Anyone who has ever watched 300 or simply googled the phrase “Spartan warriors” has seen the stereotypical image of Spartan warriors in their flowing red capes. That leaves many people wondering if Spartans actually wore capes – and little else – or if that’s a skewed image of the famous warriors.
Spartans wore capes, though some scholars refer to them as “cloaks” or “robes.” Depending on the season and the warrior’s needs, these capes could be long or short, but they were always red. However, Spartans likely didn’t wear them in battle because they would restrict movement and get in the way.
This article will go into more detail about what Spartan capes – cloaks – looked like and what their true purpose was. It will also outline the other standard pieces of a Spartan warrior’s uniform.
What Did Spartan Capes Look Like?
The Spartans wore two different types of cloaks: the chlamys and the himation. The chlamys is the more famous of the two.
The Spartan cape, or chlamys, was bright, crimson red, and worn pinned to the Spartan’s shoulder to his tunic, armor, or other clothes. This cape was shorter than a full-length himation and usually left at least one of the warrior’s arms free. It was usually thick and woolen, though some were linen.
The himation cloak was the long cloak that wrapped around the Spartan warrior’s neck and shoulders. It was usually ankle-length and could be made of wool or a lighter material depending on what season the warrior was wearing it. Like the chlamys, the himation cloak was a bright, crimson red.
The reason for the color was two-fold.
First of all, Spartans considered red the “manliest” color. It was a fearsome color – the color of blood and battle – and the least feminine of all the colors because of that. (This was also the reason Spartan’s tunics were red.) Secondly, a red cape would hide bloodstains, and Spartan warriors didn’t like to show weakness.
They didn’t want their opponents to know that they were bleeding, and the red capes helped hide that fact. Even if the warriors didn’t wear the capes in battle, they would don them afterward to conceal their injuries. 
What Was the Purpose of Spartan Capes?
Spartan capes served several different purposes. First of all, the capes marked them as citizens of Sparta since the Spartan government issued them – they were a status symbol. Secondly, they kept the warriors warm in cool weather and acted as a makeshift blanket when needed.
Furthermore, even if the Spartans didn’t wear their capes in battle, the red would serve to hide any bloodstains after the war. If Spartan warriors met with or came into contact with their enemies off the battlefield, their cloaks would hide their wounds and collect the blood without allowing it to show through visibly.
In this way, the Spartans never revealed how much damage they’d received while fighting, keeping their enemies in the dark on that point.
The Spartans may also have worn the shorter capes attached to their tunics and underneath their shields to provide more protection to their skin. Again, this is hotly contested by some historians who insist they would never have worn their capes – even the short ones – into battle.
What Else Was Part of the Spartan Uniform?
The Spartans had two different uniforms throughout history. The ones they used in the Classical period were significantly different from those they wore in the Hellenistic period.
During the Classical period, the Spartan uniform consisted of armored cuirasses (most likely made of bronze) and greaves. They also wore Corinthian-style helmets; the officers’ probably had a crest made of horsehair on top of theirs. Spartans also carried shields bearing the letter lambda.
The warriors may or may not have worn a tunic along with their armor during this period. Eventually, however, their uniforms changed to include the linothōrax, the same type of upper body armor that Alexander the Great favored. 
During the Hellenistic period, the Spartans changed their uniforms even more drastically, giving up the Corinthian-style helmets in favor of the pilos helmet.  This helmet featured a conical shape and was usually made of hammered bronze.
However, as their renown grew, the Spartans abandoned most of their body armor. They kept the helmet and the leg greaves, and they added thick bracelet-like armor to their arms, but they rid themselves of any upper body armor, choosing instead to fight nearly nude (much as they appear in the popular film 300).
What Weapons Did the Spartans Use?
Spartan warriors fought primarily with a dory spear, javelin, and xiphos, and they all carried shields, which they used offensively and defensively. Some warriors chose to fight with a kopis instead of a xiphos, but all retained a dory spear and javelin.
The following sections will examine each of these weapons in more detail.
The dory spear was a favorite weapon not just of the Spartans but of the Greeks, as well. It featured a long wooden shaft with a sharp metal spearhead at the top. It was an excellent weapon for fighting behind a shield and keeping out of reach of their opponents’ shorter blades.
It was primarily a thrusting weapon, though the Spartans could use it with blunt force if the need arose.
The Spartans used javelins as long-range weapons to cause damage from a distance. They were long throwing spears, usually a three-foot (0.91-meter) shaft with a sharpened spear at the tip. Most Spartans carried at least three javelins on them into every battle, and they would retrieve them whenever they could to throw again.
The xiphos was traditionally a Spartan’s secondary weapon. It was a double-edged shortsword approximately 12 inches (30 cm) long that the warriors could use one-handed. The Greeks also used xiphe, but theirs were longer, usually between 18-24 inches (45–60 cm).
Though most Spartans used the xiphos as their secondary weapon, some preferred the kopis, a slightly curved iron sword used for hacking instead of slashing. It was somewhat longer than the xiphos used by other Spartan warriors, measuring about 18.9 inches (48 cm).
Spartan’s Fighting Abilities
Everyone knows how skilled the Spartans were with their chosen weapons, but the warriors were also trained to fight. They mastered the art of pankration (“all of power”). It was an early form of mixed martial arts (MMA) that combined boxing, wrestling, kickboxing, chokeholds, and joint locks.
Spartans wore capes, though most scholars agree they probably didn’t wear them into battle. Like the Spartans’ tunics, the capes were deep crimson.