The word hoplite was derived from ta hoopla, which basically meant a tool or an equipment. The Ancient Greece Hoplites were a heavily armed citizen-soldier force. Almost all city-states in ancient Greece expected their men to be available and join the army whenever required. Hence, many city-states would have hoplite forces consisting of inexperienced soldiers.
Transformation and origins of Hoplite
During the Mycenean Age, the way of warfare has been documented through the epics of Homer. The aristocrats in their bronze chariots were the center of importance. The normal soldier was lightly armored and equipped with missile weapons to throw on the enemies before engaging in melee battles. Wars were won and lost by decisive battles between the aristocrats which were immortalized through epics.
Then in the Dark Ages, civilization went downhill and also the population. War was almost chaotic with melee battles and mobile troops.
But with the end of the dark age, the population began to rise. Historians have attributed this to the invention of intensive agricultural methods which yielded more food and could support a large population. The farmers also grew prosperous.
So around mid-7th 7th century BC, the hoplite started coming up from this group of prosperous farmers.
As the state paid no money and supplied no armaments, war was monopolized by aristocrats earlier who alone had the capital to buy their armaments.
But these farmers became wealthy enough to supply their armaments and to protect themselves better adopted these heavy infantry tactics and there was the rise of the hoplites.
What is an Ancient Greek Hoplites?
A hoplite was a heavy infantryman covered in bronze armor and a Corinthian helmet. They were free male citizens as no slaves were employed as hoplites.
They have attained cult status in modern times with these Greek soldiers considered the greatest warriors. They were extremely lethal in a formation and in favorable terrain although were quite vulnerable alone and in difficult terrain with their heavy armaments limiting their mobility.
Nature OF Hoplites
According to Victor David Hanson, an esteemed historian of ancient Greece the hoplite consisted mainly of prosperous farmers.
So the farmers could not have been away from their lands for a long time. All hoplite armies were seasonal as they could not be away during harvest season. The only exception was Sparta which had a professional standing army.
The hoplites while invading burnt the enemy crops, which left them with only two choices of starving or coming out to fight.
With their farms always at the back of their mind, the ancient Greeks choose these decisive short battles instead of long campaigns. They met in an open field where both charged at each other and met in a shock collision.
Arms and armaments of Hoplites
The hoplites were mainly identified by their armaments and this also influenced the way they fought and their tactics. So, the armaments were very important and needs to be noted:
- The long spear: The six to ten feet long spear or Doru was used by the soldiers as their main offensive weapon which was held on the right hand in an underhand position while approaching the enemy and in an overhand position to attack in close quarters.
- A stabbing sword: Along with the spear they used a short iron sword known as Xipos, when the spear broke or they had broken through the opposing lines
- The double-handed shield: The main feature of the ancient Greek military was their double-handed shield known as the Aspis. It was their primary defensive weapon which they used to cover themselves as well as their fellow soldier to their left. It was also used to push their opponents after the immediate shock collision with the opposing soldiers.
- The Corinthian Helmet: This provided great protection from both sides but impairing vision in the process. but the way of fighting needed more protection rather than individual heroism.
- Heavy Armor: Their armour, also called panoply, was sometimes made of full bronze for those who could afford it, weighing nearly 32 kilograms (70 lb), although linen armour was more common since it was less costly and also provided adequate protection. So the hoplites used extreme body armaments for protection and shows the phalanx was mainly a defensive formation.
The Spartan Hoplites
Sparta was one city-state where military training was mandatory for all men from the age of 6 till they turned 18-20. Men were made to serve the army till they turned 60 years old. No other city-state in ancient Greece had rules as strict as Sparta and hence only Sparta had a hoplites force which consisted of very experienced soldiers who mastered the famous Phalanx formation of the hoplites.
The Spartan hoplite was considered to be the best among all the Greek states. They were the only ones to have a permanent army. They led a martial way of life with their helots doing the farming for them while the free male citizens engaged in the military. They underwent rigorous training and even eliminated any child showing weakness. This ruthlessness made them the best hoplite army.
The Ancient Greece Hoplites fought with either long wooden spears called doru and/or short swords called the xiphos. All hoplites carried a shield which used to be round in shape and would be made of wood with bronze plated over it. The hoplites were usually deployed in regiments and they used to work in a formation called the Phalanx. Phalanx was a formation of 8 soldiers walking in the cluster such that half of the shield of one soldier would cover the soldier to the right.
Soldiers used to walk fast and used to charge their enemies with some rhythmic music.The hoplites’ force played a vital role in the battles of Marathon and Plataea and was considered very important in some ancient Greece city-states.
The Hoplites were heavy infantrymen wearing heavy armor and heavy Corinthian helmets providing great protection. It was generally a defensive type of warfare where they formed a uniform rectangular block of hoplite with each other in a compact line and supported by lines behind them. They generally met in an open field and finished in a swift decisive battle as sieges and tactics were considered cowardly by the Greeks in that period.
Both sides would charge each other in formation and engage in a shock collision and the side first breaking was one who was defeated as this tactic deepened on its compactness. The lines were closely placed and engaged in pushing battles sometimes. They also used their spears to attack their enemy. Once the enemy broke there was no hope and most fled or were killed.
Effects of Hoplite
The emergence of hoplite did not just have military effects but it had profound effects on Greek politics and society.
Ancient Greeks considered war as a huge parameter of excellence and almost every able-bodied man had to fight. Earlier in the Mycenaean and the dark ages warfare was monopolized by the aristocrats. Their heroism and bravery in battle had a huge effect on public sentiments.
But with the rise of a wealthy class of farmers at the end of the dark ages, their monopoly was broken by these hoplites.
Achievements of the Hoplites
The biggest achievement of the Greek military can be said to be the repulsion of the Persians. The Persian Achaemenid Empire at that time was an extremely wealthy empire with a huge army. They continuously invaded the Greek lands and it lasted for about 50 years.
With armies much smaller in size than the Persians, the Greek phalanx proved much superior with Persian archers failing to penetrate hoplite armor. They used the environment to their advantage and defeated them in the battle of Marathon which has found a place in the memory of people even today through popular culture. The battle of Thermopylae was another legendary battle where the 300 Spartans held the Persians with a huge army at a narrow pass for several days and it inspired the Greeks to throw the Persians out of the Greek lands.