Aug 22, 2011

Weapons & Warriors: The Dory of Sparta

The first weapon an enemy faced when fighting a Spartan was his spear, also known by the Spartans as a dory. These spears were very long at about seven to nine feet in length and were used primarily while the warriors were in phalanx formations. The phalanx is when the warriors lined up in a square or rectangle. Those in front would hold their shield in front of them a little to their left and covering their fellow warrior’s right side. This created small windows that they would poke their spear out of. Not just the first row of men either. They usually set up the formation about eight rows deep. So those behind the front line would hold their shields high to block any incoming arrows or rocks and poke their own spear out of any space available. This is quite a formidable site if you were facing this on the battlefield. It was the equivalent of a Bronze Age tank. Invincible and deadly to anything that tried to face it head on, except for maybe another phalanx.

Doesn’t sound effective you say? Ask the Persians at Thermopylae. They had an army of three hundred thousand including ten thousand of their most elite warriors called the Immortals. Three hundred Spartans used this formation to bottleneck the Persians into a valley and stop them in their tracks. The only thing behind the Spartans was a few hundred farmers from the neighboring regions, untrained for war and scared out of their minds. Even the Immortals were defeated when they marched against the Spartans. It’s not just a movie storyline, this was a historical event. The heavy shields and armor forced enemies to close in for melee combat to break the phalanx. This was not an easy thing to do when the broad leaf shaped blade of the dory was protruding several feet from the impenetrable bronze wall and wielded by a lifelong disciplined warrior. Most of the enemies of the Greeks had not adopted shields or using metal to coat them, making their front line extremely vulnerable to the dory.

Spartans trained with the dory all their lives and they had no equals on the battlefield when it came to the accuracy of how they used this weapon. The spear made an excellent ranged weapon as well. They were built to be well balanced, straight and sturdy so that it could be thrown as easily as jabbed. The leaf shaped blade was designed so that if anyone was pierced in the torso by this spear, it didn’t matter where, they would soon be dead because it was wide enough that it was nearly impossible for it to miss an organ. It could also be fatal if it struck a limb because the odds of slicing through a major artery was pretty good. Unlike a sharpened stick that could miss vital organs or be deflected by armor, the wide blade was made of bronze so it could pierce armor as well.

The dory wasn’t meant to be a close ranged weapon, but when it was in the hands of the well trained Spartans, it was as deadly as a sword. The rear end of the dory was often tipped with a bronze spike to be used in melee if the Spartan desired to do so instead of drawing his sword.

Here's a bonus pick just because I had requests to see the alternate and wildly popular Spartan apparel from the recent movie 300. I'm sorry ladies, but according to history, most Spartans actually wore a bronze muscle cuirass over their chests. The armor was usually designed for the man wearing it, however and it more than likely did not do justice to what was underneath it. Keep in mind I said most. I think read somewhere at one point the Spartans had removed the cuirass to allow more flexibility and agility.

The Spartans exercised and practiced combat as part of a daily routine. The movie probably did not exaggerate the physique as much as it did the violence. The Spartans were the champions of the ancient Olympics year after year in their time for a reason. That wasn't because they let any part of their body become imperfect. Some historians have said that the Spartans even disposed of any newborns who had any form of imperfection. They took strides in perfecting their genetic lines. They're daily combat routines also weeded out their week, who were even killed in practice if they were unable to protect themselves. That is a topic for a different post however.

Hope you have enjoyed another post on an ancient weapon. See you next week.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Weapons and Warriors, click here to view the entire catalog of weapons and cultures. Thank you, see you next week.


  1. Ahh, I always had a thing for the Spartans. No idea why. Those Athenians sound like they were much pleasanter people, but something about those strong, stoic warriors... ;)

    I never saw the movie, but I did read Stephen Pressfield's book that covered the same events. I thought he did a good job getting into the realities of war.

  2. The Spartans were fascinating in their elegant brutality. I believe the Athenians were much more pleasant and probably felt safe with Sparta as a neighbor. Sparta never seemed to start wars, but they sure finished them.

    The movie was pretty good, but very gory. I felt they went over the top with much of it and made the Persians more like some demon army out of the Diablo video game series. Otherwise it was an excellent work of bloody art.

  3. Wow, so the Spartans may have practiced their own form of "Social Darwinism" even back in the day. That's morbidly (and disturbingly) awesome. :-)

    Tim, you have again provided great info on weapons and attack formations. I love this stuff. Keep it coming!

    Oh, and I don't mind *at all* if you want to post more pics of hot guys like Gerard Butler.! ;-)

  4. lol, I'll see what I can come up with. I've got at least two more posts for the Spartans before moving on to another set of weapons. One of those will surely have shirtless Spartans.