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THE HOPLITE SHIELDS

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vase painti
A  vase  painting  depicting  a  hoplite,  5th  century  BC.  He  is  armed  with  a  bronze  cuirass,  a  hoplite  sword  and  a  hoplite  shield  of  the  Argive  type.  In  the  interior  of  the  hoplite  shield, you  can  see  the  “antilave” («αντιλαβή»,  handle/handgrip),  the  “porpax” («πόρπαξ»,  fastener  for  the  elbow)  and  the  “telamons” («τελαμώνες»,  shoulder  belts)/ (Paris,  Louvre  Museum)

By  Periklis    Deligiannis

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The  Geometric  Period  (11th-8th  centuries  BC)  preceded  the  invention  of  the  hoplite  warfare  and  the  hoplite  phalanx (about  700  BC).  The  shields  of  the  Geometric  period  belonged  to  two  main  types:  the  “Dipylon” type  shield  and  the  “Herzsprung”  type.  The  Dipylon  shield  is  named  after  the  Athenian  Dipylon  gate,  where  a  number  of  pottery  with  depictions  of  that  type  of  shield,  was  discovered.  It  was  a  large  and  long  shield,  covering  the  warrior  from  chin  to  knees.  It  was  made  of  wicker  and  leather,  without  excluding  further  strengthening  of  wooden  parts.  Despite  its  size,  the  Dipylon  shield  was  light  due  to  its  materials.  It  had  a  curved  form  in  order  to  embrace  the  warrior’s  body.  In  the  middle  of  its  surface,  the  Dipylon  shield  had  two  semicircular  notches  for  the  easier  handling  of  the  offensive  weapons (spear  or  sword).  Notches  also  facilitated  the  hanging (suspension)  of  the  Dipylon  shield  on  the  warrior’s  back,  in  order  not  to  restrict  his  elbows  when  he  walked.  The  shield  had  at  least  one  central  handle  for  its  holding  by  the  warrior  in  battle,  and  one  or  more  shoulder  belts,  in  order  to  hang  it  on  his  back  when  not  used.  These  belts  were  called  “telamones” (τελαμώνες).  The  shape  of  the  Dipylon  shield  denotes  its  origins  from  the  famous  Minoan  and  Mycenaean  eight-shaped  shield.  During  the  Greek  Archaic  Era (7th cent – 479  BC),  the  Dipylon  shield  was  made  mostly  of  bronze  and  had  a  smaller  size:  that  is  the  “Boeotian”  type  of  shield,  named  after  Boeotia,  where  it  was  popular.

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LEONIDAS’ LUCKLESS BROTHER: DORIEUS THE SPARTAN

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Greek Phoenician colonizationBy  Periklis    Deligiannis

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By  the  end  of  the  sixth  century  BC,  Anaxandridas  of  the  Agiad  royal  family,  one  of  the  two  Spartan kings (Sparta  had  two  kings),  had  a  difficulty  in  bearing  children  from  his  first  wife.  The  Spartan  ephors  forced  him  to  take  a  second  wife – despite  the  southern  Greek  monogamy – in  order  to  obtain  a  successor.  Anaxandridas’  second  wife  gave  birth  to  Cleomenes,  who  was  destined  to  become  one  of  the  most  skilful  Spartan  kings.  However,  shortly  after  the  birth  of  Cleomenes,  Anaxandridas’  first  wife  also  gave  birth  to  a  son,  named  Dorieus.  Although  Dorieus  came  from  the  king’s  first  wife,  Cleomenes  succeeded  Anaxandridas  to  the  throne  as  firstborn.  Dorieus  became  furious  because  of  the  takeover  of  royal  power  by  Cleomenes.  Thus  he  decided  to  organize  a  colonization  campaign,  in  order  to  leave  forever  Sparta  (515  BC).  His  first  choice  for  the  founding  of  his  colony,  was  the  site  of  the  river  Kinyps  in  Libya.  The  men  who  followed  him  out  were  referred  by  the  sources  as  “Lacedaemonians”  and  it  seems  that  they  included  a  few  real  Spartans  (Spartan  citizens,  called  omoioi).  The  Spartan  omoioi  followers  of  Dorieus  were  mainly  his  personal  friends  and  some  members  of  his  political  faction.  The  majority  were  other  Lacedaemonians,  mainly  hypomeiones  (fallen  citizens,  ex-Spartans  who  were  just  beginning  to  become  numerous),  perioikoi (free  Lakonian, Messenian  and  Pylian  subjects  of  Sparta)  and  Peloponnesian  allies.

