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A Spartan Warrior versus a Roman Legionnaire.

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Battle of Ancient Warriors

The Deadliest Warrior television programme was an enjoyable and interesting piece of entertainment. I enjoyed the way the programme was set up and the scientific approach was really well thought out and well implemented. The only gripe I had with the programme was that the actual contestants they matched them up against were ill-suited.

After discussing the programme with friends, we all agreed that the pairings were a bit of a letdown. The Ninja of the Far East versus the Greek Spartan Warrior was not a like for like match. In a pitched battle, the Spartan would be victorious the vast majority of the time. The Ninja was not a warrior who fought in plain sight, so the choice did not seem a good pairing.

In a kind of homage to the television series. I have decided to do a relative comparison of their merits. I have decided to compare the Spartan warrior against one of Rome's finest Legionnaires. As far as we are aware, these warriors never met on the battlefield as the once-mighty Sparta had melted into obscurity by the time of Roman supremacy and the Greek warriors were nowhere near their legendary peak. The Spartans of old existed a few hundred years before the Roman Empire and its mighty Legionnaires had marched their way over a large portion of the civilized world.

The Salute of an Ancient Warrior.

Spartan Warrior

Spartan Warrior

The Spartan Warrior

It was standard practice for a noble son of Sparta to be taken away from his family at the age of eight. He would then be brutalized by his peers and turned into a Spartan warrior through years of exhaustive training. This tough-love approach is effectively a basic form of eugenics policy, only the strongest will survive and they would be expected to continue Sparta's mighty military exploits.

By the time the young Spartan has reached the age of eighteen, he had learned to fight, to win and to die honourably like a true Spartan. After constant drills by their superiors, the Spartan youth had become a fine-tuned killing machine ready for battle. The youth would have been taught of Sparta's heroes and he was instructed never to surrender, and never back down from the fight. By the time his schooling was completed. He would have survived in the wilderness and would have killed a member of the Messenian helot slave class. This murder served a two-fold purpose, firstly it culled the number of rebellious young slaves. And secondly, it gave the Spartan youth a taste of bloodshed, which would accompany him until his death.

The US Marine fitness programme is based on the Spartan's brutal training principle, although slaughtering an innocent member of the serving class at graduation is not recommended. The Spartan warrior underwent a decade of tests, to ensure that his endurance and character were worthy of his position in the elite of his people's army.


The Legionnaire

The Legionnaire joined the Roman army in several different ways. He was either forced into it as he was the second or third son in a poor family. He may have committed a crime and was offered the chance to use his life as a soldier rather than face a horrible death by execution. Or he may have been a slave sold into the Roman Legion after he had been abducted from his homeland. Another way to become a Legionnaire was if he was an auxiliary attached to a legion in the occupied territories. He may sign up to be a Legionnaire so that he could get Roman citizenship. This would entitle him to a legion pension and land to farm at the end of his service. Like the Spartans, the Legionnaire would be trained repeatedly in Roman tactics and strategies. The Romans fought in the same way as the Spartans, as they both worked as a single force to crush their enemies.


Roman Legionnaire

Roman Legionnaire

The Weapons

Shields: The Spartans main armour was their bronze shields which were the ancient equivalent of a tank when used in a large group. The Roman shields were of a later design and construction, they were generally made of steel or iron. The Roman shields have been more modern and advanced were stronger and larger than the Spartan shield, but the Spartan shield was built to withstand a lot of punishment.

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Spear: The Spartan used their long spears to inflict mass casualties from behind their wall of bronze shields. The courage and discipline with the spear allowed the Spartan formation to become a human threshing machine. The Spartans used their spears as javelins preferring the spear to use bows and arrows, the Spartans thought them cowardly. The Romans had spears but their fighting style was to use it more as a defensive or close quarter combat deterrent. The Roman ranks used their short sword in a more hand to hand environment.


A Spartan Warrior.

A Spartan Warrior.

