Help support TMP

"Spartan colors?" Topic

24 Posts

All members in good standing are free to post here. Opinions expressed here are solely those of the posters, and have not been cleared with nor are they endorsed by The Miniatures Page.

For more information, see the TMP FAQ.

Back to the Ancients Product Reviews Message Board

Back to the Ancients Painting Guides Message Board

Back to the ACW Painting Guides Message Board

Back to the Ancients Discussion Message Board

14,068 hits since 1 Aug 2005
©1994-2017 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

BobTYW02 Aug 2005 10:32 a.m. PST

Did the Spartan army actually have a "uniform" and what basic colors would it have been? Looking for ideas. Thanks.

BobTYW02 Aug 2005 10:34 a.m. PST

Sorry, shouldn't have crossposted to ACW. Accident.

MiniatureWargaming dot com02 Aug 2005 10:34 a.m. PST

Green and white (a little Michigan humor here).

IGWARG1 Supporting Member of TMP Fezian02 Aug 2005 11:12 a.m. PST

Osprey Elite "Ancient greeks" is about military fashion. It states that Spartans did indeed had red uniforms and upturned V on their bronze faced shields. Helmets and armour would differ though and probably would be as diverse as in other Greek states. Lots of armor would be captured on battlefields and reused. In emergencies second class citisens and even freed slaves were used. In that case Spartan government would provide equipment.

CraigSpiel Inactive Member02 Aug 2005 11:25 a.m. PST

Mini.Warg- Don't forget the big block "S".

Go State!

Highland Guerilla Inactive Member02 Aug 2005 12:21 p.m. PST


Personal logo Pictors Studio Sponsoring Member of TMP02 Aug 2005 12:35 p.m. PST

The Spartans would have worn red tunics into battle. At some point in the 5th century they started using the lambda as a shield design rather than individual shield designs as many other Greek states still did.

Also during the 5th century the Spartans started employing more allied forces within their armies. Probably a large number of the Perioecci soldiers also wore the red tunics. Whether they used a lambda shield device is not certain. They were certainly not equals, so I'm not sure whether they did or not.

By the end of the hoplite period in Sparta most of the men in the ranks were not equals. It is debatable whether their were as severe restrictions on who could wear what, if there were any to start with.

I would say if you are going to paint Spartan figures as equals do them with the red tunics and the lamda on the shield, unless you are doing 490's or earlier Spartans.

Personal logo piper909 Supporting Member of TMP02 Aug 2005 1:39 p.m. PST

The Spartans seem to have issued some equipment from armories that are mentioned in some ancient texts, so we can assume that many items would have been more uniform (weapons, shields) while others would have needed to have been custom-fitted (helmets, greaves, certain cuirasses) and more likely to have been made-to-order; however, it cannot be forgotten that Sparta prized uniformity and would have frowned on ostentatious displays of individualism (the oft-cited and possibly apocryphal tale of the Spartan with a bee-blazon on his shield notwithstanding).

The red tunic and cloak mentioned by several ancient authors is well-attested, and would have been common to both Spartiates and perioeci during the era when they were brigaded together (debated, but evidently by the time of the Peloponnesian wars). This color is frequently translated as "red", "scarlet" "crimson" and even "purple", depending on the writer, so the exact shade is a bit uncertain — however, since it was instituted to boost martial spirit and to conceal bloodstains, we can assume it to be a bright shade. The lambda on the shields would likely have been red or black, to stand out best from the bronze facing that was also a hallmark of Spartan troops.

JJartist02 Aug 2005 3:07 p.m. PST

Ahhh the upturned V…… is actually a Greek letter called a lambda. That is short for Lakedaemonia the place where Spartans come from, a place that the city of Sparta is ensconced. The color of the lambda notwithstanding there is little direct evidence or when such a device became uniform. We are given clues that during the Peloponessian Wars that city blazons and unifomrity may have become more common, for example their is the story of the Sicyonians using the sigma, and Spartans carrying sigma shields being mistaken for Sicyonian hoplites.

bluewillow02 Aug 2005 4:00 p.m. PST

go for a crimson more than red as our red today is created syntheticly.

cheers matt

Personal logo Pictors Studio Sponsoring Member of TMP02 Aug 2005 5:58 p.m. PST

"for example their is the story of the Sicyonians using the sigma, and Spartans carrying sigma shields being mistaken for Sicyonian hoplites."

