Fallen Greek Hoplite

Fallen Greek Hoplite


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Military History

By 700 B.C., Greek recovery from more than 4 Centuries of cultural obscurity was well under. Nearly 1000 small, autonomous communities now dotted the Greek-speaking world from southern Italy to the Black Sea. Population growth may have reached 2 to 3 percent per annum in some years. Colonies and trading posts were founded throughout the Mediterranean. Maritime commerce with Phoenicia and Egypt was renewed on an increased scale. Writing re-emerged, but was now based on an improved Phoenician alphabet, far more useful and accessible to the population at large then the arcane record-keeping Linear B script of the Mycenaean palaces. Written constitutions appeared in the great majority of the city states and their colonies, ensuring the spread of government by consensus of landed peers. The Greek countryside itself was no longer a pasture for sheep, goats, and horses, but now more often a patchwork of small 10-arre farms of trees, vines, and grain, often with an isolated homestead to house its ever vigilant and independent owner, a citizen who alone in the Mediterranean had clear legal rights to land tenure, property inheritance-and his own arms.
Just as Greek city states and their surrounding satellite villages grew to service the burgeoning agricultural community and to facilitate expanding trade, so too the hills outside the polis were gradually reclaimed and terraced. Growing numbers of omnipresent farmers wanted empty land wherever they could, whether on the mountains near the city state of through external colonization in pristine territory overseas. As land and property were dispersed to a new class beyond the control of aristocratic horseman as landed councils replaced aristocratic cabals, as livestock raising was overshadowed by intensive agriculture, as metalworking turned from the tripods of the wealthy to the arms and farming implements of middling agrarians, so too was the practice of Greek warfare made new.

Part 2 - Beginnings of the Hoplite

The evidence of this seventh-and sixth century military renaissance is piecemeal, but when taken as a whole is represents a revolutionary shift in the nature of conflict and society, the first emergence in European culture, or in any other culture, of a large group of average landowners who craft a military agenda to reflect their own agrarian needs. There were now novel words in the Greek vocabulary-polites, politeia, hoplites, mesos-for "citizen", "constitution", "hoplite militiamen", and "middling man" to reflect radically new concepts, as an entire agrarian class now monopolized infantry service. Early Corinthian vases such as the so-called Chigi vase (650 B.C.), show armored spearmen advancing in lock-step to the music of flutes. At the Pan-Hellenic sanctuaries in Olympia and Delphi votive offering of bronze helmets, breastplates, and greaves reproduce-over 100,000 bronze helmets may conceivably have been dedicated between 700 and 500 B.C. The lyric poets Tyrtaeus, Callinus, and Alcaeus elaborate on the haphazard Homeric references to heavy infantrymen, with an accompanying creed that men are to fight side-by-side, toe-to-toe, shield-against-shield, against the enemy, winning in their 'gleaming bronze and nodding crests' glory for their families and state, rather than for themselves alone. Inscriptions on stone, stray graffiti and an oral tradition ever record the presence of such prized Greek and Carian mercenary infantry as far away as Persia and Egypt.
Consequently, in the seventh and sixth centuries most decisive fighting that put an end to disputes between developing Greek city states was by heavy infantry composed of farmers outfitted in bronze amour and thrusting spears. Intensively worked vineyards, orchards, and grain fields were now privately help, increasingly valued, and served an ever-growing population. If a community was self-supporting through, and governed by, it's surrounding private landowners, then hoplite warfare, far better than fortification or garrisoning passes, made perfect sense: muster the largest, best armed group or farmers to protect land in the quickest ways possible. It was easier and more economical for farmers to defend farmland on farmland than to tax and hire landless others endlessly to guard passes-the sheer ubiquity of which in mountainous Greece ensured that they could usually be crosses by enterprising invaders anyway. Raiding, ambush, and plundering, of course, were still common-such activities seem innate to the human spices-but the choice of military response to win or protect territory was now a civil matter, an issue to be voted on by free landowning infantrymen themselves.

Part 3 - Early Phalanx fighting

As such, hoplite fighting through shock collision marks the true beginnings of western warfare, a formal idea now loaded with legal, ethical and political implications. Almost all these wars of a day between rugged and impatient yeomen were infantry encounters over land usually disputed boarder strips involving agrarian prestige more than prized fertility. Customarily the army of one city state, an Argos, Thebes or Sparta, met their adversary in daylight in formal columnar formation, according to a recognized sequence of events. The word phalanx means 'rows' or 'stacks' of men.
After divination, a seer sacrificed a ram to the god. The general made a brief exhortation, and then the assembled infantry prepared to charge the enemy. In minutes the respective armies packed together to achieve a greater density of armed men, who sought to crash together, sometimes trotting the last 200 yards between the two phalanxes. For the defenders it was often on the same soil their neighbors had worked a few days before. For the invaders, the farmhouses, orchards, vineyards and stone field walls were largely identical to their own plots back home. Once again a neighboring community had fashioned a force of armored columns to take or hold flatland, there was very little a likeminded rival could do other than to meet the challenge in about the same manner.
After meeting of phalanxes, farmers, blinded by the dust and their own cumbersome helmets, stabbed away with their spears, screamed the war cry, pushed on ahead with their shields and failing that, grabbed, kicked, and bit desperately hoping to make some inroad into the enemy's phalanx, usually having little idea who, if any, they had killed of wounded. Success was at first gauged by the degree of motion achieved by the pushing of the ranks- the literal thrusting of a man's shield upon the shoulders, side or back of his comrade ahead. There were few feints, reserve, encircling maneuvers, or sophisticated tactics of any kind in hoplite battle before the latter firth century.
Only the first three ranks of the eight row s of classical phalanx reached the enemy with their spears in the first assault. When they broke, they went hand-to-hand with swords and their butt-spikes. Later tactical writers stress just how important such front line fighters were in achieving and initial inroad. Once the phalanx ripped and stormed through the ranks of its adversary, the opponent often totally collapsed through panic and fright, perhaps not more than half and hour after the initial collision.
The short duration and sudden disintegration of battle are understandable if we keep in mind that combatants were squeezed together in columns, trapped in heavy bronze under the summer sun, mostly robber of sight and hearing, in a sea of dust and blood- the captives, as the historian Thucydides reminds us, of rumors and their own fears. Still there were countless tasks for all infantrymen of the phalanx as it pounded the enemy. Hoplites initial ranks sought targets with their spears, while searching for protection fro their right flanks in the round shields of the men at their sides. Some struggled to step over the debris of fallen equipment and the detritus of the wounded and the dead at their feet, striving always to keep their balance as they pushed into the enemy spears at their face.
All the hoplites in the killing zone kept their own 20 pound shield chest high to cover themselves and the men on their left. All at once hoplites might feel steady pressure from the rear, dodge enemy spears points and friendly spear-butts jostling in their faces, stab and push ahead, adjusting for their comrades shoving from the left to find protection. They seek their own cover by nudging to friends shields to their right, and nearly trip over wounded bodies, corpses, and equipment that was lying at their feet.
Once the line cracked hoplites turned, scattered, and ran to prevent encirclement and probable annihilation, but few of the victorious pressed to chase and distance. Heavy infantry make poop runners, especially when the defeated threw away their equipment and sprinted to the hills. And under war practice of early city state warfare, there was not much desire anyway to kill everyone last enemy who spoke the same language, worshipped the same gods, had common festivals, and enjoyed similar types of government by landowners. Again, the primary purpose was to acquire or take back the land and gain prominence, not to risk time and money to kill neighboring society of like farmers over the hill.

Part 4 - After the Battle

After hoplite battle, then dead were not desecrated but exchanged, in what Euripides called 'The Custom of all Greeks'. Greek Painting and sculpture, reveal almost no mutilation of corpses in wartime context. A formal trophy was erected, and the victors marched home to celebration. The defeated begged for the remains of their comrades to be returned formally to be buried in a common grave on the battlefield or carried back home to a public tomb. If the battle was exclusively between Greek hoplites and before the fifth century, then rarely were the vanquished enslaved. Unlike the great sieges and later wars of annihilation against non-Greeks, in which thousands were sold off as chattels in consequence of defeat.

Part 5 - Influence on Culture

The Spartans must have had some idea of the bitchery of hoplite fighting when they wore wooden 'dog tags' around their neck to identify them through the mangles mass of corpses. No wonder we hear of soldiers drinking before battle, a characteristic of pre-battle from Homer to Alexander the Greats march into Asia.
Such fighting between city states could be frequent but not necessarily catastrophic, once the cavalry missile-men were largely excluded from any integrated role in the fighting and the infantry combatants were uniformly encases in bronze. And while it is true that Plato, and other Greek thinkers felt war was a natural state of affairs in Greece, rather then an aberration from peace, their notion of war, was much different from our own.
Only the Persian and Peloponnesian conflicts of the Classical Age which began a second stage in the development of western warfare, conjure up anything like the modern idea that fighting is intended entirely to destroy armies, murder civilians, kill thousands of soldiers and wreak culture. In the first two centuries of hoplite fighting, it was enough every so often to kill a small portion of the enemy in an afternoon clash, crack his morale, and send him scurrying in defeat and shame from where he came.
The Greeks, then, for a brief time practiced a certain type of warfare in which fighting was frequent but did not seem to imperil the cultural, economical, and political renaissance of the Hellenic city state, even at the height of the hoplite age it was rare for more than 10 percent of men who fought that day to die. If anything, the sheer terror of hoplite battle, the courage needed to stare at a wall of spears across the plain, and the urgency for group solidarity in the confines of the phalanx gave the positive momentum to ideas of civic duties, and formed the emotional and spiritual substructure of much of Greek sculpture, painting, and literature. Nearly every Greek author, philosopher or statesmen, despite their education and often 'elite' status, served with their fellow citizens in the front lines on a battle. Thucydides, Xenophon, Pericles, Socrates, Aristides, Themistocles and others some time in their life wore amour, marched the field and killed another human- something historians and literary critics should always keep in mind when they asses the character and ideology of Greek politics, are, philosophy, and literature.
Because originally the battle line as composed exclusively of the landowning citizenry of various allied small city states- helmets mustered their phalanxes side-by-side in a long row- the course of a particular engagement and the ensuing hoplite casualties could often have enormous political and demographical ramifications. While General losses might be moderate, nevertheless particular contingents could be wiped out if they bore the brunt of a concentrated enemy thrust or were stationed opposite superior troops. Aristotle pointed out that radical democracy was strengthened in the mid fifth century when Athenian hoplites were away suffering massive casualties on their conquests- allowing the landless at home to force through more democratic reforms.

