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  • Writer's pictureFrank Klaus Jordan

"… either with this or on this" (Ἢ τὰν ἢ ἐπὶ τᾶς)


Yesterday was a special day. Usually I'm not much into celebrating my own birthday anniversary, but this time everything was different. When I woke up in the morning I was presented with a birthday gift that could only come from the person, who really knows who I am; who knows my weak spots, my sense of values and what my interests are. Only this true friend and companion is able to surprise me at my birthday with a SPARTAN SHIELD.

Thank you so very much.

While I'm opening the box, I wonder where she procured it and how she managed to "smuggle" this huge thing into the country. Whoever has hand crafted this exciting piece of armour truly knows the original values and dimensions of a Spartan Shield. Nearly three feet in diameter; thirty pounds of hand forged bronze, reinforced by the letter lambda (Λ), for Lacedaemon, the symbol on Spartan Shields since about 420 BC. Everything seems so real when I lift the shield up and slip my hand through the armlet to reach the handgrip on the inside. I begin to understand what it meant to hold up a Spartan Shield.

this is Sparta

The Spartan Shield, called Aspis, was more than just a defensive or bashing equipment. Beyond all Spartan battlefield tactics, there was a strong symbolic essence attached to the Spartan Shield as well. It was honoured as the most important part of the Spartan army panoply. A Spartan warrior had to provide his own weapons, shield and armour, which was expensive. So the Spartans would usually pass down such equipment within the family, in particularly the shield. It was therefore not unusual for a Spartan soldier to go to battle equipped with his fathers or grandfathers shield. A Spartan soldier, who lost his shield in battle was dishonoured and heavily punished afterwards, because the shield was not just an armour the Spartan soldier used for his own protection; the Spartan shield was crucial for the protection of the whole battle rank. It was part of the famous Spartan interlocked shield wall.

Sparta was an ancient warrior society located in southern Greece (Peloponnesus peninsula). Most powerful during the 5th century BC, all that remains today is an archeological site (not counting some confused "wannabes" at the other side of the Aegean Sea). Spartan culture was focussed on loyalty and service to the community. The word “spartan” means self-restrained, simple, frugal and austere. At the age of 7, Spartan boys entered a rigorous state-sponsored education, military training and socialisation program that emphasised duty, discipline and endurance. With 20 years of age, Spartan males became full-time soldiers, and remained on active duty until age 60. Sparta didn't possess any city walls. King Agesilaus was once asked why Sparta lacked fortifications. Pointing at his Spartan warriors he answered: "These are Sparta's walls".

Spartan women had a reputation for being independent. They were educated, allowed to own and manage their own property and enjoyed more status and freedom than any other Greek women. While they played no role in the military, Spartan woman often engaged in athletic competitions, including javelin-throwing and wrestling. By handing over the Shield before the battle, Spartan mothers were bidding farewell to their husbands and sons, by saying:"… (come back) either with this or on this" (Ἢ τὰν ἢ ἐπὶ τᾶς).

Therefore, the Spartan Shield is not just a shield. It is symbol of the weakness of an individual but the strength of a group, fighting for their beliefs, values and visions. It is the embodiment of loyalty, equality, discipline and endurance. It is the proof that 300 Spartan Shields at Thermopylae can break a Persian army at Marathon. So, the next time you come across a Spartan Shield and you wonder what is this.


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