Several years ago I read and very much enjoyed Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield, and just recently I picked up a copy of 300 by Frank Miller. Obviously these are two different kinds of interpretations of the same story and they’re going to have some significant differences, but there was one thing I saw in Miller’s work that made me wonder about the mental picture I had formed in reading Pressfield’s. Miller shows the Spartan phalanx advancing with the spears of the front rank held low, with the spearmen’s arms extended forward and down. For some reason the image I had earlier formed was of the spearmen carrying their spears overhand at shoulder level. Does anybody know what the technique actually was?
I have no special knowledge of this topic, but here’s a c.650BC vase that shows the phalanx (not nec. Spartan … just Greek) with overhead spears:
The Wiki entry on Hoplite notes:
“While the general assumption is that the spear was gripped overhand; others have argued that it was held underarm.”
I would suspect that the spears were held mid to high. If they were held too high the enemy could sweep under them, however it is also easier to hold high and dip the tip than it is to hold low and lift the tip for a leaping adversary.
I have no cites for it, but it makes sense to me.
Also, keep an eye out for 300 the movie based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel, trailer is here: http://www.apple.com/trailers/wb/300/trailer2/