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I was watching a trailer for a movie called 300: Rise of an Empire. I noticed in this movie the Spartan soldiers from the chest and legs are naked.

But recently I read in several posts here in the Stack Exchange, that Celts fought a war naked, and being naked is extremely dangerous and deadly for an army. Why then were the Spartans naked?

Is it correct that the Spartans were almost naked? If yes, wasn't that a weak point for an army?

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Clothes are a more recent invention than you might imagine. In the Phillipines kids still run around naked even today. – Tyler Durden Aug 20 at 15:19

3 Answers 3

Hoplite and phalangite at the time of the Persian Wars preferred a linen upper body armour called linothorax. Unfortunately, no examples have survived from ancient times, and we can't be sure for the details of its construction. Bronze cuirasses were also used, but were too expensive for infantryman and probably impractical for regular use in battle. We can't be absolutely certain if the Spartans wore linothoraxes or cuirasses at Thermopylae, but the former is the more logical choice, given that agility and speed are essential when facing an army far superior in numbers and on unconventional terrain.

That said, the tradition of depicting ancient Greek warriors naked or semi-naked in works of art is a lot older than Hollywood:

Phalanx. Side A of an Attic black-figure Tyrrhenic amphora, ca. 560 BC
Phalanx. Side A of an Attic black-figure Tyrrhenic amphora, ca. 560 BC

Knelt warrior with decladded sword: Achilles waiting for Troilus? Tondo of an Attic black-figure kylix, ca. 560 BC.
Knelt warrior with decladded sword: Achilles waiting for Troilus? Tondo of an Attic black-figure kylix, ca. 560 BC.

Rider with birds and a winged figure, perhaps Nike (Victory). Lakonian black-figured kylix, ca. 550–530 BC.
Rider with birds and a winged figure, perhaps Nike (Victory). Lakonian black-figured kylix, ca. 550–530 BC.

Greek applique with a nude swordman. Made in Lakonia (Sparta). Bronze, 550-525 BC
Greek applique with a nude swordman. Made in Lakonia (Sparta). Bronze, 550-525 BC

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+! - Curious: do you think these artistic renditions accurately reflect how warriors actually dressed for combat, or are they just like Hollywood: Stylized for the benefit of the viewer? I understand that before we had mechanized warfare, there was an advantage to "traveling light" and staying agile, but naked? Why make yourself so unnecessarily vulnerable - particular in the genital areas? – user2590 Sep 24 '13 at 1:40
@Vector bit of both probably. Can imagine them fighting naked or nearly so in ritualised combat like duels and tournaments to show off their prowess and courage (and to level the playing field), while in warfare they'd carry what armour they could. They'd probably not carry a full suit of armour though, covering the entire body, as such would be too cumbersome and heavy (and indeed the first pictures show only parts of the body covered). Even later, in the middle ages, knights were highly immobile in their steel suits, effective only on horseback (the Greeks had no horses). – jwenting Sep 24 '13 at 5:36
@jwenting - could be. I was thinking along such lines too. I'm also pretty sure that at such times it was appropriate to display your "endowments" - a "pissing contest" as it were... :-) – user2590 Sep 24 '13 at 5:40
@jwenting "the Greeks had no horses" Hm? What then is the creature the rider on the third image is on? (also see: Now, you make a good point about the weight of the armour and shield, but you're forgetting a critical detail: The warriors didn't carry much, that was what slaves were for. For example, in the Battle of Thermopylae, each of the 300 Spartan hoplites had at least 2 and maybe even 3 perioikoi each. – Yannis Sep 24 '13 at 9:21
The horseman riding bareback (pun intended) is definite proof the artists took some liberties with their subjects. Chafing does take place between the rider and the horse ... you really need some protection in that area. – ALAN WARD Jul 21 at 10:58

This question fits my definition of trivial. If you copy the question and paste it into google, three of the top five responses answer the question.

  1. One mentions the Hoplites
  2. I'll grant you that Yahoo answers answer is as sparse as the movie's armor.
  3. Roman Army Talk cites (unreliably) an interesting counterexample

The best answer is the first, from History vs Hollywood.

Did the Spartans really fight with virtually no body armor?

No. The movie 300 has the Spartan soldiers fighting nearly naked without any form of body armor protecting them. Body armor was a valuable asset to the real Spartan soldiers. 300 author Frank Miller commented on this alteration in an Entertainment Weekly interview, "I took those chest plates and leather skirts off of them for a reason. I wanted these guys to move and I wanted 'em to look good. ... Spartans, in full regalia, were almost indistinguishable except at a very close angle."

Clear, concise, and it even provides a picture of spartan armor. And an authoritative quote from Mr. Miller which ought to settle the question of why the movie portrayed them that way.

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Nicholas Sekunda, in Osprey's book The Ancient Greeks, wonders if Greek warriors actually fought naked in the early 4th century BC and postulates that the Boeotians might have done so, as they "almost worshipped the body, spending most of their lives in the gymnasia"; one of the book's illustrations shows them naked. I guess it's nothing more than a speculation from the author, though. – JMVanPelt Aug 16 at 2:38

Another thing to take into account is that, in the archaic age particularly, armies would often meet on the field of battle and then agree to settle the differences by having one warrior from each side meet. This form of battle would have been more akin to the gladiatorial matches of later periods. Since the Greeks, and even the Romans to some extent, had a romanticized concept of naked warriors it is quite possible some of these matches might have taken place naked. By the classical age, these one-on-one contests were not as common. Soldiers would have wanted to wear as little as possible, especially if the weather was hot, but they would also want protection.

Hoplites usually wore greaves, vambraces, and a chest-plate. They would also carry a shield and spear, with some carrying a short sword as a secondary weapon. I have read accounts that the Spartans would occasionally cast aside their clothing and fight naked if they wanted to show total scorn to an enemy that they did not fear. Maybe there is something to that, but I have yet to see anything conclusive from primary sources that indicates this ever happened. On the other hand, while art is usually just art, sometimes it is a window on the society. Some ancient pottery art I have seen depicting the Spartans, while showing them with shields, helmets, and spears, shows them with nothing else on except a garment that covers about as much as the loincloths in 300, though of a different design.

I came across a reference in Plutarch's writings (Life of Lycurgus) which seemed to indicate that Spartan men wore only one garment on a regular basis, and that this garment left them bare above the waist. The only references made to their complete nudity was during their exercises and their games, during the latter of which the young women and girls would strip themselves and join the young men and boys.

Plutarch also mentions that Spartan boys learned how to march barefoot and go naked during their training. Plutarch mentions that at the age of twelve their undergarment would be taken away and only one upper garment given them each year. This garment was a red cloak, which they would wear as Spartan soldiers once their training was complete, along with whatever armor was issued to them. The cloak itself, however, was not worn during battle, as it would be a hindrance to movement.

Plutarch does not mention whether or not the Spartans wore any other clothing, so it is possible the Spartan soldiers may well have been naked in battle other than their armor. I have seen it pointed out that they would not have wanted to wear metal armor on their bare skin, yet we know that they would line the inside of their armor with a layer of leather. Keep in mind, also, that their shields offered a great deal of protection.

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