Ancient History & Civilisation


The Hoplite Debate

The study of war has not only interested military historians from the ancient world to the modern day; many scholars have held that the way in which societies organize for and fight war lies at the foundation of civilization itself. Cultural historian Lewis Mumford has remarked:

War was not a mere residue of more common primitive forms of aggression…. In all its typical aspects, its discipline, its drill, its handling of large masses of men as units, in its destructive assaults en masse, in its heroic sacrifices, its final destructions, exterminations, seizures, enslavements, war was rather the special invention of civilization: its ultimate drama.1

For generations scholars have examined the relationship between how the Greeks fought and their social, political, and cultural development. The Greeks themselves considered war both part of the nature of human society and terrible. “Peace,” Plato said, “is merely a name; in truth an undeclared war always exists by nature among all city-states.”2 The poet Pindar (F 15) called battle “a sweet thing to him who does not know it, but to him who has made trial of it, it is a thing of fear.” For Thucydides war was “a violent schoolmaster.”3 Aristotle, in his Politics (1297b16–28), on the other hand, provided the first known theory to connect the evolution of the political institutions of the polis with the rise of heavy infantry. Modern historians of ancient Greece in turn have developed a grand narrative. This “orthodoxy” explains the rise of the early polis in terms of a dramatic change or “revolution” in arms, armor, and tactics; the military revolution became a driving force behind the emergence of the characteristic political and social structures of the Greek state. A central part of the thesis is that the change in fighting style was directly related to recent innovations in arms and armor. Second, the phalanx depended on the weight and the cohesion of heavily armed men who employed “shock” tactics in brief but decisive battles. Third, it has been critical to identify the greatest number of hoplites with a middling group within the polis, which had the wealth to provide its own arms. Fourth, this middling group transformed Greek values.

By the mid-nineteenth century, scholars had already recognized the basic elements of what was to become the hoplite orthodoxy. For example, George Grote, in his famous twelve-volume History of Greece, made a sharp distinction between heroic and historical Greece, and the emergence of the hoplite warrior marked the point of departure for the beginning of the age of history. “The mode of fighting among the Homeric heroes is not less different from the historical times, than the material of which their arms were composed.” He described the essentials of the ancient Greek phalanx:

The Hoplites, or heavy-armed infantry of historical Greece, maintained a close order and well-dressed line, charging the enemy with their spears protended at even distance, and coming thus to close conflict without breaking their rank: there were special troops, bowmen, slingers, etc. armed with missiles, but the hoplite had no weapon to employ in this manner.4

Grote compared the close-in approach of the hoplites with the long-range fighting style of the legendary figures of Homer:

The heroes of the Iliad and Odyssey, on the contrary, habitually employ the spear as a missile, which they launch with tremendous force: each of them is mounted in his war-chariot, drawn by two horses, … advancing in his chariot at full speed, in front of his own soldiers, he hurls his spear against the enemy: sometimes, indeed, he will fight on foot, and hand to hand, but the chariot is near to receive him if he chooses, or to ensure his retreat. The mass of the Greeks and Trojans, coming forward to the charge, without any regular step or evenly-maintained line, make their attack in the same way by hurling their spears.5

The champions of Homer enjoy several advantages over the common soldier: “Every man is protected by shield, helmet, breastplate, and greaves: but the armor of the chiefs is greatly superior to that of the common men, while they themselves are both stronger and more expert in the use of their weapons.” The weapons used included a long sword, a short dagger, and two throwing spears, which on occasion could be employed as a thrusting weapon. The few bowmen are rare exceptions to the equipment and tactics described above.

The loose battle array of the Iliad contrasts sharply with the inflexible ranks that attacked the Persian king at Plataea or Cunaxa, and “illustrates forcibly the general difference between heroic and historical Greece. While in the former, a few splendid figures stand forward, in prominent relief, the remainder being a mere unorganized and ineffective mass, —in the latter, these units have been combined into a system, in which every man, officer and soldier, has his assigned place and duty, and the victory, when gained is the joint work of all.” With the introduction of the phalanx, the difference in the role of the individual and the military effectiveness of the group is remarkable: “preeminent individual prowess is indeed materially abridged, if not wholly excluded, —no man can do more than maintain his station in the line: but on the other hand, the grand purposes, aggressive or defensive, for which alone arms are taken up, become more assured and easy, and long-sighted combinations of the general are rendered for the first time practicable when he has a disciplined body of men to obey him.”6

Grote derives his picture of how the classical phalanx engaged the enemy from Thucydides’ account of the battle of Mantinea:

It was the natural tendency of all Grecian armies, when coming into conflict, to march not exactly forward, but somewhat aslant to the right. The soldiers on the extreme right of both armies set the example of such inclination, in order to avoid exposing their own unshielded side; while for the same reason every man along the line took care to keep close to the shield of his right hand neighbor. We see from hence that, with equal numbers, the right was not merely the post of honor, but also of comparative safety. So it proved on the present occasion, even the Lacedaemonian discipline being noway exempt from this cause of disturbance. Though the Lacedaemonian front, from their superior numbers, was more extended than that of the enemy, still their right files did not think themselves safe without slanting still farther to the right, and thus outflanked greatly the Athenians on the opposite left wing; while on the opposite side the Mantineans who formed the right wing, from the same disposition to keep the left shoulder forward, outflanked, though not in so great a degree, the Skiritae and Brasideians on the Lacedaemonian left.7

From its start, the proto-orthodoxy posited a close link between military, political, and cultural developments in archaic Greece. Grote details the political revolution—the substitution of one or more temporary and accountable magistrates in the place of the Homeric king—that accompanied the emergence of the hoplite phalanx.

It was always an oligarchy which arose on the defeasance of the heroic kingdom: the age of the democratical movement was yet far distant, and the condition of the people—the general body of freemen—was not immediately altered, either for better or worse, by the revolution; the small number of privileged persons, among whom the kingly attributes were distributed and put in rotation, being those nearest in rank to the king himself, perhaps members of the same large gens with him, pretending to a common divine or heroic descent.8

The composition of Homer’s epics and the celebration of the first Olympiad were essential for dating the revolution. Consistent with Herodotus, who placed Homer four hundred years before his own time, Grote assigned the composition of the Homeric Iliad andOdyssey to the second half of the ninth century—the poems having reached their final form before the first Olympiad of 776 BC.9 His method for dating the poems reflects the great debate surrounding the Homeric Question in the nineteenth century. He argues against Wolf and Lachmann’s contention that the epics represented an amalgamation of many distinct poems brought about by Peisistratus in the middle of the sixth century in Athens. Lachmann, for instance, identified sixteen separate songs in the first twenty-two books of the Iliad. Grote, on the other hand, contends that, far from producing an original poem, Peisistratus simply enhanced the solemnity of the Great Panathenaic festival by selecting, among the divergences of rhapsodes in different parts of Greece, “that order of text which intelligent men could approve as a return to the pure and pristine Iliad.”10 For Grote, the poems have no historical value, because they contain no verifiable evidence. However, since Homer reflects the contemporary society of the ninth century, theIliad and Odyssey have immense value for assessing the achievements of the Greeks in the eighth and seventh centuries. Civil society makes a transition similar to that of the military: “we pass from Herakles, Theseus, Jason, Achilles, to Solon, Pythagoras, and Perikles—from ‘the shepherd of his people,’ (to use the phrase in which Homer depicts the good side of the heroic king,) to the legislator who introduces, and the statesman who maintains, a preconcerted system by which willing citizens consent to bind themselves.”11

There was for Grote a parallel between the individual who knows his place in the hoplite phalanx and the citizen who understands his predetermined rights and duties in the social order according to established principles. The result is that even without commanding individual talent, “the whole community is so trained as to be able to maintain its course under inferior leaders.”12 Grote had no doubt about the significance of these developments: “the military organization of the Grecian republic is an element of the greatest importance in respect to the conspicuous part they have played in human affairs,—their superiority in this respect being hardly less striking than it is in many others.”13 In the historical period following the first Olympiad, the emergence of hoplite warfare had dramatic implications for many of the major cities in Greece, especially Argos, Sparta, Corinth, Sicyon, Megara, and eventually Athens.

Grote envisioned the political transformation in the Greek world from the heroic kingdoms to the poleis taking place through two revolutions. The first involved the intellectual revolution14 that accompanied the transition from the world of legend to the development of history.15 This upheaval resulted in the emergence of oligarchies out of the divine kingships, and demonstrated to Grote the progressive character of the Greek mind and all its superiority over the “stationary and unimproving” Oriental mind.16 The abolition of kingship came about through natural change and without violence. For example, sometimes the royal lineage died out or, after the death of the king, the king’s son became acknowledged as archon only, or he gave way to a prytanis chosen from the aristocrats. These primitive oligarchies were common throughout Greek cities and colonies of the seventh century, and they represent an advance on heroic government. The primary characteristic of the heroic age had been “the omnipotence of private force, tempered and guided by family sympathies, and the practical nullity of that collective sovereign afterwards called The City,—who in historical Greece becomes the central and paramount source of obligation.”17 Grote describes the rise of the poleis: “Though they [the poleis] had little immediate tendency to benefit the mass of the freemen, yet when we compare them with the antecedent heroic government, they indicate an important advance,—the first adoption of a deliberate and preconceived system in the management of public affairs.” The polis invented the concept of citizenship, the rule of law, and the accountability of elected magistrates.

[The poleis] exhibit the first evidences of new and important political ideas in the Greek mind,—the separation of legislative and executive powers; the former vested in a collective body, not merely deliberating but finally deciding,—while the latter is confided to temporary individual magistrates, responsible to that body at the end of their period in office. We are first introduced to a community of citizens, according to the definition of Aristotle,—men qualified, and thinking themselves qualified, to take turns in command and obedience: the collective sovereign, called The City, is thus constituted.18

The second revolution took place when the usurpers Grote calls Despots subverted the first oligarchies. This period, which contemporary scholars refer to as the age of tyrants, involved “the gradual rise of the small proprietors and town-artisans” and “was marked by the substitution of heavy-armed infantry in place of cavalry.”19

Cities such as Corinth, Sicyon, and Megara required the figure of the despot, backed by the hoplites, to bring about decisive political change.20 This period occurred during the progress of the seventh and sixth centuries, with the expansion of wealth, power, and population. Grote distinguishes these early despots from those of later periods by their use of armed force. Notwithstanding the benefits tyrannies brought to their respective poleis, the age of the despots worked against the principles of the City: “this rooted antipathy to a permanent hereditary ruler stood apart as a sentiment almost unanimous.”21 The hoplites enabled the tyrant to overthrow the narrow oligarchies of the seventh century in many cities. These figures made possible the transition to broader oligarchies and later to democracies; but the tyrant’s success could only be temporary.22

The people by their armed aid had enabled him [the despot] to overthrow the existing rulers … but they acquired no political rights and no increased securities for themselves.23 … The rise of these despots on the ruins of the previous oligarchies was, in appearance, a return to the principles of the heroic age,—the restoration of a government of personal will in place of that systematic arrangement known as the City. But the Greek mind had so far outgrown those early principles, that no new government founded thereupon could meet with willing acquiescence, except under some temporary excitement.24

The military force in the early days had been in the hands of the great landowners in the form of cavalry; these include the primitive oligarchical militia in seventh- and sixth-century Chalkis and Eretria on Euboea.25 But such states lacked the egalitarian ethos and the rule of law that Grote associates with heavy infantry. He remarks on the Thessalians, “Breeding the finest horses in Greece, they were distinguished for their excellence as cavalry; but their infantry is little noticed, nor do the Thessalian cities seem to have possessed that congregation of free and tolerably equal citizens, each master of his own arms, out of whom the ranks of the hoplites were constituted.” On the other hand the rise of the polis saw the emergence of the independent farmer.

As a general rule, every Greek city-community included in its population, independent of bought slaves, the three elements above noticed,—considerable land proprietors with rustic dependents, small self-working proprietors, and town-artisans,—the three elements being found everywhere in different proportions. But the progress of Greece, from the seventh century B.C. downwards, tended continually to elevate the comparative importance of the two latter, while in those early days the ascendency of the former was at its maximum, and altered only to decline.

The development of a new class of middling farmers led to the transformation of the political and social relations in the Greek world. “All the changes which we are able to trace in the Grecian communities tended to break up the close and exclusive oligarchies with which our first historical knowledge commences, and to conduct them either to oligarchies rather more open, embracing all men of a certain amount of property, or else to democracies. But the transition in both cases was usually attained through the interlude of the despot.”26

At Sparta, the transition to oligarchy came about through the reforms of Lycurgus. Grote attributed the superiority of the Spartan state to the superiority it obtained in warfare by the period 600–547. The arms of the Spartans did not differ from those of other Greek hoplites so much as the superior discipline that Lycurgus had instituted in the ninth century.27 “Her military force was at that time superior to that of any of the rest, in a degree much greater than it afterwards came to be; Athens in particular was far short of the height which she afterwards reached.”28 Their perfect training, individual and collective in the face of the discontent of its subject population, the perioikoi and helots, set the Spartans apart from the other Greeks.29 “It is in this universal schooling, training, and drilling, imposed alike upon boys and men, youths and virgins, rich and poor, that the distinctive attribute of Sparta is to be sought, —not in her laws or political constitution.” This emphasis is on the military reform. “Lykurgus (or the individual to whom this system is owing, whoever he was) is the founder of a warlike brotherhood rather than the lawgiver of a political community.”30

Grote denied that the Lykurgean system included a redistribution of land on principles of exact or approximate equality, and provisions for maintaining the number of distinct and equal lots. Instead, he attributes the egalitarian ethos of Sparta to, among other things, the training of its hoplites. “The Lykurgean discipline tended forcibly to suggest to men’s minds the idea of equality among the citizens.”31 The connection of fighting tactics to the transformation of Greek values has been crucial to the hoplite narrative; in particular, the substitution of the Homeric goal of the individual striving for preeminence by the stress on warriors playing an equal role in battle.

In Athens, the essential powers of the state remained in the hands of the oligarchy after the reforms of Solon, “but the oligarchy which he established was very different from the unmitigated oligarchy which he found, so teeming with oppression and so destitute of redress.”32 Solon did not seek to overthrow the aristocrats but simply to check their power, and “it was he who first gave to the citizens of middling property and to the general mass, a locus standi against the eupatrids.”33 The hoplites broke the monopoly on political power that the aristocracy of birth had held.

The position of Grote on the transition from monarchy to oligarchy in the eighth century prefigures the hoplite orthodoxy of the twentieth century. He argued for a causal link between the emergence of the hoplite warrior of middling status and the rise of the Greek polis, and established the relevance of the Homeric Question for both ideas. Grote also made the connection between the early tyrants and the new form of heavy infantry. Furthermore, the concepts of citizenship and equality have their source in the new tactics as well.

In his book Thucydides and the History of His Age, published in 1911, Grundy discussed the Greek art of war in the fifth century in the light of the main historical sources of the period. For example, Herodotus (7.9) has the Persian general Mardonius explain the nature of hoplite warfare in a quip to the king Xerxes: “The Greeks are accustomed to wage wars in the most senseless way due to their ignorance and foolishness. When they have declared war against each other, they look for the fairest and most level ground, and then go there and fight, so that the victors depart with heavy casualties; I won’t even begin to speak about the losers, for they are completely wiped out.” These remarks indicate that the Greeks confined their battles to the flat alluvial plains of the country. In another passage, Herodotus (5.49) suggests both the Greek view of Persian warfare and how the Persians themselves fought; here Aristagoras, in his attempt to obtain help from Athens in the Ionian revolt, observed, “The Persians use neither the shield nor spear, and can be easily conquered.” Aristagoras’ comments suggest that light-armed troops played an insignificant role in classical Greek warfare. In fact, the success or failure of the hoplite force determined the fate of the battle.

The reliance on heavy infantry led Grundy to two paradoxes in the Greek art of war. First, whereas hoplites must fight on level ground, about four-fifths of the territory of Greece is mountainous and rugged. If one excludes the broad plains of Thessaly and Boeotia, the proportion of arable soil is even smaller. Grundy saw the issue complicated by the fact that the weight of the hoplite panoply was “very great.” “Even a single Greek hoplite would have found himself in great difficulties on such ground. As for a body of hoplites, its position would have been hopeless. Its efficiency was absolutely dependent upon the maintenance of a peculiarly close and precise formation, such as it could not possibly have maintained for an advance of even ten yards over such ground as this.” So, why did the Greeks choose a form of warfare ill suited for their country? Second, the strength of the natural positions of the country allowed states of all sizes to build nearly impregnable fortresses. Yet the Greek army was remarkably incapable of attacking such places. This was true of Sparta above all—a polis that dominated neighbors whose towns had an unassailable acropolis. How could the Greek state fail to advance the art of siege warfare against walled towns? And how could an enemy be confident that the citizens of the polis he invaded would march out to fight him in the alluvial plains, the only type of ground suited for hoplite tactics?

The answers to both questions are related. The system of fighting used until the last third of the fifth century could assume that invaded peoples would not retreat behind the absolute safety and security of their walls and defenses. This was a matter of pride and necessity. Of course the enemy could not operate upon the rugged land that made up most of the territory they had invaded, nor could they capture by assault the impregnable sites. But, since just 22 percent of the land was cultivable, the destruction of cereals, vines, and olive trees could bring disaster.34 “The fruit and cereal crops must be saved at all costs, either by facing the enemy in the field or by prompt submission to his demands. The only other alternative was safety in the present, and starvation, or something like it in the near future.”35 The invaded polis had no choice but to place in the field hoplite against hoplite, because light-armed troops were useless under these circumstances. A negative example proves the rule. When Archidamus led the Peloponnesian army into Attica at the beginning of the Great War, the Spartans were certain that the Athenians had only two choices. They must either fight outside the walls and be destroyed, or have their fields devastated and be forced to surrender. The entire operation would take at most three years to succeed. Pericles’ decision to refuse battle and to allow the ravaging of the crops, trees, and vines not only marked a radical departure from the traditional system of fighting. The strategy, for which the Athenians heavily criticized Pericles in their humiliation at not engaging the enemy in a showdown battle, altered the evolution of the art of war in Greece.

