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PAINTING SPARTAN AND ATHENIAN ARMIES
By Steve Saleh
Helmets - Polished bronze generally, some Athenian officers may have some details picked out in silver. Ancient polished bronze appears to be more of a gold colour than the typical reddish bronze tone we think of today. Occasionally the dome part of the helmet may be coloured, red being the colour most often used for this. Spartan Pilos helmets were left unadorned.
Crests - Spartan rank and file helmets remained without horsehair crests in this period, only officers' helmets were crested. Junior officers had the normal front to back crest, and senior officers were famed for their side to side, or transverse, crests. Almost exclusively red in colour for both. Athenian helmets were generally crested with horsehhair. This would most commonly be left a natural colour; white, black, off-white, brown or red-brown, or sometimes dyed red. Occasionally, the crest would be composed of alternate bands of colour, most frequently in the natural colours mentioned, if a dyed band were used, most commonly red, then the alternate band would usually be a natural colour, either black or white, for contrast. Other, more exotic, choices being far less common.
Hats - The Spartan bronze pilos helmet emerged from an earlier felt version still worn in this period. Colour is conjectural but possibly white or black or other earth tone, or perhaps, red. Another hat, the petasos, made of felt or straw, was used as a sun hat and probably not used in battle by the heavy infantry, though there is some reference that cavalrymen and javelinmen wore this whilst actively engaged.
Hairstyles - Anecdotally, the Spartans refused to cut their hair until they had regained territories lost to them. According to Herodotus in his Histories, the Spartans, or Lacedaemonians, were descended from Dorian stock whilst the Athenians were descended from the Ionians. The Spartans generally had black curly hair which they kept long throughout the period often plaiting it in traditional, though outdated, Hellenistic fashion; a Spartan soldier would always be in possession of a comb. Spartan males would be almost universally bearded, though this seems to have been kept shorter towards the end of the period. The upper lip would sometimes be shaved or kept relatively short compared to the beard.
The Athenians would by this time be embracing the latest fashions and as such would have a less regimented look than their Laconian enemies. Being of fairer complexion than the Spartans, the Athenians' colouring would be of a more varied appearance, and hair would be dressed in a variety of styles, from very short to medium length, but never over long. Though short beards remained popular, many were clean shaven. The more urbane hoplite may wear his hair purposefully curled, though soldiers from more rural regiments would present a more natural appearance and more likely to be bearded. A headband would be worn under the helmet in battle to keep the hair away from the eyes.
Cloaks - The military chlamys was a version of the civilian himation, and could be worn in a variety of ways and most probably be universally dyed red, though other colours are certainly referred to, such as yellow and black.
Tunics - The Spartan exomis or chiton would likely be dyed red with little or no decoration. Athenian tunics may have been more individual, but, as in Sparta, red was most common for war. White may have been a customary choice for civilian life, but it was probably viewed as impractical on campaign, and a variety of other colours were certainly worn, such as terracotta, grey, black, brown, ochre, saffron, green, lemon, salmon and, (infrequently), blue. In many cases these would be decorated with borders, stripe or key pattern, a hoplite recruited from a rural area, however, would most likely be dressed in a less opulent fashion.
Sandals - Unlike later, to go without footwear was not a mark of poverty and this was not uncommon. When worn, sandals and boots would be left natural or occasionally, dyed red.
Greaves - Polished bronze perhaps silvered for the occasional officer.
Armour - Leather, bronze, scaled or linen. The last of these by far and away the most common during this period. Layered and stiffened, and, perhaps treated with glue size, the colour being, almost universally, white; sometimes edged and/or patterned in another colour, with the 'feathers' around the abdomen being treated similarly. Officers wearing a bronze breastplate may, rarely, have some or all of it silvered.
Spartan - It seems as though this was regimented to a plain polished bronze often, if not always, decorated with the famous lambda, an inverted 'V', symbol of Lakedaimon, in red.
Athenian - No uniform symbols or emblems existed for Athenian hoplites or allies and it seems that the face of a hoplite's shield was ripe for self expression in Attica and beyond, though not all were decorated. Popular iconography during the period, for a variety of reasons, was a selection of Gorgons' and bulls' heads, lions, snakes, vases, clubs and wreaths, initial letters of cities, (a port city may have a maritime theme), and variations on the eight pointed star, popular with all Hellenistic cultures throughout the Mediterranian.
The rim of the shield would usually remain polished bronze, whilst the face would often, but not always, be coloured to contrast with the image depicted. Foundry produce a wide selection of Greek shield transfers, perfect for the period.
Light Infantry Shields - Peltasts and javelinmen often used shields made from wood or wicker commonly covered with animal hide and left untreated. Sometimes they would be of bronze and/or painted, most often with an eight pointed star and less often with other symbols.