Part 6 - New Technology

Part 7 - Armour

Military Technology in itself rarely if ever invents tactics. Consequently, we should imagine that Greeks throughout the Dark Ages fought in loose bands of poorly protected skirmishers who followed mounted nobles into battle.
As such serfs became detached from aristocrat houses and set off on their own, they would gain the means to craft their weapons to meet their own needs as ground fighters. Most obviously, rectangular shields were replaced by circular ones of strong oak, where the extra weight was handled by a new double grip. Linen and leather corselets gave way to bronze, and javelins and two spears were superseded by a single tough cornel spear with an iron tip. The depression of the round hoplite shield, the back plate of bronze and the addition of a spike to the bottom of the spear are more subtle refinements that reflect the needs of those in the middle and rear ranks who might rest their shields on their shoulders, push on the men ahead and use their spears butt-ends to dispatch enemies lying down as they marched.
Hoplite technology was not a dramatic revolution that creates the city state through superior weaponry of a new military class. Rather it is a reflection of the fact that middling agrarians were already established and now dictated the entire rule and rituals of Greek warfare, crafting novel weapons and protocols to ensure the exclusivity of yeoman infantry under the traditional Green practices of massed attack.
And there was nothing like the hoplite equipment anywhere in the Mediterranean, suggesting that only a free citizenry would craft, wear and maintain such cumbersome weapons that might total half the wearer's weight. Prejudice about their use is present in nearly all Greek literature. While the 50-70 pounds of wood, iron and bronze gave unmatched safety, the ensemble was also a curse. It was uncomfortable, ponderous, hot, impeding motion and mollifying most of its wearer's senses. Aristophanes joked that the breastplate was better used as a chamber pot, the shield as a well-cover.

Part 8 - Hoplite Accessories

There were no holes for hearing in the massive Corinthian helmets, no netting or interior suspension to cushion blows to the head. Instead, the wearer had only some stitched leather inside and his own hair as a buffer against the rough bronze. Spear thrusts to the head bruised the brain. The helmets narrow eye-slits cut off peripheral vision. And the massive horsehair crest, while lending a sense of ferocity to its otherwise diminutive owner and deflecting blows from above, must have further obstructed the vision of others in the phalanx, and made the bulky and top-heavy helmet even more awkward. Indeed, vase paintings occasionally show hoplites that were implausibly grabbed and pulled by their crests. By the later fifth century a conical bronze cap without facial protection was understandably preferred.
The bell corselet of a forth inch thickness of bronze, offered substantial protection against nearly every type of arrow, spear or sword attack, allowing Greek infantry to slice through the sea of spears in a way unmatched until medieval times. Yet, most early breastplates weighed between 25-30 pounds. Without ventilation, they became little more than solar collectors on the summer battlefield. Stooping, sitting or rising required huge effort and it is no accident that a favorite scene on both stone sculpture and ceramic paining is the scrum where soldiers stumble, fall, or lie recumbent, stuck fast in their cumbersome armour. We can only imagine how early hoplites, who originally wore additional thigh, upper-arm, ankle, stomach, and ever foot armour, could even move, much less fight under such weight. Many of the less affluent fighters must have preferred composite leather body protection, which, as armies became larger by the fifth century, became common, with reinforces leather strips dangling below to protect the groin. The universal flute players present on early vases thus seem logical - early heavily clad hoplites of the seventh and sixth centuries probably lumbered in cadence to music until the very last yards before the enemy. The reactionary Spartans always advanced to the enemy's spears at a slow walk set to flutes, and probably wore the heaviest of all panoplies well into Classical times. The extraordinary double-gripped, concave 3-foot shield was singular: there were no circular shields of comparable size and design anywhere before in the Mediterranean. Greek phalanxes were calibrated by the depth of their cumulative shields- 8 deep, 25 deep, 50 deep - not by counting spears, or even referring to the rows of infantrymen themselves. The shields grip and arm support distributed the 16-20 pound weight along the whole are rather then on just the hand. And the depression of the shield, allowed the hoplites shoulder to be tucked under the upper shield rim: those in the middle and rear ranks could rest their arms entirely as the ponderous weight fell on the body itself. Because of the circumference of the shield the thickness had to be massively reduced unfortunately due to the weight. That means it was much easier to break. Throughout Greek literature we lean of the wood shield splintering or cracking. Its thin bronze faceplate, decorated by hideous blazons and later patriotic symbols, was designed mostly to inspire terror and in a practical sense to prevent weathering of the laminated wood core.
Greaves gave some protection to the shins from missile attack and downward spear thrusts. But the absence of laces may suggest that they were intended to be bent around the leg and kept in place solely by the flexibility of the bronze.
A good fit was essential, and so of all the items in the panoply we should imagine that such lower leg guards were the most troublesome ad so often likely to be thrown away. By late Classical times only officers and the wealthy wore greaves with any frequency.
Scholars are unsure to what degree the entire panoply was worn in different periods by all members of the phalanx. Heavier armament seems to have been a hallmark of the seventh century. Later, composite materials were substituted for bronze and some items cast off entirely in a slow evolutionary trend to lighten weight and gain mobility, as the size of armies grew and the nature of the enemy became less predictable. The cost to outfit a hoplite was not excessive- less than half a year's wage. The shield and spear were made of wood, and leg, arm and thigh protection was optional and rare, leaving the chief expense of the bronze helmet and breastplate well within the reach of yeoman farmers.

Part 9 - Weaponry

The small secondary iron sword or cleave was used to dispatch fallen and wounded enemies, and provided some insurance should the spear splinter. But the Greeks said 'taken by the spear', never 'by the sword', and the 7-9-foot spear was the hoplite's chief weapon used commonly for thrusting and rarely, and only in the most desperate situation, thrown. Because the left hand was need for the large shield the right one alone could wield little more than the weight of an 8 foot long, 1 inch diameter wood shaft with two metal points. All ancient Greek infantry armament is governed by this often unrecognizable relationship between the size of the shield and the length of the spear which often reveals either a defensive of offensive strategy of the military culture- lethal heavy pikes are impossible as long as a soldier must employ his left hand to hold a large shield to protect himself and his comrades.
In contrast to the later tiny shield, fabric body armour and enormous pikes of Hellenistic phalangites, the hoplite panoply during the age of the city state put its main concern, in defense- heavy breastplate, enormous shields, moderate length spears -which showed the conservation of its owner. Mobility, speed range- all the factors that promote real killing on the battlefield -were secondary to the hoplites chief concern: group solidarity and maximum defense, crucial to cement ties and allow the farmers to push through or knock down the enemy and so get back quickly to their home plots in one piece.

Part 10 - Wounds and Medication

The large shield breastplate covered the vital organs and directed attacks to another region. Yet even the sword and spear cuts to the unprotected areas could be treated without fatal complications, if not infected. While the Greeks knew nothing infection, long experience had taught them that wound cleaning and bandaging could prevent complication and stem blood loss.
Battle wounds likely to kill were penetrating spear thrusts to the unprotected throat, neck and face, thighs and groin. Especially lethal were deep puncture wounds to the areas, most likely inflicted in the initial crash, when the running hoplite could lend momentum and real power to his first spear stab. And just as serious were compound fractures inflicted in the mad pushing, when a heavier armed hoplite stumbled and was trampled and kicked by his own men. While Greek medicine knew sophisticated methods of setting bones and extracting shrapnel, its use of lint and fabric, together with plant juices, myrrh and wine, could not help major damage to the arteries and internal bleeding involving the vital organs. Any hoplite that fell would probably have been either kicked several times or finished off with secondary thrusts from the butt-end spike of the spear. Such victims most probably died in a matter of minutes from blood loss and shock.

The key to a hoplite survival was to withstand the initial crash, stay upright, and keep the enemy at his face should there be panic and flight. If a man could just manage that, there was a good chance that his bronze would keep out deep wounds, while slices, scrapes and stabs to his arms and legs were treatable and most often survivable.

Part 11 - Conclusion

By the early seventh century, the seeds of later Greek and Roman military dynamics had been sown: a radically new military tradition in the West was being used among the citizenry with its chief tenet centered around the heroic and face-to-face collisions of masses armies of free citizens, in which daylight fighting, notification of intent, and the absence of ambush and maneuver put a high price on nerve and muscle. At its start, the practice of shock battle was embedded amongst the narrowness of Greek agrarianism, whose moral protocols provided a break on the Greek tendency to improve technology and technique. Strategy was little more than taking back borderland. Yet within a few centuries, such agrarian stricture and ritual eroded. Decisive confrontation took on the spectacle of horrendous slaughter involving soldier and civilian alike- and on terrain and for purposes never dreamed of by the original Men of Bronze.

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Contents

Hoplites on an aryballos from Corinth, ca. 580–560 BC (Louvre)

Ancient Greece [ edit | edit source ]

The exact time when hoplitic warfare was developed is uncertain, the prevalent theory being that it was established sometime during the 8th or 7th century BC, when the "heroic age was abandoned and a far more disciplined system introduced" and the Argive shield became popular. Α] Peter Krentz argues that "the ideology of hoplitic warfare as a ritualized contest developed not in the 7th century, but only after 480, when non-hoplite arms began to be excluded from the phalanx". Β] Anagnostis Agelarakis based on recent archaeo-anthropological discoveries of the earliest monumental polyandrion (communal burial of male warriors) at Paros Island in Greece, unveils a last quarter of the 8th century BC date for a hoplitic phalangeal military organization. Γ] there amour weighed 50 pounds thats 1/3 of their body weight . The rise and fall of hoplite warfare was tied to the rise and fall of the city-state. As discussed above, hoplites were a solution to the armed clashes between independent city-states. As Greek civilization found itself confronted by the world at large, particularly the Persians, the emphasis in warfare shifted. Confronted by huge numbers of enemy troops, individual city-states could not realistically fight alone. During the Greco-Persian Wars (499–448 BC), alliances between groups of cities (whose composition varied over time) fought against the Persians. This drastically altered the scale of warfare and the numbers of troops involved. The hoplite phalanx proved itself far superior to the Persian infantry at such conflicts as the Battle of Marathon, Thermopylae, and the Battle of Plataea.