What was this traditional way of fighting? In addition to the battle narratives in the historians of the fifth century, Grundy’s classic description of the nature of hoplite battle drew on the recent finds of weapons and armor. The pieces of equipment he examined, the helmet in particular, had impressed him with how heavy they were.36 This influenced the way in which Grundy understood close fighting in the phalanx. “The hoplite force relied on two qualities, solidity and weight. The men were placed very close together in the ranks, and that tendency which Thucydides notices for each man to shelter his right side under the shield of the man next to him would promote the closeness of the order in the phalanx. The aim was to present to the enemy an unbroken line of shields and breastplates.”37

Besides the importance of maintaining a close order of men, the phalanx depended for its effectiveness on the sheer weight and thrust it could bring to bear in its initial collision with the enemy. Here Grundy saw an analogy with a scrimmage in the Rugby game of football.

Under ordinary circumstances the hoplite force advanced into battle in a compact mass, probably at the slow step, breaking, it may be, into a run in the last few yards of advance. When it came into contact with the enemy, it relied in the first instance on shock tactics, that is to say, on the weight put into the first onset and developed in the subsequent thrust. The principle was very much the same as that followed by the forwards in a scrimmage at the Rugby game of football.38

The depth of the phalanx contributed to its overall weight and thrust. Thucydides (5.68) suggests that the ranks were usually eight men deep, but much deeper phalanxes were possible. For example, the Athenians at Delium used a phalanx eight men deep; however, the Thebans were in ranks twenty-five shields deep. In their first engagement at Syracuse (6.67), each of the two bodies of Athenian troops had a depth of eight ranks, whereas the Syracusans drew up sixteen rows of men. The idea in any event was to overwhelm and drive the enemy phalanx back or to break it apart.

On the other hand, a general might hesitate to stack his troops deeper than usual because he would fear that the enemy might outflank him. For instance, the fear of a flank attack caused the Athenians to extend their front at Marathon so as to equal that of the Persians, even though this meant having a depth of just a few rows in the center (6.111). At Mantinea, Agis took precautions against the Mantineans outflanking his left wing. “One thing is evident. The hoplite phalanx was regarded as peculiarly vulnerable on either flank. The first care of a general seems to have been to make his front at least equal in length to that of the enemy.”39 For this reason it seems that the Greek generals of the fifth century avoided using the flank attack as an offensive strategy of their own. Should a general detach a body of hoplites from the rest of the line to attack the flank of the enemy, he might expose the flanks of his own army. “The general theory governing the fighting of large armies seems to have been that the most effective way of defeating an enemy was to roll up his line from one or both wings, not by attack in flank, but by defeating one, or, if possible, both of the opposing wings.”40 Therefore, Greek tactics throughout the fifth century demanded that armies place their most efficient elements on the wings. The Spartans were especially adept at using their best troops on the right, with the intent of rolling up the enemy’s line from left to right. “The idea … seems to have been that the best troops should be on the right, with the intent to roll up the enemy’s line from left to right; but inasmuch as the enemy would be pretty certain to attempt the same design, the second best troops were placed on the left in order to prevent him from being successful in this manoeuvre.”41

In addition to the nonemployment of a flank attack, Grundy found it remarkable that Greek generals at the time did not use a reserve force in battle. The only exception Thucydides mentions is when Nicias retained half his hoplite army for such use in the first engagement at Syracuse. Grundy explains, “It is probable that the theory prevailed that it was all-important to put as much weight as possible into the first charge: that it was on the effect of this that the battle was decided; and therefore that it was necessary to throw into it the weight of the whole available force.”42 This idea could motivate a general to run the risk of exposing his flanks by overloading one of his wings. At Leuctra, for example, the brilliant Theban general Epaminondas stacked his top fighters fifty deep on his own left; having defeated the best troops on the right wing of the enemy, he more easily rolled up the rest of the line.

Grundy emphasizes the overall simplicity of hoplite tactics throughout the fifth century, conditioned as they were by “the nature of the country and the circumstances of the population.” “In point of fact the hoplite phalanx was of such a nature,” Grundy reasons, “that any great elaboration of tactical design in its evolution was practically impossible. Manoeuvres which a less heavily-armed soldier could have carried out would have been impossible for them.”43 Grundy attributes the nature of hoplite tactics not only to the geography of Greece; he points out that the Greek infantryman was a citizen above all, neither a mercenary nor a professional soldier.

Poverty explains in part why the Greek states did not employ mercenary forces. In addition, the democratic idea that those who profit from the existence of the state should serve it in their persons traces its origins to the time when the army was the political assembly. “The fifth-century democrat converted the idea. Aforetime a man had been a citizen because he was a soldier; now he was a soldier because he was a citizen.”44 The fact that most citizens were farmers affected their attitudes toward war.

Such armies are not adapted for prolonged continuous service. Hence Greek wars tended to be short and sharp, and … decisive. Thucydides ascribes their brevity to lack of capital. That no doubt has something to do with it. But the dislike of the agriculturalist to be called away from home during a season of harvest, which inasmuch as it included the gathering of the produce of cereals, vines, and olives, extended throughout the greater part of the campaigning season, had a great deal more to do with it; and the fact … that a state when invaded, had either by submission or battle, to bring matters to a prompt decision, was most of all responsible for this feature of Greek warfare.45

The use of farmer-citizen-soldiers in the armies of the poleis discouraged the employment of mercenaries. But the situation changed throughout the course of the twenty-seven years of the Great War. The periods of activity were longer and the service more exacting than any prior experience of Greek citizen armies.

Year after year the cultivator was called from his land, and the trader from his business, at the very season at which his presence was most needed, if the land and the business were not to go to ruin. It was naturally suggested to the mind of the Greek that it was better to support the burden of paying someone to take your place in the field rather than be robbed altogether of the means of supporting yourself.46

Thus, the idea of employing mercenary troops took root and grew rapidly during the last third of the fifth century. A direct impetus to employing professional soldiers on land came from an experience early in the war. The Athenians operating in Chalcidice learned to appreciate “the fact that light-armed could be employed effectively against hoplites, and, generally speaking, that a hoplite force by itself was not by any means invincible or invaluable on ground and under circumstances which differed fundamentally from those which were characteristic of Greece.”47 In Aetolia, moreover, light-armed troops had inflicted a humiliating defeat on Athenian hoplites after they forced them to act on ground unsuited to their usual tactics and without the assistance of an efficient light-armed force. Indeed, Demosthenes’ experience fighting in northwest Greece had so impressed him with the potential of lightly armed troops that he made use of them against the Spartans at Sphakteria.

Yet Athens still did not have any regularly organized light infantry at the time of the battle of Delium. The main role of light-armed fighters in the fifth century was to protect the flanks of advancing heavy infantry. In any event it was not until the fourth century, with the rising importance of light infantry, peltasts in particular, that Greek armies became much more professional. Grundy argues that it would have been very difficult to persuade a citizen soldier to lighten his defensive armor to attain greater freedom of movement. He would have been reluctant to give up the personal security afforded by his heavy armor, since he did not regard war as his trade. Besides, “the Greek soldier, like other soldiers, was tenacious of old ideas. Could he have put them off, he might have put off his armour. But he clung to the one, and so he clung to the other.”48

It took fighting outside Greece to initiate developments in the use of efficient light-armed troops; experience with peoples such as the Thracians inspired the development of the more mobile and highly trained bodies of peltasts who served under commanders like Iphikrates in the early fourth century. But in the Great War itself, “the Greek had never discovered that there was a sort of mean between the extremes of his heavy-armed and light-armed troops, and sufficient offensive and defensive armour to cope successfully, or, at any rate, with a fair hope of success, with bodies of hoplite troops.”49 It was only in situations in which hoplites were caught on ground unsuited for their formation and tactics that light-armed troops decided a battle.

Cavalry also played a limited part in the wars of Greece. For the most part cavalry seems to have been of considerable value only if used in combination with heavy infantry. Horsemen could guard the flanks of an army and protect or harass scattered bands of foragers. But cavalry of the fifth century was not good enough to employ against a hoplite force in close formation; however, having cavalry provided distinct advantages over an enemy without it. For example, the Athenian cavalry at Mantinea helped them overcome the fierce resistance of the Corinthian hoplites. Grundy explains that the weakness of cavalry among the Greeks had a different set of causes than was the case with light infantry. Above all, the very poor pasturage of the greater part of Greece makes it especially unsuited for horse breeding.

The Greeks could not develop the cavalry because they had not the horses. Apart from that, an effective cavalry force such as would be required against hoplites, is very expensive to maintain. Its existence is only possible under two conditions: abundance of good horses, and a numerous and hardy nobility of sufficient wealth to supply themselves with horses and the horseman’s panoply.50

As a result only Thessaly and Boeotia developed effective cavalry. And despite the significance of their cavalry the Boeotians themselves considered the horseman inferior in importance to the hoplite. It was only under the military genius of Philip of Macedon and his son Alexander that a Greek state created a force of heavy cavalry from the nobility of the country. Alexander realized the possibility of using heavy cavalry as the striking force of his army, “while the phalanx, more heavily armed than ever, and consequently more immobile, should give solidarity and rigidity to the resisting power of the line of battle.” On the other hand, Grundy points out the ultimate supremacy of the phalanx for the Greek art of war. “The effectiveness of the cavalry declined as its personnel became scattered over the whole of Western Asia, but the phalanx remained as the type of all that men thought best in the military art, until it was wiped out of existence by those soldiers who combined all the best fighting qualities of the hoplite and the peltasts, the Roman legionaries.”51

The analysis of Grundy has heavily influenced discussions of the classical hoplite phalanx for the past century. Hoplite armies comprised farmer-citizen-soldiers. The strategy and tactics of the phalanx required little training, because it relied on heavy infantry and did not integrate efficient light-armed troops or cavalry. The Greeks emphasized the cohesion of their ranks in their massed charge into battle; solidity and weight were of paramount importance in the initial collision with the enemy; in order to break apart and put to rout the opposing phalanx, a general attempted to roll up the enemy line from left to right by deploying his best troops on the right wing. Significant changes in the art of war occurred during the course of the last third of the fifth century, but did not fully take shape until the generation after Thucydides wrote. Later scholars would apply Grundy’s description of hoplite warfare to the fighting that took place two centuries before the battle of Marathon.

Since Grote first published his History of Greece, scholars have come to view the development of the phalanx as the driving force of a revolution not only in military tactics; they argue that the hoplite helped shape the political and social structures of the early polis as well as transform the cultural values of archaic Greece. The progress of modern scientific archaeology has been one of the key factors in advancing the idea. For example, at about the time Grundy was writing, Wolfgang Helbig in 1909 used datable finds of hoplite arms and equipment, above all the shield, to ask when the Greeks first adopted their characteristic style of close combat in the phalanx. In addition, Helbig provided the first analysis of the Chigi vase. It was Martin Nilsson, however, who first gave the classic statement of the hoplite orthodoxy in his seminal article of 1929.

The appearance of the phalanx in art, especially the Protocorinthian Chigi vase, provides the basis for Nilsson’s thesis. The Chigi vase shows two lines of hoplite warriors attacking with raised spears, preceded by a flute player. The vase provides a lower limit for the introduction of mature hoplite tactics by the second half of the seventh century and a vivid contrast with Homeric warfare:

In Homer, we find a completely different battle style…. The aristocrats have the role of champions, the battle finds its resolution in solo combats and the large mass of soldiers only provides a background, being given but little consideration. Even when the epic poets exaggerate the deeds and importance of single individuals for the sake of their aristocratic public, there remains an unbridgeable difference.52

Nilsson points out the difficulty in setting a higher date for the phalanx because of the problems involved in interpreting the poetry of Tyrtaeus. On the one hand, Wilamowitz53 had argued that Tyrtaeus describes the large tower shield found in Homer, “cover with the wide belly of the shield your thighs and shins below and your chest and shoulders.” On these grounds he rejected passages that mention the round hoplite shield and the phalanx as interpolations.54 It was also problematic that the elegies mention the Homeric word for champions, promachoi. But Nilsson saw the possibility that this term had taken on a new meaning in the context of Tyrtaeus. And even if Tyrtaeus indicates that the Spartans had not yet adopted the phalanx by the Second Messenian War,55 Nilsson cites the unambiguous shields that turned up in the then unpublished Spartan excavations of 1906–1910 and 1924–1927 discussed by Woodward:56

I do not remember a single shield of the figure-8 type on any Geometric or archaic work of art…. In these periods the Spartan shield was essentially the round one…. I cannot believe that the countless lead figurines of soldiers would all have a round shield unless this was the normal type; and the only clay votive model of a shield, found in 1926, is also circular; I think we may regard the collective evidence as convincing against the figure-8 shield having been in use at Sparta in post-Mycenaean times.

Nilsson accepted that the evidence of Tyrtaeus was inconclusive. The passages in question may “refer to a time when the hoplite tactic was still in its state of development and that the tightly packed phalanx first began to supersede the champions gradually.” In fact, a stage of transition seemed likely.57

The hoplite tactic was introduced in the seventh century at the latest, or more rightly was finalized. Because, of course, it did not step into the world in one go, but first people gradually learned how to repel and to dash to the ground the impetuous attack of the champions using the close-serried ranks of hoplites, a transition, which, as an aside, we can with some good will infer from a few passages of Tyrtaios. Maybe it did not go so dramatically as long ago, when the knightly army of Charles the Bold was annihilated by the pikes of the Swiss, rather, the new tactic developed more gradually and proved its superiority.58

Yet the sheer numbers of the archaeological finds left no doubt that the tower shield had never been in use at Dorian Sparta. If anything, the apparent Homeric references to it must illustrate the poetic language that Tyrtaeus had inherited from the epic. Nilsson used Solon and the timocracy he set up in Athens to fix the introduction of the hoplite phalanx high in the seventh century. He saw the economic demand placed on the hoplite to provide his own panoply as the forerunner to the thinking behind Solon’s census classes. “The principle of the demarcation of political rights and responsibilities according to wealth was so naturalized and well developed in the first years of the 6th century that Solon could employ it for a real timocracy in his division of classes.”59

Nilsson could not imagine the Greek polis without the introduction of the phalanx. “The Greek polis in its distinctiveness is inconceivable without the hoplite army, where the solidarity, of which the polis availed itself, was manifestly inculcated in the citizens.”60The phalanx made cavalry obsolete and caused a breakdown in the aristocratic state. Nilsson draws an analogy between the feudal knight and the Homeric champion. The invention of gunpowder destroyed the military effectiveness of the knight and transformed the values of the medieval world. Likewise, hoplite tactics introduced a change in mentality and made futile the heroes’ drive for preeminence and individual glory.61 Nilsson describes how the new military order signaled the downfall of the aristocracy and gave birth to the short-lived tyrannies. “One can imagine the course of events, so that the hoplites, with the economic boom, gradually becoming more and more powerful and fit for military service, initially together with the unpropertied mass, turned against the aristocracy and accepted the tyranny, since it supported their economic interests; but then, with growing importance and increasing political-confidence, strongly contributed to preparing the end of tyranny.” The immediate benefactors of the fall of the tyrants, however, are not the poor. “Not the mass, but rather the middle class has raked in the profit. In the motherland—for this is the concern here—a fully developed democracy does not follow from the rule of the tyrants, but a more or less moderate one, which corresponds to the interests of the middle class.” Nilsson extends his thinking even into the early years of the democracy. “We see this, for example, in Korinth and in Athens, where the so-called rule of the Areopagus lasted for about 20 years after the Persian war; it is little known, but it demonstrates the moderate way that we must necessarily attribute to a middle class fit for military service.”62 The work of Nilsson anticipates the recent debate about Tyrtaeus and the idea that the development of phalanx tactics may have been gradual. But for Nilsson, much like Grote, the rise of the polis was inconceivable without the emergence of the middling hoplites, their values, and their ability to demand political change.

The first expression of the hoplite orthodoxy in English was the classic article by Lorimer in 1947.63 She dated the adoption of hoplite tactics and equipment in the most important poleis to the first half of the seventh century. The introduction of the new shield caused an immediate change in tactics.

The momentous change from the essentially long-range fighting of the eighth century involved a single structural alteration in the round shield slung on a telamon which was in vogue, an alteration designed to make it afford the maximum of protection to troops in close formation so long as they stood firm; in the case of flight it became a mere encumbrance and was fairly likely to be thrown away. The change consisted in the substitution for the single central hand-grip previously in use of a central arm-band of metal (porpax), through which the bearer thrust his arm up to the elbow, and a hand-grip (antilabe), at the end of the horizontal diameter and just within the rim, which he grasped with his left hand.64

Lorimer described the range of motion of the new shield as “extremely restricted” compared with the single-grip shield, which “unless exceptionally large” was “easily manoeuvrable,” and “could be used to cover practically any part of the owner’s body. The hoplite shield gave complete protection only to the left side of the trunk, with consequences when the phalanx went into action which Thucydides has made familiar to everyone.” She outlined the hoplite revolution, linking the arms, armor, and tactics together:

Hoplite equipment is inseparably linked with the phalanx and its tactics, whose whole object was to supersede long-range fighting by a hand-to-hand encounter waged by an unbreakable line uniformly armed. The essence of the change consisted for attack, in the substitution of the single heavy thrusting-spears and, for defence, in the adoption of the porpax shield with its powerful inducement to keep the line and not turn tail. Greaves extended protection without being a serious encumbrance; the Corinthian helmet superseded, not quite universally, forms which might offer a hand-hold to an opponent in the now inevitable close-locked struggle. These items form a natural and logical combination, and they all appear on one of our earliest monuments, the Perachora aryballos.65

The finds of arms and armor made it possible to date the revolution. Mainland Greece made the transition to hoplite armor right after the enigmatic Lelantine War, to which its adoption is somehow related. The single-grip shield had been current in Attica in the late eighth century, but the Hymettus amphora demonstrated that hoplite equipment had superseded it before 675. This change coincided with the earliest established date in Athenian history, the beginning of the list of annual archons. “It would seem that the consummation of the political revolution and the reorganization of the army were approximately contemporary, as is natural enough.” In Sparta, the lead figurines of warriors from the sanctuary of Artemis Orthia seemed to confirm her hypothesis. “That part of the series which runs concurrently with Laconian I pottery—i.e., from circa 700 to circa 635, in which they are pretty numerous—has almost without exception hoplite equipment so far as it can be checked.”66 Furthermore, in Corinth, the Protocorinthian aryballos from Perachora dated to the same period.

