Aug 29, 2011

Weapons & Warriors: The Kopis of Sparta

Art by Steven DeVon Jones
Some may remember this widely feared sword in the hands of Gerard Butler as he hacked legs and arms off Persians in slow motion. For those who haven’t seen the movie 300, if you love ancient warfare movies or artsy storytelling, you should check it out. It is bloody and full of mythically exaggerated Persians, but it's a very well done story, based on a true battle that altered the path of the world conquering Persians who were lead by the legendary Xerxes. If you have a weak stomach for blood, it's very bloody and violent.

The Kopis should have been more related to the axe than the sword. This was the scariest sword of ancient Greece. The blade is about three feet long and curves forward, making it perfect for thrusting around a shield. The end of the blade is wider than a normal sword and heavier by design. The added weight allows this sword to be used like an axe, efficiently hacking through bone with a single swipe. This blade was often used for cutting meat or slaughtering animals for sacrifices.

Obviously the Spartans saw the effectiveness in using it as a weapon as well. Most other Greeks who used the Kopis used it only on horseback for chopping down infantry and preferred the leaf-shaped straight sword called a Xiphos when in the phalanx formations. This is another example how the Spartans were very much unlike their Greek neighbors. In their warlike culture, they preferred the weapon that made their foes nervous and crippled.

Spartans generally avoided close combat, but if their spear was thrown or broken, or the enemy found a way around their spear, they would resort to this bad boy. I mentioned in a previous post how Spartans trained every day and often used real weapons. Many Spartans lost their lives in training to become perfect soldiers. To a Spartan, anyone who died in training was just not good enough to fight by their side anyway. These guys trained harder and took warfare far more serious than even our modern trained military.

If the Spartans existed today, they would have one of the most elite trained militaries on the planet. Another thing that Spartans did that other Greeks did not was that the Spartans also required all of their men to be trained for battle. It didn't matter if he was a scribe, farmer or tax collector. Every man trained. It's been said that the women of Sparta were equally as fierce. I guess you would have to be if you married a Spartan.

Wearing a Kopis in ancient Greece was intimidating enough that most warriors would not pick a fight with a man who had one strapped to his waste. There was a good chance of him losing an appendage of some kind.

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. You have a lot of cool information about weapons! Very helpful for my writing.

    Just gave you a Liebster award on my blog. Swing by for details.

  2. Hey, Tim! Another awesome weapons post. I didn't know that ALL Spartans trained. That's cool and scary at the same time. I would love to talk to a Spartan just to compare world views.

  3. Isis, I will have to head over there soon then. And thanks, I'm just getting warmed up.

    Kendall, lol, I'm sure a political discussion with a Spartan would not be safe near a deep well. Ask the guy in movie. "This is madness!"

  4. I like sharp things, they are beutiful

  5. I purchased a ,folder cold steel kopis Spartan.

    1. Awesome Robert, I was thinking of making one of these.

  6. Hi,
    Thanks for the great information.

    In the movie "300" Leonidas' Kopis looks awesome but I was wondering about it's historical accuracy. I have been unable to find out anywhere sofar.