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Bill Thayer

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p882 Pelta

Unsigned article on p882 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

PELTA (πέλτη), a small shield. Iphicrates, observing that the ancient Clipeus was cumbrous and inconvenient, introduced among the Greeks a much smaller and lighter shield, from which those who bore it took the name of peltastae [Exercitus, p487B]. It consisted principally of a frame of wood or wickerwork (Xen. Anab. II.1 § 6), covered with skin or leather, without the metallic rim [Antyx] (Timaeus, Lex. Plat. s.v.). Light and small shields of a great variety of shapes were used by numerous nations before the adoption of them by the Greeks. The round target or cetra was a species of the Pelta, and was used especially by the people of Spain and Mauritania [Cetra]. The Pelta is also said to have been quadrangular (Schol. in Thucyd. II.29). A light shield of similar construction was part of the national armour of Thrace (Thucyd. II.29; Eurip. Alces. 516, Rhes. 407; Max. Tyr. Diss. VII). and of various parts of Asia, and was on this account attributed to the Amazons, in whose hands it appears on the works of ancient art sometimes elliptic, as in the bronzes of Siris (woodcut, p712), and at other times variously sinuated on the margin, but most commonly with a semicircular indentation on one side (lunatis peltis, Virg. Aen. I.490, XI.663). An elegant form of the pelta is exhibited in the annexed woodcut, taken from a sepulchral urn in the Capitoline Museum at Rome, and representing Penthesileia, Queen of the Amazons, in the act of offering aid to Priam.

[image ALT: A woman in a short tunic and boots, with her right arm bare, shaking hands with an old man, wearing a cloak and a floppy felt cap and carrying a stick in his left hand. At their feet, a small helmet and a roughly semicircular shield, the upper part of which has a flatter edge and two volute-shaped corners. It is a woodcut illustrating the pelta, a type of ancient shield.]

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Page updated: 20 Dec 06