The famous Chigi vase offered the strongest case for the revolution in tactics (see fig. 2-8). This Protocorinthian olpe, or pitcher, of the finest period, which falls shortly after 650, “succeeds in depicting the hoplite phalanx going into action,” and furnishes “an indubitable representation of hoplite forces … the earliest reliable evidence for the new armature.”67 Lorimer explains:

Each side forms a hoplite phalanx, pure and unadulterated; every article of hoplite equipment is plainly represented and nothing alien to it, and the tactics—hand-to-hand fighting with the spear—are purely hoplite. Of the ranks on the point of engaging each man holds his spear above his head, nearly horizontal but with a slight downward tilt, poised ready, not for a throw, but for a thrust at the exposed throat of an opponent.68

Some of the essential points include the presence of hoplite equipment, the shield with the porpax and antilabe, the metal corselet and greaves, and the fighting style, close combat with a thrusting instead of a throwing spear. Both the equipment and fighting style mark off the hoplite from the previous Geometric warrior armed with a single-grip shield, leather corselet, no greaves, and a javelin. The flutist in his purple tunic is significant. For example, Thucydides mentions in his description of the battle of Mantinea (5.70) that the Spartans used a flute player to help maintain their formation as they marched into battle. But Lorimer denies that the warriors on the Chigi vase carry more than one spear; she claims that the five redundant spears above the men are either “ghost spears” or are meant to be thrown.

As the number of the ghost spears and of the combatants are the same, the artist presumably intended to indicate that each man had a second spear in reserve, carried by his servant, but at the same time to suggest by the extra spears the presence of a larger body of troops than he could depict without marring the clarity of his composition, a device which is completely successful.69

The early and complete change in the foot soldier’s equipment, which produced a revolution in tactics and political change in the polis, transformed Greek art in the seventh century as well. Yet the transformation in art was more gradual and reveals itself in stages from the Perachora aryballos to the Chigi olpe.

The transformation from Geometric art marks the rise of the individual, which one may see on the Perachora aryballos. “There too struggling to assert itself against it [the individual], was the consciousness, equally foreign to Geometric art, that the battle engaged was between two organized fronts, in which the individual was merged in the fighting force of his polis. On the Berlin aryballos and in the relevant zone of the Chigi olpe the heroic motive is wholly discarded in favour of an exaltation of contemporary life, perhaps the glorification of the hoplite class.” Lorimer posits that the tyrants such as Cypselus found the most reliable support of their power in the hoplite class. “What exportable monument could be better fitted than the olpe to spread the impression of Corinthian military power in the highest circles abroad?”70 The link with the tyrants places Lorimer in the tradition of Grote and Nilsson.

Like Grote, Lorimer saw the revolution in hoplite tactics and the related political changes as sudden and dramatic. They marked not only a change in warfare and political structures but also the rise of the individual and a transformation of the Homeric ethos. The key element is the substitution of the single- for the double-grip shield, which required a close formation. She placed her confidence in dating the changes to the representations in Greek vase painting, the Chigi vase above all.

The modern textbook description of how the early Greek state emerged in the wake of a hoplite revolution took shape in the decade following Lorimer’s work. This is evident in the work of Adcock and Andrewes. For his part Adcock built on the earlier work of Grundy, as well as Lorimer; he connected the Greek art of war in the seventh century with the social and political culture of the early polis. “We can see, as Aristotle saw, that it [the art of war] is in part a cause, and in part an effect, of the political development of the city-state.”71 It is unclear how the art was attained, but the epic tradition showed the historical Greeks that war had become something far different from fighting in the heroic age. War for the polis in the seventh century “meant the uniting of the armed men of the community to fight shoulder to shoulder, with an orderly, integrated valour.”72 Adcock disregards those parts of Greece which were not poleis; they not only had different forms of political organization; they also had different ways of fighting. Absent are the clashes of heroes or aristocrats. Instead of striving for individual glory, the hoplite must identify his interests with those of the polis. “This [the characteristic political form of the Greeks and its characteristic method of waging war] was to place in the field as its one dominant arm a phalanx of hoplites. I use phalanx as a convenient word to describe a body of infantry drawn up in close order in several ranks which are also close together.”73 Adcock emphasizes the importance of the shield for hoplites: “the character and use of their shields were of the essence of their fighting in battle.” The aim of battle was to achieve a decisive victory through a contest of heavy infantry.

The effectiveness of the phalanx depends in part on skill in fighting by those in the front rank, and in part on the physical and moral support of the lines behind them. The two opposing phalanxes meet each other with clash of shield on shield and blow of spear against spear. Their momentum is increased by the impetus of the charge that precedes their meeting. If the first clash is not decisive by the superior weight and thrust of the one phalanx over the other, the fighting goes on. The later ranks supply fighters as those before them fall. At last one side gains the upper hand. Then the other phalanx breaks and takes to flight and the battle is won and lost.

Hoplite battles depend on the shock collision of heavy infantry, exclude light-armed and missile troops, follow certain “rules” of engagement, tend to be fought by farmers over farmland, and are limited in extent and decisive. “The normal battle between hoplite armies ends, after a severe clash and some fighting at close quarters, in the rout of one side or the other. Pursuit is limited; the victor remains in possession of the battlefield, as though that was what he was fighting to possess. The vanquished accepts defeat: he is given his dead to bury: the victor sets up a trophy to mark his success.” This account of hoplite strategy and tactics and the “rules” for the seventh century recalls that of Grundy for the fifth.

The recipe for victory is to have more or better, or more and better, hoplites than the opponent. Except for the successful exploitation of an advantage on the right wing—and this requires more tactical control than most generals could apply—the battle is a head-on collision all along the line. It would seem to follow that it is almost irrational to engage in battle unless the hoplite strength of the two sides approaches parity.74

Adcock lays out the simplicity and economy of the hoplite art of war. “It is hard to conceive of a method of warfare that, in peace, made a more limited call on the time and effort of most citizens of most communities.” The ritual of hoplite warfare made it possible for those who could provide their own shields to fight on equal terms with the elite of the polis. “It did not suit the ideas of an early aristocracy to provide equipment for men who could not afford to provide it for themselves, or to train such men to fight on an equality with their betters.”75 In general, the economy of hoplite warfare served the needs of the middling farmers.

Campaigns were brief. The armies, operating in the summer, wished to be home again for the harvest and the gathering of the grapes and olives. And one battle nearly always settled the business. The losses of a defeated army were almost invariably greater than those of the victors, even though pursuit, after the hard exertion of the combat, was not prolonged…. The battle was, as it were, a mass “duel,”76 a trial of strength; and the verdict of the trial was accepted. It would have seemed to the Greeks of this age folly not to know you were beaten…. Nor did they wish to press matters to the arduous task of besieging the enemy city. And so states passed from war to peace as easily, or more easily, than from peace to war.77

This version of fighting in the archaic polis contains all the essential elements that make up the orthodoxy on hoplite strategy and tactics. Adcock’s account applies to the two hundred years prior to the battle of Marathon much of what Grundy had said about the art of war in the fifth century.

In his 1956 landmark study, The Greek Tyrants, Andrewes emphasized the hoplite as a basic factor to explain “the age of tyrants” in Greece; he covers the period from the usurpation of Cypselus of Corinth in about 650 to the expulsion of the Peisistratids from Athens in 510. Andrewes builds on the idea of a hoplite revolution, which scholars had established during the previous century. The age of the tyrants marked the turning point in the political development of Greece, namely, the breakdown of the old political order of oppressive or inadequate aristocracies of the early seventh century; these regimes gave way before the establishment of more broadly based oligarchies. This change coincides with the introduction of new tactics in war. “At the beginning of the seventh century the Greeks changed their style of fighting and began to use the mass formation of heavy-armed infantry called hoplites…. The essential features of the change concern the type of shield, the use of the spear, and the training of a formation instead of individual fighters.”78

The tactical and ideological underpinnings of the orthodoxy espoused by Andrewes are essentially the same since Grote more than a century earlier. The hoplite marked the transition from the javelin warrior who was lightly armed and fought at close quarters with a single-grip shield and sword. “The outstanding difference between the two systems is that hoplites can only fight in formation.” The revolution in weapons and tactics, moreover, transformed Greek values and notions of arete. “Defensively it is clear from the nature of the shield just described that the hoplite’s safety depends on the line holding fast. This is what produces the characteristic Greek conception of courage, the picture shown to us by Tyrtaeus and Plato of the good man who keeps his place and does not give ground.”

Since Grundy the emphasis on the weight and awkwardness of the defensive armor had become a key part of the orthodoxy. “In the new hoplite style, defensive armour was much heavier.” The fighter could hold the new double-grip shield more firmly, but could only cover his left side. Moreover, it was difficult to maneuver the shield to protect the right. “This was not necessary while the line stood fast, for a good half of every man’s shield projected to the left of his elbow and covered the next man’s right side. In flight such a shield was no protection at all, merely a burden, and if he ran away the hoplite was apt to throw it down.” The use of weapons distinguishes the hoplite from the Dark Age warrior. “The spear was still the first weapon of offence, but no longer as a missile: instead, it was held firmly for a thrust, the favorite stroke being made with the spear held high and pointed downwards to attack the neck above the edge of the breastplate. If the spear failed, the hoplite took to his sword like the older type of fighter.”79

The description in Andrewes of the main elements of hoplite battle and its contrast with the style of fighting in the heroic age recalls both Grundy and Grote. “Offensively the decisive factor is the weight of the combined charge of several ranks of hoplites with a view to breaking the enemy’s line, and this kind of charge needed practice.” Homer’s depictions of individual duels owe something to the needs of heroic poetry. On the other hand, “real fighting of the pre-hoplite period tended to be like that, with the mass of the troops only lightly armed and the expert fighters attacking one another individually.”80

Following Lorimer, Andrewes dates the revolution to the first quarter of the seventh century based on iconography. The painting of battle scenes on Greek vases does not begin until the late eighth century, and the images are often indeterminate. But the representations of the old style at the end of the eighth century contrast with the depictions of fighting between hoplite warriors on Corinthian and Attic vases before 675, and the series of lead figurines with hoplite armor from Sparta in about 700. The definitive example is the Chigi vase painted around 650: “Protocorinthian artists had mastered the difficult problem of making a picture which represents hoplites in formation … for purposes of dating, the first representations of even single hoplites is decisive, since the nature of hoplite equipment is such that it must from the first have been used in formation and cannot have been adopted piecemeal.”81

Drawing inspiration from Aristotle, he connects the emergence of hoplite warfare with the rise of the middling citizens, broad-based political reforms, and the rise of the early Greek tyrants.

The social and political basis for these two styles of fighting must be entirely different. The earlier, more individual method is the method of a military aristocracy, where the mass of the people is of little account and the brunt of the fighting is borne by a class of privileged experts: the hoplite method needs a broader basis, a greater number of trained fighters accustomed to acting as a team and not to showing off their individual prowess.

Andrewes identifies the hoplites as “a sort of middle class, including the more substantial farmers, for the equipment of Greek armies was not provided by the state, and the hoplites were just that income-group which could afford hoplite armour.” He points out the political effect of the new tactics: “the middle class would start to claim its share of power in the state, breaking into the monopoly held by the aristocrats.82

In the Politics, Aristotle made similar observations: the early polis relied for its military strength on cavalry, which only the wealthy class could afford; therefore, the first constitutions after the monarchies were very narrow; but when the polis came to depend on the hoplite army, political power was spread more widely. Andrewes points out that the remarks about cavalry in early Greece cannot be verified but that this in itself does not invalidate what the philosopher says about how the introduction of hoplite tactics affected the early constitutions. Indeed, Andrewes connects the hoplites with tyranny, though Aristotle does not. “The tyrannies begin a generation or so after the introduction of hoplites, and it is hardly possible that there should be no connection between them.”83 “There is no direct proof that the earliest tyrants, Cypselus of Corinth and Orthagoras of Sicyon, relied on hoplite support,” but, since Cypselus never needed a bodyguard, he must have been sure of the army.84

Sparta and Solonian Athens provide stronger evidence for the emergence of the hoplite class. At Sparta, membership in the sovereign assembly depended on service in the phalanx. “These soldier-citizens proudly called themselves the ‘Equals’ (homoioi), and while they held down a subject population many times their own number, they attempted to preserve a strict equality within their own body.” That the new style of fighting produced an egalitarian ethos is one of the essential features of the hoplite narrative. In the case of Sparta, it enabled the polis to avoid revolution and to attain its renowned stability. “There was no tyranny at Sparta, and one important reason is that they gave the hoplites the vote and insisted on equality between them.” A comparable crisis later arose in Athens.

Early in the sixth century Solon staved off civil war by breaking the absolute political power of the noble families called Eupatridae. He divided the Athenians into four classes with privileges based on farm income instead of birth. The lowest class had minimal powers, which included the right to vote in the assembly and at elections, and to sit in the court of appeal. But Solon restricted eligibility for high office to the two richest classes. “In between comes the third class called zeugitai, who were roughly the hoplites, indeed that seems to be the meaning of the name: they were admitted to minor political office.” The hoplites may have brought about the crisis in Athens, but Solon in his moderation did not satisfy their interests. “The hoplites were the politically active element, the group who would have gained most land if there had been a revolution. Solon, as he boasts, contrived to keep the demos [sc. the hoplites and no one else] in order. In his constitutional settlement the principle [sic] gainers were the rich men outside the circle of the great Eupatrid families. The hoplites got only as much as Solon thought good for them, and it was not nearly as much as they wanted.”85 However, in the case of both Athens and Sparta, the polis had to come to terms with the emergence of the middling farmers to avoid revolution and tyranny.

Andrewes credits hoplites with transferring power from the narrow aristocracies to a much wider class throughout Greece during the age of the tyrannies and the succeeding regimes. “The detailed evidence sometimes confirms and nowhere contradicts the thesis that these were mainly hoplite revolutions, and the a priori likelihood is very great that the institution of the hoplite army would entail such a shift of political power.” The reason was simple: other poleis had no choice. “In military development no state can afford to lag behind, and if one city adopted the new arms and tactics the rest must do so in self defence. From now on the defence of the state rested on the hoplites, and with the knowledge of this it is not surprising that they should gradually acquire confidence and begin to demand a share of political power.”86

The hoplite orthodoxy attained its complete form with the thesis of Andrewes. Subsequent scholars have drawn out its implications in various ways, and the theory has strongly influenced the manner in which many textbooks present the rise of the polis. W. G. Forrest’s 1966 The Emergence of Greek Democracy, 800–400 BC is one of the earliest and most prominent examples.87 Forrest uses the hoplite orthodoxy to explain the breakdown of the aristocratic Greek state of 800 BC and the attainments of the polis, namely, the absolute acceptance of laws, including constitutions, by citizens with equal rights and equal duties to administer and maintain those laws.

The Western Way of War

Two of Victor Davis Hanson’s books, The Western Way of War and The Other Greeks, have made perhaps the largest and most controversial contributions to the hoplite grand narrative in the past thirty years. In The Western Way of War, Hanson discusses the changes that occurred in Greek warfare after the Dark Age.88 The era of mounted fighters who dismounted from either a chariot (i.e., in Homer) or a horse to throw javelins came to a close in the eighth century with the introduction of the heavily armored infantryman. No longer did warfare consist of aristocrats fighting duels with their social equals. Victory in battle now depended more and more on the common soldier who was armed with his own panoply and fought head-on with a round double-grip shield and thrusting spear in the tight formation that became the classical phalanx. In this way, Hanson’s account belongs to the long tradition of the hoplite orthodoxy. In part, his conclusions about the nature of hoplite battle reassert the orthodoxy contrary to recent scholarship. “I should confess that recent attempts to prove some idea of widespread fluidity in the phalanx, to envision individual skirmishing rather than collective pushing, make no sense at all; the image is not based, it seems to me, on a fair reading of the ancient evidence.”89 Similarly to Grundy and Adcock, Hanson calls Greek hoplite warfare “decisive engagement as shock battle and frontal assault.”90

Grundy had pointed out the necessity for citizen militias to confront invaders outside the walls of the acropolis to protect their precious crops in the alluvial plains. Adcock suggested that in early hoplite battles the Greeks were fighting for possession of the battlefield, the farmland. In a 1983 work, Hanson argued that the amount of damage an army could do to the crops, vines, and fruit-bearing trees of an enemy polis was limited.91 Therefore, despite reports in the ancient historians of invaders “laying waste” the fields of their enemy, Hanson countered, “the rationale of Greek battle between heavy infantry of the classical period cannot be that it was preventative to agricultural catastrophe but, rather, we must consider that it arose as a provocation or reaction to the mere threat of farm attack.”92 Since actual long-term damage to agriculture was minimal, when the enemy entered a city-state’s farms, “infantrymen marched out not to save their livelihoods nor even their ancestral homes, but rather for an idea: that no enemy march uncontested through the plains of Greece, that, in Themistocles’ words, ‘no man become inferior to, or give way, before another.’ ”93This provides the background for a hoplite battle. “Usually a quick response was considered necessary, in the form of heavily armed and armored farmers filing into a suitable small plain—the usual peacetime workplace of all involved—where brief but brutal battle resulted either in concessions granted to the army of invasion, or humiliating, forced retreat back home for the defeated.”

Like earlier scholars, Hanson argues that the fundamental differences between massed infantry combat and the style of fighting that existed prior to it are in part linked with the rise of the polis. But Hanson goes further. The Greek city-states formed “the first consensual governments in the history of civilization that fielded soldiers who were independent and free property owners—militiamen, family farmers, and voters all in one.” These facts help explain why the Greeks wanted to limit warfare to single, brief, shock encounters, as well as why they developed an ethos that such face-to-face killing at close range in “pure” hoplite battles was more “fair” and “noble” than other forms of combat.