During this period, Athens and Sparta rose to a position of political eminence in Greece, and their rivalry in the aftermath of the Persian wars brought Greece into renewed internal conflict. However, the Peloponnesian War was on a scale unlike conflicts before. Fought between leagues of cities, dominated by Athens and Sparta respectively, the pooled manpower and financial resources allowed a diversification of warfare. Hoplite warfare was in decline there were three major battles in the Peloponnesian War, and none proved decisive. Instead there was increased reliance on navies, skirmishers, mercenaries, city walls, siege engines, and non-set piece tactics. These reforms made wars of attrition possible and greatly increased the number of casualties. In the Persian war, hoplites faced large numbers of skirmishers and missile-armed troops, and such troops (e.g., Peltasts) became much more commonly used by the Greeks during the Peloponnesian War. As a result, hoplites began wearing less armour, carrying shorter swords, and in general adapting for greater mobility this led to the development of the ekdromoi light hoplite.

Many famous personalities, philosophers, artists, and poets fought as hoplites. Δ] Ε]

Sparta [ edit | edit source ]

Sparta is the most famous city-state which had a unique position in ancient Greece. Contrary to other city states, the free citizens of Sparta served as hoplites their entire life, training and exercising also in peacetime, which gave Sparta a professional standing army. Although small, numbering no more than 1,500 - 2,000 men, divided into 6 Mora or batallions, the Spartan army was feared for its discipline and ferocity. Military service was the primary duty of Spartan men, and Spartan society was organized around its army. Young boys were sent to military school at the age of 7 until the age of 21 when they became full soldiers and moved into their own barracks. These boys who made it endured physical, mental, and spiritual training throughout their education. It is said they were often instructed by their teachers to fight one another. Since the Spartan diet was meager and not very tasty, stealing food was a necessity, and when caught, the boy would be punished for being captured rather than for stealing. Their graduation included having to live in the wild for a week and killing a slave. Military service for Hoplites lasted until the age of 40, and sometimes even until 60 years of age, depending on a man's physical ability to perform in the battlefield.

Macedonia [ edit | edit source ]

Later on in the hoplite era, more sophisticated tactics were developed, in particular by the Theban general Epaminondas. These tactics inspired the future king Philip II of Macedon, who was at the time a hostage in Thebes, and also inspired the development of new kind of infantry, the Macedonian Phalanx. After the Macedonian conquests of the 4th century BC, the hoplite was slowly abandoned in favour of the phalangite, armed in the Macedonian fashion, in the armies of the southern Greek states. Although clearly a development of the hoplite, the Macedonian phalanx was tactically more versatile, especially used in the combined arms tactics favoured by the Macedonians. These forces defeated the last major hoplite army, at the Battle of Chaeronea (338 BC), after which Athens and its allies joined the Macedonian empire.


Rome: Total War Heaven

By 700 B.C., Greek recovery from more than 4 Centuries of cultural obscurity was well under. Nearly 1000 small, autonomous communities now dotted the Greek-speaking world from southern Italy to the Black Sea. Population growth may have reached 2 to 3 percent per annum in some years. Colonies and trading posts were founded throughout the Mediterranean. Maritime commerce with Phoenicia and Egypt was renewed on an increased scale. Writing re-emerged, but was now based on an improved Phoenician alphabet, far more useful and accessible to the population at large then the arcane record-keeping Linear B script of the Mycenaean palaces. Written constitutions appeared in the great majority of the city states and their colonies, ensuring the spread of government by consensus of landed peers. The Greek countryside itself was no longer a pasture for sheep, goats, and horses, but now more often a patchwork of small 10-arre farms of trees, vines, and grain, often with an isolated homestead to house its ever vigilant and independent owner, a citizen who alone in the Mediterranean had clear legal rights to land tenure, property inheritance-and his own arms.

Just as Greek city states and their surrounding satellite villages grew to service the burgeoning agricultural community and to facilitate expanding trade, so too the hills outside the polis were gradually reclaimed and terraced. Growing numbers of omnipresent farmers wanted empty land wherever they could, whether on the mountains near the city state of through external colonization in pristine territory overseas. As land and property were dispersed to a new class beyond the control of aristocratic horseman as landed councils replaced aristocratic cabals, as livestock raising was overshadowed by intensive agriculture, as metalworking turned from the tripods of the wealthy to the arms and farming implements of middling agrarians, so too was the practice of Greek warfare made new.

Part 2 - Beginnings of the Hoplite

The evidence of this seventh-and sixth century military renaissance is piecemeal, but when taken as a whole is represents a revolutionary shift in the nature of conflict and society, the first emergence in European culture, or in any other culture, of a large group of average landowners who craft a military agenda to reflect their own agrarian needs. There were now novel words in the Greek vocabulary-polites, politeia, hoplites, mesos-for "citizen", "constitution", "hoplite militiamen", and "middling man" to reflect radically new concepts, as an entire agrarian class now monopolized infantry service. Early Corinthian vases such as the so-called Chigi vase (650 B.C.), show armored spearmen advancing in lock-step to the music of flutes. At the Pan-Hellenic sanctuaries in Olympia and Delphi votive offering of bronze helmets, breastplates, and greaves reproduce-over 100,000 bronze helmets may conceivably have been dedicated between 700 and 500 B.C. The lyric poets Tyrtaeus, Callinus, and Alcaeus elaborate on the haphazard Homeric references to heavy infantrymen, with an accompanying creed that men are to fight side-by-side, toe-to-toe, shield-against-shield, against the enemy, winning in their 'gleaming bronze and nodding crests' glory for their families and state, rather than for themselves alone. Inscriptions on stone, stray graffiti and an oral tradition ever record the presence of such prized Greek and Carian mercenary infantry as far away as Persia and Egypt.

Consequently, in the seventh and sixth centuries most decisive fighting that put an end to disputes between developing Greek city states was by heavy infantry composed of farmers outfitted in bronze amour and thrusting spears. Intensively worked vineyards, orchards, and grain fields were now privately help, increasingly valued, and served an ever-growing population. If a community was self-supporting through, and governed by, it's surrounding private landowners, then hoplite warfare, far better than fortification or garrisoning passes, made perfect sense: muster the largest, best armed group or farmers to protect land in the quickest ways possible. It was easier and more economical for farmers to defend farmland on farmland than to tax and hire landless others endlessly to guard passes-the sheer ubiquity of which in mountainous Greece ensured that they could usually be crosses by enterprising invaders anyway. Raiding, ambush, and plundering, of course, were still common-such activities seem innate to the human spices-but the choice of military response to win or protect territory was now a civil matter, an issue to be voted on by free landowning infantrymen themselves.

Part 3 - Early Phalanx fighting

As such, hoplite fighting through shock collision marks the true beginnings of western warfare, a formal idea now loaded with legal, ethical and political implications. Almost all these wars of a day between rugged and impatient yeomen were infantry encounters over land usually disputed boarder strips involving agrarian prestige more than prized fertility. Customarily the army of one city state, an Argos, Thebes or Sparta, met their adversary in daylight in formal columnar formation, according to a recognized sequence of events. The word phalanx means 'rows' or 'stacks' of men.

After divination, a seer sacrificed a ram to the god. The general made a brief exhortation, and then the assembled infantry prepared to charge the enemy. In minutes the respective armies packed together to achieve a greater density of armed men, who sought to crash together, sometimes trotting the last 200 yards between the two phalanxes. For the defenders it was often on the same soil their neighbors had worked a few days before. For the invaders, the farmhouses, orchards, vineyards and stone field walls were largely identical to their own plots back home. Once again a neighboring community had fashioned a force of armored columns to take or hold flatland, there was very little a like-minded rival could do other than to meet the challenge in about the same manner.

After meeting of phalanxes, farmers, blinded by the dust and their own cumbersome helmets, stabbed away with their spears, screamed the war cry, pushed on ahead with their shields and failing that, grabbed, kicked, and bit desperately hoping to make some inroad into the enemy's phalanx, usually having little idea who, if any, they had killed of wounded. Success was at first gauged by the degree of motion achieved by the pushing of the ranks- the literal thrusting of a man's shield upon the shoulders, side or back of his comrade ahead. There were few feints, reserve, encircling maneuvers, or sophisticated tactics of any kind in hoplite battle before the latter firth century.

Only the first three ranks of the eight row s of classical phalanx reached the enemy with their spears in the first assault. When they broke, they went hand-to-hand with swords and their butt-spikes. Later tactical writers stress just how important such front line fighters were in achieving and initial inroad. Once the phalanx ripped and stormed through the ranks of its adversary, the opponent often totally collapsed through panic and fright, perhaps not more than half and hour after the initial collision.

The short duration and sudden disintegration of battle are understandable if we keep in mind that combatants were squeezed together in columns, trapped in heavy bronze under the summer sun, mostly robber of sight and hearing, in a sea of dust and blood- the captives, as the historian Thucydides reminds us, of rumors and their own fears.

Still there were countless tasks for all infantrymen of the phalanx as it pounded the enemy. Hoplites initial ranks sought targets with their spears, while searching for protection fro their right flanks in the round shields of the men at their sides. Some struggled to step over the debris of fallen equipment and the detritus of the wounded and the dead at their feet, striving always to keep their balance as they pushed into the enemy spears at their face.

All the hoplites in the killing zone kept their own 20 pound shield chest high to cover themselves and the men on their left. All at once hoplites might feel steady pressure from the rear, dodge enemy spears points and friendly spear-butts jostling in their faces, stab and push ahead, adjusting for their comrades shoving from the left to find protection. They seek their own cover by nudging to friends shields to their right, and nearly trip over wounded bodies, corpses, and equipment that was lying at their feet.

Once the line cracked hoplites turned, scattered, and ran to prevent encirclement and probable annihilation, but few of the victorious pressed to chase and distance. Heavy infantry make poop runners, especially when the defeated threw away their equipment and sprinted to the hills. And under war practice of early city state warfare, there was not much desire anyway to kill everyone last enemy who spoke the same language, worshipped the same gods, had common festivals, and enjoyed similar types of government by landowners. Again, the primary purpose was to acquire or take back the land and gain prominence, not to risk time and money to kill neighboring society of like farmers over the hill.

Part 4 - After the Battle

After hoplite battle, then dead were not desecrated but exchanged, in what Euripides called 'The Custom of all Greeks'. Greek Painting and sculpture, reveal almost no mutilation of corpses in wartime context. A formal trophy was erected, and the victors marched home to celebration. The defeated begged for the remains of their comrades to be returned formally to be buried in a common grave on the battlefield or carried back home to a public tomb. If the battle was exclusively between Greek hoplites and before the fifth century, then rarely were the vanquished enslaved. Unlike the great sieges and later wars of annihilation against non-Greeks, in which thousands were sold off as chattels in consequence of defeat.

