armies, Greek and Hellenistic

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Apart from what little archaeology can tell us, our earliest evidence comes from Homer, but it is uncertain how far the poems can be taken as depicting real warfare. To some extent, what happens on Homeric battlefields is dictated by the nature of the poetry. However, all troops are implied to be of the same type, and there is no cavalry. The constant use of the throwing‐spear implies a normally loose formation.

By Tyrtaeus' time, the fundamental distinction between ‘heavy’ infantry fighting hand‐to‐hand and ‘light’, missile‐armed infantry, has appeared, at any rate in Sparta, but the chariot has disappeared, and there is still no cavalry. What organization there is, is based on the three Dorian phylai. Archaeological evidence confirms that by the mid‐7th cent. bc hoplites had appeared, and thereafter, for some three centuries, they dominated the battlefield, though some states (e.g. Macedon and Thessaly) relied more on cavalry and the Boeotians also had fine cavalry (see hippeis, 2) in addition to hoplites. Some of the less urbanized areas (e.g. Aetolia) also still tended to make more use of light, missile‐armed troops, and all states probably had them. Most armies seem to have been recruited locally. After the reforms of Cleisthenes (2), Athenian hoplites were divided into ten units (taxeis) based on the ten phylai, and the cavalry was similarly divided into two groups of five units.

Most Greek troops were essentially militia. Cavalry and hoplites were drawn from the better off, since they mostly provided their own equipment. Possibly for this reason, there appears to have been little or no training at least until the 4th cent., and very little organization. The smallest unit in the Athenian army, for example, seems to have been a lochos, probably consisting of several hundred men.

The exception was Sparta. Not only were Spartan soldiers trained from boyhood (see agoge) and liable for service from 20 to 60, but their army was highly organized, giving it an ability to manœuvre that other armies lacked. The Spartan ideal was clearly an army of citizen‐hoplites (homoioi, ‘peers’, see sparta, 2), but by 425 it appears that they made up only c.40 per cent, and there were fewer still by the time of Leuctra. It is usually assumed that the numbers were made up by perioikoi, but it is possible that Spartans who had lost their full citizenship continued to serve in the army, and that the perioikoi were always separately brigaded.

The defeat of the Spartan army at Leuctra ushered in a short period of Theban dominance, and saw the beginnings of a new form of warfare, in which the traditional hoplite phalanx was combined with cavalry and other arms. These changes culminated in the army of Alexander 2 the Great. Macedon had long had good cavalry, known as hetairoi (i.e. ‘companions’ of the king), but it was possibly Philip who first raised and organized the ‘pezetairoi’ or ‘foot companions’, who, with the ‘hypaspistai’ (lit. ‘shield‐bearers’), constituted the heavy infantry. By Alexander's time the pezetairoi were divided into taxeis of 1,500 men, subdivided down to files of sixteen men; the hypaspists into chiliarchai of 1,000 men.


Subjects: Classical Studies.

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