The Emergence of Hoplite Warfare, 900–525 BC III


Not nearly as common as the greave, the ankle guard is nevertheless represented by over fifty finds from Olympia (Jarva 1995, p. 101), making it the commonest item of armour after helmets and greaves. The earliest example comes from Praisos and is dated to about 675/650 (Snodgrass 1965a, p. 88). There are no Mycenaean forebears, but Jarva (1995, pp. 104–5), following Furtwangler, sees a possible connection to the silver ‘ankle clips’ mentioned in Homer. The Greek could mean that greaves were well fitted to the ankle pieces, making the two pieces essentially two halves of a matched item. I prefer to think of the word episphyriois as referring to the metal lacing seen on Mycenaean greaves, especially since the earliest Olympia ankle guard dates only from c. 650, as might also the Praisos piece: both comfortably later than Homer.

To have had a guard for the ankle does seem strange. It is a great deal of work for a part of the body that is very unlikely to be hit in battle. I think the idea first suggested by Yalouris (1960, p. 59 n. 38), that the guard has much to do with the myth of Achilles’ heel, has much to recommend it. The ankle guards are relatively simple pieces of bronze moulded to cover the back and sides of the heel, with the bronze coming over the top of the foot to be fastened by laces. There are embossed circles on each side to allow for the ankle bone. Using his perforation-dating technique, Jarva has dated examples from c. 650 down to about 525. The perforations allowed for a backing to be attached, but Jarva suggests they might have been attached to a sandal or shoe as fortified footwear. There are no convincing illustrations in art. These guards are about 11–13cm in height, but there is a different group of ankle guards that are much higher at the back, up to 25cm (Jarva 1995, pp. 103–4). These appear to date from after 525 and even through the fifth century, because they have no perforations at the edges. However, they are nearly all from south Italy and Sicily (where a provenance is known), and may have been a local derivation from the earlier Greek ankle guard. Their size would have made them difficult to wear with greaves and their length would have made walking difficult, especially in a battle situation. They were perhaps decorative and for non-combat situations only (Jarva 1995, p. 104). Cavalry was being more frequently used in the fifth century, especially in south Italy and Sicily, and Jackson (personal comm.) has suggested that these long ankle guards may have been for use by cavalry. I am certain that greaves were never worn by cavalry because of possible damage to the horse, and because the rider needed to be able to grip the horse with his legs. I would think that the same was true for these long ankle guards, and that parade use only is more likely.

Closely related to the ankle guards are foot guards, which covered the top of the foot and the toes. However, these are much rarer than ankle guards, with only four known examples. From Olympia we have two one-piece foot guards dating from c. 625 and c. 525. Also from Olympia is the toe section of a hinged guard dating from about 500, and finally there is the complete pair of hinged foot guards in the British Museum, which come from Ruvo in south Italy and may be from as late as the fifth century. These last may be connected with the high ankle guards and be of a ceremonial nature, since they appear to date from a period long after most bronze body armour had ceased to be used in Greece. Even the earlier pieces would have been very awkward to wear, more so without the hinge at the toes, and it is hardly surprising that the item is rare. Only the earliest piece has perforations for a lining attachment, but Jarva (1995, pp. 106–7) suggests that all of them could really be parts of an armoured shoe, as he has suggested for ankle guards. Most hoplites are shown going into battle barefoot until c. 500, and I do not agree with Jarva that this is because of artistic licence portraying ‘heroic nudity’. Bare feet are immensely practical on the field of battle, if you have been brought up shoeless to harden the soles. They give a far better grip than any shoes. It is interesting to note that there are several scenes from Crete of warriors wearing sandals. They are not wearing greaves, and it seems likely that the greave, and indeed the ankle and foot guard, were not as popular in Crete, possibly because of a late adoption of hoplite warfare.