Part 5 - Influence on Culture

The Spartans must have had some idea of the butchery of hoplite fighting when they wore wooden 'dog tags' around their neck to identify them through the mangles mass of corpses. No wonder we hear of soldiers drinking before battle, a characteristic of pre-battle from Homer to Alexander the Greats march into Asia.

Such fighting between city states could be frequent but not necessarily catastrophic, once the cavalry missile-men were largely excluded from any integrated role in the fighting and the infantry combatants were uniformly encases in bronze. And while it is true that Plato, and other Greek thinkers felt war was a natural state of affairs in Greece, rather then an aberration from peace, their notion of war, was much different from our own.

Only the Persian and Peloponnesian conflicts of the Classical Age which began a second stage in the development of western warfare, conjure up anything like the modern idea that fighting is intended entirely to destroy armies, murder civilians, kill thousands of soldiers and wreak culture. In the first two centuries of hoplite fighting, it was enough every so often to kill a small portion of the enemy in an afternoon clash, crack his morale, and send him scurrying in defeat and shame from where he came.

The Greeks, then, for a brief time practiced a certain type of warfare in which fighting was frequent but did not seem to imperil the cultural, economical, and political renaissance of the Hellenic city state, even at the height of the hoplite age it was rare for more than 10 percent of men who fought that day to die. If anything, the sheer terror of hoplite battle, the courage needed to stare at a wall of spears across the plain, and the urgency for group solidarity in the confines of the phalanx gave the positive momentum to ideas of civic duties, and formed the emotional and spiritual substructure of much of Greek sculpture, painting, and literature. Nearly every Greek author, philosopher or statesmen, despite their education and often 'elite' status, served with their fellow citizens in the front lines on a battle. Thucydides, Xenophon, Pericles, Socrates, Aristides, Themistocles and others some time in their life wore amour, marched the field and killed another human- something historians and literary critics should always keep in mind when they asses the character and ideology of Greek politics, are, philosophy, and literature.

Because originally the battle line as composed exclusively of the landowning citizenry of various allied small city states- helmets mustered their phalanxes side-by-side in a long row- the course of a particular engagement and the ensuing hoplite casualties could often have enormous political and demographical ramifications. While General losses might be moderate, nevertheless particular contingents could be wiped out if they bore the brunt of a concentrated enemy thrust or were stationed opposite superior troops. Aristotle pointed out that radical democracy was strengthened in the mid fifth century when Athenian hoplites were away suffering massive casualties on their conquests- allowing the landless at home to force through more democratic reforms.

Part 6 - New Technology

Controversy still rages over the origins of such peculiar hoplite infantrymen, who were as suspicious of mounted aristocrats as they were of impoverished skirmishers, who in mountainous country fought exclusively on small plains, and who wore heavy bronze armor, in the Greek summer and early Autumn. Were the hoplites new weapons a technological response to existing mass fighting? Or were early hoplites a conservative and aristocratic force that gradually evolved from the mounted grandees and had little to do with the emergence of a constitutional polis?

Most likely it was the technology of the panoply and not the tactics of the phalanx that were new: novel weapons improved an old way of fighting. Dark Age soldiers had for many years fought loosely in mass formation in ancient Greece, in most cases under the direction of aristocrat leaders and clansmen. Gradually the spread of diversified, intensified farming in the eighth century created a shared ideology among new landowners, men in ranks who had begun to gain capital for weapons from their farming success. Which the same ingenuity by which they devised new approaches to traditional land use, the planters of trees and vines began to fabricate innovative bronze weaponry to improve their performance in the traditional melee of Dark Age battle. Shock troops with bronze armor and long pikes are hard to move off their land, harder still when they have enhanced their weapons for such fighting and turned their disorderly mass into ordered files and rows.

Aristotle suggests that hoplite fighting to be connected with the transition from mounted aristocracy to the rule of middling landowners, once hoplite armor refined the traditional mass into the cohesive ranks of the phalanx.

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The Hoplitai


Although "phalanx" tactics has been used since the early bronze age, the Sumerians for example, as shown in representations, fough with discipline in close order and formations has been used each time there was a civilization brillant or advanced enough to think of tactics. We know the Babylonians, Assyrians, or Hittites to name a few, deployed their spearmen in close order.

Of course the invention of the "hoplon" is open to debate (see later). The Mycenians for example used now well-known shields, including the "8" shaped one which was also concave to allow better protection and probably derived into the argive shield, open on both sides to allow the spear to go through. These shields gave an idea of the underhand use of the spear. It gave birth to the classic argive shield (with two middle openings for underhand use of the spear) which maintained itself notably in the east. It fell completely in disuse in Greece. By the time of Alexander the Great, the argive was only used in Asia Minor and by the Persians.

The Hoplite Reform: In the Bronze Age, the decisive fighting was done by "heroes" on the battlefield, a situation reconstructed from a quotation from Homer. They monopolized political authority as well but for Aristotle the stable and prosperous archaic age encouraged the development of a superior military system. it was both heavily armed, trained together, and made by the elites of a city at large, not only a few chosen ones. The military might of a city depended on the cooperation of hoplites, allowing to control the political system as well.

Homer: Iliad, 12, 310ff. Two heroes discuss their situation at Troy:

"Glaucos, why are the two of us go greatly honored among the Lycians ([Trojans] with seats of honor, meat, and numerous cups? Why do all men regard us as gods? Why do we hold a vast estate on the banks of the Xantos, suitable both for orchards and for the tilling of wheat-bearing earth? We must therefore stand among the front line of the Lycians [Trojans] and take part in the raging baattle, so that the Lycians [Trojans] who wear strong corselets may say: "Our kings who rule Lycia are glorious men they eat fat sheep and drink the choicest wine. They also have surely the strength of brave men, since they fight in the front rank of the Lycians."

From Aristotle: Politics IV 1297b 15ff.
The first form of constitution succeeding to monarchy had to do with the soldiery, formed by the citizen body. At first cavalry whereas infantry were levied and useless without good tactics tactics. When states began to increase in size, infantry grew as well in complexity, and more were admitted the practice political rights. The name 'democracy", constitution and the enetity called the "city-states" (polis) were integral to the hoplite.

About the Greek Citizen-soldier

A stunning past century illustration about Athens - national geographic - Alamy stock photos

Of course the hoplitic phenomenon is related to the greek city-state concept. The latter emerged gradually out of the obscurity of the Greek "dark age", seeing the disparition not only of the Mycenian Empire but also all the city states of the time, the Cretans and Minoans, and the great civilisation of the East, notably the feared Assyrians. Only Egypt survived the maestrom invasion of the "sea peoples".

The "Polis" phenomenon described a type of dwelling a bit different from Mycenian age fortresses. The city-state had outer walls for protection of the entire most valuable housings (shops and craftswmen), and a public space including temples and government buildings, often on an acropolis, a local hill or rock. Most often than not on the long run, inhabitants whih flocked the area lived in the outer space delimited by the first walls, and over time, new walls were built to encompass this extension, often over little more than a century. Troy was a good example of that, but ancient walled cities often shows over time a layered defense.

Over 1,000 city-states existed in ancient Greece, but only a few poleis rose to fame and power, such as Athens, Sparta, Corinth, Thebes, Syracus, Aegina, Rhodes, Argos, Eretria, and Elis. Over time, the phenomenon of the league developed as a confederation of city-states (Koinon) attached to a large city. There was the league of Athens, of Sparta, of Corinth, the Bottians, Epirotes, and during the Hellenistic era the Delian or Pelopponesian leagues, and many more. They rested on mutual defence agreements, and this was the main reason behind the Pelopponesian war. So large scale battle involving tens of thousands of hoplite from many city-states became a thing. And since the stakes were much higher, so were the tactics, and the deadly nature of the engagement. Gradually this became even worse, with the involvement of troops that were there only for killing, as the Thracians, Scyhtians, Gauls, and mercenaries in general. Mercenaries became far more common during this era around the 5th century BC (Mistophoroi).

The same civilization move that saw the rise of the Sumerians in the Tigris valley, sparkled the emergence of citizen-soldiers, with a twist: For the Greeks, fighting in a deliberate formation such as the phalanx was a way to show solidarity with other inhabitants and equality. Indeed, in the same line could fight shoulder to shoulder a potter with a noble (Aristoi) or knight ("Hippeis"). This only strenghtened the feeling of belonging its city. The idea of a 'nation' was something actually more complicated in ancient antiquity. Today and since at least the XIXth the concept of nation-state was built on the industrial revolution. But at a time most inhabitants did not had much mobility (possessing a horse or travelling by sea as a rower were a few solutions), mobility was defined by what can be travelled by foot in a day

Countless studies had been made on the concept of a city-state inhabitant, the equal citizen ("Homoioi"), the invention of politics and democracy. Instead were are going to focus on purely militaristic aspects. For its political and social aspects, the Hoplite represented and fought for its city-state by duty, and this duty went with a serie of rights, notably the right of vote in an open assembly on the public space the Romans would later call the Forum. Other classes of inhabitants did not had this right, notably the Periokoi and Metoikoi. The first were non-citizen inhabitants of Laconia and Messenia which lived in Sparta, and the second was the generic name for "strangers" also living in any city, like Athens. They did not had the citicizenship rights and were not allowed in the hoplitic formation. Instead they fought as javelineers or slingers.

Early times, 8-7th Cent. BC: Ritualized warfare

The hoplitic formation's specific equality did not however implied all hoplites were equal, far from it. There was an immense gap between modest craftsmen and fish sellers and Hippeis or Aristoi. The latter had the finest equipment money can buy. They were not placed the same way in the hoplitic formation, repartition could have been a play of social relation, prestige, experience and age. It must be said that hoplitic warfare was really reitualized, fought only at the right seasons, where the city-state gathered all its male citizen population in arms, kept at home, then departed for a few day's march on a place flat enough for large armies to fight. There were not that many in mountainous Greece.

