Monday, May 3, 2021

The aspis and rise of the Argives

The ancient city of Argos was inhabited as far back as 7,000 years ago.   Argos experienced its greatest period of expansion and power, though, under the energetic 7th century BCE ruler, King Pheidon.  Pheidon was said to have been a descendant of Heracles through Temenus. Pheidon seized the throne from the reigning aristocracy with the support of the lower classes.  He was a vigorous and energetic ruler and greatly increased the power of Argos.

Under Pheidon, Argos regained sway over the cities of the Argolid and challenged Sparta’s dominance of the Peloponnese. Spartan dominance is thought to have been interrupted following the Battle of Hyssiae in 669-668 BCE, in which Argive troops defeated the Spartans in a hoplite battle. The Argive army was already equipped at the time with a deeply dished wooden shield called the aspis which is thought to have given the Argives an advantage over the Spartans.  The revolutionary part of the shield was, in fact, the grip. Known as an Argive grip, it placed the handle at the edge of the shield and was supported by a leather fastening for the forearm at the center. This allowed hoplites more mobility with the shield, as well as the ability to capitalize on their offensive capabilities and better support the phalanx. The convex shape of the shield allowed it to be supported comfortably on the shoulder and made it possible for warriors to use it as a flotation device for crossing rivers and to be used for hauling the bodies of the dead from the battlefield.

Image: Statuette of a Warrior thought to be an Argive, Greek, 470-460 BCE, Bronze, now in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum.  A standing male figure. Both feet are missing. He raises his right hand to his right shoulder and rests the left hand against his chest. He wears a short tunic underneath a cloak pinned over the right shoulder and slanting underneath the left arm. Straps cross over his shoulders at the chest and between the shoulders at the back. He is bearded and wears a cap or helmet. The eye sockets are empty and were perhpas once inlaid. The hair is cut away at the back of the head leaving a rectangular depression and the right hand is pierced for an attachment.


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