The evidence for the use of thigh guards in Archaic Greece is almost the opposite to that for ankle guards. While they are by far the most frequently depicted limb guard in art after greaves, we have only one example, found at Olympia. Jarva (1995, pp. 79–84) organises thigh guards into five groups, which I think unnecessarily complicates the evidence. His ‘Type I’ is the actual example from Olympia, which pre-dates any artistic illustrations we have by about a century. It is also quite different from those illustrations. It is bronze, about 24cm high, and has the knee and thigh muscles modelled onto it. It covered the front half of the thigh and was tied on with lacing. There are lacing holes as well as the usual edge perforations on the top and sides for attaching a lining (Jarva 1995, pp. 79–80). These perforations and the artistic style date the thigh guard to c. 650, and Jarva compares the style to the prototype greave group. This is the short greave, which did not cover the knee, and explains why this thigh guard reaches down so far. As the greaves became longer and covered the knee, so the thigh guard moved up the leg to concentrate on protecting the thigh.

Jarva’s ‘Type II’ is based on one relief vase from Sparta, which shows long thigh guards with lacing up the side; he sees it as possibly being a material thigh guard. The lacing is shown on the inside of one leg but on the outside of the other, indicating some artistic confusion. The relief dates from c. 575 (Jarva 1995, p. 80).

Jarva’s ‘Type III’ is based on two or three pieces, which show bronze thigh guards with an early spiral pattern, and a gap on the inside of the thigh where the guard may have been laced, or just held on with the elasticity of the bronze (Boardman 1980a, no. 64.3; Jarva 1995, p. 80). These date from c. 650–550.

Jarva’s ‘Type IV’ is the main group of thigh-guard illustrations which appear to be open at the back, again being laced or held on by the elasticity of the bronze. They are usually decorated with spirals, sometimes clearly enhanced by painting, and date from c. 550 to c. 500. There are also some earlier vases which do not appear to show thigh guards, but where the thighs of the hoplite are still decorated with spirals. These date from as early as c. 560 (Jarva 1995, p. 82). A well-known statue of a Spartan warrior of about 525, from Longa, wears a pair of these thigh guards, as well as upper and lower arm guards on the right arm (Jarva 1995, p. 27, fig. 6; Connolly 1998, p. 59; Sekunda 1999, p. 56).

It seems clear to me that all thigh guards would have been open at the back in the same way that greaves are, and that the illustrations of ‘Type II’ and ‘Type III’ are mistakes or artistic licence on the part of the illustrator. These are all clearly the same guard, becoming gradually more decorated as the century progresses, and perhaps longer (Boardman 1980a, no. 217) in order to cover the gap between thigh guard and greave. (Jarva’s ‘Type V’ is a short, round-edged thigh guard which, although derived from the Greek, is clearly fifth-century Etruscan and does not belong in this study.) It is difficult to gauge the popularity of the thigh guard. The single example from the seventh century seems to show a rare, almost experimental item to help cover the gap between greaves and cuirass, but it did not catch on. When the thigh guard re-emerged a hundred years later, it seemed to be a useful and practical piece of equipment throughout the second half of the sixth century, yet we have no surviving examples. Given that the thigh and groin were a particularly vulnerable area, I think we must accept the vase illustrations as showing the true popularity of this item. The reason for our lack of finds at sanctuary sites is probably just an unfortunate occurrence giving us a statistical blip.

Extra armour was also used for the right arm, which was unprotected by the shield. Seventeen upper arm guards are known, fourteen from Olympia, and they seem to fall into two main types (Jarva 1995, p. 74). There are large guards that open at the back, i.e. between the arm and the torso, and that have a large shoulder piece, often decorated with palmettes or a gorgon or animal head (Jarva 1995, p. 74, figs 30–3; Connolly 1998, p. 59, no. 5). Another type has only the front of the shoulder protected and does not reach down as much to the elbow (Jarva 1995, p. 75, fig. 32). A third type listed by Jarva appears only on the left arm of an Amazon on a vase from Tarquinia. It is decorated with a spiral and stops short of the shoulder. Arm guards were not worn on the left arm in reality, because of the shield. The Amazon on the Tarquinia vase has no shield, so a shoulder guard can be put on her left arm. It is clumsily executed and I do not think we can derive a third upper arm guard type from it (Jarva 1995, p. 74 and fig. 33). Apart from one early short guard which Jarva (1995, p. 76 and fig. 32) dates to c. 670, all the remaining long and short guards date to the period c. 600 to c. 510. This accords well with the few artistic depictions we have, mostly from Attic vases (Boardman 1980a, no. 100). The use of the long upper arm guard would have been difficult with a bell cuirass and that is presumably why the shorter version was made as well. Although the Longa statuette appears to show otherwise, it is possible that long upper arm guards, covering the shoulder, were used only with linen cuirasses (Boardman 1980a, no. 100), which started to come into use in the middle of the sixth century (see below). The shorter pieces could be used with the bell cuirass (Jarva 1995, p. 76). The dates given by Jarva for long and short upper arm guards do not completely support this, however. There are long guards dating to 600, when we have only the bell cuirass (although see below for padded linen and scale corslets); and short upper arm guards dating to as late as c. 510 (where we have an example without perforated edges for a lining), at a time when the bell cuirass was becoming obsolete (Jarva 1995, p. 76). But Jarva’s edge-perforation dating (1995, pp. 75–6) conflicts a great deal with Kunze’s artistic dating on the upper arm guards. If we ignore Jarva’s perforation rules here, and just date the pieces on artistic style, it becomes possible to date all the big shoulder piece upper arm guards to no earlier than 560, suggesting they might well all have been worn with linen cuirasses. The shorter upper arm guard goes with the bell cuirass, or perhaps just as a more comfortable option. The guards were never very popular, judging by the few examples and illustrations we have.