Armour: The Spartan Warrior in battle wore bronze armour, please disregard what the 300 movies showed, the Spartans did wear body armour with their red capes and helmets. They did not have a lot of coverage and as the armour was made of bronze it would have weighed a fair amount. The Legionnaire was covered in a bit more metal but he was afforded some flexibility as the plate mail was slats of steel not a solid mass like a suit of armour. The weak points on the legionnaire were at the joints. The Chestplate and helmet were very functional at saving injury.


Swords: Both sets of warriors used a short sword as their primary weapon in one on one contest. The Spartan Xiphos was designed to go in and around the defence of a shield in line. Owing to the shortness of the blade the Spartan had to react to the opponent's aggression rather than attack long-distance and telegraph his attack. The Roman tended to use the Gladius, this was an instrument designed to hack through limbs then run through bodies and move onto the next victim.

Spartan 85/100 LEGIONNAIRE 80/100


Now that I have calculated the scores, it seems that the result is this...

Spartan Score is an average of 89.0

Roman Score is an average of 89.2

So by a small amount the Roman soldier should defeat a Spartan Warrior in the field of battle. Is this surprising? The Roman is using technology more advanced than the Spartan so that alone should swing it. What I am unable to factor in is variables such as fatigue, morale, the experience of battle and what they are fighting for. The Legionnaire dominated nearly 500 years of history-changing tactics and equipment very little but they eventually were destroyed by less drilled but more hungry enemies.

Your Opinion

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2010 Andrew Stewart


Lemmuel Gadiano on April 27, 2019:

I find major flaws in everyone's reasoning. For one thing, the title of this article is, 'A Spartan Warrior versus a Roman Legionnaire.' This implies that it is a one on one, and if the author says it is not, then he should not have named it so. With that being said, I implore everyone to stop talking about the military tactics employed by each anctient nation's armies, it does not matter!!! This is a one on one fight, there is no phalanx as far as I'm concerned.

The word "spartan" means self restrained, simple, frugal and austere. The word "laconic" comes from the Spartans (who lived in Laconia), which means pithy and concise. Spartans held brevity of speech in high regard, meaning they let their skills do the talking. So let's take a look at their skills shall we?

Sparta, unlike the other Greek city-states, was centered around a warrior culture. At the tender young age of 7, Spartan males left home and entered the Agoge, where they were subjected to training that was anything but tender. They were made to always compete against each other, some of the competitions included a fair amount of violence (so INDIVIDUAL FIGHTING PROWESS was VERY important). Very little food was provided during training, as they were encouraged to steal food, but were punished if they got caught (so if you think that a Spartan was not stealthy, think again, they excel at it, part of their training was utilizing stealth in order to survive). Their living conditions were very austere, so you'd best bet that the Spartans were as tough as their shields themselves. All of this to teach these boys survival and proficient fighting skills.

Oh... don't you forget that they did this training as young boys, you keep that in your head.

Only until a male succeeded in training in the Agoge, and reached an age of 20, was he then made to join the Spartan miitary full-time until the age of 60.

The Spartans didn't have a wide range of weapons to use, or rather they did, but chose to use only their Dory spear, javelin, Xiphos, and Hoplon (yes, although it's a shield, i still consider it a formidable weapon- I'll get to that in a bit).

Many people see this as a huge disadvantage, even for a one on one fight, but i see this a huge ADVANTAGE, ESPECIALLY for a one on one fight. The Spartans trained and fought all their life with ONLY these weapons. No variations for Spartans. No heavy Spartan. No light Spartan. No Sparturion. No Spartionnaire. No different weapons for diferent classes. Think about it, aside from grueling training and combat experience, these guys used the same loadout for every fight. They aren't only masters at their craft of fighting, they are masters of their small arsenal. That alone would be a reason they would win over a legionnarie.

