Â Â Â The word hoplite (Greek: á½Ï€Î»Î¯Ï„Î·Ï‚ hoplitÄ“s; pl. á½Ï€Î»Î¯Ï„Î±Î¹ hoplitai) derives from hoplon (á½…Ï€Î»Î¿Î½, plural hopla á½…Ï€Î»Î±), the hoplon was the rounded shield carried by Greek soldiers, thus ‘hoplite’ may approximate to ‘armoured man’. Hoplites were the citizen-soldiers of the Ancient Greek City-states. They were primarily armed as spear-men and fought in a phalanx formation.
Warfare in ancient Greece appears to have consisted of set-piece battles between independent city-states. The hoplite was an effective solution to this situation. A city-state could not afford a professional and/or standing army, so battles had to be fought by the citizens themselves. The tactics and techniques used in battle therefore had to be simple enough to be quickly mastered. Since the equipment was provided by the individual hoplite, it had to be affordable by an average citizen. The hoplite probably first appeared in the late seventh century BC. In the early Classical Period most battles appear to have primarily involved clashes of opposing phalanxes; tactics were simple and casualties relatively low. Towards the end of the classical period more sophistication seems to have occurred, culminating in the ‘new model’ army of the Ancient Macedonian Kingdom.
Almost all the famous men of ancient Greece, including philosophers and playwrights, fought as hoplites. The most well-known hoplites were the Spartans and Romans who were trained from childhood in combat and warfare to become an exceptionally disciplined and superior fighting force.
A notable exception to the general pattern of hoplite warfare was the system used by the Spartans. As a result of a social revolution occurring in the 8th-7th centuries BC, the whole Spartan state became militarised. This was made possible by the conquest of neighbouring lands, and the enserfment of the people. Known as Helots, they farmed the lands owned by the Spartans, thus removing the burden of supporting Sparta from the Spartans themselves. This left the Spartans free to dedicate themselves to the art of war.
From the age of seven onwards, Spartan males were trained for a life of warfare. They were taught iron discipline, and almost programmed to forget about their individuality for the sake of Sparta. The strenuous training and comradeship engendered between Spartans made them ideally suited to hoplite warfare which required high levels of discipline and selflessness. Spartans did not fear death, only the shame of defeat in battle. In Spartan military culture, throwing away a soldier’s aspis was not acceptable. The saying went: “Come home with this shield or upon it”.
It is not quite accurate to describe Spartans as professional soldiers, as the military was not an occupation which they chose, but a requirement by birth. Spartans were not employed as soldiers; instead, they were provided with serfs to support them. This can be compared to feudal Europe; knights were not professional soldiers, but a militaristic caste, supported by the local population. Nevertheless, despite their obvious differences compared to other Greek city-states, the Spartans fought in much the same way as other Greeks, only perhaps more effectively. The Spartans did, unusually, have standard-issue equipment, including a shield called the aspis, featuring the Greek letter lambda (?), in reference to their homeland Lacedaemonia and the bronzed cuirass that was bestowed upon all of the Spartans with their helmet. Every Spartan wore a scarlet robe to represent them as Spartans, though the cape was never worn in combat. The Helots would usually accompany the Spartans in battles and provide ranged support, for the Spartans thought of archery as a job unfit for a true warrior. The Helots also set camps and performed labour for the Spartans whilst on campaign.
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