Less popular still was the lower arm guard, of which we have just five examples, four from Olympia (Jarva 1995, p. 77). They all appear to date from c. 625 to c. 575, judging by style and perforation. They covered the right forearm from elbow to wrist, and would not always have fitted well with an upper arm guard. They may perhaps have been used as alternatives, but the Longa statue is clearly wearing both (Jarva 1995, p. 27, fig. 6; Sekunda 1999, p. 56; see also his reconstruction on plate D, fig. 1). This statuette dates to c. 540 and is therefore a bit later than the originals. Apart from that, the only artistic representations are a metope from Corfu of c. 575 (Jarva 1995, p. 78) and a black figure vase by Lydos (Boardman 1980a, no. 68) dating to c. 540.

None of these limb guards, with the exception of greaves, can be proven to date from before the introduction of hoplite warfare in c. 650. When Greek soldiers began to fight in the cut and thrust of the tightly packed phalanx, they no longer needed mobility and so began to add further pieces of bronze so as to be completely protected. From the surviving numbers of these extra guards that we have it is clear that this was a luxury option, adopted by some hoplites if they could afford it. These extra guards all fell out of fashion by c. 525, just as the bell cuirass did, when hoplites were opting for much lighter equipment to cope with the changing face of the battlefield. The only exception to this general rule appears to be the hinged foot guard, which was only introduced at about this time and may have been used into the fifth century. It has more perhaps to do with decoration and parade than combat, and seems to be an Italian Greek idea.


Although the Greeks emerged from the Dark Age into the seventh century wearing bronze armour for the most part, there are hints of other forms of body armour coming into use, especially in outlying areas, and these too should be looked at. Armour made from bronze scales has been mentioned as a defence in both the Mycenaean and Dark Age periods and it is possible that Greeks in Crete, Lefkandi on Euboea, and the Dodecanese maintained contacts with Cyprus and the Near East and continued to use scale armour. With the opening up of trade links again in the eighth century, Greeks certainly had access to Near Eastern military technology, as can be seen from the use of crested helmets like the Kegelhelm. It is difficult to see why the Greeks invented the bell cuirass when the scale armour of the East was probably just as effective, protected more of the body and was easier to repair. The idea of Greeks discovering that their Mycenaean forebears had worn bronze plate armour, and wishing to emulate them, seems to be the only explanation.

