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Spartan Warfare


In the 7th Century BC a new era of warfare strategy
evolved. Before this new strategy, foot soldiers (known as
hoplites) engaged in battle in the form of one mob for each
army which on the command of their generals runs at each
other and proceeds to hack blindly at the enemy with little
to no direction other then to kill the enemy in front of
them. This proved to be very messy and the tide of battle
depended mostly on emotion and size of an army. In the name
of strategy and organization, the phalanx was developed. A
phalanx is simply defined as a line formation with its
width significantly larger then its depth. The depth of the
phalanx is a variable which some suggest was decided by the
army itself rather then by the leaders of the army. The
smallest depth appears to have been that of one man deep.
However this was a unique occurrence which is widely
believed to be fictitious. The largest depth is that of 120
men deep which was fielded at one time by the Macedonians.
On average, the depth of the phalanx appears to be about
eight men deep. During the time of Alexander the Great, the
phalanx was believed to be eight men deep, but some argue
that it evolved into a sixteen man deep phalanx. The
Spartans purposely varied the depth of their phalanx so to
confuse the enemy about the number of soldiers fielded. The
phalanx proved to be a very valuable weapon for the
military at that time. Armies which did not adapt to the
phalanx formation were quickly slaughtered. The use of the
phalanx allowed the Greeks to win the Persian Wars. Many
historians believe that the development of the phalanx led
directly to social changes occurring throughout Greece
during the time of the phalanx's implementation. The
phalanx formation allowed men to participate in the
military who otherwise could not have because a much
smaller investment in weapons and armor was needed to
participate in the phalanx. The combined increase in the
number of those participating in the army and the increase
in importance of the common foot soldier lead to the common
man being increasingly treated better by the ruling
classes. Eventually this may have led to the invention of
The most noticeable difference between ancient Greek and
modern warfare is the amount of "intelligence" information.
Today our military maneuvers are almost exclusively reliant
on information we get from satellites, scouts, or spies in
the opposition. The ancient Greeks totally ignored this
area of military strategy. Countless tales of armies
meeting each other by chance or armies passing within miles
of each other without knowledge of the other. Intelligence
information seemed to have come by chance for the ancient
Greeks rather then by conscious effort. Surprise is also an
element of war which in modern times is taken very
seriously and which was taken very lightly in ancient
Greece. In fact there is evidence that ancient Greek
soldiers raised their voices in the form of a marching song
when they were told that an enemy was near and may be
caught unprepared. This war song, called a paian, was also
used to promote organization in the marching army so that
all soldiers would march with an even step. In addition,
the paian was used to promote courage and bravery. A paian
was also used on ships to announce the nearness of the
enemy. When the actual battle was joined the paian turned
into a war cry. The Spartans often accompanied the paian
with a flute or several flutes. The Spartan King would lead
the paian as well. The use of the paian for attack appears
to have Dorian roots. The Spartans are usually the ones
associated with the use of a paian. Thucydides mentions
that when the Dorians, from other city-states, started a
paian when they were serving in an Athenian army, fear was
struck into the hearts of the Athenians. Finally the sizes
of the armies were very different from what we are
accustomed to today. We are familiar with armies of tens of
thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions. The
entire Spartan army was estimated to be under five thousand
In the beginning, Greek armies showed almost no pay
structure. This was do to the fact that military
participation was seen as a man's duty to his city-state or
as a form of taxation. Each man was required to provide his
own armor for battle. There for only those who could afford
armor and weapons could be in the army. Since most men
could not afford armor, most could not participate. Those
who could afford to participate had other forms of income.
However there was a pay system in place by 445 or 444 BC in
Athens. The pay system was enacted during a time of peace
for Greece, just after the signing of the thirty year peace
between the Delian League and the Peloponnesian League. The
standard rate of pay seems to have been a drachma a day
until it was cut in half in 413 BC. However the standard
rate over time was between three obols (half a drachma) to
a full drachma a day for a hoplite soldier.
In Sparta, the military was a way of life. From an early
age, children were trained to be strong and to have good
fighting skills. With most of their population being
helots, or serfs, it was necessary to have a well-organized
and highly trained fighting force to put down any revolts.
Therefore, even though the Spartan military was
comparatively small, it was very strong. Athens derived her
military strength from a strong navy. In 481 BC the city of
Athens discovered a large silver mine on publicly owned
land. Athens used this silver to build a fleet of 200 ships
of a type called triremes. This naval force not only gave
Athens an advantage against the Persians in the Persian
wars, it also gave Athens the power to force the membership
of almost all the Aegean islands and many other city-states
into the Delian League.
The Greek hoplite wore a helmet, breastplate and greaves of
bronze. The hoplite is typically armed with a wooden lance
for the phalanx formation and a short sword for in close
fighting. The round shield was strapped to the left forearm
and gripped by a leather strap with the left hand at the
opposite end. In the third century B.C. (the 200's) the
round shield evolved into a more door-like shield. The
shields were easily carried on the back when travelling and
were commonly used as a stretcher for carrying the dead off
the field of battle. The soldiers were traditionally
required to provide for their own weapons and armor, but
eventually the responsibility fell to the government and
the costs were deducted from the soldiers' pay. There were
a variety of reasons for this transfer of responsibility
including the state's ability to buy quality armor for all
and the benefits of soldiers fighting in armor to which
they are accustomed. There is also an aesthetic benefit to
having all soldiers, weapons, and banners of the same
appearance, not to mention the economic benefit for the
city-state when all weapons and armor for the army must be
bought within the city-state. 


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