Military & Weapons in Ancient Sparta

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The military city-state of Sparta was founded around 900 B.C and reached its pinnacle of power in 481 B.C. after Sparta helped form the Hellenic Union. Sparta produced one of the most iconic armies in ancient history and was renowned for its soldiers' skill, discipline, professionalism and bravery. Its societal interests revolved around the military and its ability to defend and attack neighboring civilizations, such as Athens.

Military Education

  • Military education was an important component of Spartan life and children were taught to be warriors from a relatively young age. At the age of seven, Spartan boys left home to enter state education and were given military training until age 20. They were taught courage, discipline and fighting strategies. Equipped with basic hand-to-hand combat weapons, such as the spear or sword, Spartan boys were taught a variety of defensive and offensive combat techniques. They were also taught different battle formations, such as the phalanx. After graduation, these men would live communally with other soldiers, until they were called upon for military duty. It was not common for men in the military to live with their wives or families.

Spears and Pikes

  • Spears and pikes -- or "sarissas" -- were the primary weapons of the Spartan military and provided long-range capabilities during battles. Both weapons were constructed using wood for the shaft and iron for the pointed ends. The spears often had a bronze spike opposite to the pointed end to help balance the weapons. Spears were slightly smaller in length than pikes and were typically 13 feet long; however, smaller spears were sometimes used when fighting in the phalanx formation. Spears could also be thrown at an opponent, which increased range, while keeping the soldier out of his opponent's range. Pikes were longer and relied on a thrusting motion for defensive and offensive maneuvers.

Swords

  • The secondary weapon used by the Spartan infantry was a short sword known as a "xiphos." This weapon was meant to complement the longer spear and provide soldiers with a weapon they could use in close combat, where the range of the spear or pike became useless. The sword was shaped like a long leaf and was typically 2-feet long. It was primarily used in a slashing and spearing motion during battle.

Hoplite Shield

  • One of the most important elements of Spartan armies was their hoplite shield. Typically, the shield weighed around 15 lbs. and was round in shape. It shielded the user from the chin down to about mid knee. Made of wood, the shield had a bronze facing, which prevented penetration by arrows, spears, swords or most other basic weapons.

Phalanx

  • The phalanx was an offensive military formation used in ancient Greece beginning around the 4th century B.C. Soldiers within this column were outfitted with a helmet and a breastplate, called a "cuirass," which was a protective plating for the upper body. They also carried hoplite shields, swords, pikes or long spears, but their equipment was basic and meant to keep them light and agile. Soldiers had to be tightly packed together with overlapping shields and spears and acting as one object, which made the formation virtually impenetrable. Their light weapons allowed them to jab their opponents. Soldiers had to be highly trained to learn how to move and attack as one group. The strength of the technique was not the weapons, but rather the formation and discipline used to implement it.

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