Ancient Greece was where democracy was born, theater flourished and some of the greatest philosophical minds ever pondered the meaning of existence. But it was also a period of savage warfare and fierce brutality. Greek infantrymen were called hoplites. They marched in organized rows called phalanxes with their large shields held in front, forming an impenetrable wall as they advanced. The five most common arms Greeks carried were devastatingly effective.

Long Spears for Thrusting

Doru were spears between 7 and 9 feet long that were carried vertically in the right hand and used for thrusting. The long wooden pole was topped by an iron leaf-shaped point called an aichme. On the opposite end was the sauroter, a bronze spike. The sauroter was a clever addition to the doru as it could be used several ways – as an additional weapon, as a counterweight to make the spear easier to manage and as a tip on which to plant the weapon into the ground so it remained upright if the solider tired of carrying it.

Double-Edged Swords

A vase depicts  hoplites in battle.
A vase depicts hoplites in battle.

Xiphos were straight double-edged swords. They were secondary weapons that were short in length and made of iron. Xiphos were useful when hoplites lost or broke their doru in the thick of battle or when they fought in close combat.

Curved Swords

Kopis, also called Machaira, were an alternative to xiphos. They were comparable to xiphos in size and length -- a little over 2 feet -- but wider and with a gently curved cutting edge, similar to a large butcher knife. They were also made of iron and quite handy, as soldiers could also use them for cutting meat.

Javelins for Throwing

Akontia, now known as javelins, are one of the few Greek weapons that have stayed with us in the modern age. The soldiers who threw Akontia were known as akonsistai. The akonsistai made up the largest segment of the peltasts, specialized mobile troops who carried missile weapons. The lightly armored peltasts roved the battlefield, often protecting the vulnerable left and right flanks of the hoplite forces during forward surges.

Slings

The sling was another missile weapon carried by Peltast troops. They were made from leather and strung with animal sinew. The stones could be rocks, balls of clay, or lead bullets. The bullets themselves were sometimes inscribed with the names of Greek cities or playful messages for the enemy like ‘Ouch!’ or ‘Pay attention’.