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Between Philology and Symbolism - Part I


The expression and body language of the figurines are not the only messages which authors try to transmit through their creations.

Historic authenticity in all its details is the central theme of the figurine, but also fidelity to the social status of the personage and attention to the surrounding context.

The Greek Warrior (Argiraspis) by Luca Marchetti was striking for its expressive strength and body language in spite of the fact that the helmet completely covered its face.

What, nevertheless, was puzzling was how to interpret the episode of which he was a protagonist. In fact, the lowered helmet, indicative of an approaching enemy, is incongruent with his action.

The shield, slightly resting at his feet, supports the hypothesis that there’s something afar to observe. One would not exclude the possibility that the warrior is a member of a rear-guard but for the fact that the rear-guard was not at all common in the armies of ancient Greece.

The hemet which was lowered just before charging the enemy phalanx, makes it improbable that he should be wearing the shoulder belt that supports the sword’s sheat, which is still in his left hand.


Other hypotheses are possible, maybe even probable, but do not fit well the scene represented.

Thus an expert observer would not be able to close the narrative circle of the composition from the given historic context, the posture, the status, and the armor worn by the subject.

Such a worthy work, above all for the epoch it represents, does not therefore achieve the status of a masterpiece.

The fact remains that, because of the high quality of this work, the above-mentioned incongruencies were not noted.

Of course all of these considerations, for whatever they’re worth, are mine–but every time one is amidst lovers of miniatures the question of what represents “a well-made miniature” invariably comes to the forefront.

Obviously, a recipe does not exist, and all are tacitly aware of this and the subjectivity of the argument.

Additionally, we want to emphasize tha a superior quality of execution is taken for granted.

In reality, we are questioning “whether the reconstruction is correct”, that is, when is the narrative of the composition harmonized with the subject presented and the historic context.

The theme is obviously difficult to resolve correctly, and its solution may not be of fundamental importance.

But really, fishing around the world of miniature souldiers, I could try (maybe in desperation) to summarize what may be meant by “a well made miniature”.

For this task, I have chosen the oplith as an example.


The reason for this choice may be in its apparent simplicity, or because the ancient is becoming fashionable, but also because I want to neutralize “medievalists” and “napoleonics”.

Greece at war
And it may also be an opportunity to answer those that ask me where to begin, with what bibliography, and with which miniature soldier.

In fact, the main ideas for this article were extracted from the books listed in the bibliography.

For example, all the drawings shown in this article are from the book by Peter Connolly.

In reading these books one is immediately tempted to draw and collect opliths.

The oplith was the warrior “par excellence” in classic antiquity.

The noblest and best armed among the various types of foot-soldiers, he was the basic element of the phalanx.

In Sparta every “equal” was also an oplith.

But specifically from an observation of the fighting tecnique based on the phalanx arises the first doubts on a possible correct representation of my oplith.

Although the market is not as developed for this subject as for the knight or the napoleonic officer, there are still various possibilities of choice.

Oplite - Viejo Dragon
For example, the Spanish company Viejo Dragon has in its catalog a Spartan officer obviously inspired by a statuette originally of the V-IV century BC. But, alas, it is almost completely covered by a mantle, while what I wanted was the reproduction of an oplith with all its panoply, that is, with all its armament.

The first question to tackle is tied to the historical iconography relative to the hero-warrior.

On vases, cups, in sculptures, and in other representations he most often appears completely naked, brandishing a round and concave shield (hoplon or hopolon from which the name oplith), wearing shingards, a crested hemet, carrying sword by a shoulder belt (telamon) and one or two lances.

On the contrary, the oplith described by Hansen from the VII to the V century BC, is completely (or almost), covered by bronze foils.


The nude version is readily explainable today it was purely an interpretation of the artists of the times who drew the heroes, or the champions, exactly as they were when they practiced or competed in the stadiums in the olympics, during the javelin throw, during wrestling, or during races.

Races which could also take place, as documented, in complete “panoply”, that is, with a complete array of armaments.

Therefore, to reproduce the Greek warrior naked would be justifiable only if one wanted to re-interpret “stylistically” ( a word that makes one shiver) the warrior of classical Greece, or wanted to evoke athletes or mythical heroes.

This is the case of the Homeric Achilles by Peter Karel, hit by an arrow in his weak spot, as narrated by the Poet.


The hypothesis has been splendidly illustrated by the author who takes advantage of this figurative symbolism through a perfect anatomy, and a figure which is in absolute contrast with reality.

In fact, we see Achilles, truly a demi-god and protagonist of the Iliad, hardly react to the shot and saving all his energy, arches his back, gets on his toes, and lifts his shield toward the sky, in contrast to the probable effects of the laws gravity.

One should realize that the hoplon, a circular shield 90-120 cm (about 3 feet) in diameter, made of wood covered by leather and bronze foils, is estimated to weigh about 8 kg (17.6 pounds)!

Most probably it would have carried down a “common mortal” hit while running. Finally, it is the anacronism of the chosen armaments attributed to a warrior of about six centuries before, that emphasizes freedom of interpretation: a pure academic exercise.


Stefano Castracane

P.S. Many thanks to Pegaso and El Viejo Dragon for their soldiers images and Romeo Sabatini for the english translation.