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THE SHIELD DEVICES OF RHODIAN HOPLITES

01/01/2012

The Greek Island of Rhodes is located in a very strategic location and it is closely related with the sea-and not only the Aegean Sea. The beauty and importance of the island were great from the time of Myth. The legends preserve through the mists of time beliefs from the Neolithic era.  Zeus is reputed to be the forefather of the Rhodians since he had three sons with the Rhodian nymph Himalia. Another myth says the island was given to Poseidon who lived there with his wife Rhodos and the place was named after her. Before that it was name Telcheneia after the legendary artisans, the Telchines, that inhabited the island.

Rhodian Archaic pottery from the Museum of Rhodes

The Rhodians took part in the Trojan War under the leadership of their King Tleptolemos who was killed in battle by the Lycean hero Sarpedon. Tleptolemos is considered the founder of the three cities of the island Kameiros, Lindos and Ialyssos. Around the 10th century B.C. the Dorian conquered the island. Rhodians became skilled mariners and traveled across the Mediterranean establishing several colonies and trading stations. Large numbers of Rhodian pottery items were found in Asia Minor, Russia, Egypt and Italy – proof of the flourishing trade successfully conducted by the islanders. In a time that seas were unsafe and merchant vessels traveled in convoys and the Rhodian hoplites served either as marines on board of merchand ships or in the trading stations garrisons.

Kameiros Plate from British Museum.

The famous Kameiros plate now in the British Museum shows us combat scene from the Trojan War and probably relates to a real conflict between Rhodians and Carians. Contemporary pottery shows the enemy advancing from the left and the friendly hoplites emblem always visible.  In this case it is the emblem of a warlord from Ialysos. The eagle’s head appears on the coins of that city. The solar emblems round the eagle probably relate to the alliance of the three Rhodian cities signed in 900 B.C and set under the protection of Apollo, the sun god.

Kameiros Coin

The fig leaf appears on the coins of Kameiros. Attic pottery shows many hoplites sporting the fig leaf especially after Rhodes entered the Delean league.

Coin from Lindos

The roaring lion Appears on the coins of Ialyssos It was the symbol of Zeus Carios or Areios who was worshiped as a war god in SW Mediterranean. The roaring lion’s head looking left might be the emblem of the Lindian hoplites.

In 408 B.C the Rhodians abandoned the Athenian Alliance and left the old three cities and created the new city of Rhodes under the inspiring leadership of the Olympic winner Diagoras. The new city was put under the protection of the solar god, whose cult was common in all Rhodes and a new symbol was adopted. On the coins one side is engraved with the face of the solar god and the other with the hibiscus flower. According to the legend this flower was offered to the sun god’s bride when they married in Rhodes. Many people hold the erroneous belief that the flower on coins and seals is a rose but this is erroneous. Rose is an imported plant in Rhodes while hibiscus is native to the island.

Rhodian Hybiscus

Rhodian coin after the Synoikismos

Under this emblem then Rhodians defended their city from Demetrios the Besieger. Rhodian marines carried it proudly on their shields while defending the Rhodian commercial convoys until 42 B.C when the Romans finally conquered the island.

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