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War in Ancient Greece

Chigi vase
Greek soldiers (Chigi vase)

Wars were very common in ancient Greece. The Greeks lived in little city-states, each one like a small town in the United States today, with no more than about 100,000 people in each city-state. These city-states - Athens, Sparta, Corinth, Thebes - were always fighting each other over their borders. Often they would get together in leagues, a lot of city-states together, to fight as allies.

Sometimes other people invaded Greece, and then there would be wars to defend the city-states from the invaders. Sometimes the city-states fought together, and sometimes they didn't.
Then again, sometimes the Greeks fought in other countries. They invaded other countries and took them over, or they raided other cities and took their stuff. And they often fought for pay, as mercenaries, when one foreign country fought another (more on this here).

Although there were many wars in ancient Greece, most of them we don't know very much about. There are four main wars that we do know about, thanks to the writing of Homer and Herodotus and Thucydides and Arrian. These are the Trojan War (about 1250 BC, but it may be mainly a made-up story), the Persian Wars (490-480 BC) and the Peloponnesian War (441-404 BC) and the campaigns of Alexander the Great (331-323 BC). Then a little later, Greece was taken over by the Romans (146 BC), which we know about thanks to Polybius.

Learn by doing: make a Greek shield
More about Greek hoplite soldiers

Bibliography and further reading about Greek warfare:

Ancient Greek War & Weapons (People in the Past), by Haydn Middleton (2002). Easy reading.

Greek Hoplite (Soldier Through the Ages), by Martin Windrow (1985). , from Scholastic.

Greek Hoplite 480-323 BC, by Nicholas Sekunda (2000). From Britain. A good first guide, useful for painting models or illustrating reports.

Greece and Rome at War, by Peter Connolly (1998). Not so easy to read, but not impossible either.

More about Greek hoplite soldiers
More about the Persian Wars
Ancient Greece home

Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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