What Is a Hoplite in Ancient Greece?
The hoplites of ancient Greece were a class of citizen-soldier that made up the main forces of the armies of the various Greek city-states from the eighth to the fourth centuries B.C. Their name is derived from the large circular "hoplon" shields they carried into battle. In addition to repelling invaders and carrying on battles and skirmishes between city-state forces, Greek hoplites were used as mercenaries by the Babylonians, Egyptians and Lydians.
1 Landed Citizens of Means
In ancient Greece, all able bodied men aged 18 to 60 were expected to perform military service. All but the poorest were expected to provide their own equipment. Middle to upper-middle class landowners typically served as hoplites, which were the main Greek heavy infantry. The Greek hoplites typically managed their soldiering responsibilities around the care of their fields and flocks. As a result, most Greek warfare took place between planting and harvest seasons. Hoplites wielded considerable political power in ancient Greece. Many historians believe they contributed to the replacement of ancient Greek monarchies with democratic forms of government in the sixth century B.C.
2 Hoplite Equipment
Hoplites typically carried between 60 and 70 pounds of equipment – about half the weight of a typical Greek man of that time. They were required to have at a minimum a long thrusting spear, a short sword, a breastplate, greaves, a full-faced helmet and a large round shield, typically with a personal emblem or insignia emblazoned on it. Their primary offensive weapon was the spear. The sword was used primarily as a defensive back-up for hoplites who lost their spears. Protective armor was typically made of bronze, though some hoplites used reinforced, glued layers of fabric for greater mobility. A hoplite's equipment was designed for close-quarter fighting. Hoplites saw ranged combat as beneath their dignity – a tactic reserved for those who could not afford to be hoplites.
3 The Phalanx
Hoplites fought in tight, box-like formations known as phalanxes. Phalanxes were typically eight ranks deep, though they were occasionally as deep as 50 ranks. The phalanx was designed so that each man used his shield to protect both his own left flank and the right flank of the hoplite to his left. This left the far right flank of a phalanx as the weak point of a phalanx formation. Hoplites trained to move and fight together in these tightly packed formations. Phalanxes were not very maneuverable and were not well suited to combat outside wide-open fields. This typically wasn't a problem when Greek city-states fought one another, as the hoplites considered evading a proposed battle disgraceful.
4 Downfall of the Hoplite
Hoplites outlived their usefulness once Greek tacticians started making use of natural and man-made obstacles on the battlefield in the fourth century B.C. Their usefulness was further decreased by the use of more maneuverable cavalry and light archers used by their enemies in battles against the Persians and Macedonians. By the end of the fourth century B.C., hoplites had largely given way to the rise of armies of professional soldiers during the Peloponnesian War.