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Nude Warfare in Ancient Greece

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  • Nude Warfare in Ancient Greece

    Ancient Greek art often shows warriors fighting nude or at least nude below the waist. There is an active debate regarding this is real or just a depiction that uses nudity to emphasize heroism. There is some acceptance that some troops fought nude if only as an expression of disdain toward the enemy.

    The following images shows Theban hoplites (foot soldiers). The source states that the Greek city state of Thebes was known for its body cult, which accounts for the male nudity in battle. Thebes is the city state that finally defeated Sparta.

    Click image for larger version  Name:	1_thebes_theban_hoplite.JPG Views:	0 Size:	35.1 KB ID:	549798

    The next image shows Hellenized Keltic hoplites in the kingdom of Ptolemy.

    Click image for larger version  Name:	2_ptolemaic.jpg Views:	0 Size:	56.6 KB ID:	549799

    The image of Greek hoplites depicted in the movies features them wearing tunics plus armor in the form of a helmet, cuirass (breast plate), and lower leg greaves.The main protective item was a shield. This depiction is often found in ancient Greek art.

    Click image for larger version  Name:	3_Hoplite_5th_century.jpg Views:	0 Size:	231.2 KB ID:	549800

    Click image for larger version  Name:	3a_08COATES-superJumbo_640wide.jpg Views:	0 Size:	184.8 KB ID:	549801

    Just as often, Greek hoplites are depicted as nude at least below the waist. Note that there were sporting events that featured athletes running with battle gear, and these races were performed without tunics; however, the following scenes depict battles, not sporting events.

    Click image for larger version  Name:	4_1024px-Amphora_phalanx_Staatliche_Antikensammlungen_1429_640wide.jpg Views:	0 Size:	135.3 KB ID:	549802

    Click image for larger version  Name:	4a_battle_scene.jpg Views:	0 Size:	126.0 KB ID:	549803

    Which depiction is correct? Probably both. The manner of dress probably depended on a lot of factors such as the weather and level of respect for the enemy. The idea that the nudity was used only to emphasize heroism doesn't fit with the observations that sometimes the opposing side is depicted as fully dressed, such as in the following scene of a Greek hoplite battling a Persian warrior. There is nothing caricature about the Persian figure, so why would the representation of the Greek figure be shown in an unrealistic manner?

    Click image for larger version  Name:	5_battling_persian.jpg Views:	0 Size:	107.6 KB ID:	549805

    Just as with other aspects of Greek life, the manner of dress probably varied during any particular activity. The following are two scenes of producing helmets. In one, the craftsman is dressed. In the other, he is not.

    Click image for larger version  Name:	6_making_helmet.jpg Views:	0 Size:	44.2 KB ID:	549806

    Click image for larger version  Name:	7_making_helmet_2.jpg Views:	0 Size:	12.8 KB ID:	549807

    Last edited by Mosquito_Bait; 08-29-2020, 02:15 AM.

  • #2
    Very interesting find. Thank you!


    • #3

      The competing depictions of Greek warriors is exemplified by statues of the Spartan king Leonidas. Unlike the depictions on the pottery in the post at the top of this thread, these are modern depictions that reflect current beliefs regarding how the ancient Greeks dressed for war.

      There is a statue of Leonidas in Sparta that depicts him wearing a tunic. One thing wrong with this depiction is that ancient Greek warriors probably didn't wear sandals. The consensus is that the ancient Greeks fought barefoot.

      Click image for larger version  Name:	leonidas_1_480wide.jpg Views:	0 Size:	208.6 KB ID:	549810

      Then there is a statue of Leonidas at the site of the battle of Thermopylae that depicts him nude.

      Click image for larger version  Name:	leonidas_2_640wide.jpg Views:	0 Size:	42.0 KB ID:	549811

      Last edited by Mosquito_Bait; 08-29-2020, 05:05 AM.


      • #4
        I agree, this is very interesting. Thanks particularly for the illustrations and the contrasts. The reality that sometimes the thinking at the time a monument is raised can affect the depiction is very important to keep in mind. Obviously, they were not producing the statues or the pottery at the time of the battle. Thanks for all of this.


        • #5
          It is doubtful they went into battle naked. That would be stupid. However, the level of armor back then depended on how much money the soldiers had. Mostly, the soldiers were conscripts, coming from all classes of society from farmers to aristocracy and each soldier had to provide their own personal armor (not counting the shields). The higher up you were in society, the better your armor was.

          Even looking at the statue of Leonidas, he has plenty of armor protecting his head, shoulders, chest, and lower legs. Most of the artistic depictions above showed similar levels of armor for those portrayed in battle.

          Bob S.


          • #6
            They marched into battle in a phalanx formation presenting the enemy with a wall of shields. If a man falls, the man behind him takes his place. If the formation holds, protection is provided mainly by the shield, helmet, and greaves.

            Click image for larger version

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            • #7
              The pre-modern Olympics were nude as well. So, it does seem likely that nudity was symbolic of strength, vitality, heroism.


              • #8
                In many cultures warriors went into battle nude. The Maori people of New Zealand, the warriors would often go into battle nude and with many sporting erections to scare and intimidate the enemy. The people of New Guinea to this day still often have battles nude.


                • #9
                  "Hey, is that a gun you are pointing at me, or are you just happy to go into battle?" :-P