Greeks in Cyprus certainly wore scale armour, as can be seen from the finds, and this is no doubt because from c. 700 to the late sixth century they were subject to the Assyrian Empire. The scales used were mostly of the same design as we have seen in the Mycenaean period. They were c. 5cm by 3cm, with a central median ridge for reinforcement. If we look at contemporary Assyrian reliefs, we can see that at this period scale armour was generally worn in a jerkin that reached to the waist (Madhloom 1970, plate XLVI.2). By 700, the Assyrians had also developed lamellar armour. This is similar to scale armour but the individual scales or lamellae are longer and thinner, being about four times as long as they are wide. They also overlap each other upwards rather than downwards (as well as sideways), and are often more securely fastened to each surrounding lamella rather than just to the ones on each side as in scale armour (Madhloom 1970, plate XLVI.3; Russell Robinson 1975, p. 163, figs 171–4). This gives a much stronger if less flexible defence. The earliest known example of lamellar armour does in fact come from Amathus in Cyprus. The fragments of lamellae were found in a rich tomb of c. 700, and the occupier could have been Greek, Phoenician or Assyrian, as Cyprus was becoming quite a melting pot by this time. These lamellae are 3cm by 1cm, with a rounded end at the top, and are made of iron. The Assyrians started to use iron for helmets in the ninth century, but this is the earliest example of its use in body armour. Iron is a stronger metal than bronze, can take a sharper edge and had been used by Greeks since the tenth century for swords and spears. It is much harder to work into thin sheets for armour, especially without its becoming brittle, which is why iron plate armour does not appear in Greece until the fourth century. The manufacture of small scales or lamellae was easier, however, and so iron armour was soon in use in Cyprus. The Amathus lamellae have a hole near the upper, rounded end, followed by a short repoussé ridge and then another hole. They were held together with plaited leather thongs and overlapped upwards to the extent of half a scale, as well as sideways. The knots of the thongs were clearly tied on the outside of the armour because they are on the same side as the repoussé ridges. Some scraps of linen were also found attached to this side of the armour, leading the excavators to assume that the knots were on the inside of the armour to protect them from combat damage, and that the linen was a lining or padded jack (Gjerstad 1935, vol. II, p. 13). This would have been uncomfortable, and would also have had the bumps of the repoussé ridges on the inside, which is not how they are designed. It is clear that the linen was worn on the outside of the armour as a covering, probably to stop the armour overheating in the sun. This is certainly how the Persians wore scale armour later on. The scale cuirasses on the soldiers of the well-known Chinese terracotta army have knots on the outside, and these are obviously not too vulnerable to battle damage (Bishop 1989, pp. 697–705). The inside of the lamellar armour shows that it was mounted on long, horizontal leather straps in a similar way to the later Roman Lorica Segmentata (Russell Robinson 1975, pp. 174–86). Gjerstad has calculated (1935, vol. II, p. 13, no. 57) that if the Amathus suit reached just to the waist with short sleeves, it would still have needed about 16,000 lamellae to construct, making it a very expensive armour indeed.

Conventional scale armour continued in use on Cyprus as well as in the rest of the Near East, because it was cheaper and easier to produce than lamellar, and a virtually complete suit dating to the sixth century has been found at Idalion in Cyprus (Gjerstad 1935, vol. II, p. 538, no. 236). Like the lamellae pieces from Amathus, this suit clearly belonged to a wealthy man. Five varying designs of scale, three of bronze and two of iron, are incorporated into the suit. Two of the bronze scale designs are unusual in being rectangular with squared edges, but all the scales have the usual repoussé ridge in the middle, except for the third bronze type which has two small embossed circles instead. This scale is 3.6cm by 1.3cm, whereas the others vary from 2.6cm by 1cm to 2.8cm by 1.3cm. The iron scales are far more numerous than the bronze and they made up the effective defensive body of the armour. The bronze scales, especially of the rectangular variety, were clearly used as a decorative element for borders, or for bands across the armour, giving a two-tone effect that is again reminiscent of Agamemnon’s armour. The Idalion suit ended at the waist and incorporated some 6,800 scales (Gjerstad 1935, vol. II, p. 538, no. 236). A few more iron scales from a different suit have also been found at Idalion, showing that Greek and other Cypriots continued to use scale armour after the demise of the Assyrian Empire, when the island came gradually under Persian control. A set of bronze and iron scales has also been found at Delphi, which could have been a Cypriot offering or may show occasional use by mainland Greeks (Snodgrass 1965a, p. 85). They may even have belonged to a later composite corslet, as they are not securely datable. So it seems that the Greeks in Cyprus, or at least the wealthier ones, would have used scale corslets, and this type of corslet may occasionally have been used in the islands or even on the mainland. There are no clear illustrations of its use, but a proto-Corinthian aryballos mentioned earlier shows a ‘hoplite’, with a hoplite shield, who may be wearing scale armour. It is also possible, however, to identify this as padded linen armour.


