In some Greek states the aristocracy was known as the ‘hippeis’. Aristotle, while observing that only the rich possessed horses, seems to have thought that this was the basis of their political power, since their states depended upon cavalry in war. But although there is some evidence for cavalry in early wars, it is doubtful whether many Greek states south of Boeotia had powerful forces of cavalry in early times. The term may rather reflect a time, real or imagined, when heroes rode to battle in chariots, as they do in Homer, where hippeis means charioteers. Even when the war‐chariot was abandoned, it may have continued in use among the rich for ceremonial purposes—at funerals or in funeral games—and those who used it may have continued to be called ‘charioteers’.
Archaeological evidence shows that horses were originally used in Greece to pull chariots, not for riding, and if the Homeric poems reflect real, contemporary warfare, this was still true in the 8th cent. bc. Even after men had started to ride horses, it is possible that in most places they originally simply rode them to the battlefield, and then dismounted to fight on foot, at least once hoplites had become the dominant force. In any case, cavalry was never used on a large scale except in areas suited to the breeding of horses, such as Macedonia, Thessaly, and Boeotia. Only the rich could afford horses, and in most areas any cavalry force was bound to be small. Thus the Athenians instituted a proper cavalry force only after the Persian Wars, drawn from the second of Solon's orders (see 3 below), and even by 431 it was only 1,000 strong. Sometimes it was very effective, but it was never a battle‐winner. Similarly, the Spartans did not raise a proper cavalry force until 424, and then although the rich provided the horses, they did not themselves form the cavalry, and Xenophon is strongly critical of its effectiveness. Thessalian cavalry, on the other hand, was famous from the time of the Lelantine War (see greece (history), Archaic period), and Theban cavalry performed excellently at the battles of Plataea and Leuctra. All these cavalry forces, however, were missile‐armed and incapable of defeating infantry, unless the latter was caught in the wrong terrain or not properly formed.
Cavalry came into its own in the Macedonian army and in those of Alexander 2 the Great's successors, and it was his ‘Companions’ (see hetairoi) who gave Alexander victory in all three of his great battles. The key to the success of Macedonian cavalry was its use of a lance made of cornel wood, as opposed to javelins. This at last gave cavalry the capability of breaking enemy infantry, though it was still mostly used to exploit gaps already forming in infantry lines, as probably at the battle of Chaeronea, and certainly at Gaugamela.
3. Athenian Class
At Athens hippeis may originally have been used of all the richest citizens, but in his constitution Solon gave the name to the second of his four orders, comprising men whose land yielded between 300 and 500 medimnoi of corn or the equivalent in other produce. The archonship (see archontes) was open to members of this class by the beginning of the 5th cent. bc if not originally; in 457/6 eligibility was extended to the third order, the zeugitai (the hoplites).
Subjects: Classical Studies.