Not only did such men find it in their own economic and political interests to fight decisively—they had no wish to be absent from their farms on long campaigns and no desire to tax or spend to hire others to do so—but also spiritually such fighting reaffirmed the free farmers’ preeminence in Hellenic culture at large. In Greek art, literature, and popular culture only the free landowning citizen—the hoplite—was willing and able to endure the spear carnage of phalanx warfare, and thus alone deserving of the honors and prestige of his polis at large.94

The remarkable integration of civic and military duties within the polis accounts for the success of the farmer-citizen-soldier model. “In most cases, men were arranged within the phalanx right next to lifelong friends or family members, and fought not only for the safety of their community and farmland but also for the respect of the men at their front, rear, and side.” These small landholders and craftsmen might be called up for military service any summer after their eighteenth birthday until they turned sixty.95 “We can be sure that the greater danger to any landholding infantryman was painful death on the battlefield, not slow starvation brought on through loss of his farm.”96

The Western Way of War sets the mass confrontations of the Greeks apart from those of any previous ancient civilization.

Egyptians, Hittites, Persians, or tribal forces from central and northern Europe were not by Greek standards heavily armed and armored. The bow, the javelin, and the sling were usually the preeminent offensive weapons of such forces. Horsemen and chariots were often the decisive contingents that ensured victory or defeat. Even those footsoldiers who charged each other did so in small groups and often through uncoordinated attacks. None were free citizens, who could vote—much less buy, own, or pass on private property. Herodotus felt that no other armies fought in the “absurd” way of the Greeks—heavily armored militiamen crashing together on flat plains during the long days of summer, each side after the initial collision seeking quite literally to push the other off the battlefield through a combination of spear thrusting and the shove of bodies.97

These battle traits of the Greeks established a distinctive Western way of war. “Firepower and heavy defensive armament—not merely the ability but also the desire to deliver fatal blows and then steadfastly to endure, without retreat, any counterresponse—have always been the trademark of Western armies.”98 The geography of most of the major city-states favored this type of warfare. The valleys of Argos, Athens, Corinth, Mantinea, Sparta, and Thebes were surrounded and divided by nearby mountain ranges. “Such small and rolling plains not only favored the culture of small farming, but also allowed heavy infantry to march unencumbered, and gave no natural shelter for the less armored; the nearby hills also protected the flanks of such ponderous infantry columns from the sweeps of flanking horsemen.”99

However, the brutal but brief and limited hoplite battles, which served as “a glorious method of saving lives and confining conflict to an hour’s heroics between armored infantry,”100 did not dominate throughout the entire life of the polis. Following the Persian invasions of Greece in the early fifth century, the rise of sea power and the constant struggle between Sparta and Athens for hegemony and empire changed the nature of warfare. In addition to naval forces, Greek warfare started to make use of a variety of light-armed troops, skirmishers and missile troops by the fifth century. Hoplites themselves had begun to wear lighter body armor. Cavalry, artillery, and sieges became integral to campaigns that were waged over longer periods of time and in multiple theaters of operations. But the process that culminated in the phalanx of Philip II and Alexander did not take hold until the early fourth century. Instead, Hanson focuses on the seventh and sixth centuries when discussing the ideal of the middling farmer-citizen-soldier who voted to fight the wars of his polis. “For at least the two centuries between 700 and 500 B.C., and perhaps for much of the early fifth century as well, hoplite infantry battle determined the very nature of Greek warfare, and became the means to settle disputes—instantaneously, economically, and ethically.”

Hanson’s account differs from other treatments of the orthodoxy by concentrating not on strategy and tactics but on the combat experience of the average Greek soldier. Like Adcock, Hanson cites the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Germans Köchly and Rüstow (1852), Droysen (1888), Delbrück (1920), and, especially, Kromayer and Veith (1928) for their expertise in Greek hoplite arms, drill, and deployment, and the strategic limitations of the generals.101 But Hanson has more serious reservations about the approach of these scholars to Greek battle. Their handbooks, “exemplars of nineteenth-century scholarship at both its best and its worst, view conflict strategically, topographically, logistically, tactically—in the end, nonsensically and amorally.” The analytical distance in their accounts of the battles marks their detachment from the subject.102 Even later British scholars such as Tarn (1930), Griffith (1935), and Greenhalgh (1973) maintain to an extent “the previous obsession with deployment, drill, weapons and tactics.”103On the other hand, Hanson praises the shift in focus accomplished by Kendrick Pritchett in his five-volume The Greek State at War (1971–1979). “For the first time Greek warfare was really seen in its proper function as a social institution, as commonplace and integral an activity to the Greeks as agriculture or religion: in Garlan’s words, “ ‘ancient war has a reality, a manner of being, a practice and a mode of behavior that are as wide as society itself.’ ”104

Inspired by John Keegan’s The Face of Battle, The Western Way of War depicts in graphic detail what it must have been like for Greek infantrymen to fight in the typical hoplite battle.105 Hanson shows the Greek fighter as “warrior, killer and victim.” “I try to suggest what the environment of ancient Greek battle was, the atmosphere in which the individual struggled to kill and to avoid death, the sequence of events seen from within the phalanx. I ask the question, What was it like? at any given stage of the fighting.”106“John Keegan … had demonstrated that a firsthand description need not be mere blood and guts, but could tell us much about the society that yielded such fighters—and indeed about the human condition itself.”107 Several of the areas Hanson covers have been the subjects of much recent debate, including the weight and awkwardness of hoplite armor and its impact on fighting style, and the nature of the collision and the pushing of the troops.

In keeping with the orthodox belief that hoplite arms and armor must have been created for the special needs of close fighting in tight formation, Hanson discusses the disadvantages of the panoply.

Heavy, uncomfortable, unbearably hot, the panoply was especially poorly suited for the Mediterranean summer; it restricted even simple movement, and in general must have made life miserable for the men who were expected to wear it. Most modern estimates of the weight of hoplite equipment range from fifty to seventy pounds for the panoply of greaves, shield, breastplate, helmet, spear, and sword—an incredible burden for the ancient infantryman, who himself probably weighed no more than some 150 pounds.108

The gradual move toward lighter panoplies over the 250 years from the seventh to the fifth century seems to have been in response to the discomfort the hoplite experienced.

The introduction of a so-called race in armor at the Olympic Games (520) and the final Greek charge at Marathon (490) may reflect a newfound mobility arising from a reduced panoply. Such activity would have been quite impossible for the original hoplites of the seventh century, whose limbs were virtually encased in bronze. In any case, it is clear that the hoplites of the fifth century never had any auxiliary protection for the arms, thighs, and ankles. Their helmets, body armor, and greaves all became sleeker, lighter, and at times disappeared altogether, again suggesting continual displeasure with the weight of the old equipment of their forefathers.109

Two items receive the most discussion from scholars since they are essential to the panoply: the double-grip shield and the “Corinthian” helmet. Hanson analyses the uses of the shield. “The advantage over the earlier ox-hide models of the Dark Age was the greater protection against standing spear and sword thrusts, allowing the warrior the chance to approach his enemy at much closer range.” The double-grip system relieved the weight of the shield by distributing it over the entire arm, but had several drawbacks.

Overall body movement was impaired [by this grip] as the left arm—for most men the more awkward and weaker one—had to be held rigidly, stuck out in front of the body waist high, elbow bent and the forearm straight and parallel to the ground, the hand tightly clenched to the grip. If the hoplite bent down or slipped, the lower rim of the shield would scrape the ground—a likely occurrence when its wearer was not much over five and a half feet in height. Balance was affected as well, and crouching or even bending over was difficult. Nor could the shield be easily handled once battle commenced. Because the entire arm was needed to maintain its great weight, the angle of deflection could be adjusted only with difficulty, and its shape suggests that it may have been designed largely for pushing ahead. The shield could not be brought over at any angle to protect a man’s right side, and we hear of entire phalanxes caught helpless by a flank attack upon the extreme right, where the last file of hoplites had no protection at all for their unshielded sides.110

The Corinthian helmet was the most widely used headgear throughout Greece during the first two centuries of hoplite warfare. The orthodoxy contends that only a warrior fighting in a phalanx would wear equipment that imposed such restrictions on sight and hearing. “It would not be surprising if the simple formation and tactics of phalanx warfare—the massing into formation, charge, collision, and final push—grew, at least in part, out of the lack of direct communication between soldiers and their commander; dueling, skirmishing, hit-and-run attacks were out of the question with such headgear, and the isolation created by the helmet demanded that each individual seek close association with his peers.”111

Following the initial charge across no-man’s-land, the battlefield having become filled with blinding dust and deafening noise, actual battle would commence with the horrific shock of the two armies colliding. Hanson argues against those who deny this aspect of hoplite battle took place.

Some have suggested that the initial clash of many infantry battles is at times not literally a collision, there being a last-second avoidance of a real impact between the two bodies, a mutually understood step back on each side. Keegan, for example, … has said that “large masses of soldiers do not smash into each other, either because one gives way at the critical moment, or because the attackers during the advance to combat lose their faint hearts and arrive at the point very much inferior to the mass they are attacking.” (71) And yet a fair reading of the ancient accounts of hoplite battles suggests that in the case of the Greeks—and perhaps among the Greeks alone—the first charge of men usually smashed right into the enemy line: the key was to achieve an initial shock through collision which literally knocked the enemy back and allowed troops to pour in through the subsequent tears in the line. That is exactly what Arrian meant when he remarked that the idea of Greek battle was to force back the enemy during the initial charge. While in most cases such a crash was spontaneously transformed into a grinding, hand-to-hand struggle between two locked phalanxes, each striving to tear a gap in the battle line of the other, on occasion we do hear of an entire army demolished, simply rammed right off the battlefield in shambles because of the force of the initial crash of men on the move.112

Hanson proposes four reasons why a terrible collision of soldiers on the run took place within the first few seconds of ancient Greek battle. First, they had no choice. The great depth of the phalanx with its eight ranks of men generated irresistible momentum during the charge. “If they hesitated or gave into any natural fear of physical collision, they would, nevertheless, be shoved onward—or else trampled by successive waves piling against their backs from the rear.”113 Second, the protection afforded by the “unusual and bowl-like shape” of the hoplite shield gave the soldier a sense of invulnerability, which encouraged him in the seconds before the collision. Third, there was also the possibility of missing “the barrier of an enemy shield or spear, that rather than hitting a wall of wood and/or flesh, a point of iron, a plate of bronze, they might be forced in between the small gaps of running soldiers—a chance that they might smash their way through arms and legs, and begin stabbing at the second or third rank of the enemy phalanx.”114Finally, Hanson points out that the hoplite was probably not rational at this stage and was affected by a “group” mentality. “He and the other men may have been drinking together in the morning before battle and may not have been sober but, rather, functioning in these moments on ‘automatic pilot.’ ”115

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the orthodoxy in general and of Hanson’s depiction of it in particular is the nature of the othismos or “push” of shields. Following the collision of the warriors and a period of close-in fighting with thrusting spears, and then with short swords after the spears had shattered, the orthodoxy maintains that a sort of pushing or shoving match ensued. The precise nature of this obscure tactic mentioned in the sources has eluded modern scholars.

In most hoplite battles, it is true, the initial collision of men and subsequent hand-to-hand fighting soon gave way to the othismos, the “push” of shields, as one side eventually achieved a breakthrough, allowing its troops to force their way on into and through the enemy’s phalanx. On occasion, we hear that neither side could open up the requisite tear, and thus both sides simply butchered each other right where they stood, the dead discovered with “all their wounds to the front.” (Diodorus 15.55.2) In these rare cases, the soldiers in the rear could not push their way to victory, but were forced to step up a rank over the fallen corpses and take their own turn in the stand-up killing…. That the push of shields in a hoplite battle might not lead to a quick collapse soon after the crash is clear also from the second stage of fighting at Koroneia, where the Theban and Spartan phalanxes met head-on: “throwing up their shields against each other, they pushed, fought, killed, and died.”116

The troops stationed in the rear of the phalanx played a critical role in applying steady pressure without breaking formation once the push began.

The real importance of these men in the rear was simply to push those in front with their shields—in Asklepiodotos’ words, “to exert pressure with their bodies.” Of course, from the moment of impact they had been doing essentially just that, as they piled up behind their file leaders; increasingly, their pressure grew stronger or more desperate, since they were striving to force back the entire mass which was itself trying to press forward. It is surprising how many ancient authors saw the crucial phases of hoplite battle as “the push,” where each side sought desperately to create the greater momentum through the superior “weight” or “mass.”117 … The ancients took it for granted that the deeper the column, the greater its thrusting power and momentum; … most phalanxes were generally described not as rows, or ranks, or spears, but rather as “shields” in depth, which may indicate that the main idea for the ranks in the middle and rear was to push ahead with their shields and bodies. On occasion hoplite battle could be summarized simply an othismos aspidon, “the push of shields.” The goal was to break the deadlock in those precious few moments before exhaustion set in.118

Hanson discusses exactly how this mass pushing was accomplished as “each hoplite pressed with the center of his shield against the back of the man to his front, probably steadying his balance at times with his upright spear shaft as he leaned forward. The shaft in this way served as a staff of sorts—used to push off, it provided extra momentum as well as balance.”119 The construction of the hoplite shield figures directly into the nature of the pushing.

From reconstructions of the hoplite shield, evidence of vase painting, and suggestions in Greek literature, we know that the lip of the top rim of the hollow Greek model was ideal for precisely that steady pushing; the hoplite supported the shield on his shoulder as he drove it against the backs of his friends ahead. That way the weight was distributed over the entire body rather than the left arm alone, while the shield’s broad surface ensured that such pressure would be distributed evenly across the back of the man in front, neither tripping him nor forcing him off balance. Polybius simply declared that men push by “the weight of their bodies”; that same image of pushing is found again in many varieties of authors and can only confirm our belief that men in fact shoved everyone forward as they dug their bodies into the spacious dish of their own shield.120

Descriptions in the sources referring to “men who either were trampled down or literally suffocated as they stood” underline the tremendous force generated by this “mass of shields.”121 This critical phase in battle of the “push” ultimately gave way to a collapse, in which the warriors of one side succeeded in tearing open and breaking apart the other side’s phalanx, and then pouring in through the gaps they had created. The fighting ended in a general rout of the enemy’s surviving troops.

Battle degenerated into a massive, pushing contest as rank after rank struggled to solidify and increase local advantages until the entire enemy’s formation was destroyed. Yet, if the defeated could somehow maintain enough cohesion, a fighting withdrawal of sorts was possible. A great number died only when there was a sudden collapse, a collective loss of nerve, when the abrupt disruption of the phalanx sent men trampling each other in mad panic to the rear, either in small groups or, worse, individually to save themselves from spear thrusts in the back. Even when one side was swept suddenly off the battlefield, casualties in such a disaster remained low by modern standards…. Long drawn-out pursuit was also rare.122

For more than three hundred years Greece thrived under such a structured system of conflict between amateurs, where the waste of defense expenditure in lives and lost work from agricultural produce was kept within “limits.”123

The account of hoplite battle in The Western Way of War follows the basic sequence of the orthodoxy as laid out by Grundy and Adcock. On the other hand, Hanson provides by far the most ambitious, detailed, and vivid portrayal of the hoplite’s experience of battle, incorporating a wide array of primary and comparative sources. As a result, The Western Way of War has become the most cited and popular, as well as the most controversial depiction of the modern orthodoxy.124 In his next work, The Other Greeks, Hanson advanced the most far-reaching theory as to who these hoplites were. How and why did they emerge in the early polis to become the dominant force that shaped not only the fighting style but also the political forms, values, and culture of the Greeks?

The Other Greeks

Probably the most influential book written in the last two decades on the emergence of hoplite warfare and its relation to the rise of the Greek polis is Victor Davis Hanson’s The Other Greeks: the Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization. Hanson argues in the long tradition of the hoplite orthodoxy, but differs in remarkable ways from any of his predecessors. First, the idea that a new commercial economy underlies the hoplite phenomenon,125 even of the moderate variety proposed by Forrest, is absent. For Hanson, “Greek fighting of the polis should never be discussed outside the context of farming.”126 In the thousand or so agrarian city-states outside Athens and Corinth, the craftsmen and traders were few in number and exerted limited influence. “The real political, social, economic, and military issues were over land, not arising from commercial rivalry among a purported large class of manufacturers and tradesmen.”127

Second, scholars have often seen overseas colonization as simply an attempt to relieve population pressure at home or to further a new commercial economy. But Hanson thinks that starting in the eighth century an underlying change was taking place in the early polis. “Colonization of the eighth and seventh centuries did not alleviate the need for local agricultural change, but rather was a symptom that such transformation was already occurring in Greece proper.”128 He refers to the gradual internal colonization of marginal lands. In short, the increase in the population of the late Dark Age created pressures on land use, which inspired a revolution in agricultural technique that led to the birth of a new economic class, the independent middling farmer. Third, Hanson minimizes the significance of individual figures such as the Greek tyrants in creating the political revolution. “Although at some city-states tyrants at the head of a phalanx could bring about a dramatic end to old aristocracies … more often they simply were not needed. Farmers themselves, through their own agricultural expertise and agrarian ideology, had ensured their economic, political, and military superiority.”129

Fourth, Hanson envisions that an agrarian revolution was well on its way before the military revolution that took place with the creation of the hoplite phalanx. He objects to both “gradualists” and “sudden change” theorists who postulate that new battle tactics, whether at 700 or 650 BC,followed the adoption of hoplite equipment.130 The references to mass fighting of infantry in Homer’s Iliad may be historical and demonstrate that phalanx tactics of some type existed before the complete adoption of the hoplite panoply.131“Most likely a less rigid style of massed attack had already been present in the eighth century [apart from formal hoplite equipment].”132 On the other hand, Hanson sees little merit in arguing for men fighting in the hoplite panoply apart from the phalanx, in anyformation.

Could a man in heavy armor battle in small groups or alone outside the phalanx in all sorts of terrain? Consider carefully the particular elements of the hoplite panoply, especially the concave wooden shield. Seventy pounds of arms and armor were difficult to wear and somewhat expensive to fabricate. They were also disadvantageous for fluid fighting and individual combat. The image of a metal-encased pikeman scrambling alone over rocks, darting across a plain in groups of twos and threes, or perched on a charger is unconvincing.