The goal was not to "exterminate" the other side, but rather to make the enemy formation cracked and flee. It was mostly a morale contest, almost a sport event. The comparison found in modern games is rugby. Two melees of hoplites pushed each others until one collapsed under pressure. Once the formation was broken, there was no point pursuing the adversaries to slaughter them. One of the sides was a winner, the other lost, and matters were settled. This does not prevented hoplites to stab each others with spears and swords if needed, and there were inevitably a few death and many wounded in the process. But there is a wide gap between these hoplitic contests and "total war" as practiced during the Pelopponesian era.

5th cent. BC Pelopponesian war

For a quarter of a century, two greek superpowers, Sparta and Athens and their allies, or "leagues" fought each other on a large scale, on the whole Mediterranean This was the "classic age" or golden age of the Greek City-states. Hoplites still formed the core of the armies, but for longer campaigns, sometimes for years, and far from home. This completely new and different from the earlier "ritual battles" between city-states. Indeed, tactics took a new twist with the use of cavalry and light infantry at a large scale. The Pelopponesian war will saw indeed a flourishing of new infantry and cavalry tactics which had a deep influence in later wars.

In this new development of classic Greek warfare, the Hoplite was still center stage, but fights were decidedly more decisive, with more victims and troops tactics meant to kill, not only to lower morale. Peltasts became the more visible change in this new battleline. Outside the "psiloi", young peasants pressed as javelineers, shepherd slingers, archers from forested areas, all civilians used to "soften" the enemy lines and provoke them to advance, the Peltast was originally a mercenary from Thrace. The leagues, by gathering donations from their client city-states, had impressive war treasuries, allowing them not only to equip their citizen soldiers, but also, if they could, hire mercenaries.

Influence of new units: Psiloi, peltasts and cavalry

The latter were often soldiers of fortune from less adanced civilizations or the misfits of the Greek society, looking for adventure and glory, but also money through loot, plunder and pillage. And the rich city-states of the adversary were ripe for a siege. During these 25 years of war, Peltasts were used as an advances form of "psiloi", just peppering the enemy. But they were also hardy warriors not backing from a close fight, and with the means to fight in melee: Sica, sword, axe, spear, they mastered them well, and were fierce in combat, soon gaining a reputation added to their barbarian origin.


Various Hoplite types over the time of the Pelopponesian war.

So, after they thrown their javelins, Peltasts usually joined the fight. They were prefferred attacking the wings of a battleline, a sort of an in-between cavalry and heavy infantry: The medium infantry was born. Thanks to their mobility, they were often capable to tip the balance between battlelines. To counter them, cavalry, which was at first an afterthought, was hired in greater quantities than before. At the beginning of the war, cavalry units such as the light "hippakontistai" (mounted javelineers) were used as kataskopos, scouts, and represented a very small fraction of the army, perhaps 1%. Greece has never be cavalry-friendly, its rugged and mountaineous, with a few plains. The most reputed at the time were from Thessaly. They were often hired as mercenaries, and used as scouts and lancers, to catch light infantry, such as the psiloi, always easy preys for them, and the better skilled and protected Peltasts.

Fast hoplites: The Ekdromoi

Elite mobile hoplites: The Hyspaspist

Epibates: Marine hoplites

Iphikrateans: Early reformed hoplites

The last chapter in thise serie of developments was a mix between the peltast and hoplite, called the "iphikratean" hoplite. The influence of peltasts, especially in mercenary armies such as the one commanded by the Athenian general Iphrikrates, was prevalent, and he saw the advantage of their agility and versatility, but also their lack of training and discipline which would allowed them to fight defensively and in close order on the battlefield. He saw a perfect balance between the slow moving but heavily protected, able defenders, and the light, fast and versatile peltasts, weak in defense and prolongated melee fighting.

Iphikrates (418 BC – c. 353 BC) therefore developed from his peltasts as a disciplines cracked force able to perform all duties and swapping weapons and tactics. At the end of the war, the peltasts grew in increasing numbers on the battlefield and became indispensible complements to the hoplitic battleline. Thracians were seen as "expandable" troops often used as a first wave in sieges, but many Greeks which could not afford the hoplitic panoply decided to fight as peltasts and their equipment became better for two reasons: When paid, they could afford better equipments, and like all warriors of the time, looted the battlefield in search for helmets, greaves and weapons. A long-lasting mercenary army was not only well experience and well equipped.

The late Greek peltast had a thureos, a large ovoid wooden shield, offering a much better protection than the classic pelte, a Chalcidian helmet, allowing better vision and hearing, bronze greaves and for some, light body armour, paddled jacket or leather thorax ("dermathrorax" ?) and linothorax, which were both light and relatively affordable. Iphikrates draw on these and added light laced boots for better mobility ("iphicratids"), a rounded, wooden pelte smaller than a hoplon (about 60 cm) which could be strapped entirely on the arm, leaving one free. With this extra hand, he gave them spears longer than the average Hoplitic dory, three meters. He made these spears 4-meters long or more. This reach and the disiplined close formation gave them the defensive and melee combat capabilities they lacked. He transformed them as an even more versatile infantry and demonstrated their power by beating the seemingly invincible Spartans in 392/390 BC, destroying a mora (600 men batallion) at the Battle of Lechaeum near Corinth. He also gave later a bloody nose to the Argives hoplites during the Corinthian war. In Thrace he lended his army to the Thracian king Seuthes in a family dispute, sent them in Egypt to fight with Persians, and conquered the Thracian Chersonese. His troops and reforms had a profound impact on Philip II, as well as Theban general Epaminondas own tactics, also defeating the Spartans. The late Hellenistic hoplites were called also "reformed hoplites" in the late Hellenistic era as a less mobile form of the thureophoroi and before the introduction of the Thorakitai. Around 143 BC (Ascepiodotos reforms), the "hoplite" in its classic form had all but disappeared, although the use of the hoplon perdured for some uses.
Carthaginian hoplites: Outside greece, the model of the Hoplite was recoignised as a groundbreaking innovation and soon became widespread around the Mediterranean. There were hoplites in Asia minor (Turkey), among the Ionians in particular and later Pergamum, in the Black sea (Pontic Crimean and Bosporan cities), in North Africa (Cyrene) and the Carthaginian city-states, from Carthage to Spain, in Emporio (Spain), Massilia (Gaul), Italy (Etuscans, and some Italic peoples), Illyria (imitation hoplites), or Thrace (Tylis, Byzacium).

About the Hoplon

The very name "Hoplite" came as we know from the shield, called Hoplon. This particular hemispheric, almost bowl-like compoite shield was peculiar in many ways and despite it was made in mostly perishable materials, we found a few bronze coating leftover to guess the general shape of it, crossed with many drawings, bas-reliefs and painted representations.

The Hoplomachia was a famous game, part of the Olympic serie, basically a race where athletes carried a hoplon. It was also used as a training. The hoplon was generally made of wood, with a thin sheet of bronze on the outer face, sometimes covered with painted linen. Construction was a slow and careful process, with many layers of wood, roundels glued together and later sand down to shape, creating a "bowl shape" or by assembling nailed strays of curved wood (natural or steam shaped). See also: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDVqg2KEyag and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_h1iUt-0o3o.

The aspis was around 0.9 metres to one meter (2 ft 11 in) in diameter, weighed about 7.3 kilograms (16 lb), while it was also 2,5–3,8 cm (0.98–1.50 in) thick, and 10-15 cm deep. The revolutionary aspect of it was the argive grip. It allowed the wearer to hold it firm, one strap on the forearm (center), and one rope at the edge of the aspis, strapped all around for the hand. That way, it can't be easily stripped away, or can be used as a weapon, to hit the enemy on the head, while the edge, backed with a bronze or iron rim, could be used for deadly effect as well, in particular on a fallen enemy presenting his throat of face. The solid grip also allowed to maintain formation.

About the rest of the "panoply"

The Hoplite Shield: Hoplon/Aspis

The Hoplon was just a part of the story. However, other elements played a great role and evolved over time. The earliest hoplite was heavily cladded, almost a descendent of the armored chariot driver and heavy spearmen of the Mycenians. In addition to their hoplon (or aspis, a lighter form of the hoplon), they had a full bronze gear protecting their chest, an articulted piece to protect the groin (no pteruges yet), arm bands on at least the exposed right foreram (holding the dory or sword) while the left arm was strapped and protected by the hoplon, and leg band, protecting the thigh in addition to a strapped pair of cnemid, protecting the tibias. These were the classic hoplites around 700-500 BC when the hoplite was first developed. To say the least, only the elite citizens of any city culd afford this panoply.


Old style elite Spartan Royal bodyguard unit, around 500 BC, heavily protected all around.

Over time, this panoply became less extensive, probably for two reasons: Improved formations and training allowing a better collective defense, and the need for more combatants, therefore allowing less well protected hoplites. This went down to the "Haploi", hastly raised militia in case of war, to bolster the ranks. lower class citizens, they could not afford the full hoplitic panoply and for this reason were provided the second-hand equipments thay can afford or were given City arsenal gear, simplified mass-produced dory, hoplon, and simple helmet, like the Bottian or Konos models, made of a single hammered piece over the stone mold, with not decoration or articulated piece, no cheek guards. Needless to say, these Hapoli had no arour, greaves (Cnemids) and relied on their hoplon for main protection. They were mostly there to bolster the ranks but often placed at the rear in a battleline.

The classic hoplite of the Pelopponesian war had a bronze two-pieced body armor, sometimes an old piece of equipment transmitted through generations, like the helmet, but new ones were forged. When well made, an anamorphic bronze cuirass, in addition to enhancing the aesthetics of a wearer.

The Helmet

The classic hoplite was "lightened" in the 4th to 2nd Century BC when it began to disappear. The war gear of a phalangist and hoplite started to mix, in particular for body armour: The Linothorax, already in use in the 5th Cent. BC began to replace the bronze anamorphic armor, and the helmet evolved as well: The really early "Illyrian type" of the 8th-6th Cent. BC, called that way because only the Illyrians still used it in 200 BC (its basic form was evident with the 550 BC model - see below). The schematics below are quite explicit on the matter. Be aware that many more helmets types probably existed, but the majority has been "recycled" into other metal objects or new helmets, or just rusted away in open air. Those retreived mostly came from well-preserved tombs. They are coherent however wth basl-reliefs and engraved or painted depictions in general. No surprise there. Also missing evidently are all the "soft" or organic made helmets. Leather, wood, soft iron, stone, bone, felt and hardened textiles.


evolution of the Greek Helmet: The top 700 BC type probably survived with the Celts and early italic populations such as the Ligurians and Veneti. Right, the very simplified "pot" type is the ancestor of the Corinthian model and its numerous variants, by far the most recpignisable helmet of antiquity. Some models had front openings, others not, various nasal protection, and hearing was bad due to the absence of side openings. This was not seen a problem when the phalanx was in close order as hoplites fought only from the front, until the enemy was routed. Tactics were simple, no need for trumpet signals.

