why were Hoplite shields circular? Given that humans are much taller than they are wide even taking into account that the shield has to protect the person to their left the horizontal to vertical ratio seems to be off and the hoplites legs seem to be badly defended.

In the Greek Persian wars didn't they end up hanging a heavy cloth at the bottom of their shields anyways why not just make the shield longer?

Separate point wouldn't the hoplite be vulnerable to attack in the legs from opposing phalanxes? sure they had their leg greaves but basically isn't any defense only as good as it's weakest point?

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    If the Wiki pages Round shield and Aspis, don't have what you are looking for, can you edit to clarify what you think is lacking? Aug 10, 2019 at 5:21
  • "Why not just make the shield longer?" 1) It would be much heavier and soldiers had to use it with just one hand. 2) The shield already covered from the shoulders to the knees (and could be pushed with those two parts of the body). The shins were protected by greaves and the feet are small objectives for weapons (only mounted medieval knights used sabatons). Aug 10, 2019 at 9:08
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    Question would be improved with sources & research For example, the first paragraph should explain why Wikipedia is insufficient (hat tip to Mr. Bosteen) and to support the assertions in paragraph 2. Who said they hung cloth? When? In what context?
    – MCW
    Aug 10, 2019 at 10:44
  • As your source notes in the video, the cloth was in place purely as defense against "a vast number of Persian arrows", not against melee weapons: "...; while a reactionary measure to the vast number of Persian arrows was the occasional use of a small square piece of cloth hanging from the bottom of the shield." Aug 10, 2019 at 17:39
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because the question is based on a false premise; namely that the mentioned cloth was a melee defense, when it is actually a defense against arrowsonly . Aug 10, 2019 at 17:40

2 Answers 2


For a hoplite, the spear is the primary weapon and the shield only a secondary weapon, being primarily defensive. Because of the many different ways in which a spear was used by a hoplite in offence, in and out of formation, a lighter round shield was more suitable by providing less interference with the spear use. The greater reach of the spear also keeps the opponent at bay, so less defensive coverage is necessary.

For Roman Legionnaires of the classic period, the shield is actually the primary weapon, the gladius (short sword) secondary. The opponent is mauled by the shield, it's top edge and boss in particular used to wear an opponent down until his guard drops and the gladius can be slipped under his ribs. The gladius is strictly a thrusting weapon, so restriction of arm movements is no longer of significance. The gladius' short reach, combined with the necessity to get up close and personal to use the shield as a primary weapon, means a larger shield (curved to fit around the body, works better.

  • Is it just the weight? 0.9m seems plenty wide but not tall enough. Also wouldn't a hoplite with an oval thinner shield have the advantage of being able to piece the opposing hoplites lower body before their shield and upper body could be pierced? a sort of weakest link argument?
    – Hao S
    Aug 11, 2019 at 4:22
  • @Hau Sun Presumably, all the shields were at the minimum thicknesses they could get away with. Conversely to your point about shape, wouldn't a hoplite with a 20% lighter shield (that is, smaller) be able to outmaneuver their opponents on average, and fight for longer? Meanwhile, a spear could potentially be an effective defense by itself.
    – jpaugh
    Aug 11, 2019 at 7:47
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    @Han Sun I mean that any army will use the best material they have available for the task at hand, given their economical and technological limitations, and minimizing weight is one way to optimize. Whenever you optimize a unit to be able to do one task well, you necessarily limit its effectiveness at other tasks.
    – jpaugh
    Aug 12, 2019 at 14:38
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    @jpaugh: TANSTAAFL - There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. Sep 17, 2019 at 22:26
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    @HaoS My point was that there are always competing concerns when designing a product. A smaller shield doesn't cover as much, and a thinner one is less protective; but you can make more of them, and soldiers can fight or march for longer while carrying them. Whatever you optimize for, you are sacrificing something else.
    – jpaugh
    Oct 25, 2019 at 14:47

It can't be answered with any certainty as it likely had a cultural reason, the same way the earlier figure of 8 shields used by the Mycenaeans might seem an odd choice.

Smaller flatter round shields do appear in other parts of Europe during the bronze age and it could be something as simple as you can trace the outline of a shield with a simple compass made of a scribe attached to a piece of string. The bronze age saw the dominance of geometric art which was squares, lozenges, zigzags and also concentric circles. How that influenced the famous Greek shield we can only speculate.

Elongated or oval shields did become very common during the iron age and the Greeks themselves adopted a type they called the thyreos which they possibly copied from the Romans.

Something else to consider is that a common method of fighting was the spear held over the head and used in a downward stabbing motion, the legs wouldn't be in much danger in mass combat. It also needs to be considered that finances played a role in ancient battles as much as today and attempts to keep costs down were undertaken so some societies only had a greave on the left leg as that was the leg most likely to be forward.

Whatever the reason, the shield came full circle by the end of the western Roman Empire and round shields became the norm again. They persisted during the middle ages as the buckler and the last use of a shield in battle by westerners was the Scottish Highlander targe which was a small round shield.

  • the style and economic theory seems to run into the face of 1) the professionalism of the spartans who also used round shields 2) the fact that Greece was constantly at war and divided it seems that at least one of the city states would think either to do a more oval shield / train their men to stab at the legs of the opposing phalanx
    – Hao S
    Aug 11, 2019 at 0:53
  • My point about finance was the greaves but also traditionalism in weapons and armour. As stated, the standard format of fighting was overhead stabbing with the spear. To attack low means exposing your own upper body to counter attack. So while you're aiming at the enemy's legs, they're aiming at your spear arm or face which is closer. Consider that the shoulder is at a similar height to the head compared to the legs much further away so the head is a closer target to any hand held weapon than the legs are. That said the better equipped soldiers were wearing greaves.
    – Daniel
    Aug 11, 2019 at 12:25

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