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Thread: Greek Hoplite Sword: 500 BC +/- 150

  1. #1
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    Greek Hoplite Sword: 500 BC +/- 150

    Dear Friends,

    This morning I had the great pleasure of receiving a Greek Hoplite sword that I purchased on eBay last week from a Plamen Arsoff auction:

    http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll...tem=2560894252

    Here are the references for identification:
    Snodgrass, A.M. Arms and Armour of the Greeks. Plate 50-52, Text Pages 84-85: Missile-troops of all kinds had to carry a short sword or dagger, in case of being caught with their weapon unserviceable or their projectiles exhausted. For them, as for the hoplites to whom it was also a secondary weapon, size was no longer an advantage in a sword; the result is that it declines both in size and importance during the seventh and sixth centuries. The commonest type is now a short, crude weapon, with a thick hilt to which a conical pommel was sometimes fixed and a very wide projecting hand-guard, square cut on the upper (hilt) side and curving sharply in to the blade on the lower. The blade swells to a maximum width near the tip, making a stout and effective enough weapon for in-fighting. It was carried by the Hoplite at least, in a sheath worn high up under the left arm on a short strap or baldric, enabling it to be quickly drawn with the unencumbered right hand.

    Connolly, Peter. Greece and Rome at War. Page 78, Macedonian Weapons: Figure 1. 4th-century Hoplite sword from Veria in Macedonia.

    I am attaching a picture of the Snodgrass illustration and the sword. I hope you find it interesting and worthy of discussion. I now consider this sword to be one of the treasures of my collection. I should point out that having a good library on swords that you use regularly will enable you to recognize and identify a rare item that the seller has misidentified and becomes a "sleeper". I was thrilled to find this sword but would not have done so had a kind friend in Florida who knows my tastes not given me a link to the auction.

    Please note that the blade (overall length 24", 61 cm, estimated original length without loss of hilt tang 25.5-26", 63 cm) was sharpened on both edges, has a diamond cross section and the leaf shape puts the weight of the blade, maximum width, on the front 7", 18 cm. The backside of the blade is virtually straight while the inside is distinctly curved, a characteristic carried to an extreme by the later Machaira. Please note the tag that I placed under the guard, integral and bisymetrical. I suspect that the placques attached to both sides of the hilt tang would have fitted into these for a better grip. Any alternatives?

    The condition is marvelous, the only real damage being the loss of 1.5 to 2 inches of the hilt tang. The metal is fully sound and the rusting is stable. I would suspect that it was found in Greece in a sealed burial and smuggled into Bulgaria where it could be sold legally but I will accept that it was found legally by a Bulgarian metal detectionist and sold to Plamen within a large shipment of undated artifacts.

    If anyone can provide additional literature references or knows where museums are that have these swords in their collections, I would appreciate the information.
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  3. #3
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    Greek Hoplite Sword

    Dear Friends,

    I have found another literature source for the identification of my new Hoplite sword. Imma Kilian-Dirlmeier's Die Schwerter in Griechenland in the Prahistorische Bronzefunde series. Text is on page 120 and illustrations are on Tafel 55 (Plate 55), Figures 418-427.

    I am attaching a picture of the illustration page and then a picture of the text in German. I have asked some German friends to assist with an English translation. If one comes in I will post it.

    Best regards, John Piscopo
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    Hoplite sword

    German Text from Imma Kilian-Dirlmeier's Die Schwerter in Griechenland.
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    Hoplite sword

    Dear Friends,

    Thought I would add the chapter title from Kilian-Dirlmeier:

    Eiserne Griffzungenshcwerter aus der Klassischen und Hellenistischen Zeit

    Hilted iron sword from the Classical and Hellenistic Eras

    Variante b: Griffzunge mit Knaufdorn

    Variety b: Hilts with pommels.

    The various excavated specimens are described by source and date as follows:

    418, Vitsa 375-400 BC
    419, Snidos 530-520 BC
    420, Snidos Circa 400 BC
    421, Snidos 530-520 BC
    422, Same
    423, Snidos 520 BC
    424, 425, 426 & 427 from Vitsa and Philia are undated.

