If we try to imagine a Greek soldier, what probably comes to mind is
the figure of a battle-hardened soldier armed with a helmet, sword and
shield, with clear values of heroism and leadership. Cinema has strongly
contributed to establishing this image of the Greek warrior in the popular
imagination; films such as "300" and "Troy" are prime examples of this.
Certainly, this image, although with some subtle differences, isn't so far
from the reality of the soldiers who fought to defend their rights in their
own lands and further afield.
We are referring to the Hoplites, who are linked to the political
evolution of the Greek police. As the stories of Homer (one of the main
sources of the so-called "Dark Centuries" of Greek History) tell us, in the
Era of the ancient gods and kings, the aristocracy dominated the rest of
society. They were nobles from distinguished families who fought to defend
their individual interests in the form of a struggle in which the concept
"I" prevailed over that of community. The peasants and traders were excluded
from the task of war for both social and economic reasons. In Ancient Greece
every soldier had to pay for their own military equipment; taking into
account that the items for war (swords, helmets, shields,...) were produced
by hand, their cost was very high. Therefore, military equipment was usually
passed on from generation to generation.
The movie "Troy" is an argument the Achaean war
between armed with swords and spears against Trojans
Leonidas Helmet (Gerard Butler) who ported in the film "300"
When the Greek cities were gaining
power and territory, the reasons why war had come about varied substantially.
Eight hundred years before our times, Greece embarked on colonial expansion
on a huge scale, extending from the Peloponnese throughout the Mediterranean
as far as what is now the Iberian Peninsula. As a result of this, it became
necessary to create a larger army which could defend the territories it
wished to conquer. The conditions for this were favourable.
Corinthian helmet found in Jerez, near the river Guadalete (Andalucia),
dating to the seventh century B. P.
Given the Greek territorial expansion, many peasants gained access to new
agricultural plots and saw their incomes grow. With this extra income they
could purchase the military equipment they needed to go to war, fighting
side by side with the aristocrats. This was how the figure of the Hoplite
soldier was born, linked to a specific type of combat: closed formation. The
phalanx formed the essential unit of combat consisting of a specific number
of soldiers who assembled on the ground in the form of a single line of
combat. The Greek Hoplites armed with a sword (right hand) and shield o "hoplon"
(left hand) were positioned alongside each other, safe in the knowledge that
their left side was always protected by the shield of their Hoplite comrade.
Different luck ran along the right side of the formation, which was
reinforced by strategically positioning the stronger soldiers.
This type of formation in battle had a direct impact on the socio-political
organisation of the Greek police. The Hoplite peasants and traders noticed
that the ideals of solidarity and comradeship which they inhaled on the
battlefield didn't translate into a genuine equality of rights in the city.
The aristocrats continued to hold power and govern the law in an arbitrary
way. Therefore, they started to demand greater participation in the public
life of the city to form part of the community. This demand constituted the
seeds of the subsequent appearance of democracy, a complex process which we
won't go into in detail.
Sculpture of Pericles with Corinthian helmet
dating from the V century B. P.
Focusing on the figure of the Hoplite, we will briefly
highlight some of the armaments which accompanied him in every battle. The
double-bladed short sword (approximately fifty centimetres). The shield or
hoplon, mentioned above, manufactured in bronze and wood with a diameter of
roughly ninety centimetres. The breastplate which was originally made in
bronze and was developed over time with lighter materials such as leather
and linen. The greaves, usually made from bronze and decorated, which
protected the shins of the Hoplite. The lance, the length of which exceeded
one metre eighty centimetres. And last but not least: the helmet.
The model of helmet that we could consider as very
well-known is the Corinthian helmet. This helmet is considered a true work
of art from the ancient Greek world. Every helmet was created in a delicate
way by the hands of Greek artisans who became real masters in silversmith
technique. Normally the Corinthian helmet was produced from a single sheet
of bronze, however, archaeology has brought us examples of helmets made in
two pieces, such as the helmet from the 7th century BC discovered in the
city of Olympia.
Greek Painting (century V B. P.) which represents a craftsman making
a Corinthian helmet
The origins of the Corinthian
helmet are believed to date back to the 8th century before our Era. Its
classification as the "Corinthian helmet" is a reference from modern
historical science, like other names such as the kegel, chalcidian or
Italo-Corinthian helmets. However, some research on the texts of Homer
and ceramic specimens indicate the idea that the ancient Greeks had
already called this type of helmet Corinthian. Technically, the
Corinthian helmet is defined as a helmet which fully covered the face of
the Hoplite and which only displayed two openings for the eyes and the
nose. As it evolved over time, the shapes of the Corinthian helmet
varied: the cheeks became longer, the ear and nose holes increased; and
the size varied over time facilitating its adaptation to the cranium.
The Corinthian helmet displayed an inner lining padded in leather or
linen to prevent the material from harming the Hoplite. This inner
padding could be fixed to the helmet using small backstitches which were
sewn to the metal through small holes or glued to it thanks to elements
such as resin.
Greek trihemiobolo (fourth
century B. P.)
the goddess Athena
Corinthian helmet on the obverse
of the coin
The Corinthian helmet had an approximate weight of two
and a half kilos, although this may seem an excessive amount, it isn't
recalling that other helmets from history such as the Roman gladiator helmet
exceeded seven kilos. However, this characteristic combined with the heat of
the spring and summer months, which was when wars took place, and the few
holes in the helmet, gives some indication as to the suffering which the
Greek Hoplites must have experienced during battle. However, when marching,
the helmet was worn raised on the crown of the head, as shown by the
well-known figure Pericles dating from the 5th century BC. This raised way
of wearing the Corinthian helmet had an impact on the appearance of the
Decoration also played a significant role in Corinthian
helmets. Many of them usually incorporated geometric engravings like ovals
or dots, animals or floral elements on the cheeks. In addition, plumes made
from horsehair, which could be dyed to different colours, also adorned the
Corinthian helmet. All these features contributed to increasing the
sensation of ferocity and aggressiveness which the helmet would transfer to
its opponent to terrify him. As indicated by the historian Fernando Quesada,
"the Corinthian helmet is one of the most aggressive looking helmets" in
The Corinthian helmet conveys a sense of
hostility toward the enemy dehumanizing soldier who wears it
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