The "true" Corinthian helmet appared around 500 BC, with a long facial protection in "V" shape, short rear section with neck guard, flat nasal, and topped with a "fake hair" dome, a stylization appreciated at the time, from Dacia to Greece and Egypt. The wearer's hear were sculpted or stylized on top of the helmet. They had fixation points for a crest also. The "Apulo-Corinthian" model appeared in Italy but also spread within the elites: It was a stylized version of the Corinthian helmet with reduced features, apparently made to be worn, raked over the forehead. Some Greek elites (like Pericles, Themistocles and others showed it). About the same time appeared the Attic helmet: It was lighter and simplified, and cucially, had ears openings. It still had stylized hairs and a nasal, but cheekguards were rounded and reduced, and the eyes opening larger. Procuring better hearing, handling and vision, it was adopted by lighter troops (such as fast hoplites, Ekdromoi, Iphikratean, heavy peltast, phalanx, and rapidly became widespread in the 5th to the 3th century BC.

The Corinthian evolved into a model half-way with the classic Corinthian, which was also updated, receiving ear openings. Around 300 BC, they became supplanted by yet another model, with a broader facial opening and hinged paragnatids (cheekguards). They still had fixation points for plumes, crests and horsehair tails. Still around 400 BC appeared Thracian and Phyrgian helmets (not seen here). The Phrygian model was basically a styized phrygian cap, which offered more height and style than effective protection to the wearer. At least until it was adopted by the Thracians, probably after the 500 BC conquest by the Persians. This model was mixed with a more ancient facial mask of the Odrysians, with two face pieces (imitating the wearer's beard) with only openings for the eyes, mouth and nose, and split by the middle like two enveloping, masssive chek guards. They existed in several variants, some well simplified.

The proper "Thracian" model became a staple of Hellenistic phalanx and hoplites in 300 to 100 BC and beyond. Its origins are hard to trace back. It is generally seen as a marriage between a classic Corinthian model (very simplified) and the Thracian facial model. There was often a metal crast associated with the helmet's top, a good neck guard, a pronounced forehead guard. Some had extensive cheek guards that were jointed and attached, offering as muc protection to the wearer as an old Corinthian model. This model was widepread with Phalanxes, but no doubt that "aspis bearer", not necessarily hoplites (like the Seleucid elephant escorts), thy became popular. So popular in fact, that they were still in use during the Renaissance, in slightly modified form.

Other, rarer helmets were also found in some cases: The "Konos" or Pylos helmet, was probably the most opular in the Pelopponese, and inconic as the Spartan classic helmet. It was more stylistic than effective or practical: This basically was a bronze imitation of a soft pointed cap worn by the Pelopponesians. There was no neckguard nor cheekguards, procuring a poor protection. In Italy, the Etruscans used a relatively simlar model, derived of a much more ancient type called "Negau" or "pot" helmet. It was often crested, and used plumes and feathers. Later however it evolved during the Hellenistic era, with the addition of checkgards, crests and plumes, even facial mask. There was even a "conic" type used by Macedonian troops, probably also called the "Konos". The image above, Tomb of Lekfadia, Lyson and Kallikles, shows a Thracian and an evolved "konos" type helmets, with crests and plumes, probably noble cavalrymen. They are painted, which is something that was probably mainstream, used for different purpose: Recoignising a unit for example. Other for purely aesthetical reasons and/or complementary to engravings and embossings.


A 400 BC Hoplitic formation showing an array of helmets and body protections. SRC: hetairoi.de (see the sources)

Weaponry

The Hoplite was moderately versatile, able to fight with his main weapon, the Dory, and a sword. The latter could be either a xiphos, straight, leaf-sword, or a curved one, moderately and quite large like the Machaira, or shorter and well-curved like the kopis.

Xiphos: It seems this straight sword came in many variants, all leaf-shaped. Some were short, used for stabbing at close range in a hoplite melee, barely longer than a short gladius, with a heavy hilt for balance. Other were fairly long, possibly used by cavalry and used for slashing as well. It was double-edged, so probably less frequent for Hoplites.

Kopis: The curved sword had a well-balanced curvature ideal for slashing, with almost the same force as an axe, yet still sharp, with an edge allowing thrusting. It was commonplace and used by Hoplites as well, although more common on phalangites, Ekdromoi and Iphikrateans as well as peltasts and thureophoroi.

Machaira: Almost straight, this "sabre" was way too heavy and cumbersome to be used by hoplites but in very rare occasions. The packed hoplitic formation made it useless but for slashing.

Dory: The classic three-meters long lance. First mentioned by Homer with the meanings of "wood" and "spear". This was the achetypal Hoplitic spear, probably going to the Bronze age. The lenght was ideal to be single-handled: Three meters or shorter (6 ft 7 in to 9 ft 10 in), 5 cm/ inches diameter, made of cornel or ash wood and weighing 2 to 4 lb (0.91 to 1.81 kg). There was on the balance point a leather and felt hilt for handling. It had a leaf-shaped spearhead on one side, composed of iron (and bronze earlier), and a butt spike. The latter, like the Sarissa, had two advantages: Tactically, when kneeling, the hoplitc formation used to break cavalry could plant the butt spike in the ground, holding these firm for the schock. If broken, the spear could be reverse and the hoplite still use the butt spike offensively. it as called the Sauroter or "lizard-killer". The Dory was used to thurst in an overhead position, on the right hand leaving the left hand strapped around the hoplite's shield. This gave the particular way the shields were interlocked and the formation had tendencies to shift in combat to one side.

Evolution: The "reformed hoplite"


An idea of how reformed hoplites could look like: Here, 1st Punic war Carthaginian heavy infantry

In 140 BC there were several military reforms in the Hellenistic world. They were intended to cope with the tactical advances and Roman influence. Asclepiodotos for example, reformed the Seleucid army, and the Egyptians. Although the solid core was still made of the phalanx, the proportion of lighter, more mobile infantry grew to significant proportions: The Peltastai, the Thureophoroi and the Thorakitai, in that order, defined what types of medium to light infantry were used to protecte the vulnerable flanks and rear of the phalanx. The Thorakitai in particular, was a direct response to the Roman infantry. Armed with a sword and javelins, it is said it also carried a dory, the typical hoplitic spear, as well as the Thureophoroi, although it is not clear if this was the standard three meters version, a shorter or a longer one. One of the most common assumption is that if "hoplites" it was only through writing facilities rather than to describe a unit type A reformed hoplite, if any, had all the panoply of a well protected thureophoroi, but relied more on its spear, potentially longer than the latter, perhaps up to four meters, if using a smaller shield, a parma, as it i hard to think it can be one-handed. A thureophoroi was lighter and more versatile while thorakitai were rather sword-armed, with javelins, and operated in a different way. The "reformed hoplite" could be a dedicated form of dedicated spear infantry (using spear through and through), yet more mobile than a phalanx. It is conjectural, as there is no evidence about the case.


Did Spartan mothers really tell their sons, “With your shield or on it?”

Dear Straight Dope:

"With it or on it." We've all heard that Spartan mothers said it while giving their sons shields before their first battle. With it = victorious hero on it = fallen hero without it = coward. I've heard this quote attributed to Herodotus, but I've never seen any specific reference. It's consistent with modern conceptions of Sparta, but is it real? Is it just an old wives' tale concocted to make us believe our own mothers aren't so bad?

HCPIII

You’ve got a point. After you hear about the mothers of Sparta, you don’t think your own mom is so bad because she makes you drink your milk.

Your question is more complex than it might seem. First let’s look at the source of the shield story, which isn’t Herodotus but the Roman writer Plutarch. He writes, “Another woman handed her son his shield, and exhorted him: ‘Son, either with this or on this.'” This quote is found in Plutarch’s Moralia, a collection of morals, tales, and short stories, in a section called Sayings of Spartan Women.

Plutarch was a Greek, born approximately 46 AD in the town of Chaeronea in the region of Boeotia. He isn’t a contemporary source of the saying, as the days of Spartan military glory had ended more than three centuries earlier. As a modern commentator observes, he could have been taking poetic license:

At the beginning of his Life of Alexander … Plutarch says, explicitly, that his purpose is not to write political history, but to bring out the subjects’ particular virtues and vices and to illustrate his character. This purpose is worth bearing in mind — Plutarch’s lives are not necessarily objective historical accounts, but narrative pictures aiming to convey a particular moral point. [See reference 1.]

In his work Plutarch consistently portrays the Spartans as having a tough, no-nonsense warrior culture, a characterization backed up by other Greek writers, including contemporaries of Sparta in its glory.

Is the quote typical of the attitude of Spartan women towards their sons? It’s certainly representative of what we find in Plutarch. Here are some other quotes from the Sayings of Spartan Women:

Because Damatria heard that her son was a coward and not worthy of her, she killed him when he arrived. This is the epigram about her: His mother killed Damatrius who broke the laws, She a Spartan lady, he a Spartan Youth.

As a woman was burying her son, a shabby old woman came up to her and said, “You poor woman, what a misfortune!” “No, by the two goddesses, what a good fortune,” she replied, “because I bore him so that he might die for Sparta, and that is what has happened for me.”

Another Spartan woman killed her son, who had deserted his post because he was unworthy of Sparta. She declared: “He was not my offspring for I did not bear one unworthy of Sparta.”

Another, hearing that her son had fallen at his post, said: “Let the cowards be mourned. I, however, bury you without a tear, my son and Sparta’s.”

Clearly a Spartan mother wasn’t the first person you’d turn to if you got a boo-boo on your knee. Some more quotes:

Some Amphipolitans came to Sparta and visited Archileonis, the mother of Brasidas, after her son’s death. She asked if her son had died nobly, in a manner worthy of Sparta. As they heaped praise on him and declared that in his exploits he was the best of all the Spartans, she said: “Strangers, my son was indeed noble and brave, but Sparta has many better men than he.”

Once her grandson Acrotatus was brought home from some boys’ combat badly battered and seemingly dead, and both her family and friends were sobbing, Gyrtias said: “Won’t you keep quiet? He’s shown what kind of blood he has in him,” and she added that brave men should not be howled over but should be under medical care.

