In Ancient Greece, it was mandatory for men to serve the army for at least a minimum period of 18-20 years. It was a natural expectation that surrounded the belief system of the Ancient Greeks. This was also a common feature in almost all city-states. In some city-states, like Sparta, which was a military state, it was compulsory for all men to undergo rigorous training and join the army after they crossed the age of 20. So it was quite natural that in such battle-enthusiastic states, special importance would be given to the armor and guards of the warriors. In this regard, Shields come in. It was one of the most important pieces of armor for the warriors of the Ancient Greeks.
Making of the Ancient Greek Shields
The Ancient Greek soldiers, who were also known as the hoplites were well-known for their heavy armor which came with a distinguished design. Mostly, they were made of bronze which maintained the vision and agility of the soldier. Ancient Greek methods of making armor were found to be very effective defensively. Due to this feature, many other cultures, especially Ancient Italy, adopted them for the benefit of their own armies. The Ancient Greek armors were very effective in their battles and helped them in winning important battles such as the Persian War. Their victory in this war would never have been possible without the effective use of their armor.
Ancient Greek people mixed different metals into an alloy for making their armor and getting the desired results. In these alloys, the materials used were gold, silver, and bronze. Bronze remained the basic metal for the manufacture of armor. In Europe, this was the period of transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age. The primary techniques used were hammering and casting. It enabled the production of proper armor for the Greek army. Greek artisans also engaged in the art of engraving for the purpose of decoration in the armor. Apart from the Shield, other important armors used by the Ancient Greeks were the Helmet, Cuirass, and the Greave.
The shield originated in Ancient Greece and its name was “Aspis shield.” The materials used were wood or wicker, covered over with ox hides, leather, and sometimes even with metals. It was decorated with different images such as the Gorgon head depicted in some of them while others contained symbols such as the Lambda, used by the Spartans, or M, used by the Messenians. The approximate weight of a Shield was 8 kg.
Use of Ancient Greek Shields
Shields in Ancient Greece were made mostly of wood and leather and were then faced with bronze. The warrior would carry the Greek shield in his left hand with the help of a central band and grip via a strap on the shield. Shields would weigh as much as 8 kg sometimes and the fighter would require great strength and skill to use them as protection. The entire armor with chest piece and helmet and arm and leg guards would sometimes weigh as much as 20 kg.
Ancient Greeks were very creative in designing their shields. They were generally very large and round and were designed to strike fear in the hearts of their enemies, and also to show allegiance to a certain city-state. They were also known as “Hoplon” and the word hoplite is derived from here. Hoplites were the heavy infantry in the Greek army and they always used the shield.
It would have been impossible to fight in the formation of the Ancient Greeks without the use of shields. Apart from battles and warfare, shields also had a significant influence on the religious life of the Ancient Greeks. Shields have been found in many of the Ancient Greek religious sites and shrines.
Ancient Greek Shield Designs
As mentioned earlier, the shields once faced with bronze were painted with different designs of which the most widely used were the Lambda i.e. the inverted V-sign, and the Gorgon which came from Greek mythology. It was believed that a person who would see the emblem of Gorgon would turn into stone and hence it was used on the shields to distract the enemies. Sometimes the round shields which would be as big as 80 cm or 30 inches in diameter would be cut out into different shapes to make them lighter in weight and yet serve the primary purpose of protection.
Designs on the shields of the Ancient Greeks carried out information about the life and influence of the Western world. The Ancient Greek culture and past were very aptly portrayed. Mythology was a key driving factor in making these designs and the influence of Greek heroes, gods, and goddesses are profusely found in these Ancient Greek designs. Excerpts from the epics (Iliad and Odyssey) were also seen. The designs were usually eye-catching, and grand, and were purposefully made in such a way as to instill fear in the minds of the opponents.
For any military state to succeed, the use of armor is a very important feature. Shields have filled in this aspect in the case of the Ancient Greeks. Without the shields, it would have been impossible for them to focus on military aptitude, skill development, and warfare tactics. They were more than mere weapons and formed a part of the cult of warfare for the Ancient Greeks. They had also certain relevance in the socio-cultural life of the people. Their construction, design, and efficiency were welded in such a way that they almost became an integral part of Ancient Greek life. In a society was warfare was the primary activity, the defense of the warrior was of prima facie concern. Shields were able to fill in that gap. They protected the warrior, enhanced metallurgy, and survived the craftsmen. Their usage amounted to an all-around effective functioning of the socio-political environment of a military state. Their all-around efficacy was seen in the fact that they were not only limited as weapons but were used in religious activities as well and mythological symptoms were there also. So in Ancient Greek life, they were certainly more than just weapons.