  6. #6
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    Hoplite Sword

    Dear Friends,

    Jon Webb was kind enough to send me an email suggesting that Alexander might have carried a similar sword in the famous mosaic and mentioned Vergina. I just happened to have Manolis Andronicos' Vergina: The Royal Tombs which shows the sword on pages 142 and a hilt close up on 143, described in the caption:

    "The large sword from "Philip's Tomb". It was found in the scabbard from which only the ivory parts, the bottom and the hilt survived. The hilt of the iron sword bore shining gold decoration. A miniature gold helmet was attached to the upper circular surface of the hilt (pommel decoration). The decoration of such a miniature object - a sphynx at the top, a lion on the cheekpieces - is breathtaking."

    He sent me another reference as well: Coe, Michael D., Connolly, Peter, et al. Swords and Hilt Weapons, Chapter 2, Greece and Rome by Peter Connolly, Page 20:

    "The hoplite sword had a double-edged blade about 24 ins/60 cm long, waisted just below the hilt and then widening gradually, reaching its maximum width just over two-thirds of the way down and then tapering to a point. The tang was flat and very similar to its Bronze Age predecessor, being a complete cross section of the hilt. The grip was formed by sandwiching the tang between two pieces of bone or wood and covering them, totally or partially, with a thin sheet of metal. The hoplite sword was essentially a slashing weapon, though some examples have long points and could have been very effective cut-and-thrust weapons, and was worn slung from a baldric over the right shoulder so that it hung almost horizontally on the left hip.

    The hoplite sword was carried by Greek colonists throughout the length and breadth of the Mediterranean, was adopted by many indigenous peoples. In Italy it was almost universally accepted and remained in use until the Romans adopted the 'Spanish' sword in the third century BC. In fact, the best examples of the hoplite sword come from the necropolis of Campovalano di Campli on the Adriatic side of Italy. These swords have iron scabbards inlaid with bone."

    I am pleased to be able to add so much to the study of this sword in such a short period of time.

    Best regards, John Piscopo
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    Hoplite sword

    Pommel from Philip II sword from the tomb at Vergina
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    Hoplite Sword of Philip II Macedon

    The Hilt of Philip II King of Macedonia's hoplite sword
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  9. #9
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    Hoplite Sword

    Coe, Michael D., Connolly, Peter et al Swords and Hilt Weapons
    Chapter 2, Greeece and Rome by Peter Connolly. Page 20
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  10. #10
    Congratulations on your new toy, John! Pretty impressive piece. And thanks for posting the other information, too, that's all new to me. (Though I had hints of it from Connolly's Greece and Rome at War.)

    What's most interesting to me is the blade cross-section, they all seem to be diamond or lens-shaped. I had always thought from Connolly's vague illustrations that there were fullers or some sort of midrib, as seen on most bronze swords as well as on the falcata, the Roman pugio, etc. There are plenty of later Classical and Hellenistic illustrations which apparently show simple cross-sections, but I was sure there'd be some kind of ribs or fullers c. 500 BC. Seen anything like that?

    This all pretty much confirms what I had thought about the hilt construction, too. Still love to tear one of these babies apart and see how the covering plates are shaped, but...

    Neat stuff, thanks again! Khaire,

    Matthew

  11. #11
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    Hoplite Sword

    Originally posted by Matthew Amt
    Congratulations on your new toy, John! Pretty impressive piece. And thanks for posting the other information, too, that's all new to me. (Though I had hints of it from Connolly's Greece and Rome at War.)

    What's most interesting to me is the blade cross-section, they all seem to be diamond or lens-shaped. I had always thought from Connolly's vague illustrations that there were fullers or some sort of midrib, as seen on most bronze swords as well as on the falcata, the Roman pugio, etc. There are plenty of later Classical and Hellenistic illustrations which apparently show simple cross-sections, but I was sure there'd be some kind of ribs or fullers c. 500 BC. Seen anything like that?

    This all pretty much confirms what I had thought about the hilt construction, too. Still love to tear one of these babies apart and see how the covering plates are shaped, but...

    Neat stuff, thanks again! Khaire,

    Matthew
    Dear Matthew Amt,

    Thank your for your response. Unfortunately, I can't add much more to the discussion without having a sword in front of me to examine and use for research.