Away to the darkness, cowardly offspring, where out of hatred / Eurotas does not flow even for timorous deer. / Useless pup, worthless portion, away to Hell. / Away! This son unworthy of Sparta was not mine at all.

Another woman, as she was sending her lame son up the battlefield, said: “Son, with each step you take bear courage in mind.”

You get the drift. Nonetheless, these quotes suffer from an obvious defect: They all come from Plutarch and can’t be corroborated, since few others wrote in detail on the attitude of Spartan women towards their men. Herodotus testifies to their mettle by telling of the strength of Gorgo, the wife of the great Spartan king Leonidas. He also writes of Spartan women freeing their husbands from the Lakedaimonians by bravely entering their prison and switching clothes with them, allowing the men to escape and return to the fighting while they remained behind. But he has little to say specifically about their attitudes towards the military service of their sons and family members.

Pomeroy (reference 3) reports that the “goal of the educational system devised for Spartan girls was to create mothers who would produce the best hoplites and mothers of hoplites,” a hoplite being a Greek warrior. Spartan women were known to be competitive at sports and even light combat — something that set them apart from other Greek societies at the time. Physical fitness training of girls was mandatory and financed by the state. It’s easy to imagine that a desire to be “brave, strong, and unyielding” would be common among the women of Sparta.

Spartan men also encouraged their sons to be brave in the service of the state. According to Plutarch, when asked why it was dishonorable to return without a shield and not without a helmet, the Spartan king Demaratos (510-491 BC) is said to have replied: “Because the latter they put on for their own protection, but the shield for the common good of all.”

Finally, a practical question: Could Spartan shields be used as stretchers, and were they?

The shield was a key part of the equipment of the Greek hoplite — in fact, “hoplite” is said to derive from the Greek word for a type of heavy shield, hoplon. We often think of Greek shields as being relatively small and round, but having seen Greek shields in museums in Athens, I can say that their size varied considerably over time. Though small in the early days, Greek shields increased in size in middle to later eras, evolving to a much larger round form, and later still to a rectangular shape, similar to Roman-style shields, like a door. Although shields varied in size and shape among the armies of the various city-states, most military forces did have access to large shields that could carry a body. The shield was made of multiple layers of metal (bronze, copper, or sometimes tin), wood, and tough linen, cloth, or leather, and could weigh as much as 15 to 20 pounds. In the Greek battle formation known as the phalanx, the shield protected not only the warrior holding it (while leaving his right arm free to wield a spear), but also the warrior on his left. A phalanx that stayed in tight formation was well protected by the interlocking shields.

Because of its size and sturdiness, a shield did make a good battlefield stretcher — and if the shield used for that purpose belonged to the stretchee, no one else needed to go unprotected. Carrying someone back on his shield served another purpose as well. A shield was one of the more complicated and valuable parts of a Greek hoplite’s armor. It and other items of equipment were traditionally passed down from father to son, brother to brother, or even uncles to cousins. Families of a warrior culture such as the Spartans depended on re-use of the family shield if possible. Returning without one’s shield generaly meant the warrior had either thrown it away in panic, was too weak to carry it home, or had lost it due to carelessness or stupidity.

In sum, while Plutarch’s quote is anecdotal, uncorroborated, and far removed from the source, it’s plausible. That’s about the best we can do.

1. Christopher W. Blackwell, “Plutarch,” in Dêmos: Classical Athenian Democracy (C. Blackwell, ed.), a publication of The Stoa: A Consortium for Electronic Publication in the Humanities (www.stoa.org), April 8, 2003.

3. Sarah B. Pomeroy, Spartan Women, Oxford University Press, 2002.

Send questions to Cecil via [email protected]

STAFF REPORTS ARE WRITTEN BY THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD, CECIL'S ONLINE AUXILIARY. THOUGH THE SDSAB DOES ITS BEST, THESE COLUMNS ARE EDITED BY ED ZOTTI, NOT CECIL, SO ACCURACYWISE YOU'D BETTER KEEP YOUR FINGERS CROSSED.


The Persian Invasion Of Greece

Introduction Through the manuscripts of Herodotus, an ancient historian who hailed from the mountainous lands of Greece, modern day historians have been granted the ability to piece together the multitude of events that supposedly transpired during the years 480 and 479 BC between the Persian empire and the city-states of the classical Greece (Herodotus). The second Persian invasion of Greece, which took place in the previously mentioned years, was a part of the many series of battles and encounters


"But what are you going to do when you catch me?" Silence above. He sounded silly to himself. He lowered himself down the rock. "What are you going to do-?" From the top of the towering rock came the incomprehensible reply. "Roger sharpened a stick at both ends." Roger sharpened a stick at both ends. Ralph tried to attach a meaning to this but could not. He used all the bad words he could think of in a fit of temper that passed into yawning.

From The Lord of the Flies
by William Golding

The hoplite spear, used by the Ancient Greek heavy infantryman, known as a hoplite, from the mid 7th century BC through to the 4th century BC, was the archetypal "stick sharpened at both ends" having a large iron spearhead at one end and a heavy bronze spike at the other. We might very well be puzzled, just as young Ralph was, as to why a weapon like the hoplite spear should have two sharp-ends. The answer lies in understanding that a weapon is a tool, designed to do a particular job in a particular way, and that the form of a particular weapon reflects its intended function. The two ends of the hoplite spear are different shapes and made of different materials because they were intended to perform different functions, and these differences can provide us with important clues about what it was like to be on the sharp-end of a hoplite battle.

Because of it&aposs curved blade a leaf-shaped spearhead would cut when pulled out and when pushed in. (actual size: 35cm x 4.5cm)

The design of the hoplite-spear was remarkably stable over several centuries, with only minor local or individual variations during that time. The spear was usually about six feet long, just a little taller than the average Greek of that period. It had a wide leaf-shaped iron spearhead, usually attached to the shaft by a tapered socket at the base of the spearhead. The other end of the spear was capped with a heavy bronze butt-spike, usually long and thin. This design is closely associated with the hoplite style of warfare and forms one of the three essential elements of the panopla, the &aposfull-kit&apos of the hoplite warrior: the hoplite-spear, the great round hoplite-shield, and the hoplite-helmet.

The spearhead of the hoplite-spear varied in size and shape to a small degree, but never differed greatly from the general pattern. The blade was usually 30-35 centimetres long, around 4.5 centimetres wide, and had two sharp edges that curved to maximum width in the middle and tapered back towards the socket. It was almost always made of iron, and as such was strong and held a sharp edge well but was brittle and would snapped if snap if bent too much. The shape was excellent for cutting flesh. There is a general principle used in forensic pathology which says that a weapon cannot make a stab wound smaller than the width of its blade. By that reasoning a fully inserted hoplite spearhead should make a wound at least 4.5 centimetres across and 15 centimetres deep. If the victim twists or turns, or the weapon itself is manipulated in the wound, then the wound is likely to be considerably largely. Also we should note that the leaf-shaped blade is edged even on the taper behind the maximum width &apos this means that it can cut when drawn in either direction, so that even as the spear is withdrawn it would widen the wound. By virtue of its size and its shape the leaf-shaped spearhead would inflict large gaping wounds that would be life threatening in almost any circumstance.

This type of spearhead does have limitations, however. Most notably it would have great difficulty penetrating armour. The sheer width of the blade presents the first problem: a warrior would have to punch a slot at least 4.5 centimetres wide in the bronze armour of his opponent, and do this in one strike with muscle power alone. The iron used for the blade would also have been a liability for although it was harder than bronze it was also brittle and could easily have been snagged or caught in the armour and snapped off by the weight of the victim, a problem that is even found today with certain types of steel bayonet. The leaf-shaped spearhead was simply too wide and too brittle to effectively cut anything other than unprotected flesh, and this is reflected in the evolution of hoplite protective armour, for over the course of the 5th century BC the heavy bronze hoplite breastplate became unpopular and was replaced with a lighter corselet made of layers of linen stiffened in linseed oil.

At the other end of the shaft from the leaf-shaped spearhead the butt-spike was found. This was a long slender spike, 30-40 centimetres in length, usually with a square cross-section, made of cast bronze. It is believed to have served several functions. Firstly it was used to stand the spear in the ground when it wasn&apost being used, and for this reason the Greeks called it a sauroter, which literally means &aposlizard-killer&apos. Secondly the butt-spike may have served as a secondary weapon if the spearhead broke off &apos an event that was reasonably common in the heat of battle, as Herodotus and Thucydides attest. Thirdly, and most interestingly for our discussion, it was supposedly used by the men standing behind those at the front, who were doing the actual fighting, to finish off any fallen enemy that the phalanx walked over as they rolled forward. In this capacity it would have performed very well, because the long thin profile and square cross-section of the sauroter indicate that it was designed to penetrate armour. The corners of the square cross-section would have been efficient metal-cutters, forming notches in the metal as the point hit which then tore open as the spike was inserted, peeling back the armour as it went. The use of bronze made the spike more likely to bend than break, it was just as deadly with a slight kink in it, and it could easily be straightened later. Six inches from the tip it was still only half an inch wide, meaning that only a small hole had to be punched through the armour to admit a substantial length of spike.

A comparative examination of the Roman pilum supports the idea that the sauroter was designed to pierce armour. The pilum was the standard spear of the Roman legionary, and in many ways could not be more different to the hoplite-spear. Firstly, the pilum was thrown, making it a form of javelin. It was shorter than the hoplite-spear, and the iron head was only weakly attached to the shaft by means of two iron tongues and a pair of pins, rather than the sturdy socket arrangement of the hoplite-spear. This was a deliberate choice: one of the pins was made of wood and easily snapped under the shock of the pilum hitting its target, causing the shaft to flop around awkwardly and eliminating the possibility that it could be thrown back by the enemy. The pilum, therefore, was a one-shot stand-off weapon, in stark contrast to the hoplite-spear, which was a close-quarter duelling weapon. When we look closely at the head of the pilum, however, we see the same square cross-section and slender profile of the sauroter. Because the pilum was thrown from a distance the weapon had to have the capacity to penetrate first time whatever it hit – be it shield, breastplate, or bone. Both the pilum and the sauroter share the same characteristics that make them specialised tools for piercing armour.