How did this agricultural revolution, which lies at the base of all the changes associated with the rise of the polis, take place? Hanson views the increase in population as the force behind the need to intensify agriculture. By contrast, the Late Bronze Age was characterized by a command economy controlled by an autocratic, centralized, and bureaucratic government that stifled innovation in farming.

The Mycenaean bureaucracies apparently practiced collectivized agriculture under central control, the age-old anathema to productive agriculture. Such a system could never have led to the free farming of the polis era. Much of the land in Mycenaean times had been allotted to local political and religious officials. They supervised vast herds of sheep, crop selection, and agricultural technique, closely monitoring returns, reimbursing seed, and bringing produce back up to the palace stores. True, there was a certain efficiency to such regimentation, but it was a redistributive system of both public and private landholding that ensured little agricultural innovation. Its rigorous complexity could not have allowed much for personal initiative, and thus maximum utilization of both human and natural resources. No city-state, no community of peers could have emerged out of that environment.133

Mycenaean society had had a narrow distribution of wealth. The elites of the palace controlled most of the land, food production, and social life. There seems to have been little advance in viticulture and arboriculture, and a small range of domesticated species of fruit trees and olives. The moderate population density resulted in a low intensity of labor and productivity. Either external or internal pressure or some combination of the two destroyed the elite of the agricultural hierarchy in the twelfth century. That led to the collapse of the vulnerable Mycenaean system. The majority of farmers who had depended on palace authority were now left without directors to organize them. The ensuing Dark Age of 1100–800 BC, however, laid the groundwork for the agrarian revolution that followed in the eighth century.

Paradoxically, for all the ensuing human misery, the disruption and devastation of this “banking system” [which received, stored, exchanged, and lent surplus crops, both locally and overseas] at the end of the twelfth century could in time facilitate real agricultural change. If Greek farmland was eventually allowed to fall into as many private hands as possible, and if farmers themselves could retain their own crop surpluses, people could quickly learn new potentialities for land use, novel methods of food storage, grafting and propagation of an entire range of domesticated species of vines and olives. Dissemination of agricultural knowledge and expertise was practicable if—and only if—a large number of farmers gained title to their own pieces of ground, if they became freed from outside interference from the top. In the case of Greece, the process took nearly four hundred years.

In the eighth century these conditions began to be met when individual decision-making authority came into the hands of the middling farmers. This was made possible by the decentralization of the Dark Age.

Once Mycenaean palace authority was done away with, there was a second opportunity for agrarian transformation by the sheer process of neglect and unconcern, should other critical factors—mainly population growth—ever come into play. The Dark Age chieftain, in an environment where efficient land use was not necessary, seems to have been indifferent to agriculture. He was more intent on raiding by land and sea, and in acquiring large herds of cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs; if anything, he was more a thug than a bureaucrat.134

The low population density and physical environment of Greece lent itself to livestock and nomadic herding in preference to intensive agriculture. Since the food needs of the people were easily met as long as the population remained stable there was little incentive for agricultural change even in the absence of a powerful and rigid hierarchy. “Both Mycenaean and Dark-Age Greeks were relatively ignorant of intensive farming technique for entirely different reasons.”135 It was not until the rise of the Greek polis that domesticated species were cultivated on a wide scale and came to predominate over wild varieties of trees, vines, and cereals.

At the end of the Greek Dark Age there was a gradual increase in domesticated species as population pressure forced the end of traditional land use. Hanson’s idea of a renaissance in viticulture and arboriculture opposes the common view that there was little change in farming technique or crop species from Mycenaean to Hellenistic times. This is critical for his argument that innovative farmers from the eighth century on liberated agriculture from the control of Mycenaean palace authority and the neglect of Dark Age nobles. “They [the georgoi] found specialized varieties for particular locales, thus increasing the potential for viticulture and arboriculture as a whole in Greece.”136 In order to feed a growing population a greater number of farmers transformed the conditions of agriculture. These farmers “must have changed the fundamental conditions of land tenure. Thus arose the kleros, or the idea of a privately held plot attached not to any one person, but rather in perpetuity to a single farm-family or oikos.” The autonomy of farmers who owned their own plots fostered a new ideology.

Renters, serfs, indentured servants, or lessees cannot invest in capital crops such as trees or vines in any efficient manner. Nor will they take the considerable risks entailed in viticulture and arboriculture without clear title to the land they farm. Farmers, especially planters of trees and vines, will soon demand to own their own land if they are to invest labor and capital in order to enrich the surrounding community. Once they own land, and plant permanent crops there, a transformation in both values and ideology ensues.137

The slow but steady population growth of the late Dark Age ensured the spread of revolutionary family-owned, independent, and intensively worked small farms. “In the case of Greece, like many other nonindustrial societies, population growth may have come first: it often initiates, drives, and maintains agricultural intensification.” Growing numbers of people needed to eat, so they had to develop better methods of producing food and organizing themselves in the countryside. “After centuries of strict agronomic control, followed by the other extreme of relative agrarian neglect, agriculture in Greece was finally becoming the property of numerous individual and autonomous families.”138

Hanson suggests what caused the population growth and how this facilitated the development of the new agrarianism. The process started with a breakdown of “age class” systems or the discouragement of early marriage and procreation by the elite clans of the Dark Age. The age class culture, characteristic of warrior societies, ensured the political power of the few Greek aristocrats over their subjects; this delayed for centuries the dramatic rebound from the chaos that followed the collapse of the Mycenaean centers. The modification and erosion of the old “system” led to social experimentation as “military regimentation gave way to other pursuits like agriculture.”139 Hanson credits the agricultural revolution with preventing any large-scale famine in early Greece that might have otherwise accompanied the population increase.

The innovation in land use in mainland Greece preceded the colonization movement of the eighth and seventh centuries. In fact, foreign colonization was not sufficient in and of itself to address the problem of surplus population at home. Local agricultural change at home was necessary in the form of “a more gradual internal colonization of land previously unwanted and underdeveloped.”140 The incorporation of “marginal” land (eschatia) by middling farmers in response to demographic pressure marked a serious challenge to the existing social order. “In the old Dark-Age social and economic sense, that [cultivation of marginal land] meant less accessibility to manorial centers, and less fertility for native grazing, less suitability for easy ploughing of cereals, but not unsuitability for crops such as vines and trees.” The process initiated private ownership of land for the first time in the West.

“Marginal” land is ubiquitous in many parts of Greece, an ideal, relatively safe springboard for anyone brave enough to embark on a new sort of agricultural strategy of outright private ownership and intensive working of permanent crops. Once private ownership by adventurous farmers was the rule, each Greek rural household sought its own parcel, to improve and pass on. Previously unused and unowned land was thus developed by men on their own, marking the real beginning in the West of individual property holding on any wide scale.141

When the georgoi did leave the mainland, the colonists agreed on the new role of agriculture, and “were often not critics, but supporters of agrarianism; not the poor, but members of the lower middle stratum who saw little chance of obtaining a hereditary plot for themselves inside Greece.”142In addition to private ownership of marginal lands and overseas colonization, Greek farmers applied their new intensive strategies to the estates of wealthier landowners. But the repressive forms of tenancy, where the owner could draw off the surplus of another’s work, compromised agricultural success, which depends on private ownership. On the other hand the gradual transition from pastoralism to intensive farming “liberated” the georgoi of the eighth century from the traditional social patterns and military castes. The majority of farmers chose to remain in the mainland of Greece rather than to move overseas in mass. Hanson attributes the agrarian renaissance of the eighth century and later to a combination of three factors: “(1) a quiet revolution in agricultural technique and rural social organization in general, (2) an incorporation of new technologies and crop species, [and] (3) an intensification of labor.”143 Key techniques such as grafting applied to the domesticated olive along with other trees and vines “allowed for a lasting alternative to pastoralism,” which sustained the population increase into the polis period.

Hanson points out why this kind of farming was such an important element for the rising class of smallholders; the liberation of agriculture helped create a new type of human being. “People who choose this kind of agriculture have confidence that they can and will stay put, that they can and will keep the countryside populated, prosperous, and peaceful. They are not just a different sort of farmer, but a different sort of person as well.” Farming bears on the quality of the infantry soldier as well.

In a military sense … there is little doubt that the superiority of Greek citizen infantry, the “planters of trees,” in wars both foreign and domestic derived from the resoluteness, conservatism, independence, and physical courage prerequisite to the intensive farming of trees and vines, the need to protect and to honor the visible inherited vineyards and orchards of past generations.144

How might agriculture shape the character of the smallholder? Hanson details the differences between an intensive farmer of vines and fruit trees in the polis and a Dark Age pastoralist and grower of grain.

The picture that emerges from even a small Greek vineyard is clear: constant decisions, endless searching for the precise but always elusive equilibrium between multifarious choices, the need for constant attention and labor, and reverence for ancestral practice. Much different from cereal or livestock production, these complexities in viticulture and arboriculture help explain the new intensified Greek agriculture of homestead residences, slave labor, incorporation of rough terrain, and mastery and control of food processing.145

Where did this emerging class stand in relation to other citizens in the polis? “It is impossible accurately to gauge their numbers, possible only to approximate their relative position between a smaller entrenched elite and a slightly larger group below of landless poor, and some less successful subsistence “peasants.”

There is intense dislike on the part of the landed and wealthy elite for these upstart farmers, the georgoi who in early Greek literature are predictably dubbed the kakoi, the “bad” (in opposition to the agathoi, the “good” traditional aristocrats by birth), and second, recognition appears among more enlightened Greeks that the presence of an agrarian class of small farmers (properly called hoi mesoi, “the middle ones”) was responsible for both the creation and preservation of the Greek city-state, and that their political agenda was both reasonable and proper…. This “class” is clearly not mercantile or commercial in the modern sense, but rather entirely agrarian, sandwiched between the few wealthy and the most numerous poor.146

Hanson finds strong support for his thesis in Aristotle’s Politics.

Aristotle writes of middling farmers in realistic, rather than utopian terms. He implies that agrarians of the middle had been widespread throughout the early polis history of Greece…. He … confirms that the “middle ones” were, in fact, those who farmed on their own, and who provided the city-state with the social and political stability that led to the “best” type of government … but possible only when they are present in sufficient numbers to prevent class strife between the very rich and the abject poor…. Aristotle writes that this most stable form of government by small farmers had an ancient pedigree, and was to be associated with the foundation of the polis.147

Aristotle discussed the effect the early lawgivers had in shaping their governments to protect the interests of the growing number of independent farmers. They seem to have designed their legislation to protect the land and the economic gains of the farmers from aristocratic backlash.

Philolaus of Corinth (about 730 B.C.?) had supposedly enacted regulations ensuring that the farms at Thebes might remain the same number in perpetuity. The Corinthian Pheidon, “one of the most ancient of the lawgivers,” purportedly argued that the population and the number of plots ought always to remain roughly equal. An even more shadowy figure, Phaleas the Chalcedonian, advanced the concept that all citizens of the polis ought to hold equal amounts of property.148

In addition to the texts of Aristotle and Plato, Hanson sees evidence for property egalitarianism and small farm size in the Greek colonies from the eighth through the fourth century. “Surely the formal organization of colonists and their creation of equitable plots and a complex social structure presupposes the prior formation of a polis, and suggests a preexisting, ongoing agrarian ideology.” The standard size for allotments of land in the colonies was rectangles around fifty plethra (about 11 acres). “This practice may suggest that farm plots between forty and sixty plethra (8.9 and 13.3 acres), the so-called exemplary hoplite farms we discussed earlier, were being duplicated afresh in early colonies…. Would be georgoi were seeking to reproduce—or given this second chance, to perfect or to improve on—an agrarian ideology they had seen at home.”149

There is a pattern in Greek literature of agrarian legislation and practice (about 700–550 BC) that ensured widespread equality in landholding by about 550–400 BC. He stresses above all “the actual conditions of landowning, the size of farms as expressed in the literary and epigraphical record, oratory for the most part, and leases and sales recorded on stone.” Authors in the fifth and fourth centuries most often speak of farms from ten to twenty acres; there were on occasion larger estates between fifty to seventy acres, but holdings over one hundred acres were very rare until the Hellenistic and Roman period. It appears that an enforced code or social ethic of the Greek polis discouraged the accumulation of property. “How else can we explain why the inherited rich, the more giftedgeorgoi, the more successful in commerce and mining, all failed to accumulate vast tracts, failed to transfer their off-farm capital into landed estates—phenomena that were commonplace after the demise of the free and autonomous Greek polis.”150 The new middling class of farmer-citizen-soldiers became numerous enough to prevent agriculture from reverting back to the fragile palace bureaucracies. Their prosperity and ability to provide for the increased population ensured that the agricultural neglect of the Dark Age clans would not return.

All of Greek history in the polis period follows from the successful creation of a new agriculture and the efforts of the many to protect a novel agrarian way of life. The rural system of the georgoi created the surplus, capital, and leisure that lay behind the entire Greek cultural renaissance. It was an agrarianism that was highly flexible and decentralized economically, socially egalitarian, and politically keen to avoid the accumulation of power by a nonagricultural elite. No surprise that the later polis Greeks envisioned the rise of agrarianism—which had created their city-state—primarily in moral terms.151

The development of hoplite warfare took place in this context of novel agrarianism, which promoted a particular type of moral excellence.

Small and equitable farm size inculcated a number of values in the citizenry and created a shared vision of what a Greek city-state might be. In the early agrarian polis, modest, equal-sized plots ensured that all Greek citizens would have to work with their own hands. All would look at the ensuing (most natural) challenges pragmatically, rarely theoretically. All would acquire capital largely through their own sacrifice and toil. All would rely on their own resolve and bodily strength to reclaim land or ward off invasion. All would be secure in the thought that a whole cadre of like citizens was presented with about the same challenges, with about the same opportunities to succeed or fail.152

Victor Hanson’s The Other Greeks provides the fullest and most vivid account of those who might have comprised the middling class of the orthodox tradition of hoplite warfare. He has developed his picture of the late Dark Age and early polis period through examination of the early Greek lawgivers and the extensive site surveys that have been conducted in Greece since the 1980s. Yet it is from the archaeological sources that Hanson’s thesis has met with some of its strongest criticism.

Revisionism and the Hoplite Orthodoxy

The first sustained challenge to the orthodoxy came with Anthony Snodgrass’s seminal work of the 1960s. He developed the earlier suggestion of Nierhaus153 to indicate that the introduction of hoplite arms was a “long drawn out, piecemeal process”154 and that it did not lead to an immediate change in tactics. For Snodgrass the double-grip shield does not imply the phalanx. In a transitional stage, aristocratic soloists took up new items of equipment before the invention of the phalanx. The date of 650 that Snodgrass proposed for the fully developed phalanx refuted the idea that hoplites played a role in the rise to power of the tyrants or in any other revolutionary changes associated with the early Greek polis. These arguments throw light on some of the problematic aspects of Lorimer’s thesis.

Lorimer had contended that the literary evidence confirmed her conclusions based on the archaeology. The Iliad depicts prehoplite equipment and tactics. Shields have telamons, and the heroes often carry spears in pairs and cast them at long range. Homeric heroes never throw their shields away but fling them around their back for protection in flight. They wear an open-face helmet and a corselet, which Lorimer identified with the leather jerkin depicted on the Warrior Vase and on other late Mycenaean monuments. She imagined that the Greek warrior’s arms, armor, and fighting style changed little from the collapse of Bronze Age civilization in the twelfth century till the hoplite revolution in the early seventh century.155

On the contrary, Nierhaus had proposed the theory of the piecemeal and gradual adoption of hoplite equipment, which was still far from complete at the end of the seventh century.156 The process began with the introduction of the round shield in the eighth century, which he identified with the hoplite shield. He reasoned that, since artistic representations of the plate corselet were rare in the first half of the seventh century and limited in the second half, its adoption was slow and tentative. Lorimer dismissed his hypothesis as a priori improbable owing to the inseparable link she posited between hoplite equipment and the phalanx and its tactics. She pointed out that he overlooked the Corinthian helmet, greaves, and spear in his thesis; for example, the helmet is already present with the plate corselet on the Perachora aryballos, which was unknown to Nierhaus. In addition, the greaves appear on the Hymettus amphora, while both vases show the exclusive use of the single spear. The aim of adopting the single heavy thrusting spear and the porpax shield in place of the pair of light throwing spears and the single-grip shield was to supersede the long-range fighting of the Geometric period; greaves added protection and completed the panoply intended for hand-to-hand fighting by troops with uniform equipment arranged in an unbreakable line. “These items form a natural and logical combination, and they all appear on one of our earliest monuments, the Perachora aryballos.” “If they [the Carians] invented the porpax shield,” she proposes, “[they] must also have invented the cohesive tactics of which it was to be the instrument.”157

But in light of the finds of the panoply at Argos in 1953 and of the armor at Dendra in 1960, Snodgrass could argue for the “piecemeal” adoption of hoplite arms with far greater force than Nierhaus. The eighth-century Argos discovery made it impossible to maintain that a metal corselet was specific to hoplite tactics, which were unknown to Geometric art. The Dendra metal corselet and greaves from the Bronze Age gave even more striking proof that protecting the body with bronze armor was not exclusive to the archaic period. In fact, most of the essential items of the “hoplite panoply” were known to Mycenaean Greece, including the metallic helmet and the single thrusting spear.158 The plate corselet, for example, traces its ancestry back to the type of corselet used seven hundred years earlier at Dendra. But Snodgrass traces the origin of the technique for producing the bronze corselet found at Argos to central Europe before it returned to the Aegean in the eighth century through trade and colonization in the West.159 Elite Geometric fighters used the bronze body armor with neither a Corinthian helmet nor a double-grip shield. His ideas have inspired all subsequent attempts to revise the hoplite orthodoxy.

The originality of the ‘hoplite panoply’ has been disproved by the emergence of Bronze Age precedents for many of its parts, and its homogeneity dispelled by the differences in origin and chronology between them. The fact that Mycenaean soldiers, to whom hoplite warfare was most decidedly unknown, fought with metal helmets, corslets, greaves, and ankle-guards, suggests that their similarly-equipped successors were not so armed with new and specific tactics in mind. The sole point of difference is the porpax-shield, and its tactical significance, hitherto rather taken for granted, needs re-examination. Further, the Argos discovery, in addition to all its other valuable testimony, also gives a hint that ‘hoplite’ armour was first known as the possession of the few.