People argue that a Xiphos is like a Gladius, but with weaker stabbing power, that's not true. The Xiphos excels at stabbing, with a very sharp tip made to kill an enemy quickly if given that stabbing opportunity in CQC. The leaf blade (as I call it) makes the Xiphos heavier nearing the sword tip, allowing for more power to be transferred to the slash, while not turning the sword into a bludgeoning weapon. They threw Javelins as ranged weapons (so if someone says they don't have range, show them this comment). Their Dory spear was very versatile, acting as a CQC deterrent, with a weighted ball at the butt end of the spear that acted as a leveling unit when holding it up. It can be swung in a way that the ball turns into a semi-mace/hammer, easily capable of crushing a skull through a helmet. Sweeping an enemy off their feet wasn't hard to do either. The Kopis, an alternative to the Xiphos some Spartans selected the dreaded Kopis as their secondary weapon. This was a vicious hacking weapon in the form of a thick, curved iron sword. Warriors would use this weapon more as an axe then a sword, inflicting nasty wounds compared to the cleaner holes made by the spear and Xiphos. This weapon was seen as the quintessential "bad guys" weapon in ancient Greece. Athenian art frequently depicted Spartan warriors with this weapon for that reason.

A Hoplon looks completely for defending, and it is an excellent defensive tool, being made out of thick wood, a layer of leather for impacts and a shell of bronze (altogether weighing a good 30 lbs.- about 13 kg. for you non-americans). Also covering from torso to knee when semi0crouched for a phalanx(pay attention to that coverage, that'll be important later). Therein lies the trickery. No one expects it to be used as a weapon, and it being used as a weapon can allow the element of surprise. It can shatter bones, destroy spinal columns, knock a human's skull so hard, it can kill in one blow (although a Spartan's arsenal are all for the most part, one hit, one kill weapons), it even had two straps on the inside for more maneuverability (it's big, but manageable, circular shape helped with that- and it's killing power). So Hoplon- pretty overpowered.

I keep seeing a recurring point in everyone's comments that Romans had better equipment and would somehow render the Spartans' equipment/armor useless.

Uh... no.


Studies show that the only reason people switched to iron and steel is because bronze equipment used tin, and tin was becoming a shortage, so they heated fires hot enough to melt iron, and iron was an abundance, so they just stuck with it. Bronze was still a durable metal. If you don't believe me, get a steel or iron sword and try to cut or pierce a bronze medal. YOU CAN'T, IT'S STILL METAL.

Second to last point, Spartan's size and strength. We all know that if military discipline and fighting ability is paired with amazing physique and physical capabilities, then you've got one hell of a soldier.

The spartans were originally thought to be around 5'10" to 5'11" through rough estimates from ancient equipment. Now we have unearthed bones that date back to the time of the famed Spartans, showing them to be 6'1" tall, an acceptably frightning height. Paired with their training and love for physical competitions, these Spartans weren't just tall, they were strong. Heck, their women were strong, participating in javelin throwing and discus hurling so as to attract a Spartan male's attention for marriage. So yeah, literally big and scary guys.

Final point, these guys were smart, there is a reason people back in those days employed Spartans as mercenaries or bounty hunters. These guys were good- and they knew it. Even if this was an army vs army battle, it's not like the Spartans would just let an enemy flank them, they were soldiers, not stupid. They knew how to fight, and they had their fair share of outfoxing an enemy army. In a one on one fight, a Spartan would kill a Legionnaire easily.

Andrew Stewart (author) from England on April 02, 2014:

Thanks for the feedback Trax, appreciate the information!

Trax on March 29, 2014:

Late reader here. Just going to address some errors. Hoplites rarely actually used the bronze cuirass as it would weigh down the soldier packed in tight formations. Instead hoplites favored the leather cuirass which gave almost equal the protection at a lower cost.

The Greek xiphos was never a primary weapon as it would take away the advantage of the phalanx. The spear and sarissa was always their primary (as written by Herodotus for example).