The leaf-shaped spearhead is generally regarded as the &aposbusiness end&apos of the hoplite-spear, and almost all ancient vase-paintings depict warriors using the spearhead rather than the sauroter in the heat of combat. We have already discussed the reasons why the sauroter was better at penetrating armour than the leaf-shaped spearhead, and in light of this it is relevant to ask why the hoplite warriors stubbornly duelled with spearheads, each looking for a patch of bare-flesh to strike at, when the sauroter might simply have powered through the opponent&aposs protective armour. The answer, I suspect, comes down to stopping-power. Toe to toe, in the heat of close combat, the wounds inflicted by the spearhead were more likely to instantly incapacitate the enemy than the deep but narrow puncture wounds of the sauroter. The deep, wide gashes caused by the spearhead were likely to bleed profusely more than one major blood vessel would be likely to be involved tendons and nerves would probably be severed. When the fighting was close, and the opponent was on his guard, the stopping-power of the spearhead would be greatly valued. If the situation changed, however, and the opponent was on the ground, wounded or unarmed then the hoplite warrior could take the expedient option of plunging the sauroter straight through the protective armour. The victim might take seconds or minutes to die, but for the attacker the strike would only take a moment and then he could move swiftly on to the next encounter.

The hole made in armour by a leaf-shaped spearhead (4.5cm across)

The hole made in armour by a sauroter (2cm diagonally)

Inside of armour peirced by a sauroter showing how armour is &apospeeled&apos open.


Ancient Greece, part 5 – Athenian Society

Although citizenship brought with it many privileges, it was not without its obligations.

Throughout the fifth century, the Athenians maintained what was essentially a citizen army. It was only in the fourth century that the use of professional soldiers became widespread.

Every Athenian citizen was eligible for military service during the campaigning season.

In practice, it was not the entire citizen body that was called out for military service. Lists would be posted in public places naming those who would have to report for military service.

The backbone of the Athenian army was the “hoplite”.

Greek “hoplites” were essentially heavy infantry. The hoplite usually provided his own arms and armour.

Hoplites were usually armed with a spear. In classical times, it was the spear and not the sword which was the nobleman’s weapon. (The conflict between Hector and Achilles in the Iliad, for example, consists of the two heroes throwing spears at each other)

Hoplites were also equipped with a helmet, breastplate, greaves (metal shin-guards) and a large round shield. The round shield was known as a “hoplon”, and it is thought that this is where the word ‘hoplite’ comes from.

In addition to the hoplites, there were also lightly armed troops which were usually used for skirmishing purposes and as support troops.

These lightly armed forces were often made up of foreign mercenaries.

Women in Athens

The position of women in Athens has always come as a bit of a surprise for those who still entertain a ‘romantic’ view of Classical Greece.

In his ‘History of the Peloponnesian War’ Thucydides has the great Pericles make the following statement in an important speech:

“The greatest glory of a woman is to be least talked about by men, whether they are praising you or criticising you”.

In other words, Thucydides has Pericles say that a woman belongs in the house, away from the attention of other men, and should behave in such a way that she should not be talked about in public, even if the remarks being made are complimentary.

This remark has been the subject of a great deal of scholarly debate.

Earlier classicists found it very difficult to believe that their darling enlightened Classical Greeks should have held such unenlightened views about the place of women.

Gallant attempts have been made to explain away this incongruity. Many classicists apologetically point out that relations within the household between husband and wife were, by contrast, often ‘warm and intimate’ (as though one would expect that the relations between husband and wife in ‘male chauvinist’ societies would always be cold and distant!).

One scholar has even gone to the extent of arguing that the remark was merely a reflection of an old-fashioned kind of courtesy towards women (that is, “he didnt really mean it THAT way, he was just being polite”).

In order to really understand this remark, we need to rid ourselves of the ‘romantic’ notions that nineteenth century scholars have put into our heads and look at the Greeks in their actual context.

It has been effectively argued that the Ancient Greeks were an ‘Ancient Near Eastern’ civilisation, just like the Lydians, the Persians and the Babylonians. If we take this point of view, then it is hardly surprising that they should also have ‘Ancient Near Eastern’ attitudes towards their womenfolk.

(I would even hazard a guess that if such a remark had been attributed to, say, one of the Assyrian kings of the seventh century BC, it would not have excited any comment at all and would simply have been accepted as evidence of the ‘conventional Ancient Near Eastern attitude’ towards women).

Of course we would be wrong to come to such far-reaching conclusions about the position of women based on just one sentence in Thucydides.

There is a great deal of additional evidence, however, to substantiate the view that the position of women in Athens was essentially one of inferior status.

For example, the inheritance laws in Athens were blatantly sexist. A man’s property (and it was always a man’s property – women could not own any) was always divided among his sons when he passed away. His daughters were entitled to nothing.

Even in the event of a man passing away without having any sons, but only a daughter, she was still not entitled to the property. Instead she became an ‘epiklerate’.

What this meant was that she held the property with her, but it was not legally hers. What is more, she had no choice but to marry the male relative who was ‘entitled’ to her. The first claimant to the ‘epiklerate’ and to the property that went with her was her paternal uncle.

Some evidence from plays written in the late fifth century also point towards the conclusion that women were essentially of a lower status than men.

[email protected] and Sexuality in Athens

One aspect of classical Athenian society which modern students definitely do find ‘enlightened’ is in the attitude towards homosexuality.

Not only was male homosexuality considered to be acceptable by the Athenians, it even seems to have been actively encouraged. The dialogues of Plato are full of allusions to male homosexual love.

The most well-known such reference is in the Platonic dialogue known as the ‘Symposium’. Here the general Alcibiades describes his attempt to seduce Socrates (which ends in his being disappointed) in no uncertain terms.

Although there seems to have been no stigma associated with male homosexuality among the Greeks, it would be wrong to assume that this was the primary sexual focus among Athenian men.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the majority of Athenian men were actually heterosexual and enjoyed physical relations not only with their wives but also with courtesans and with prostitutes.

Foreigners in Athens

We know for sure that there were large numbers of ‘foreigners’ in Athens. These foreigners were known as ‘metics’.

The majority of ‘metics’ were actually Greeks from other city-states who were not entitled to Athenian citizenship.

The most famous example of these is probably the wealthy Syracusan Lysias, whose father Cephalus and brother Polemarchus appear as characters in Plato’s Republic.

In addition, there would have been many non-Greeks who also lived in Athens. Many of them would have worked either as traders or craftsmen.

These ‘metics’ were not entitled to any of the privileges that Athenian citizens were entitled to.

For example, they were not entitled to own landed property.

Slavery

The Athenian economy was based to a large extent on slave labour.

It would be wrong to assume that slavery in Classical Athens corresponded to the stereo-typical image of slavery that we have today.

In the plays of Aristophanes, we often see slaves interacting on an almost equal basis with their masters. Although this does not of course mean that all Athenian slaves were treated well, it is strong evidence for the fact that in many cases, slaves would have been quite well-treated by their masters.

There were many different sub-groups of slaves in Athens.

At one end of the scale were the Scythian archers who policed the city. These were basically slaves who belonged to the state. We hear about them in some of the plays of Aristophanes.

These Scythian constables seem to have been quite free to come and go as they pleased within the city.

At the other end of the scale, however, were the slaves who worked in the silver mines at Laureion.

These slaves seem to have lived in very difficult conditions. Archaeological evidence shows that there were watch-towers around these mines, which would indicate that many of these slaves would have wanted to escape from the mines (and no doubt many did!!)

We must always be careful not to judge the Athenians by our own standards, especially when it comes to discussing issues like slavery. The Ancient Greeks lived in a world where slavery was considered to be part of the natural order of things.

On the other hand, in many older (and even in some new) books, you might find unsupported claims that although the Ancient Greeks did use slaves, the lot of the slave in Greece was a little better than that of the slave in “other” parts of the ancient world.

This kind of view is simply based on the worst kind of ‘romantic’ conception of the Ancient Greeks that I am doing my best to debunk in this course.

This view is based on outdated interpretations of Herodotus’ presentation of the conflict between the Greeks and the Persians as a war between “Freedom” and “Tyranny”.

One only has to bear in mind that Leonidas and the other heroic Spartan defenders of Thermopylae were actually fighting for a social system in which a very small minority (the Spartan elite) exercised political power, while the majority of the population was subject to the worst kind of discrimination and had no political rights. (The Spartan system of course was not democratic like the Athenian one).

The Symposium

In classical Athens, a symposium did not refer to an academic meeting filled with a lot of boring speeches.

Instead, it was essentially a banquet in which a group of friends met to have something to eat, drank some wine and spent the evening indulging in various forms of entertainment.

Often, the quantities of wine drunk could be quite large, and the image of a group of sopisticated gentlemen discussing philosophical issues that we get from Plato’s “Symposium” is not necessarily representative of what went on in most of these gatherings.

Only men were invited as guests to these symposia.

(If you are beginning to feel that the Ancient Greeks were very sexist, then you are starting to get the picture!!)

Wives and girlfriends were not allowed to attend them. In fact, even the Greek name for the room in which these gatherings were held was ‘andron’, which referred to the men’s living quarters.

Although wives were not present, courtesans and prostitutes were often brought along to these events.

Essentially, many of these symposia would in all probability have degenerated into wild, drunken orgies.


The phalanx, therefore, presented a shield wall and a mass of spear pointing towards the enemy thereby making frontal assaults much more difficult. It also allowed a higher proportion of the soldiers to be actively engaged in combat at a given time rather than limiting them to only those in the front rank.

When advancing towards an enemy, the phalanx would start running sufficiently fast enough to create momentum but not too much as to lose cohesion. The opposing sides would collide viciously, possibly terrifying many of the hoplites of the front row.

The battle would then rely on the bravery of the men in the front line whilst those in the rear maintained forward pressure on the front ranks with their shields. When in combat, the whole formation would consistently press forward trying to break the enemy formation.

As time passed by, more and more sophisticated tactics were developed, particularly by the Theban general Epaminondas. These tactics inspired the future king Philip II of Macedon, at the time a hostage in Thebes, in the development of new kind of infantry which became known as the Macedonian Phalanx.

Although clearly a development of the hoplite, the Macedonian phalanx was tactically more versatile, especially used in the combined arms tactics favored by the Macedonians. These forces defeated the last major hoplite army, at the Battle of Chaeronea (338 BCE), after which Athens and its allies joined the Macedonian empire.

More info on- Greek hoplite armor, helmet, spartan hoplite


Watch the video: Hoplite vs Hoplite