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THE BATTLE OF PLATAEA, 479 BC (Part II)

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Battle P

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By Periklis Deligiannis
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Read Part I:  THE BATTLE OF PLATAEA, 479 BC (Part I)

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NEW MANEUVERS AND TACTICAL PLANS

The Greek combatants were exhausted because of the continuous ‘hammering’ of the Iranian cavalry, and this situation resulted on a disruption in their units. They finally relocated again to new (third) positions but without organization and order. This confusion led to the dispersal of the forces of the Alliance and the occupation of positions that were not those which were decided in the last military council (see part I). The units of the center of the battle order (Megarians, Corinthians, Fliasians and others) were the ones who suffered most from the attacks of the Persian cavalry. Their men wandered and eventually took positions on the Heraion, near the walls of Plataea. The Athenians began to move to the north, opposite to the direction which the Lacedaemonians followed. Herodotus says that the former were annoyed by the latter because “the Spartans were talking differently from the thinks that they were thinking.”
I believe that this behavior of the latter had nothing to do with any lack of confidence or estimation of them for the Athenians: it had to do with the standard Lacedaemonian policy of secrecy and concealment of as much as possible information about the tactics that they followed, even if the ones that were annoyed by this secrecy were their Greek comrades. It was a standard policy of the Spartan army in order not to demonstrate its superior strategy and tactics to the other city-states. It was a protective measure for the Lacedaemonian hegemony in Greece.
The Athenians, feeling sick and tired of the general lack of strategic coordination, took the brave and dangerous decision to move towards Asopos River, in the lowlands of Parasopia. It seems that they wanted to fight the enemy only by themselves (an enemy that they knew well from their victory at Marathon) and thereby gain a new triumph that would give them the opportunity to question the Spartan hegemony.
The Lacedaemonians were rather wiser following the opposite course to the South, eventually establishing themselves at the foot of Cithaeron. Thus they were protected from the Iranian cavalry. Herodotus quotes that Amompharetos, the commander of the Spartan battalion of Pitane (Pitanatos lochos) initially refused to give ground to the enemy but when the rest of the Lacedaemonian army departed, he had to follow with his company to the new protected location. The “Amompharetos’ incident”, despite the fact that the Spartan senior commanders tended to undertake independent initiatives different from the decisions of the Commander in Chief, does not seem to have happened in reality. It has been hypothesized that it was rather a story made to explain the late retreat of the Pitanatos company (rather a battalion according to the modern standards).
The Pitanatos battalion was probably a rearguard which covered the Spartan relocation to the new positions. Furthermore, Amompharetos’ battalion seems to hold an even more important and risky mission: to lure Mardonios in an attack against the Spartans. The Persian commander, watching a battalion being cut off from the rest of the Spartan army, would believe that the latter was generally in a state of confusion and disorder. Additionally if he decided to attack the Pitanatos battalion, he would have the opportunity to easily destroy a part of the formidable Lacedaemonian army. It is characteristic that the Spartans used similar tactics at the Battle of Thermopylae, when they pretended retreat in front of the Asiatic warriors so that the latter would be lured in a disorderly attack. When this did happen, Leonidas’ men stopped abruptly their retreat, regrouped on the spot and attacked the unorganized Asiatics winning the day.

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THE BATTLE OF PLATAEA, 479 BC (Part I)

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Thorax1A bell-shaped hoplite thorax of the archaic period with an extended bell-type projection in the waist, for the repulse of the enemy arrows, javelins, stones etc.

