SPARTAN SHIELD DEVICES (EPISIMON)
We cannot be sure what the Spartan shield emblems were in the Bronze Age. There is not enough archeological evidence for the time being. We have more details for the Classical Period. Our primary source of knowledge was the «Chigi» vase and an older archaic aryballos currently in the British Museum. This was our main source for depicting and reconstructing the Lakedemonian Classical warrior.
Then in 1916 the British Archeological School excavated the shrine of Artemis Orthia and found a number of lead «seals» that had to be shield devices. They all followed specific patterns and could be categorized. Later studies showed the remains of engravings. Some were clear enough to make out the name of the owner. This has made scientists believe that this is the first example of «dog-tags». These findings along with info given by Tyrtaios, Terpandros, Thukidides, Plutarch and Pausanias serve as the basis of the following study.
The Lakedemonian Army was among the first to divide the phalanx into tactical units: The MORAE, numerically equivalent to a modern army battalion, they seem to have also administrative units like the regiments of the Napoleonic Era. Each one had its own shield device that was based on the symbol of the deity whose cult was dominant in the recruiting area.
The MORA of Skiritis that later evolved as the Spartan «commandos» had the white hawk in red outline. Lako or Yl-Lako means scream like a hawk hence Laconia the land of the hawks .
The MORA of Amyklae the only indigenous community to have citizen rights sported proudly the rooster, one of the symbols associated with Apollo as a sun god. Amyklae were the center of Karneios Apollo cult whom the Spartans revere ad lord of the campaigning season.
The MORA of Elos had the bull’s head with its horns downwards. These rugged tough oxen were in existence in Greece up to the early 20th century amd their distant cousins are still found in the Strymon Area in Northern Greece. In cape Tainaro dominating the Area was the Temple of Poseidon Tauraos. Also according to a legend given by Arnovius Zeus in the form of a bull came from the sea and mated with Demetra in the Elos area and sired Persehpone.
The MORA of Geronthrae near modern Mystras was a center of the Ares cult. When the main star of the Scorpio was visible about 9th of July ceremonies took place at the temple and women were forbidden entry. Scorpio is a symbol of Ares and very combative species lives in Laconia.
The MORAE with the the goose emblem, symbol of Artemis Limnatis was symbol of those who lived in the Messenian border. The goose had its head turned backwards as a symbol of vigilance.
The leopard was the symbol of Pylos and symbol of he MORA of those who received property after the Messenian Wars (they did not sport the lion badge as many think). The Leopard is associated with Dionysos and the god’s name (Dio-Nu-So-wO) in Linear B script has been found in Pylian clay tablets and the leopard was also appearing in the “Nestor Palace” frescoes .
The MORA that was created after the battle of Stenyklaros was sporting the full sized black wild boar because Hercules had sacrificed a boar where the battle that subjugated Messsenia took place. This unit was last to be created in the Archai Period.
Also families who could prove land rights from the “Heroic Age” like the Aigidae were sporting a snake with one loop and its head looking upwards on their shield device. Based on pottery depictions it seems to be white on black or red background
With lesser degree of certainty we can place double snakes and twinolive brnaches to the clans of Melabontidae (healers )and Talthybiadae (herlads) respectively.
The widely known Lamda appeared late in the Peloponnesian War, first perhaps on the shields of Brasidas Neodamodeis (newly enfranchised ex-helots). It seems to be the Spartan symbol In the Hellenistic period too.
The King is represented in pottery and sculptures with traverse crest and currying the solar symbol of Sparta as depicted in a plaque found by the British Archeological school in 1916. According to Plutarch he has two bodyguards who are Olympic champions and carry olive wreaths on their helmets. They might have carried the DIOSKOYROI DOKANA on their shields. File leaders probably had high crests to be recognized more easily.
Hoplite photographs courtesy of the Living History Association «Koryvantes«