military training (Greek)

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Thucydides (c. 455—400 bc) Greek historian

Pericles (c. 495—429 bc) Athenian statesman and general

battles of Mantinea

Xenophon (c. 428—354 bc) Greek historian, writer, and military leader

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There is little evidence that any troops, other than Spartans, were trained before the 4th cent. bc, and the sources imply that the Spartans were unique. Thus Thucydides 2 has Pericles contrast the courage instilled in the Spartans by ‘laborious training’ with the natural courage of the Athenians, and implies that the only trained troops opposed to the Spartans at the battle of Mantinea in 418 were the 1,000 picked Argives trained at the state's expense. Xenophon implies that it was only after Leuctra that the Boeotians began to train, and in his treatise on the Spartan constitution claims that manœuvres practised by the Spartans were beyond other Greeks. In the normal Greek state the main element in the armed forces, the hoplites, consisted of men of a comparatively high social standing, and any kind of training might have been resented: it was much easier to train rowers for the fleet, since they came from a humble background, whether free or slave.

In his treatise on their constitution Xenophon implies that Spartan soldiers were trained to carry out manœuvres such as deploying from column‐of‐march into line‐of‐battle in various ways, depending on the direction of the enemy's approach, and without training they could not have carried out such drills as the one whereby files from the left or right wings of the phalanx were withdrawn behind the centre to double its depth, or the counter‐march for about‐facing a phalanx. Nevertheless, much of this would have been at the level of ‘square‐bashing’, and there is no evidence for any tactical training whether of officers or men.

In the 4th cent. there is increasing evidence for training. Xenophon's Education of Cyrus is fictional, but presumably he would not have had Cyrus 1 train his troops, if such training was still unthinkable outside Sparta, and it seems unlikely that he would have written his Cavalry Commander unless there had also been works on infantry tactics. After Leuctra, the Thebans began to train, and there is some reason to believe that the two years' ‘national service’ of Athenian epheboi began in the first half of the 4th cent. There was also an increasing use of specialized troops such as peltasts, some of whom were highly trained, and of mercenaries, who were at least experienced.

It seems likely that Philip II instituted regular training in all branches of his Macedonian army, and when Alexander 2 the Great succeeded, he was able to put on an impressive display for the Illyrians. The army with which he conquered the Persian empire was highly trained, and with this and Hellenistic armies we enter the period of ‘professional’ soldiering at all levels.

Subjects: Classical Studies.

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