Ancient Greek Hoplites

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Warfare played a major role in the history of ancient Greece. Wars and skirmishes between rival city-states, Greek leagues and empires, and foreign threats such as Persia greatly shaped the way the ancient Greeks conducted warfare and politics, also greatly influencing the way modern scholars view the history of Greece. Hoplites were the mainstay of ancient Greek armies for several centuries and the way they fought characterised many of the Greek city-states throughout their history. This essay aims to outline the way the hoplites of Classical Athens fought, and how these modes of combat fit in with the prevailing Athenian attitude of andreia, or manly courage. Evidence from ancient and modern sources will be used to evaluate the way hoplites…show more content…
Hoplites traditionally fought in the phalanx formation, which is usually seen as a closely compacted and rigid formation, functioning essentially as a shield wall. The first mention of the phalanx formation is noted in Homer’s Iliad, yet this is often dismissed by modern historians as anachronistic and not necessarily reflecting the actual first use of the phalanx. Ancient sources do not mention the hoplite phalanx until Xenophon in Anabasis, with Herodotus and Thucydides, prominent historians during the classical period, mostly use the term politically rather than militarily. Hoplite warfare often began with both sides charging against each other. It is thought that the charge was more of a slow build up rather than just running towards the enemy in order to maintain the battle formation and effectiveness of the phalanx. The nature of what occurred next during battles is hotly debated by modern scholars, with opinions split between whether or not hoplite battles became essentially shoving matches between opposing…show more content…
Whilst othismos has very few mentions by ancient scholars, the literal interpretation of this mode of combat, as an actual reverse tug-o-war situation, has essentially become the orthodox view of the way hoplites fought. It is important to keep in mind that the word othismos does have more than one meaning other than literally ‘to push with the body’. As Matthew highlights in Greek literature, Hector was ‘pushed back’ by a spear thrust from Ajax rather than physically with his body which is a different context to the literal shield on shield shove of this orthodox view. Considering this, perhaps taking a literal view of othismos is an oversimplification of the way ancient sources represent hoplite warfare. The more liberal view of othismos in hoplite warfare presents that instead of a literal mass shove of shields and bodies against each other, there was more leeway between two opposing sides due to the nature of the phalanx formation. It is suggested that perhaps the organisation of the hoplite phalanx, with close order shields and an underarm spear technique, managed to keep a spear length between two opposing battle formations. Furthermore, this idea is perhaps the most commonly represented mode of battle for hoplites represented in the ancient texts, lending weight to the more liberal interpretation of

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