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Between Philology and Symbolism - Part II


What was discussed in Part I should be considered only an interpretation, but what really distinguished the hoplite from the light infantry such as javelin launchers, peltasts, or slingers, was his heavy armament: the bronze helmet, a cuirass, greaves, arm and (at times) thigh protectors.

These varied in shape and decorations according to the period or the region.

Armatura pendenti ventrali

Also, the nomenclature used to distinguish characteristics of the armor is now mostly associated to terms assigned by archeologists according to where the object was found, and not necessarily to the original Greek terminology.

For example, the name of the shield, also called “argive”, is presumably derived from the ancient Greek city of Argos.

But let’s continue our search for a figurine with the requisites of the hoplite.

Opliti El Viejo Dragon
The use of the lance as a pike, and therefore as a striking weapon rather than a throwing weapon, excludes all that do not have a lance and brandish a sword.

The sword, carried over the shoulder in its sheath, was extracted only after the clash of the phalanxes, after the lance broke and had become useless.

The lance had also a sharp point at its lower end, so that either residual end could be used during combat.

Therefore, the sword is to be considered a secondary weapon for the hoplite.

For these reasons, the “hoplite of the V-IV century BC” made by Pegaso during its first years of existence, should be considered a splendid exemplar.


Let’s examine this miniature painted by Raffaele Coniglio.

It’s an excellent sculptured model (by the hands of Laruccia!), rich of details, with all the characteristic elements, including a mantle.

Added to the shield is a leather pendant, the function of which was to protect the legs of the warrior, at least from the “spent” arrows of the Persian archers.

But besides being a bit late and without the armature (not a decisive factor), he looks like the guy who is about to say “… I’m going down the block for a cup of coffee”. In fact, what we should analyze in the posture and the “attire” of an hoplite, is the question posed by Hanson.

A warrior armed in such a fashion and weighing about 70 kg (154 lb), would be burdened by an additional 30-35 kg (66-77 lb) from the weight of his weapons and protective gear.

It is unlikely that he would have marched wearing all his armaments under the Greek summer sun, with temperatures around 35 C (95 F) in the shade.

Scholars document how the armament would have been transported to the place of battle by a beast of burden, and that the warrior, aided by a squire, would put it on just before the battle, and would first wear the greaves, so that his movements would not be impeded by the heavy armaments.

The helmet was fashioned such that its beaver could be kept up and lowered only when the phalanx reached the enemy lines, protecting the face but also limiting visibility.

But then, why is this hoplite completely “dressed” and wearing his mantle and lance in such a fashion?

Maybe he wasn’t going to battle (?).

The bell-shaped armature, typical of the hoplite is instead worn by the “Thracian horseman of the IV century”.

Armature a Campana

What is its fault?

That of being a horseman! The helmet with lobes, typical of the cavalry (which often was made up of Thracian horsemen) and of the IV century, afforded greater visibility.

cavaliere tracio

One should comment that, maybe by interchanging heads one could achieve good results, and while making changes, one would also add some hanging triangular elements protecting the abdomen, and “transform” the shoes into bronze greaves (a more difficult operation).

One would also add the shield, maybe resting it on the ground, thus eliminating the sculpture’s flexuous posture that has characterized the market history of the miniature soldier.

In reality, the subject is very interesting, even beyond a description of the heavy bronze cuirass which was made up of two separate pieces tied together over the shoulders and at the flanks, completely covering the warrior’s chest down to the hips, but still giving him freedom of movement during combat.

Corazza Muscolata

With a bit of recollection of Greek attention to aesthetics and a vague reference to a probable homosexuality of some warriors, the “Thracian” is truly the documentation of the cooperation of two geniuses in the world of miniature soldiers: in it we see the sculpturing ability of Laruccia and the attention to details of Marchetti combined in a novel way of presenting the miniature (now more than just a passing fashion) in all its “dance” movements.

A past that is no more, it’s best to leave it as is.


Stefano Castracane

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