Another type of body armour which mainland and island Greeks, as well as others, did adopt from the Near East was armour made of linen. By about 500 linen armour, in the form of the stiff linen corslet, had replaced bronze as the most popular form of body armour. Padded linen armour appears much earlier, but its use and form are difficult to follow because of a lack of evidence. Padded linen armour is made of two layers of linen, quilted and stuffed with a padding material. This would have been cotton wool in the East, but was more likely to have been wool or linen scraps in Greece. Padded linen might not have given as much protection as bronze, but it was certainly lighter and more comfortable to wear. The earliest evidence for linen armour is a section of layered linen from the Mycenaean Shaft Graves, and linen armour is also mentioned on a couple of occasions by Homer. He was rather disparaging about the two people who wore linen armour, the lesser Aias and Amphius, and this may have been a reason why it did not prove as popular in Greece as bronze armour in this period (750 to 525).

Some evidence for padded linen corslets does exist in the Archaic period and they were certainly worn by some warriors, although there is no evidence either way for their use through the Dark Age. There is an example of a padded linen corslet on a relief of Tiglath-Pileser III of c. 750 (Madhloom 1970, plate XLV.2). It is short, ending at the waist, but if it followed the designs of scale armour, there were no doubt other examples reaching to the thighs and worn with a waist belt. Like the crested Kegel helmet, the linen cuirass would have been copied from the Assyrians by the Greeks at this period. The only illustration of what appears to be a padded linen corslet in Greece is on an aryballos of c. 690–680. This shows a warrior wearing a black-and-white checked tunic reaching to his knees, which must surely be armour of some sort. It is possibly meant to represent a scale corslet, but padded linen seems more likely, with the checks representing the quilting. This type of corslet had to be worn with a waist belt, and examples and illustrations of bronze belts are well known (see below). Fragment 54 of Alcaeus, writing probably in the seventh century, mentions linen corslets and belts hanging in his house, and Snodgrass agrees (1967, p. 64) that these were to be worn together. This shows that these are padded linen corslets, since the later stiff shirts had no need of belts (but see Jarva 1995, p. 41).

Another piece of evidence which probably refers to padded linen corslets is an early seventh-century poem referring to linen-corsletted Argives (Snodgrass 1967, p. 71). The early date here probably precludes the idea that these were stiff linen corslets, and the context shows that the padded linen corslet was more popular than seventh-century art would have us believe, if the Argives, as a fighting nation, are described thus. Perhaps the padded linen corslet was preferred to the bell cuirass in Argos, for them to earn such an epithet. Jarva has found some early depictions of material corslets (1995, pp. 33–4 and fig. 9), which he thinks are forerunners of the stiff linen shirt (his shoulder-piece corslet), but they are not desperately clear, and could be padded linen or simply tunics. Most scholars would still not see the stiff linen corslet as appearing until c. 560, with the vases of Ezekias (Boardman 1980a, no. 100). Whether the padded linen corslet remained in use right up until the adoption of the stiff linen corslet is unknown. The evidence of Alcaeus would seem to suggest its use until at least 600.

The bronze belts mentioned by Alcaeus are worn by many early votive statuettes from Olympia and elsewhere, but they are worn on their own on an otherwise naked warrior, who may also wear a helmet (Snodgrass 1965a, plate 5). This is obviously a descendant of the Late Mycenaean waist belt mentioned by Homer, his zoster or zoma. It could therefore have been worn as a piece of armour on its own or with a padded linen corslet. Amphius, whom Homer describes as wearing a linen corslet, was killed by Aias with a spear thrust through his belt (zoster) (Homer, Iliad II, 830; V, 615). The obvious reason for a belt would be to hold a scabbard for a sword, but it may also have been used as a decorative object or even amulet. Obviously it would not give much in the way of protection on its own. There is an example from the island of Chios which is from the seventh or sixth century, made of bronze with perforations for a lining and a decorated clasp (Buchholz and Wiesner 1977, fig. 19a). Such belts became very popular in Sicily and Italy, where they lasted into the third century (Connolly 1998, pp. 105–12, especially p. 108, fig. 2 and p. 110, figs 3, 10).