The existence of hoplite armor and weapons by no means implies the phalanx. “The essential components of the hoplite’s armament (the greave excepted), are thus all known to the Aegean world before 700, and their association together is first portrayed about 25 years later; while another full generation elapses before we have any archaeological evidence for the adoption of ‘hoplite’ tactics.”160

Snodgrass not only challenged ideas about the origins of the phalanx; he made several other important arguments against the notion of hoplites playing a revolutionary part in the rise of the polis. First, the initial adoption of new arms starting in the mid-eighth century emboldened the aristocratic warrior to fight at closer range. He would close with his sword after throwing two or three javelins, or substitute his javelins for a single, heavy thrusting spear as his main weapon. Yet these changes in fighting style required neither greater manpower nor the close-packed formation of a phalanx. Second, the qualification of wealth, namely, the ability for the individual soldier to provide his own panoply, is the basis for a hoplite army. In an agricultural society such as archaic Greece, the recruits must have come from the farmers who were substantial landholders. He suggests that the farmers concerned about the devastation of their property and their absence from it had no vested interest in war. In fact, there would have been “no enthusiastic rush to arms on the part of the more substantial property owners, the future ‘hoplite class.’161 Even if the bait of political power had been held out from the first—which is perhaps improbable—this would hardly be enough to launch a voluntary movement which ran so entirely against historical precedent.”162 Third, the aristocracy remained as a traditional warrior class after the introduction of hopliteequipment; it was only after the sharp increase in the number of soldiers required by the adoption of hoplite tactics that the new class could affect their military supremacy. Fourth, Snodgrass sees in Etruria and Rome examples of societies that can adopt hoplite tactics without immediate and far-reaching social and political consequences. He presents his view in the following.

The Greek hoplite entered history as an individual warrior, probably in most cases an aristocrat. The adoption of the phalanx meant that he was joined by men, for the most part substantial land-owners, who had come not to seek a way to political power nor by any wish of their own, but because they were compelled to. These men, however stout-hearted as warriors, are not likely to have become, all at once, a revolutionary force in politics, even in Greece. The political rights which they came to possess could have been acquired gradually and peacefully, ton en tois hoplois ischusanton mallon, as Aristotle says. They must have had political leaders, but I doubt whether we can number the early tyrants among them. Hoplites, in short, were an instrument before they became a force.163

In sum, Snodgrass’s treatment of the development of Greek arms suggests that the traditional picture of the early history of Greek warfare is too simplified. The evidence does not support the idea of Lorimer that in about 700 BC some genius, in one of the great military reforms of history, imposed order on the loose, disorganized skirmishing of the Dark Age. In the light of the precedents for bronze armor, Snodgrass views the military developments of the seventh century as a continuation of what went before, not a radical break, and denies any military or political impulse to equip massed heavy infantry. Warriors adopted greaves, for example, in the era of long-range warfare as a barrier against missiles, and that had nothing to do with massed infantry tactics. The double-grip shield existed in the late eighth century, yet the first plausible portrayal of the phalanx does not occur until the Berlin aryballos. This does not indicate that artists were unable to paint the phalanx earlier, but that the classical formation did not exist at the time of the first panoplies, which were worn by the few.164 In the case of the porpax shield and the metal corselet, the two items were alternative pieces of equipment, not necessarily meant to be worn together. Corinthian art of the mid-seventh century bears witness only to the initial stage of the adoption of the true hoplite phalanx; the poleis with a large enough body of wealthy citizens completed the process, which ended when the heavily armed foot soldier discarded the throwing spear as his equipment became more and more standardized. “Finally, at a date unknown but possibly not much before the fifth century, the Greeks coined a word to define the final status that the heavy infantryman had reached—hoplitēs. We, too, should be hesitant in our application of the term to the earlier stages of Greek armament.”165

Since the 1965 article of Snodgrass, several schools of thought have established themselves, with two emerging as especially critical. First, it has been held that use of the broad hoplite shield marked only a single stage in an evolutionary process that culminated in about 650 BC, the date of the first known artistic representations of the classical phalanx. Second, scholars have argued that the classical hoplite phalanx took shape rather suddenly with the introduction of hoplite armor, between 725 and 700 BC. In his 1977 article Cartledge proposed some nuances to the “sudden change” theory:

Briefly, the change was relatively sudden and due imprimis to the widespread adoption of what became regarded as the hoplite accoutrement par excellence, the shield with porpax and antilabe. This was not, however, a case of brute determinism (as it is presented by Lorimer; cf. Detienne 132 n. 68). For, to borrow the careful phraseology of Greenhalgh (71), the new shield was ‘not impossibly ill-adapted to the unorganised warfare of the javelin era’. But Greenhalgh, although he does at least make the points that it was ill-adapted and that pre-hoplite warfare was unorganised, does not go far enough. As an invention for use in pre-hoplite warfare the hoplite shield would not merely have been barely (if at all) superior to its single-handled predecessors but also in certain circumstances positively and dangerously inferior. For what the invention of porpax and antilabe tells us is that concern for protection in the front was outweighing the need for manoeuvrability and for protection in the flank and rear—in other words, that a change in tactics in the direction of organized, hand-to-hand fighting was already in progress.166

Cartledge stresses the fact that the Greeks invented the double-grip shield: “why should it not have been invented with the phalanx in mind rather than the other way around?”167 He has less trust in the often insecure visual and literary evidence; instead, he looks to the “whole gamut of economic, social and political conditions in this ‘Age of Revolution’ ” (c. 750–650) to explain how the development of the hoplite shield was soon followed by hoplites operating in phalanx formation; this took place “somewhere in the first quarter of the seventh century, the precise date varying naturally from state to state.” No one polis was responsible for the entire process, and by 650 all of the more important states had gone hoplite. Cartledge details the dominant trends. Relative overpopulation in Greece resulted in colonization abroad and in a shift from pasturage to arable farming. Land hunger also had military implications:

Warfare became more frequent as each political community sought to secure for itself the maximum amount of land compatible with its convenient utilisation and defence: throughout Greek antiquity the ownership of land was the most important single cause of interstate wars. Secondly, the shift from stock-raising to arable farming determined thereafter the general pattern of warfare on land, for the basic objectives everywhere in this game of ‘agricultural poker’ (Snodgrass 1967, 62) became the menacing, temporary possession or destruction of the enemy’s crops and the protection of one’s own.168

The idea of the polis has significance as a community of equal citizens and for the consequent decline of monarchy. The upheavals of the “Age of Revolution” led to the rise of a solid peasantry of substantial farmers with the psychological independence to challenge the injustice of the “bribe-swallowing” aristocrats. In this scenario, the aristocrats were the “reluctant hoplites” forced by the new circumstances to invite the “wealthy and well equipped commoners” to join them in the phalanx, whose success depended on fielding the greatest possible numbers on a given occasion.

Indeed, it had the makings of a brilliant compromise. The relevant commoners were enabled at a stroke to defend not only their own property but also the polis of which they were citizens. At the same time the devolution of military responsibility did not obviously imperil the aristocratic structure of society. Rather, it could have reasonably been hoped that phalanx-warfare would defuse the potentially explosive contradiction between aristocratic arete and polis-equalitarianism. For although membership of the phalanx was open in principle to all who could provide their ownhopla, and although sheer numbers were an advantage in the hoplite style of fighting, rarely was as much as one half of a state’s citizen-body able to turn out as hoplites in practice.169

The advent of hoplite warfare not only destroyed the monopoly of political suzerainty of the aristocrats; it excluded militarily “the poor peasantry and ‘wearers of skins’ in the country, … the shopkeepers, petty traders, handicraftsmen and casual labourers in the town…. The hoplite ‘reform’ brought on a change in conceptions of bravery, but hoplite ideology retained the indelible stamp of its aristocratic origins.”170

In the same 1977 Journal of Hellenic Studies volume, John Salmon, a “gradualist,” accepts the thesis that the phalanx came into existence after the piecemeal adoption of the hoplite panoply.171 But he argues that as soon as the aristocrats adopted massed tactics, which he dates to 675 using vase painting, new fighters joined them on the battlefield. Salmon agrees with Snodgrass, moreover, that the representations of warfare in paintings in the period 700–650 may provide “the documentary evidence of a transitional stage in the development of Greek warfare.”172 This is for three main reasons: (1) unlike later hoplite practice many warriors are shown carrying two spears; (2) they sometimes use swords as primary weapons; and (3) they often are equipped with less than the full panoply. Salmon does not thus conclude, however, that massed tactics were unknown in the early form of phalanx warfare. “[The] phalanx has two essential features: its cohesion and its relatively large size; both can be achieved without following the later canonical pattern closely.”173 He notes that even when the phalanx existed, after 650, paintings still show hoplites carrying two spears: presumably a shorter spear to throw before the opposing forces met in hand-to-hand combat, and a longer spear for thrusting at close quarters. Therefore, Salmon suggests a second transitional stage after the invention of the phalanx, in which “the new style of fighting saw the gradual development, through experiment with throwing spears, swords and various items of body armour, of the canonical version.”174 He dates the beginning of this second transitional stage to no later than 655, the time of the Macmillan vase, but probably at least as early as the flutist on the Perachora aryballos of circa 675. In either case, the hoplites might have had a role in the revolutions of Cypselus, Orthagoras, and Theagenes.

Salmon compares the Roman tradition that Servius Tullius organized the centuriate assembly at the same time as he reformed the military. He notes that the political situation in Greece was far different from the one in Rome in view of the background of political unrest, which renders the analogy false.

Comparatively wealthy men with a grievance were given, for the first time, major military importance; it would hardly be surprising if they used their new strength to set their grievance right—or if ambitious men like Cypselus took advantage of this new pressure group to achieve their own ends. There are no reasons in principle to deny that the invention of hoplite tactics had an effect on political development solely because of the analogy with what may have happened in Etruria and in Rome.175

Salmon agrees that economic grounds restricted a place in the phalanx to a relatively small class, resulting in a seventh-century phalanx of hundreds compared to that of thousands in the fifth century. The unpleasant character of hoplite warfare also might have made many wealthy landowning farmers reluctant to serve, as Snodgrass suggests; but Salmon does not see this standing in the way of revolution. “Wealthy men have never been slow to press what they see as their interests, and that has often made them support revolution, from the non-Eupatrid wealthy who supported Solon through the great plebeian families of Rome who fought the struggle of the orders.” Citizens in the more advanced Greek poleis were growing discontent with aristocratic methods of government in the mid-seventh century. At the same time aristocrats were losing their monopoly on fighting skills with the development of phalanx tactics. “In such a situation it was the wealthy who were most likely to attack the status quo; they were doubtless contented enough with their economic position, but they felt a stark contrast between that and their social and political poverty.176 For the less well off there was no such contrast, and therefore no impulsion to political change.”177

Salmon finds the adoption of the new style of fighting to be the most powerful explanation for the many political revolutions that took place in mid-seventh century Greece. However, he does not attribute them to the development of a self-conscious hoplite class. The hoplites gave positive support to tyrants in not rescuing the aristocratic regimes under attack; but more wide-ranging claims of hoplites demanding political power commensurate with their new military status seem to him unlikely. The length of time to develop such feelings is perhaps longer than the gap between the adoption of the phalanx and its political consequences allows. The complaints against exclusive rule of aristocrats and their failure to provide dike would not depend on hoplite status.

Second, if hoplite demands were for greater political power, these demands were rarely met. At Corinth, Sicyon, and Megara control passed from traditional aristocracies to tyrants, and in Argos there is no evidence the hoplites were conscious instruments of change. “It is not easy to believe that one generation of Corinthian hoplites raised Cypselus to the tyranny in order to gain influence for themselves through him only for a succeeding generation to acquiesce in its effective exclusion from political power.”178 In the case of Sparta, Salmon finds it incredible that a politically inexperienced group such as the hoplites could demand the positive political rights formulated in the rhetra. “Hoplites were probably incapable of formulating even a coherent statement of their grievances; but they were sufficiently discontented for an aristocratic faction to attempt to turn their discontent to its own advantage.”179 On the model of Pheidon’s success at Argos, Salmon posits that the two Spartan kings attempted to enhance their power by gathering hoplite support in political life. Thus the rhetra enshrines royal power in the gerousia to help preserve their declining power. In sum, special circumstances in Greece beyond simple participation as a hoplite contributed to political change, whereas those other factors were not significant in places such as Etruria. “We cannot look to the hoplite reform for a simple explanation of the political upheavals of the mid-seventh century, for the essential causes will have been different in each case.” The role of the hoplite was far more modest. “The hoplite reform played an important part; it supplied the weapon for change, but not the will for it.”180

The gradualist position not only calls into question the political role of hoplites in the seventh century; in the last few decades scholars have mounted vigorous challenges to the orthodoxy on the topic of tactics. Hans van Wees, for example, has argued for a much-reduced role for the mass formation of the phalanx as an instrument of change. “I believe that the process of change was not only less rapid than that envisaged by e.g. P. A. Cartledge, but also longer drawn-out than the piecemeal development suggested by Snodgrass. By implication, I do not believe that the introduction of the double-grip shield greatly accelerated the growth of the phalanx-formation.”181 In his 1994 article, he states that Krentz’s 1985 piece in Classical Antiquity and Cawkwell’s paper in Classical Quarterly 1989 “appear to me worthy of more positive attention than they have received thus far.”182

Krentz developed the idea that the change to hoplite tactics was gradual and did not bring about a hoplite revolution in archaic Greece. He argues against the view that in a hoplite battle the two sides met in tight formation with each of its soldiers stationed about three feet apart and (usually) eight rows deep with the objective of literally pushing through and breaking up the opposing line.183 Instead he contends that “the essence of a hoplite battle remained [throughout its history] the hand-to-hand fighting of individual hoplites in the front rank, one-on-one, two-on-one, three-on-two, etc.”184 Two of the main points of the orthodoxy with which he takes issue are the spacing between the troops in the phalanx and maneuverability of the two-handled hoplite shield.

Regarding the distance between hoplites in formation, Krentz disregards Polybius’ statements about the width between Macedonian phalangites as inapplicable to hoplites; he doubts that Thucydides refers to a distance as tight as three feet per man. For instance, he takes sunklesis in one passage of Thucydides to mean “a gap large enough to hold 2/7 of the Spartan army.” “He might have thought three feet per man impossible, too cramped for hand-to-hand fighting. Such fighting requires room to fake, to dodge, to sidestep, to wrong-foot the opponent by stepping backward as he delivers his blow or thrust.”185 On the other hand the two-handled hoplite shield is in no way incompatible with fighting as a soloist. Its advantages include the porpax or central armband, which helped support the weight of a larger shield that could be held at an angle more firmly than a single-handed shield to deflect blows more easily. The double-grip shield also made it possible for the hoplite to hold a spare weapon in his left hand. He discounts the often cited difficulties of using the less maneuverable hoplite shield to protect the more vulnerable right-hand side outside a tight formation.

Its [the double-grip shield’s] disadvantages were that it protected the left side better than the right, and that it did not effectively protect the back. But given that it is difficult for a right-hander to reach the right side of his opponent, and given that a hoplite could protect his right side by turning his body as well as by moving his shield (and would naturally do so in order to deliver a spear thrust), an individual fighter would find the double-handled shield preferable to its predecessors.186

In reference to hoplites in land battle, as opposed to marines who fought on triremes armed as hoplites, Krentz addresses some of the main tactical issues his theory raises.

How close did [a hoplite] need to be to his neighbor to feel reasonably protected? Within a spear’s thrust, I should think. Consider the position from the point of view of the enemy hoplite: how far would hoplite A have to be from hoplite B for an enemy to enter the gap and attack A from the side? Far enough so that the enemy would not have to worry about a spear or sword in his back from B while his attention was directed toward A. The comfortable limit, therefore, would be about six feet per man, as the Roman legionaries had (Polybius 18.29.6-8).187

Krentz allows for formations tighter than six feet apart per man under various scenarios, “but the typical battle order allowed significantly more than three feet per man.” He draws further support for this idea from Tyrtaeus 8.35–38, who pictures javelin and stone throwers seeking cover behind the shields of seventh-century hoplites. In sum, Krentz relates his position to earlier challenges to the orthodoxy. “The effect of my argument that hoplite battle consisted of a multiplicity of individual combats is to increase the emphasis A. M. Snodgrass and John Salmon have placed on gradual transition rather than sudden revolution in the switch from ‘Homeric’ to ‘hoplite’ warfare.”188

For Krentz, the phalanx was not an invention of the seventh century; it is fully present in Homer’s Iliad and only became more standardized later. He pictures a small number of aristocrat hoplites fighting in the eighth-century phalanx alongside a much larger number of more vulnerable men who could not afford the new equipment. “The Homeric laos did not instantly disappear or move to the side. When the rank and file could afford it, no doubt they acquired the new panoply too—with the approval of the existing hoplites.”189

G. L. Cawkwell’s paper questions the orthodox model for how hoplites fought as far too rigid: “the only confidence one can have is that things were not as simple as the orthodox would have us believe.”190 The main thrust of his argument is that hoplites and phalanxes were far more flexible in their battle tactics and use of weapons than the orthodoxy allows.191 For example, the orthodoxy draws heavily on Thucydides’ description of the battle of Mantinea to explain the hoplite’s need to protect his vulnerable right-hand side by maintaining a tight formation so as to seek protection from the shield of his right-hand neighbor. But Cawkwell is unconvinced. Hoplites may have advanced in close formation, but once they closed with the enemy they would have required more room to fight in the actual battle. Plato speaks in the Laws about the need for a full and regular system of military training organized by the polis, including teaching by experts in hoplomachia. This implies that fighting skills were important. Dancing, moreover, was part of [Spartan] hoplite training, and in the Laws (815a) Plato speaks of the Pyrrhic depicting “the motions executed to avoid blows and shots of all kinds (dodging, retreating, jumping into the air, crouching).”192 He notes that “when ‘the Mantineans and some of the Arcadians’ from the Ten Thousand danced, they did so in hoplite equipment, and in general the place of dancing in Greek life was such that we may be confident that most young men of the hoplite class got from dancing whatever was of use in it for soldiering.”193

The discussion of tactics in Xenophon’s Constitution of the Spartans, especially the description of the Spartan countermarch and the thinning of the ranks, suggests that hoplite phalanxes were “flexible on the field of battle.” Cawkwell finds it “very hard to conceive of a hoplite using his weapons at all effectively in the crowded space orthodoxy assigns him,” aside from using the spear in an overhand motion or the sword solely to cut.194

In the use of weapons as in all games that involve the delivery and avoidance of blows, it is footwork that is all important. Hoplites may have been heavily armed, but they would surely duck and dodge in the way that Plato would have had them train (Laws 815a). One cannot do that, if one’s neighbour gets in the way. Likewise the delivery of blows would require some freedom of movement. Of course, they may have fought in a highly constricted way and very ineffectively and longed for a chance for single combat where their real skills could be exploited, but if the evidence lends any encouragement to the view that hoplites fought, as opposed to advanced or followed up, in open order, one should take the possibility most seriously.195

On the other hand, Cawkwell points out, “Variations of formation could be, and indeed were on occasion, made in the course of a battle, but this is far from disproving that normally hoplites fought as Thucydides made them advance, i.e. as close as possible to each other to secure the partial protection of the shield of the man on the right.”196

Another area that Cawkwell addresses is the iconography. He confines his comments to scenes representing rows of fighters going into combat.

