The development of the Ancient Greek foot soldier, known as the hoplite, coincided with the end of the Heroic Age and the rise of the Greek city-state. Before the emergence of the hoplite, Greek warriors engaged in a chaotic style of combat that relied on individual intelligence. Hoplites were disciplined and relied on one another for defense. They were immensely successful until the rise of the more mobile Roman legionnaire.
Arms and Armor
Hoplites purchased their own equipment, which excluded the lower classes from the ranks. Hoplite armor was much heavier than previous styles of Greek armor, and sacrificed maneuverability for defense. Soldiers wore a metal helmet that offered great protection -- but severely limited vision. The breastplate, called a thorax, was either bell shaped or decorated with musculature. Lower-leg greaves protected the shins and completed the body armor. Hoplites carried large wooden shields on their left arms, and employed them offensively to thrust into enemy ranks. Weaponry consisted of a short sword and an 8-foot-long thrusting spear.
The hoplites’ strength in battle hinged upon their organization into phalanxes. In a phalanx, soldiers stand closely together in ranked files, moving as a unit. The massive shield protected not just the shield bearer’s left side but also the right side of his neighbor. The phalanx would advance, spears lowered, and drive into their foes as a shield wall. The weight of the armor and rigidity of the phalanx prevented hoplites from pursuit tactics or sustained battles over a large area. For this reason, opposing Greek armies typically fought in agreed-upon locations -- often a small, level field.
History and Development
The hoplite gradually developed with the introduction of the arm-based shield and the phalanx. The first evidence of the hoplite dates from the eighth century B.C., as the Heroic Age of Greek warfare came to an end. Hoplites were firmly established as the Greek military standard for the city-state era, when the hoplite armies of Athens and Sparta jockeyed for power. The greatest success of the Greek hoplites came in the fifth-century-B.C. Greco-Persian Wars, during which the united Greek hoplite phalanxes wrought devastation on the Persian hordes. The Ancient Greek foot soldier began to decline in usage after the Macedonians conquered Greece in the fourth century B.C., and disappeared entirely with the rise of the Roman Legion.
The 490 B.C. Battle of Marathon ended the first Persian invasion with a decisive victory for the Greeks. A mostly Athenian troop of hoplites surrounded the Persians at Marathon, advanced in a circular pattern to protect the right flank, and crushed the Persian force. The Battle of Thermopylae, popularized in the 2007 film “300,” took place in 480 B.C. King Leonidas of Sparta led his 7,000-member force to victory over a Persian army that numbered between 100,000 and 150,000 men. Philip II of Macedon's defeat of the allied Greeks in 338 B.C. at the Battle of Chaeronea marked the end of the hoplites' dominance.
- Encyclopedia Britannica: Hoplite (Ancient Greek Soldier)
- Ancient History Encyclopedia: Hoplite
- Ancient Military: Ancient Greek Warriors
- Ancient History Encyclopedia: The Greek Phalanx
- Princeton University: Battle of Marathon
- Military Channel: Battle of Thermopylae
- Ars Bellica: The Great Battles of History -- Battle of Chaeronea
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