What is a Greek hoplite? - Greek phalanx
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Greek Hoplites


Greek hoplite soldiers (Chigi Vase, ca. 650 BC)

November 2016 - About 650 BC, Greek generals in various different city-states came up with a new way of fighting battles that gave Greek soldiers of the Archaic period a big advantage over the soldiers of other countries like Egypt or the Lydians.

Instead of fighting all in a big crowd, running forward and just trying to get at the enemy any which way, Greek generals trained their soldiers to fight in lines, shoulder to shoulder. In this way each man (women were not allowed to be soldiers) was protected by the shield of the man standing next to him. When they all marched forward together, no enemy spears or arrows could get through their wall of shields.

metal shield with upside down V
A Spartan hoplite shield, with the lamba
of Lacedaimonians on it

Greek people called a soldier who fought this way a hoplite (HOP-light), and they called a group of soldiers who fought this way a hoplite phalanx (FAY-lanks).A hoplite phalanx was a very strong military formation - but it only worked if all the soldiers were well trained, and if they were all brave enough to hold the line. If anyone started to run away, the whole line would fall apart, and it wouldn't work. Or, if some men went slower than others, or got out of step, it wouldn't work. So hoplites needed to spend a lot of time training, the way people today train to be in a marching band, for instance.

Learn by doing: a Greek shield
More about Greek hoplites
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More about the Peloponnesian War

Bibliography and further reading about Greek military methods, weapons, and armor:

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.

Warfare in the Classical World: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Weapons, Warriors and Warfare in the Ancient Civilisations of Greece and Rome, by John Warry. Lots of pictures, and not too much text.

Greece and Rome at War, by Peter Connolly (1998). Not too hard.

Hoplites: The Classical Greek Battle Experience, edited by Victor Davis Hanson (reprinted 1993). Essays by different specialists, more or less accessible to interested and confident readers. The writers don't discuss strategy and tactics so much as the experience of the actual individual soldier.

More about Greek warfare
Ancient Greece
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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