    I have two falcattas, much worse in condition than the hoplite sword. They are flat tapering to the blade edge. The one pictured below does have deep fullers. I hope you can see them okay in the dark rusty metal, the full sword and the close up will give as much detail as I can manage.

    Best regards, John Piscopo
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  12. #12
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    Hoplite Sword

    Dear Matthew,

    I should point out that this falcata in the Kopis style probably was manufactured in Spain.

    Best regards, John Piscopo
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  13. #13
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    Greek Hoplite Sword

    http://www.larp.com/hoplite/index.html

    Dear Friend's,

    Matthew Amt has a website for the Hoplites.

    Best regards, John Piscopo

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    Mr Piscopo

    May be my question is stupid but my knowledge of the language is limited

    Is the guard (or more properly : the quillons) the same piece or steel which forms the blade or are they different pieces?

    thanks in advance

  15. #15
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    Greek Hoplite Sword

    Dear Leonardo,

    My best observation is that the entire sword was forged to be one piece, including the bands on either side of the guard which would have secured the lower end of the placques for the hilt, the other end being secured by a pommel cap. The two strips would have been shaped on an anvil and then hammer welded to the blade at the ends.

    The workmanship is supurb and the iron remains sound, it could still give a lethal thrust and ten minutes with a honing stone or file would give it a killing edge for cutting.

    Again, let me point out that the hoplite sword, like the Kopis, machaira and falcatta re designed as both cut and thrust weapons, the weight of the sword is on the lower end of the blade and cenrifugal force of a swing would make it quite lethal.

    Remember that the hoplite was basically a spearman fighting in a phalanx giving a wall of shields and spears facing the enemy with armor, helmets and greaves. A heavily armed and armored infantryman. He used his sword in hand to hand combat when his formation was broken or the enemy's ranks were broken and he was on a killing spree.

    I welcome any further observations on this subject by Matthew Amt who has studied the hoplite formations in much more detail than I have.

    I am posting a picture of my Celt, Greek and Roman display board, I would be happy to answer any questions you might have. I am reorganizing to fit several new items that are now in transit.

    Best regards, John Piscopo
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  16. #16
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    Hoplite sword

    Dear Friends,

    I am now in a conversation by email with Christopher Webber in Australia. He is the author of The Thracians 700 BC - AD 46. We are discussing a Rhomphaia sword of the Thracian Bessi tribe that is contemporary with my Hoplite sword. I have made a deal with Plamen Arsoff to purchase the sword, you can see the eBay auction at: http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/ebayISAPI.dll...tem=2575063671

    For those of you who are following this discussion thread, I will be starting a new thread after I receive it, meanwhile we have been discussing a scientific examination of both swords to determine the following:
    1. Carbon content. Were these swords high or low carbon steel
    or were they more iron with traces of carbon from forging.
    This would indicate whether or not the Thracians were as
    technically adept as the LaTene peoples of the North or the
    Greeks to the South and west.

    2. C14 dating would put a date within +/- 60 years. This could
    verify your 4-1 Centuries BC or cause you to completely
    reevaluate your dating system. What if the dating shows that
    these swords are contemporary with Hallstatt and Early
    Classical or even Archaic Greece?

    3. Trace element analysis for other metals might give you hints
    as to where the iron ores were mined or, more remarkably,
    indicate that the Thracian Bessi swordsmiths used mangan-
    ese, cobalt, silver or gold in their alloy. I was surprised to
    learn recently that a metallurgical analysis of a Naue II
    bronze sword showed that it contained a more than random
    or accidental amount of gold in the alloy.

    4. This sword may be in good enough condition that an
    electron microscopic analysis might show the hammering
    pattern used in the forging process and how keen an edge
    it could maintain as well as the tempering.

    5. A series of x-rays could determine if the blade was cast or
    hammer welded folding to construct the blade. A hammer
    hardened casting would have entirely different properties
    from a blade that was constructed from several small billets
    of metal that were repeatedly reheated in charcoal, folded,
    hammer welded, folded, hammer welded, etc., in many
    steps.
    Such blades would be much more flexible, retain a razor
    sharp edge, be resistant to impact shattering and be at a
    decisive advantage between equally skilled swordsmen
    when the opponent is using an inferior blade.