In most scenes that I am aware of, the shield is held not across the body but is extended forwards and at an angle, as if the hoplite was using his shield to give a ‘straight left’. (Indeed if they did not use it in this way, their shields would have been unnecessarily wide.) In those few scenes where the shield is held directly in front, it is held well forward to leave the hoplite free to use his legs, but the Chigi vase is the typical scene, and in it hoplites, with spears held high ready to strike, all have their shields on their left and their right legs forward, the very posture necessary for the effective use of the spear. Was this how the fighting in line was conducted?

Based on the depictions of vases Cawkwell believes that hoplites fought in open order. “If one is to take seriously the archaeological evidence, it is plainly the case that hoplites did not fight as Thucydides made them advance.” One concern is for safety: “If the man on one’s right is fighting with left leg forward and with shield advanced to ward off his opponent’s spear, the closer one got to him the greater the danger of his opponent’s spear sliding off one’s neighbor’s shield and damaging oneself. Another concern would be tactical: “Common prudence would require that there be some space between one and one’s neighbor. Such space would give the hoplite room to move and make good use of his weapons. Nor was there need to fear that he would be attacked on his open right side. He had the man behind him to defend him.”197

An open formation, he suggests, is the best way to imagine a hoplite having the room to employ the type of skills Plato (Laws 815a) mentions. “He was still in line, fighting man beside man, still dependent on his neighbor’s courage, but had enough room to do more than just make ineffectual jabs.”198

Before looking at the arguments of van Wees, it is critical to examine in detail the enormous impact that Homeric studies have had on the way scholars understand early Greek warfare.

Homer and the Hoplite Phalanx

Lorimer’s view of Homeric warfare is in its essentials similar to that of Grote a century earlier.199 The fighting takes place at long range and privileges the actions of heroic champions over those of the mass of common soldiers; the picture of warfare in the Iliadpredates the invention of the hoplite phalanx. Like Grote, she appears to assume a written text composed by Homer in the eighth century. Her ideas on late passages and interpolations are consistent with the types of debates that took place in the nineteenth century.200For example, she points out that a reference to the plate corselet occurs only twice in the poem within a short space (13.371–72; 397–98), which indicates it is an interpolation. She treats the apparent reference to the hoplite phalanx in a similar manner. “Corslets are called neosmektoi [newly cleaned] in a passage (13.339–44), which can only be an attempt, unique in the poem, to describe hoplite formation, and is therefore an interpolation, presumably of the seventh century.” Homer’s diction might indicate the weapons and armor of a hoplite as well. “The emphatic makreis [long] marks the spears as the heavy thrusting weapon, whileneosmektoi can only apply to a corslet of metal.”201 The main differences in her reading of the epic seem to depend on the archaeological evidence to which Grote did not have access.

In the 1970s Snodgrass and Latacz developed two of the most influential approaches to the Homeric poems as sources for early Greek warfare. Their theories respond to the problem of Homeric society that Finley stated in The World of Odysseus.

The serious problem for the historian is to determine whether, and to what extent, there is anything in the poems that relates to social and historical reality; how much, in other words, of the world of Odysseus existed only in the poet’s head and how much outside, in space and time. The prior question is whence the poet took his picture of that world and its wars and its heroes’ private lives.202

In the light of the work of Parry and Lord on oral composition and oral traditions, certain key ideas have impacted all subsequent work on this subject. The first recognizes that the bard or singer composes his epic during his performance of it. The second emphasizes the importance of the interaction between the poet and his audience in shaping the content of his narrative. The result is that the poet seeks consistency in providing his audience with a coherent view of society that might appear remote or “heroic,” but, to be intelligible, must resemble their shared experience. For ancient warfare, therefore, the description in the Iliad must represent a fighting style familiar to the audience in order to be realistic and compelling.

Snodgrass answered an unequivocal no to the question whether Homer presents an historical society in the Iliad and Odyssey.203 Yet he finds that Homer combines and conflates features from different eras. The Homeric description of fighting and equipment does not derive from one single period of history, but “is composite and shows internal inconsistency.” Cartledge agrees on this point: “The problems of interpreting ‘Homer’ (i.e. our Homer) as history are legion, but for my limited purposes the most important is whether it is possible to locate a coherent Homeric ‘world’ or ‘society’ in space and time. To avoid multiplying references, I need only cite Snodgrass, with whose negative I am in complete agreement, against e.g. M. I. Finley.”204 But in a more recent work, Cartledge discusses the problems that face the historian who wishes to make use of the epics for evidence.

They were the products of a centuries-long oral tradition unconstrained by properly historical attention to accuracy, authenticity, and consistency—indeed, of a tradition constrained rather to mutate and evolve in accordance with the changing circumstances and expectations of the poets’ audiences. If it is indeed the case that no imaginative poet can be expected to be as consistent and authentically realistic as the historian might wish or demand, then this is true to the ultimate degree of the poets of the Homeric tradition of oral epic.205

However, the revisionists, Latacz first of all, have shown that the common soldier in the Iliad plays a critical role in the fighting. Indeed, Latacz and scholars since have argued persuasively that mass action, not individual combat between heroic champions, is decisive in most Homeric battles.206

For his part Hans van Wees accepts that phalanx-style fighting is already widely—not just occasionally—detectable in Homer’s Iliad, which he dates to the early seventh century. But he does not see a clear-cut break between the Homeric and hoplite styles of fighting. For example, Homeric heroes use spears as weapons far more frequently than warriors depicted on Geometric vases. On the other hand Geometric warriors use bows and arrows about three times more often than epic heroes; and swords, the least mentioned weapon in Homer, are the most used weapon in the paintings.207 He concludes that “the usage of weapons in the Iliad corresponds, not to Geometric, but to early seventh-century practice.” Van Wees summarizes his findings:

In the eighth century, warriors are armed with a pair of spears, which they use primarily as missiles: hence the prominence of the sword in Geometric scenes of close combat. In the seventh century, and in the Iliad, men are armed with either one or two spears, which they use for both thrusting and throwing, with roughly equal frequency: the Iliad features 87 spear casts (52.4%) and 79 spear-thrusts (47.6%). By the classical period, warriors are without exception equipped with a single large spear used exclusively as a thrusting weapon.208

The old view saw a dramatic break between the fighting styles of heroic soloists and that of hoplites; the new consensus led by Latacz proposed that the masses play as decisive a role in Homer as they do in the phalanx. Van Wees suggests a compromise. He agrees on the importance of the masses in both styles of fighting but sees no increased participation of the masses in warfare from the eighth to the seventh century; therefore there was no change in the balance of power between aristocrats and commoners. On the other hand he notes development in the evolution of warfare from Geometric, through Homeric, to hoplite fighting, whereas Latacz does not. For example, there is a shift from the sword to the spear as the main weapon of close combat; a gradual disappearance of chariots from the battlefield; light-armed troops become differentiated from heavy-armed warriors and lose status; and, “most importantly, there is a marked development of cooperation, coordination, and central leadership.”209 This process culminates in the increasing uniformity, equality, and solidarity associated with the rise of the phalanx.

But van Wees’s conclusions differ from the traditional narrative. Mass combat did not lead to political changes. Not only was the process drawn out over several generations or more; “it is doubtful whether without the crucial ingredient of the introduction of mass combat the remaining changes would have had much effect on relations between aristocracy and commoners.” The rise of the phalanx simply reduced further the elite’s claim on political power. “By reducing individual mobility and finally excluding chariots and horses from the battlefield, the phalanx made it even harder than it had previously been for anyone to stand out in the melee, and even more obvious that the course of battle was never really determined by noble champions.”210

Van Wees employs his understanding of “mass fighting, but not in dense or regular order” in the Iliad to develop perhaps the most ambitious thesis of the revisionists.

Latacz had suggested that Homeric warriors wear the equivalent of hoplite panoplies because they fight in the close formation of a phalanx. For van Wees, however, not only is Homeric armament similar to that of hoplites, but it is also “by no means incompatible with mobile, open-formation.”211 He explains the apparent contradiction between the combat of champions (promachoi) and mass fighting in the epic (13.576–655).

The situation is clear: the fighting takes place among the promachoi, while behind them a mass of hetairoi are in relative safety. A man picks an adversary and moves as near to him as is necessary to shoot an arrow, cast a spear or stone, or stab with spear or sword. Unless killed in combat, he then falls back upon the mass. The pattern recurs in every battle. Warriors go “through the promachoi” and “run” or “jump” at their opponents before they fight. All kinds of weapon, including arrows and stones, are used simultaneously. The spear, either thrown as a javelin or thrust as a lance, is by far the most commonly mentioned. Men may come close to their target to strike, or to retrieve their spear, or, if they have killed, to try to take spoils, but in each case they will quickly retreat to safer surroundings. This style of fighting presupposes that individual combatants are separated by a considerable distance from one another as well as from the enemy.212

In sum, either common fighters or heroic champions may fight among the promachoi. “This is depicted quite consistently, so it would appear that the poet had a clear vision of what battles in heroic times were supposed to be like.”213

Van Wees places Homeric warfare in the context of the interaction between the oral poet and his audience. The battle narrative alternates between close-ups of the front-rank fighters and panoramic images of the mass of men in action.

To the modern reader, unfamiliar with the kind of fighting described by the poet, the panoramic scene of “shields clashing” at the beginning of the first battle may suggest a collision of two close-order phalanxes, while missiles flying all morning at the beginning of the third battle may sound like long-range skirmishing. But to audiences who understood how the heroes fought it would have been obvious that such images simply represented two sides of the same coin. In the fluid, open-order action of the epic, mass fighting takes place close range and long range at the same time.214

The open order and fluid combat of the Iliad provides a model for van Wees of how Greek hoplites fought in the seventh century. In addition, he finds support for his thesis in the poetry of Tyrtaeus.

Tyrtaeus has long figured into the orthodoxy and has often been cited as proof of the existence of the classical phalanx. Van Wees concedes that “some of the main themes of Tyrtaeus’ surviving work may indeed at first glance deceptively suggest phalanx tactics.”215 There is the importance of close combat: “Set foot against foot, press shield against, fling crest against crest, helmet against helmet, and chest against chest, and fight a man, gripping the hilt of a sword or a long spear.” A second theme is cohesion: “Fight while staying together, young men” (F 10.15 West); “those who [fight] while staying together die in smaller numbers and save the men behind them” (F 11.11–13); “speak encouraging words to the next man when you stand beside him” (F 12.19). Tyrtaeus also stresses the need to stand one’s ground: “legs well apart, both feet planted firmly on the ground, biting your lip, covering thighs and shins below and chest and shoulders with the belly of the broad shield, shaking a mighty spear in your right hand” (F 10.16–32; 11.4–27). However, van Wees points to other elements of the poetry that appear in both pre-selected passages and especially in fragments that survive by chance on papyrus, “which show that our poet did not have the classical phalanx in mind.”216 In these the poet must exhort the soldier to make his way to the front line: “those who dare go into close range and towards the front-line fighters (promachoi), while staying together, die in smaller numbers” (F 11.11–13).

Tyrtaeus’ Spartans, in other words, have the space and freedom to move around the battlefield. They are still able to behave just like the warriors of the Iliad, who wander around their battlefields quite freely, individually and in small groups, moving “towards the front-line fighters” or dropping back “beyond the range of missiles,” leaving and entering battle as they see fit. Just like Homer’s heroes, the Spartans must be fighting in an open and fluid order.217

Van Wees sees other aspects of the poetry that contradict the idea that the warriors in the martial elegies of Tyrtaeus have a fixed place in a tightly organized formation. For instance, light-armed missile troops play a prominent role. Instead of fighting outside the phalanx as in the classical period, the light- and the heavy-armed “are part of a single, undifferentiated formation.” One exhortation by the poet to fight hand-to-hand is especially telling. “And you, light-armed, squatting under a shield here and there, must throw great rocks and hurl smooth javelins while you stand close by the heavy-armed (F 11.35–8).” “The light-armed here are clearly not a separate body of troops, but scattered ‘here and there’ among the hoplites,” van Wees points out, “and ‘squatting’ for cover behind the latter’s shields. The same mode of operation is described in the Iliad, where archers are protected by other men’s shields, and only briefly break cover to shoot their arrows.”218

Using both the literary and iconographical evidence, van Wees traces the slow transformation of Greek warfare from the Dark Age to the creation of the hoplite. Dark Age Greek warriors wore little or no armor; they fought with a light shield and a sword in close combat; the weapons they used at long range included either a pair of throwing spears or bow and arrows. Both archers and spearmen fought independent from one another in a wide, open formation. The relative status of different styles of fighting changed with the emergence of the hoplite in the last quarter of the eighth century. The heavy armor and heavy shield enabled the hoplite to engage the enemy at closer range. Therefore, he could use his spear for thrusting as well as throwing. As formations became denser, archers started to play a subordinate role as auxiliary troops; they moved among the ranks and behind the shields of the hoplites. “Not until the last third of the seventh century did the majority of hoplites stop carrying throwing spears and begin to rely on the single thrusting spear and sword only. Even then, as Tyrtaeus shows, formations remained relatively open and fluid: hoplites and light-armed intermingled and soldiers continued to enjoy considerable freedom of movement on the battlefield.”219

When did the classical phalanx emerge with its closely packed ranks? Van Wees considers the possibility that the phalanx continued to evolve until after the Persian Wars in the fifth century.

Perhaps we can only say that the type of phalanx described by Thucydides and Xenophon must have developed some time after 600 BC and before the Peloponnesian War. Either way, it is clear that the emergence of the hoplite was only the beginning of a lengthy process, which certainly lasted more than a century and may have lasted more than two centuries, leading to the creation of a close-order, hoplites-only phalanx. The classical hoplite formation, then, was not the long-lived military institution of scholarly tradition, but merely one phase in a history of almost four centuries of slow change towards ever denser and more cohesive heavy infantry formations, culminating in the mid-fourth century with the creation of the Macedonian phalanx.220

If the hoplite phalanx did not fully develop until the fifth century, this rules out any hoplite-led political revolution in archaic Greece. But in this volume, van Wees argues that something like the agrarian revolution Victor Hanson details in The Other Greeks took place about two centuries later. The thesis that van Wees presents in the present volume builds on some of the arguments in his book Greek Warfare: Myths and Realities,221 which Hanson addresses in his chapter.


      1. Lewis Mumford, The Transformations of Man, New York, 1956, 46–47.

      2. Laws 1.626A.

      3. Thucydides 3.82.2.

      4. George Grote, A History of Greece, New York, 1846, II, 106.

      5. Grote, II, 106.

      6. Grote, II, 107.

      7. Grote, VII, 84.

      8. Grote, III, 16.

      9. In arguing for a ninth-century Homeric society Grote (II, 160) reasons that “there is nothing either in the Iliad or Odyssey which savors of modernism, applying that term to the age of Peisistratus; nothing which brings to our view the alterations, brought about by two centuries, in the Greek language, the coined money, the habits of writing and reading, the despotisms and republican governments, the close military array, the improved construction of ships, the Amphiktyonic convocations, the mutual frequentation of religious festivals, the Oriental and Egyptian veins of religion, etc., familiar to the later epoch.”

    10. Grote, II, 155.

    11. Grote, II, 107.

    12. Grote, II, 107.

    13. Grote, II, 107–8.

    14. Grote views (I, 340–69) the period immediately following the first Olympiad as momentous in the passage from an age of imagination, emotion, and religious feelings to one of recorded history and science, and concern with the present. The early Greek myths, the Iliad and Odysseyspecifically, furnished a quasi history and a quasi philosophy that “filled up the vacuum of an unrecorded past.” The vast majority of Greeks still clung to mythopoeic ways of thinking, “the staple of the uninstructed Greek mind,” throughout the historical period. But the meaning of the word myth changed, and it “came to carry with it the idea of an old personal narrative, always uncertified, sometimes untrue or avowedly fictitious [pointedly opposed to historia]. And this change was the result of a silent alteration in the mental state of society,—of a transition on the part of superior minds (and more or less on the part of all) to a stricter and more elevated canon of credibility, in consequence of familiarity with recorded history, and its essential tests affirmative as well as negative.” The transition to historical time is remarkable: “a sensible progress is made in the Greek mind during the two centuries from BC 700 to BC 500, in the record and arrangement of historical facts: an historical sense arises in the superior intellects, and some idea of evidence as a discriminating test between fact and fiction.”

    15. Grote comments (II, 65) on Aristotle’s inability to explain the voluntary obedience his ancestors paid to their early heroic chiefs, “such remarks [of Aristotle] illustrate strongly the revolution which the Greek mind had undergone during the preceding centuries, in regard to the internal grounds of political submission. But the connecting link, between the Heroic and the republican schemes of government, is to be found in two adjuncts of the Homeric royalty … the boule, or council of chiefs, and the agora, or general assembly of freemen.”

