Last Saturday’s meeting of the Museum branch of the Young Archaeologists Club provided that rare spectacle of the members being too busy and preoccupied with their activity to stop for biscuits and squash! What was it that so engaged the attention of the children? The meeting was about ancient Greek warfare and in particular we looked at the ancient Greek hoplite.
Starting off in the first gallery of the Museum’s Ancient Worlds displays I showed the members the fine Corinthian helmet and the plaster cast showing hoplites from the Nereid monument at Xanthus in Turkey. I pointed out the large round shield known as a hoplon from which the soldiers got their name. The purpose of the meeting was to show the children how to make their own shields out of craft materials.
Upon on the third floor of the Museum Clare, Carolanne and the helpers were already hard at work cutting out pieces of cardboard ready for the children to decorate. In true Blue Peter fashion there was one we’d prepared earlier to inspire the kids. I talked about the weight of the shield and the special grips – known as the porpax and antelabe – needed to hold it. The shield was used in a close-order formation called the phalanx some eight or more ranks deep. The shield gave protection to the soldier standing to the left of the soldier carrying it in the ranks. This was not a shield for use in open order. I am always amazed at the depiction of ancient battles in which the fighting is shown as a series of one-to-one duels rather than soldiers standing in formation.
The children chose their own shield designs and could choose from a Pegasus or winged horse, a bull’s head, the Medusa, a snake, a cockerel and an upside-down ‘V’ for the Greek letter ‘L’ used by the Spartans or Lacedaemonians. They were free to create their own designs too. The activity really engaged their attention and at the end of the session we lined the children up in a phalanx formation. There were just enough of these latter day hoplites to pose for a battlefield clash between the Spartans and the rest of Greece. It is gratifying to report that none of the children went home without their shield so it was an honourable experience for all concerned.