    6. Microscopic analysis might show organic traces of a
    scabbard or cloth fossilized into the surface rust. Debris
    on the surface might give some idea as to the burial site if
    the material found could be compared to soil samples from
    the Bessi area of Thrace.

    I would appreciate any comments you would care to make concerning additional testing or information that might be found by analysis of the sword and referral to anyone with proper facilities who might be interested in pursuing the study.

    Best regards, John Piscopo

  17. #17
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    Re #3: I have not heard of the practice, but the idea of putting gold in the alloy mix does not surprise me. The basis of alchemy and some ancient medical practices included the idea that "purer" and more precious materials had properties that would catalyze (the practitioners would not have used this word) improvement or beneficent changes in more mundane substances (i.e. human flesh). Using the same principle in metallurgy would have seemed logical.

    Re #5: Is it known how these hoplite swords were constructed, i.e. were they made of one, essentially uniform piece of metal, were hardened edges welded on, etc.? From Bishop and Coulston, it seems that Roman gladii were built by a number of methods.
    NEM. PERV.T QUI N.N LEG.CERT.RIT

  18. #18
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    Kopis & Testing swords

    Originally posted by Felix Wang
    Re #3: I have not heard of the practice, but the idea of putting gold in the alloy mix does not surprise me. The basis of alchemy and some ancient medical practices included the idea that "purer" and more precious materials had properties that would catalyze (the practitioners would not have used this word) improvement or beneficent changes in more mundane substances (i.e. human flesh). Using the same principle in metallurgy would have seemed logical.

    Re #5: Is it known how these hoplite swords were constructed, i.e. were they made of one, essentially uniform piece of metal, were hardened edges welded on, etc.? From Bishop and Coulston, it seems that Roman gladii were built by a number of methods.
    Dear Felix,

    The Celtic LaTene era is contemporary with Classical and Helenistic Greece as well as Thrace. I have studied Celtic swords and have them in my collection. Metallurgical studes can be found in Radomir Pleiner's The Celtic Sword. I would recommend this book but be aware that it is quite expensive. I paid $135., including shipping, for my copy.

    I can think of several reason for adding a bit of gold to the alloy mix, none of which would affect the performance qualities of the sword constructed from the alloy. Remember that in many cultures swords were named or dedicated, considered holy or profane, assuming personalities of their own.

    Yesterday I received delivery of a Kopis from an eBay Seller in the Netherlands. http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll...ory=19451&rd=1

    Overall length = 29", missing the point. The back edge of the sword is flat and has a T shape with the blade. There is a ridge that parallels the back edge of the T, the pommel and guard are both solid iron with three remaining rivets to hold the wood or ivory placques that would have formed the grip on the tang/hilt. Except for the pronounced weakness in the hilt tang the metal is still sound. As far as I can tell from similar swords in my collection and illustrations in the books I have, the length of this sword is extraordinarily long, it would be 24 1/2" if the point was present.

    I have checked Connolly and Snodgrass without finding a match in Greece and Sanders without a match in Spain. I will be posting the sword on the Sword Forum this evening and hope that someone will have an illustration that shows the above hilt.

    Matthew Amt has a Kopis with a similar hilt, a reproduction, but he does not footnote its origin. http://www.larp.com/hoplite/weapons.html See the illustration at the bottom of the page.

    Best regards, John
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  19. #19
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    Kopis Sword tang hilt

    Here is a close up of the hilt which you can compare to the one on Matthew Amt's reproduction.
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  20. #20
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    Greek Hoplite Sword

    Dear Friends,

    I am surprised and disappointed that with over 600 hits on my Hoplite Sword that nobody has had anything to add to the discussion since Felix's comments some time ago.

    I would appreciate questions or additional literature citations that you might provide.

    Best regards, John Piscopo

  21. #21
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    Greek Hoplite Sword

    Dear Friends,

    Happy New Year to those of you who are following this thread.

    One question I failed to ask in the above postings, has anyone seen this style sword offered for sale anywhere before in any of the auction sites you follow?

    I saw it once before on eBay but my bid was not high enough to purchase it.

    Best regards, John Piscopo

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