And getting their butts kicked because of it.

Judas Iscariot Inactive Member02 Aug 2005 8:53 p.m. PST

I thought that the red was only allowed to the married memebers of the army… That is something that I seem to recall from a conversation with Duncan Head.

The shields could also be painted with a Lambda painted over that. So, you could have white shields with a black, red, violet, or bronze lambda painted on it, or you could have any mix of black, red, violet, green, blue, etc shield with the lambda painted on in a contrasting color.

I tend to stick with black, red and white for the colors for the Spartans though… they were "Spartan" in their use of decoration were they not???

Personal logo Pictors Studio Sponsoring Member of TMP02 Aug 2005 10:25 p.m. PST

The Great Rhetra forbid other colours than red.

andyfb Inactive Member03 Aug 2005 6:03 a.m. PST

I'll also vote for RED,RED,RED and more RED…

Personal logo piper909 Supporting Member of TMP03 Aug 2005 7:46 a.m. PST

The literary evidence also is clear that the Spartan army used a bronze facing on their shields and did not paint over this wholesale, but rather polished it frequently to dazzle and impress their enemies. I think this is discussed in either Plutarch or Xenophon (away from my books or I'd check).

rigmarole Inactive Member04 Aug 2005 5:34 a.m. PST

You mean Lycurgus (or Apollo) was a Communist?

Personal logo piper909 Supporting Member of TMP04 Aug 2005 11:22 a.m. PST

yep. Unitarian, too, I hear. Don't let your daughter marry him!

Personal logo piper909 Supporting Member of TMP23 Aug 2005 9:30 a.m. PST

Ah, regard this article on the psychology of the color red.


"Red enhances human performance in contests"

MichaelK Inactive Member30 Mar 2007 5:59 p.m. PST

This may well be wrong, but from the book 'Great Battles of the Ancient World' (a tie in to the TV show 'Time Commanders'), it's stated (of the Spartan hoplites at Leuctra battling the Thebans) "They fought barefoot and their famous crimson cloaks were worn only when off-duty or in peacetime, never in battle."

sgt bilko Inactive Member04 Apr 2007 3:43 p.m. PST

I've always been extremely dubious of transfers showing the labda as the the stone-chiselled letter complete with serifs!… Simple rim-to-rim strokes seem equally possible, and would give the front row the appearance of a line of jagged teeth…???

Aloysius the Gaul Inactive Member04 Apr 2007 8:03 p.m. PST

There are no period depictions of the Lambda AFAIK, so pick any explaination/version you like.

for otehr patterns Luke Ueda-Sarson has a great page at link

Personal logo piper909 Supporting Member of TMP05 Apr 2007 9:59 a.m. PST

'This may well be wrong, but from the book 'Great Battles of the Ancient World' (a tie in to the TV show 'Time Commanders'), it's stated (of the Spartan hoplites at Leuctra battling the Thebans) "They fought barefoot and their famous crimson cloaks were worn only when off-duty or in peacetime, never in battle."'

Hmm, TV documentaries, always the definitive word on history! This not wearing cloaks in battle business is often said, but only by modern commentators, and I have no idea what source they are relying on other than their own ideas. We have Greek vase painting and statuary representations of hoplites wearing cloaks in battle, we have many literary references, even an account by an ancient writer (Plutarch or Polybius, I forget who) of the Spartan regent Machinidas being identified in combat by his distinctive cloak (a Hellenistic time period, but still…)
I'd say this subject is still unresolved.

Another clue to uniformity of dress c. 400 BC is that there is at least one reference to the aftermath of a battle in the Corinthian War period in which Spartan citizen dead cannot be distinguished from perioeci or other Laconian non-citizens.

Personal logo piper909 Supporting Member of TMP05 Apr 2007 10:03 a.m. PST

The dye used to produce the Spartan red was probably very bright and came from native shellfish in the Gulf of Laconia, similar to the famous "Tyrian purple" of the Phoenicians.

Aloysius the Gaul Inactive Member09 Apr 2007 1:48 p.m. PST

There are Vase paintings of hoplites fighting while wearing cloaks? do you ahve a reference?

Sorry - only verified members can post on the forums.