartist24 Jun 2017 9:44 a.m. PST

This TMP link may be of help:

TMP link

At second Mantinea 362 BC, the allies of Thebes "even the proud Arcadians" adopted the Theban device of a club on their shields.
Xenophon 'History of my Times' VIII.5.19

Luke has a good page:

It also seems the allies took up the practice of painting their helmets white in alliance with the white helmeted theban cavalry.

This is my take on it:

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