|Art by TL Jeffcoat|
This shield was unusual compared to a lot of ancient shields. It was first designed by the Greeks in around 700 BC or possible a little before that. Like many shields it started out as wood, which was cut into a disc in the shape of a shallow bowl. The Spartan shield was also rather large compared to many shields, but designed to not slow down or impede the warrior using it. They averaged around three feet in diameter. After the wood was prepared, the outer layer of the shield was coated in bronze. Then the Greek letter Lambda (which appears as an upside down V) was painted red across the outside.
What makes this shield ahead of its time was the fact that this wooden and bronze layered disc was light enough to move around a battle field and it was strong enough to stop a blow from a steel sword. Keep in mind that steel wasn’t even invented in the time of the Spartans. So other than a well-aimed arrow fired directly into the shield, nothing was getting through that thing. No spear, sword or mace in 700 BC would break through it.
Deadliest Warrior did a special where they compared Samurai and Spartan weapons and armor, and Samurai steel was unable to penetrate the shield. The 30lb kanabo (huge mace) was ineffective in breaking the arm holding the shield or ruining the shield itself. The show is a bit campy and unbelievable as far as their comparisons to warriors, but they use a Mythbusters style method of testing a weapon's capability for carnage. The results for the Spartan shield were mind blowing.
You could certainly say the Aspis was the glue to Sparta’s elite warriors. Not only was it virtually impenetrable in its time, but if a Spartan was forced to engage in close combat with his sword it wasn’t uncommon for him to swing the shield after his follow through from a sword swing. It was like a one two punch, and the bronze coated shield was like a blow from a mace, that was capable of shattering an unprotected skull. Even with a helmet on, the shield was capable of delivering a blow that would render the victim unconscious. Think about that for a minute. Hundreds of cultures used shields, and either used them to push enemies or block an attack. How many ever thought to use it like a hammer, bringing me back to the “ahead of its time” comment. Not only did many cultures never think to swing a shield edge at an enemy, they weren’t usually expecting it either.
There’s a reason 300 Spartan’s held back the 2,00,000 warriors of the Persian army of Xerxes at Thermopylae. The movie was a little over the top, but the basic story is pretty spot on as far as history goes. They held their ground in that little niche of a mountain pass without any loss until they were betrayed and flanked.
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.