    16. Grote, III, 14.

    17. Grote, II, 93.

    18. Grote, III, 17.

    19. Grote, III, 31.

    20. Since he dated Pheidon of Argos to between 770 BC and 730 BC, Grote placed this controversial figure outside the age of tyrants proper. On the other hand, Grote presumably would have attributed the despot’s remarkable military success to a hoplite army, which he also dates in the eighth century.

    21. Grote, III, 28.

    22. Grote, III, 31.

    23. Grote, III, 21.

    24. Grote, III, 23.

    25. Grote (II, 276–77) comments further, “These Thessalian cities exhibit the extreme of turbulent oligarchy, occasionally trampled down by some one man of great vigor, but little tempered by that sense of political communion and reverence for established law, which was found among the better cities of Hellas. Both in Athens and Sparta, so different in many respects from each other, this feeling will be found, if not indeed constantly predominant, yet constantly present and operative.”

    26. Grote, III, 30–31.

    27. Grote, II, 456.

    28. Grote, II, 455.

    29. Grote, II, 453.

    30. Grote, II, 389.

    31. Grote, II, 400.

    32. Grote, III, 128.

    33. Grote, III, 128.

    34. P.D.A. Garnsey, Famine and Food Supply in the Graeco-Roman World: Responses to Risk and Crisis, Cambridge, 1988, nuances this “22 percent cultivable” figure.

    35. G. B. Grundy, Thucydides and the History of His Age, London, 1911, 248.

    36. For example, Grundy commented on the weight of the Corinthian helmet (244), “I have tried on a Greek helmet found at Delphi, and I have also tried on various helmets of genuine armour dating from various periods in the Middle Ages. The iron [sic] of the Greek helmet was extraordinarily thick, and its weight was, I should say, nearly double that of the heaviest helmet of the medieval period, even than those used by the Spanish common soldiers of the sixteenth century, which were naturally made of inexpensive metal.”

    37. Grundy, 267–68.

    38. Grundy, 268.

    39. Grundy, 271.

    40. Grundy, 271.

    41. Grundy, 271.

    42. Grundy, 270.

    43. Grundy, 268.

    44. Grundy, 256.

    45. Grundy, 257.

    46. Grundy, 260.

    47. Grundy, 261.

    48. Grundy, 262.

    49. Grundy, 274.

    50. Grundy, 279.

    51. Grundy, 281.

    52. Martin P. Nilsson, “Die Hoplitentaktik und das Staatswesen,” Klio 22 (1929), 240–49, p. 240, translations by Gregory Viggiano.

    53. Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Die Textgeschichte der griechischen Lyriker, Berlin, 1900; see fragment 11, 23–24.

    54. Nilsson, 241–42; Nilsson accepts that Tyrtaeus is problematic on these grounds but remarks, “one cannot help finding also in the words of fragment 11, V.11 παρ ’ἀλλήλοισι μένοντες, which stick fast, a prefiguring of the phalanx.” See fragment 12 and fragment 11, 29–34.

    55. Grote (II, 106 n. 1) had also commented on the problematic nature of using to Tyrtaeus to date the introduction of the phalanx regarding both the content and language of his poems: “Tyrtaeus, in his military expressions, seems to conceive the Homeric mode of hurling the spear as still prevalent, — δóρυ δ ’εὐτóλμως βάλλοντες. Either he had his mind prepossessed with the Homeric array, or else the close order and conjunct spears of hoplites had not yet been introduced during the second Messenian war.”

    56. Nilsson, 243; See the note in the introduction on the Spartan dedications.

    57. Nilsson, 242.

    58. Nilsson, 244.

    59. Nilsson, 248.

    60. Nilsson, 245.

    61. Nilsson (248) discusses the analogous situation in Rome. “The story that in the year 432 the dictator A. Postumius Tubero had his son beheaded, because he leaped out from his assigned post (Diodorus XII, 64; Livius IV, 29), has by no means a legendary character…. On the contrary, it is an occurrence of the type that leaves a deep impression on the heart and memory and therefore survives. It must only be understood in the circumstances of the time. It was not even long before that the hoplite tactic had been introduced, in which the gravest fault was to leave one’s place in the line; However, the old way of fighting, according to which the individual needed to prove his worth in single combat, had not yet been forgotten, and the young man had given way to his thirst for glory. The father had maintained and inculcated the hoplite discipline with ruthless severity. Such conflicts between the old and the new way of fighting must have taken place when the former was replaced by the latter, because the hoplite discipline is difficult to learn and the old way is deeply rooted in human nature. Such a tragic outcome as this remained unforgotten. For us, the story is valuable because it teaches us at which time the change took place.”

    62. Nilsson, 247.

    63. H. L. Lorimer, “The Hoplite Phalanx with Special Reference to the Poems of Archilochus and Tyrtaeus,” The Annual of the British School at Athens, 1947, 76–138.

    64. Lorimer, 76.

    65. Lorimer, 107; see illustrations for Perachora aryballos.

    66. Lorimer, 92; see note in introduction.

    67. Lorimer, 81.

    68. Lorimer, 82–83.

    69. Lorimer, 83.

    70. Lorimer, 105.

    71. F. E. Adcock, The Greek and Macedonian Art of War, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1957, 2, 3, and 4.

    72. Adcock, 2.

    73. Adcock (3 n. 5) points out, “the word [phalanx] was first generally applied to the famous Macedonian phalanx, which was a variant of the hoplite formation with special characteristics of its own.”

    74. Adcock, 14.

    75. Adcock, 5.

    76. W. Rüstow and H. Köchly, Geschichte des griechischen Kriegswesens von der ältesten Zeit bis auf Pyrrhos, 1852, 145; Cambridge Ancient History IV, 166.

    77. Adcock, 7–8.

    78. Andrewes, The Greek Tyrants, 1956, 31.

    79. Andrewes, 32.

    80. Andrewes, 32–33.

    81. Andrewes, 33.

    82. Andrewes, 34.

    83. Andrewes, 36.

    84. Andrewes, 36; note that “Similars” or “Peers” is a preferable translation for Homoioi.

    85. Andrewes, 37–38.

    86. Andrewes, 38.

    87. Other important examples include Oswyn Murray’s Early Greece (Harvard, 1978, 2nd edition 1993), John V. A. Fine’s The Ancient Greeks: A Critical History (Harvard, 1983), and more recently the second edition of Robin Osborne’s Greece in the Making 1200–479 BC (Routledge, 2009) and the popular textbook by Sarah B. Pomeroy et al., Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History (Oxford, 2008), as well as Ian Morris and Barry B. Powell’s The Greeks: History, Culture, and Society (Pearson, 2nd edition 2010).

    88. Victor Davis Hanson, The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1989, 2nd edition 1998.

    89. Hanson (1989, xvii); see below for the arguments to which Hanson is in part responding to here.

    90. Hanson (1989, xxviii).

    91. V. D. Hanson, Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece, Pisa, 1983.

    92. Hanson (1989, 4).

    93. Hanson (1989, 5).

    94. Hanson (1989, xxiv–xxv).

    95. Hanson (1989, 30–31).

    96. Hanson (1989, 4).

    97. Hanson (1989, xxiv).

    98. Hanson (1989, 9).

    99. Hanson (1989, xxv); for more in-depth discussion of the nature of terrain, geography, etc., see V. D. Hanson, “Hoplite Battle as Ancient Greek Warfare: When, Where and Why?” in H. van Wees, War and Violence in Ancient Greece, London, 2002, 167–200.

  100. Hanson (1989, xxviii).

  101. Hanson (1989, 22–23).

  102. Hanson (1989, 22–23).

  103. Hanson (1989, 24).

  104. Hanson (1989, 24); Y. Garlan, La Guerre antique de Sumer a Rome, Paris, 1973.

  105. John Keegan, The Face of Battle, New York, 1976.

  106. Hanson (1989, 25).

  107. Hanson (1989, xxvii).

  108. Hanson (1989, 56); See Krentz in this volume on the weight of hoplite armor.

  109. Hanson (1989, 57).

  110. Hanson (1989, 65–66).

  111. Hanson (1989, 71).

  112. Hanson (1989, 156–57); for the sake of comparison, Hanson (159) cites Oman’s detailed account of medieval warfare’s collision of a German phalanx and a square of Swiss pikemen: “The two bristling lines of pikes crossed, and the leading files were thrust upon each other’s weapons by the irresistible pressure from behind. Often the whole front rank of each phalanx went down in the first onset, but their comrades stepped forward over the bodies to continue the fight. When the masses had been for some time ‘pushing against each other,’ their order became confused and their pikes interlocked” (2.274).

  113. Hanson (1989, 157).

  114. Hanson (1989, 159) quotes Thucydides: “Large armies break their order just as they meet the enemy” (5.71.1).

  115. Hanson (1989, 159).

  116. Hanson (1989, 169–70) sees in Xenophon’s remark (Hellenica 4.3.16) that Koroneia “proved to be such as none of the battles of our time” evidence of the anomaly that the two phalanxes locked together in slaughter without the expected advance.

  117. Hanson (1989, 172); Xenophon, Hellenica 2.4.34; 6.4.14; 7.1.31; Agesilaos 2.12; Cyropaedia 7.1.33; Thucydides 4.96.2; 4.35.3; 6.70.2; Herodotus 7.224–25; 9.62.2; Polybius 18.30.4; Arrian, Tactica 12.10.20; 14.16; Pausanias 4.7.7–8; 13; Plutarch, Agesilaos18.2.

  118. Hanson (1989, 172–73); Thucydides, 4.96.2.

  119. Hanson (1989, 174).

  120. Hanson (1989, 174–75); Polybius 18.30.4.

  121. Hanson (1989, 175).

  122. Hanson (1989, 35–36).

  123. Hanson (1989, 36–37).

  124. For an example of recent criticism and revisionism of Hanson’s overall thesis see Harry Sidebottom, Ancient Warfare: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2004). Sidebottom (preface) explains: “Some modern scholars have picked up on the classical cultures’ ideas of their distinctiveness in war-making and, linking this to classical influences on modern Western culture, have come up with the concept of a ‘Western Way of War’; a continuity of practices that they claim runs from ancient Greece to the modern West.” Sidebottom continues his critique, “the ‘Western Way of War’ is not so much an objective reality, a genuine continuity of practices, but more a strong ideology which since its creation by the Greeks has been, and still is, frequently reinvented, and changed with each reinvention. Those who subscribe to the ideology do not necessarily fight in a different way to others, it is just that often they genuinely think they do.”

  125. Many scholars have stressed the importance of a new commercial class in the eighth century that exploited settled conditions in Greece to generate a level of movable wealth that could rival the landed wealth of the traditional aristocracies. For example, Forrest suggested that safer conditions for travel, more stable markets, better goods, and the momentous effect colonization had had on trade resulted in a shake-up of the existing society that was the starting point of a political revolution. This led to a change in how commoners might view aristocrats and their power based on greater landed wealth and divine ancestry. The expanded economy allowed some to advance beyond their peers or even to surpass their betters. The physical dispersion of the Greeks created the psychological independence that made it possible for the new middle class to first question and then outright oppose their superiors. “It is at least certain that this new economy … provided the necessary conditions for the rise of the hoplite army (in a very loose sense); let us say for the first military adventures of a new middle-class” (94).

  126. Victor Davis Hanson, The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization, New York, 1995, 220, emphasis Hanson.

  127. Hanson (1995, 116).

  128. Emphasis Hanson (1995, 39).

  129. Hanson (1995, 237).

  130. Hanson (1995, 227).

  131. This argument was first put forth by J. Latacz, Kampfparanese, Kampfdarstellung, und Kampfwirklichkeit in der Ilias, bei Kallinos und Tyrtaios, Munich, 1977.

  132. Hanson (1995, 228).

  133. Hanson (1995, 29–30).

  134. Hanson (1995, 32).

  135. Hanson (1995, 33).

  136. Hanson (1995, 35).

  137. Hanson (1995, 35).

  138. Hanson (1995, 37).

  139. Hanson (1995, 38).

  140. Hanson (1995, 39).

  141. Hanson (1995, 39–40).

  142. Hanson (1995, 38).

  143. Hanson (1995, 41).

  144. Hanson (1995, 42–43).

  145. Hanson (1995, 173).

  146. Hanson (1995, p103, 106–7, 113).

  147. Hanson (1995, 113–15); Aristotle, Politics 4.1318b7–15; 1295b40–1296a22.

  148. Hanson (1995, 119); see Aristotle, Politics 2.1274b1–6; 2.1265b13–16; 2.1266a40–1266b6; cf. 2.1274a23–30.

  149. Hanson (1995, 192–93).

  150. Hanson (1995, 184, 186).

  151. Hanson (1995, 44).

  152. Hanson (1995, 199).

  153. R. Nierhaus, Eine fruhgriechische Kampfform, Jdl 53 (1938), 90–113.

  154. A. M. Snodgrass, “The Hoplite Reform and History,” JHS 85 (1965), 110–22, p. 110.

  155. Lorimer, 111.

  156. Nierhaus, 90ff.

  157. Lorimer, 107–8.

  158. Snodgrass (1965, 34, 115–16).

  159. Snodgrass (1965, 73, 89).

  160. Snodgrass (1965, 89–90).

  161. Paul Cartledge, “Hoplites and Heroes: Sparta’s Contribution to the Technique of Ancient Warfare,” JHS 97 (1977), 11–27, pp. 20–21; reprinted 1986 in K. Christ, ed., Sparta, in a German translation with new addenda) strongly denies this point on the grounds that wealthy nonaristocrats would be keen to enlist to defend their own substantial plots—warfare at this point being largely a matter of defending crops.

  162. Snodgrass (1965, 115).

  163. Snodgrass (1965, 122).

  164. Snodgrass (1965, 198).

  165. Snodgrass (1965, 204).

  166. Cartledge, 20.

  167. Cartledge (1977, 20 n. 71).

  168. Cartledge (1977, 21–22).

  169. Cartledge (1977, 23).

  170. Cartledge (1977, 23–24).

  171. John Salmon, “Political Hoplites?” JHS 97 (1977), 84–101.

  172. Snodgrass (1965, 113).

  173. Salmon, 90.

  174. Salmon, 90–91.

  175. Salmon, 94.

  176. Cf. Cartledge (1977, 22).

  177. Salmon, 95.

  178. Salmon, 99.

  179. Salmon, 99.

  180. Salmon, 101.

  181. Hans van Wees, “The Homeric Way of War: The Iliad and the Hoplite Phalanx (part II),” Greece & Rome 41.2 (1994), 155 n. 100.

  182. Van Wees (1994, 155 n. 100).

  183. Peter Krentz, “The Nature of Hoplite Battle,” Classical Antiquity 4 (1985), 50–61.

  184. Krentz, 61; Krentz sites the painting by the C painter on the bowl of a tripod-pyxis in the Louvre to support his thesis. See illustrations.

  185. Krentz, 53.

  186. Krentz, 53.

  187. Krentz, 54.

  188. Krentz, 59–60; Snodgrass conceded Salmon’s point in A. Snodgrass, Archaic Greece, Berkeley, 1980, 106.

  189. Krentz, 61.

  190. G. L. Cawkwell, “Orthodoxy and Hoplites,” CQ 39 (1989), 375–89, 389.

  191. Peter Krentz in this volume discusses the nature of the othismos and the orthodoxy’s use of the rugby analogy, which Cawkwell discusses in detail.

  192. Penguin translation by T. J. Saunders.

  193. Cawkwell, 379; Xen. Anab. 6.1.11.

  194. Cawkwell, 381.

  195. Cawkwell, 381.

  196. Cawkwell, 384.

  197. Cawkwell, 384–85.

  198. Cawkwell, 386–87.

  199. See the introduction in this volume.

  200. In the second edition of his classic study, The World of Odysseus, originally (1954) written close to a decade after Lorimer’s article on hoplites, Finley (1977, xxi) commented on the delayed impact that theories of oral composition had had on Homeric studies: “About oral poetry and its techniques, in contrast [to the negligible changes made to the rest of the first edition], the alterations (in the first two chapters) are significant, though not numerous. I originally wrote at a time when the discoveries of Milman Parry, which revolutionized our understanding of heroic poetry, had just been digested by scholars in the English–speaking world, and were still largely ignored.”

  201. Lorimer, 113.

  202. Finley, 21.

  203. Anthony Snodgrass, “An Historical Homeric Society?” JHS 94 (1974), 114–25.

  204. Cartledge (1977, 18 n. 59).

  205. Paul Cartledge, Spartan Reflections, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2001, 157.

  206. Anthony Snodgrass, “The ‘Hoplite Reform’ Revisited,” Dialogues d’ Histoire ancienne 19 (1993), 47–61, accepts this aspect of Latacz’s argument.

  207. Van Wees (1994, 131–55, 143–44).

  208. Van Wees (1994, 145–46).

  209. Van Wees (1994, 148).

  210. Van Wees (1994, 148).

  211. Van Wees (1994, 131).

  212. Hans Van Wees, “Kings in Combat: Battles and Heroes in the Iliad,” CQ 38 (1988), 1–24.

  213. Van Wees (1988, 14).

  214. Hans Van Wees, Greek Warfare: Myths and Realities, London, 2004, 157; see Iliad 4.446–56 and 11.90–91.

  215. Hans Van Wees “The Development of the Hoplite Phalanx: Iconography and Reality in the Seventh Century,” 149, in Van Wees, ed., War and Violence in Ancient Greece, London, 2000, 125–66; scholars have dated Tyrtaeus as early as 680.

  216. Van Wees (2000, 149).

  217. Emphasis that of van Wees (2000, 150).

  218. Van Wees (2000, 151); Iliad 4.112–14; 8.266–72; 15.436–44.

  219. Van Wees (2000, 155).

  220. Van Wees (2000, 156); for a more detailed discussion see van Wees (2004, 166–83, 195–97), which tries to show that the phalanx did indeed develop c. 550–450 BC.

  221. Hans van Wees, Greek Warfare: Myths and Realities, London, 2005.

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