Second point of the xiphos. It was a leaf shaped straight sword which couldn't really reach around a shield. The sword you're referring to is the kopis which was pretty hard to make do to its curved shape. Weapons and armor where given by retired soldier so only soldiers from a rich family would be using one.

Sources: Ancient texts and a degree in ancient warfare and geopolitics.

Andrew Stewart (author) from England on December 05, 2013:

Interesting points thank you for the contribution. At their peak-both warriors were formidable.

Brenden on December 04, 2013:

Remember the spartan hopolite formation wasn't the same formation that the Macedonians used with their extremely long pikes. The Spartan tactics were outdated pretty quickly because I think the thracians kicked their asses after the wars between Athens and Sparta. Another thing this doesn't take into account is that the roman legionnaire was a professional swords men and that the spartan formation would of lost shields because the way the roman spears were designed.

Rome on February 20, 2012:

Such a comparison is somewhat ridiculous, one only has to look at the absolute dominance of the Roman Military to conclude that they are superior. Deadliest Warrior is a horrible show because they do not treat things realistically. EG the Rajhput somehow defeating the Romans when in fact the Romans do not fight this way, therefore armies must be compared at which point the Romans overwhelmingly dominate the field...So when comparing two warriors especially as a Spartan or Roman with the heavy infantry lockstep style, one must compare armies as a whole rather than simple individuals. As the Romans demonstrated an army is so much more than the sum of its parts.

ACE on January 07, 2012:


DDuana on October 03, 2011:

Re: konstantin alexiou

Actually, the Macedonian Army fielded by King Perseus lacked one thing that King Alexander had: Combined Arms Tactics. Back during King Alexander's time, he had a great mix of troops, fighting beside the Phalanx, such as Peltasts, Shield-Bearers, light-infantry, maybe archers, I am not sure, and most importantly, the Macedonian light cavalry. When the Sarissas act as an anvil to the Macedonian Cavalry's hammer, nothing could stand in its way.

Whereas when King Perseus fought the Roman Legions at Pydna, he had forsaken the Combined Arms approach and reverted back to a full Phalanx force, the kind of force his ancestor King Alexander had defeated many a times with his Combined Arms approach. And at the beginning of the battle, the Macedonian Phalanx did succeed in pushing back the Roman Legions, but without good support troops guarding the flanks, the Macedonian Phalanx was susceptible to being out-flanked by the more nimble and flexible Roman Legions, and they WERE out-flanked.

This does not really mean that the Greek Phalanx was flawed as a fighting system. It was just that the Greeks were and had always been too busy fighting amongst themselves, so that they could not fight the Romans as a united front, and for some unknown reason (at least unbeknownst to me, maybe it was a matter of cost), Macedonians had rid themselves of the Combined Arms Approach that had conquered them much of the known world (Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, Afghanistan, and all the way into Northern India 0_0 :O ... !!! ).

Neo on April 07, 2011:

Spartan never fought the Roman. Spartan died 400 year before Roman Empire.

konstantine alexiou on March 19, 2011:

The fight of the phalanx of the Macedonian Greeks (antiquated as it was) vs. the legions of the city of Rome resulted in seven major engagements in which both had three victories and three losses it was the last Hellenistic Macedonian King Perseus at Pydna where the large sarisa's ( spears ) of the Macedonian Phalanx could not maneuver quickly enough to face the fast moving legions. Sadly the Spartan Army never faced the Romans. Spartan supremacy wained in Greece and after several defeats to the city of Thebes due to and the same inability to advance tactics and equipment they too became a fighting icon of the past. The victorious Romans recruited betallions of the few remaining Spartans after they controlled southern Greece and gave them special status in the Roman Legions. Thusly it can never be tested weather the Roman Legionary or the Spartan phalangite at the height of their powers would dominate in individual or full on battle.

Marcus Teague on November 30, 2010:

This fight has already been done in history. Greek Hopolites already fought against the Roman Legion, and the Greeks lost very horribly.

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