Although the helmet, bell cuirass (and padded linen corslet) and greaves were all in use before the introduction of hoplite warfare, it seems that all the other additional guards for limbs were introduced as a direct result of that warfare, to give added protection. At the end of the period under discussion in this only the helmet and greaves remained. There is no firm evidence for the use of the padded linen corslet after c. 600. The bronze bell cuirass died out in c. 525, as did the belly guard (in Crete), the ankle guard, the foot guard, the upper arm guard and the lower arm guard. The thigh guard – probably the most useful extra piece of armour, especially before the common use of pteruges – may have continued until about 500.

The limited numbers found of certain items of armour also make it clear that not all hoplites were identically equipped. This is because each warrior bought his own equipment and, indeed, the ability to be able to purchase hoplite equipment was a step towards citizenship (Salmon 1977, passim; Jarva 1995, p. 147). Jarva has looked at the quantities of armour found at Olympia. This includes some 350 helmets, 280 shields, 225 greaves, 50 or more ankle guards, 33 cuirasses, and much smaller amounts of other limb guards (Jarva 1995, p. 111). Jarva then reconstructs a small phalanx with a front rank of eighty-eight men and a depth of four. If the better-armoured men are in the front rank, and all have shields and helmets (which are essential), then he suggests that all the hoplites only in the first two ranks wore greaves, along with half of the soldiers in the third rank. Only 55 men in the front rank would have ankle guards, 33 breastplates, 14 upper arm guards, 4 lower arm guards, 3 foot guards and only one would have a thigh guard (Jarva 1995, p. 125). As Jarva himself admits, however, the data is flawed. He has put all the finds together from before 700 until the Persian Wars. There were no hoplites as we know them for the first fifty years of this period, before the introduction of the phalanx, and for the last fifty years there were few bell cuirasses compared to the new linen corslets, which were then coming in. Also there was a great flourishing of armour dedication towards the end of the sixth century, which distorts the figures (Jarva 1995, p. 126). Shields are likely to be underrepresented, because they might have been mainly of wood and leather construction, which would not have survived. The same goes for linen corslets. Cuirasses are probably underrepresented because of the use of linen alternatives and they, along with other pieces of body armour, may have been less likely to be offered than the more personal and displayable items of helmets and shields (Jackson, in Hanson 1991, p. 230). However, even if we try to balance out these anomalies it is obvious that certain pieces of equipment were not worn by all hoplites.

A more useful piece of analysis by Jarva (1995, p. 114), because it might be more likely to show actual equipment use, is the portrayal of hoplites on black and red figure pottery. On black figure art, which covers only the second half of the sixth century, 66 per cent of hoplites wear bell cuirasses, 22 per cent the new linen cuirasses, and 100 per cent have greaves. Red figure pottery, which covers hoplites after 525, has 66 per cent of hoplites with the new linen cuirasses and only 66 per cent with greaves. So, although Jarva suggests (1995, pp. 112–13) that as few as 10 per cent of hoplites wore the bell cuirass, it is far more likely that it was worn by nearly all hoplites from the introduction of hoplite warfare in c. 650 until about 550, when the linen corslet begins to replace it. Greaves were virtually universal at this time, but the other limb guards were clearly used only by a few. Jarva suggests (1995, pp. 127–8) they might have been used as an officer recognition system, as an alternative to being worn by wealthy men in the front rank. There is no real evidence for this, and it seems better to view them as extra items purchased by the few. At the other extreme, it is also clear that a few hoplites wore no body armour at all, perhaps not even greaves, especially during the seventh century. Wearers of the bell cuirass are often shown as being naked underneath, and are sometimes shown fighting completely naked except for helmet and shield (Robertson 1979, p. 94). While this is clearly artistic licence when it occurs on vases in the fifth century, fighting naked could well have occurred in the Dark Age and may have continued into the seventh century. We know that Celtic warriors did this, so why not Greeks? Indeed, as with the Celts, it was probably the adoption of body armour that led to the more general wearing of clothes in battle, and also explains the anatomical designs adopted for the bell cuirass.

After the seventh century it is rarer to see naked warriors, or warriors naked apart from a cuirass, but we do occasionally see hoplites wearing just their chitons, or tunics, into battle (Jarva 1995, p. 61; Boardman 1998, no. 353). This became more common in the fifth century.

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