Hoplite Weapons: Spear and Sword

The Spear


A hoplite's main weapon was his spear. The spear was about 2.3m (8 feet) long and made of wood, such as ash or pine. The deadly end was a leaf-shaped blade usually made of iron, with a rib running down the middle.


In the vase painting to the right we see the hero Theseus as a hoplite carrying his spear. Below is a real spear blade from the museum in Athens.




The lizarder


The bottom of the spear also had a metal attachment, usually bronze. This was called the lizarder (because you could kill lizards with it!) It was a long, four-sided pyramid shape, and had several uses.


First, you could stick the spear into the ground when waiting for orders, or if you needed to use both hands for something.

Second, if the spear broke in battle, you could still use the lizarder as a weapon. It was strong enough to push through an enemy's metal armour if he was lying on the ground.


The picture to the right shows three lizarders in the museum in Athens.



How was the spear held?


When at rest, a hoplite would stand the spear upright with his shield also on the ground - see the hoplite re-enactor below.


When marching, the spear was held sloping against the shoulder, with the blade at the top:



In battle there were two kinds of grip. The spear could be held with the palm underneath and the thumb to the back, as in the photo below. The problem with this hold is that if you need to thrust out a long way, the spear swings down to the ground. Another way to hold it was with the thumb forwards, as in the picture below right. This allows you to thrust much further forwards. In most art, however, the first type of grip is shown (see right).















The Sword

A hoplite also carried a sword. This was very much a secondary weapon, to be used only if he lost his spear. He wore it in a sheath on a strap around his neck (you can see this in the picture of Theseus above). A spear was better because it had a much longer range - you need to get much closer to use a sword!

Swords of this period were mainly two-edged and a long leaf shape. You can see a hoplite using one in the vase painting to the right. You can also see the sheath hanging round his neck.

Swords were made of bronze or iron and were used for slashing. In the tight formations of battle there wasn't much room for the wide-swinging swordplay you see in movies.

Another kind of sword was a one-edged curved shape. This was called the kopis. In the bowl painting below you can see a Greek and a Persian both holding a kopis.


Here are modern reconstructions of a sword and a kopis.