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By Periklis Deligiannis
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[Actually, this paper is a  subchapter of my published book: The Spartan army, Athens 2007].
In the Greco-Persian Wars (490-479 BC) between the Achaemenid Persian Empire and the defensive Alliance of the city-states of South Greece, the victory of the latter at the sea Battle of Salamis (480 BC) on Xerxes’ fleet, secured the control of the sea for them. The Asiatic fleet (mainly East Phoenician) was neutralized and fell back to the eastern Aegean. However, the Persian army remained almost untouched. King Xerxes, fearing the possibility being trapped in Greece and eventually captured or killed after a possible defeat on land, withdrew “discreetly” in Asia officially considering that the objectives of his campaign had been achieved. Before he withdraws, he left his cousin Mardonios (Mardonius in the Western historiography) as head of the army in order to continue the military operations. Mardonios was a stubborn and brave man (his name means the “gallant” in ancient Iranian, originating from the word “mard” for the man or the warrior). On the other hand, in the winter of 479 BC a change occurred in the Spartan military leadership, which proved to be very important for the Greek defense against the invasion. Shortly after Salamis, the Spartan royal commissioner (regent) Kleombrotos died. His office was occupied by his son, Pausanias.

Mardonios initially tried to gain over the Athenians. But the victors of the Battle of Marathon (490 BC) would not be subdued to the losing side in that battle, and twice rejected the tempting terms that he offered them, assuring at the same time the Spartan envoys who were at Salamis Island (the military base of the Athenian army and fleet) that they would never betray their Greek compatriots. Till that moment, the Spartans were avoiding the confrontation with Mardonios’ army. But at that time, they were pressed even more intensely by their Athenian, Megarian, Plataean and Aeginetan allies whose countries were either occupied by the Persians or directly threatened by them. The Spartans had to satisfy the demand of their allies and finally sent their army led by the regent Pausanias, to face the invaders who had already occupied Attica (the territory of Athens) for the second time during the Second Persian campaign (480-479 BC). The women and children of the Athenians had long ago found refuge in Peloponnese and the small islands of the Saronic Gulf. The Athenian resistance was concentrated in the Island of Salamis, where they had defeated the enemy fleet almost a year ago.

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HOPLITE TACTICS: THE HOPLITE PHALANX

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By  Periklis    Deligiannis

14Leonidas’ Spartans  confront  the Persian army at Thermop[ylae, in a classic  artwork by Peter Connolly.

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The  hoplite  way  of  war  as  it  is  known  from  the  sources  of  the  Classical  period,  had  been  formed  until  the  Persian  wars  (490-479  BC).  When  the  hoplite  armies  of  two  rival  city-states  prepared  for  battle,  their  hoplites  formed  the  phalanx,  in  a  short  distance  apart  and  usually  in  closed  formation.  In  this  formation,  each  hoplite  had  an  area  of  about  one  square  meter  in  order  to  fight  and  manoeuvre.  The  hoplites  could  be  arrayed  in  an  open  formation,  if  needed  (open  formation  was  used  during  the  march  to  the  field  of  battle  or  if  the  enemy  line  had  to  be  covered  in  length).  In  this  case,  the  distance  between  the  hoplites  increased  alength  the  front  of  the  phalanx  and  also  apeak,  in  the  “depth”  of  the  phalanx  (which  is  the  number  of  ranks).  On  the  other  hand,  if  the  phalanx  had  to  turn  to  the  famous  compact  and  unbreakable  “shieldwall”,  the  hoplites  were  approaching  one  another  so  that  their  shoulders  touched  (very  close  or  dense  formation).  This  was  the  proper  formation  when  the  phalanx  had  to  put  more  pressure  on  the  opponent  or  to  ensure  its  best  possible  defence.  It  was  the  perfect  closed  formation  (although  it  had  some  disadvantages)  because  the  unprotected  right  side  of  the  hoplite  was  covered  by  the  shield  of  his  fellow  hoplite  to  his  right.  Thus  was  formed  an  unbreakable  and  compact  array  which  was  based  on  the  solidarity  of  the  combatants.

The  mission  of    the  “champions”  (“promachoi”)  of  the  Heroic  Age  (Late  Mycenaean  and  Geometric  Age)  –  which were  the  best  and  most  noble  fighters  who  fought  in  front  of  the  other  warriors  –  were  no  longer  the  duels  to  death  with  the  champions  of  the  enemy.  Their  current  mission  was  to  maintain  the  tenacity  of  their  hoplite  phalanx  and  to  kill  the  opposing  champions  in  order  to  weaken  and  burst  the  enemy  phalanx.  Because  of  their  mission,  the  champions  were  arrayed  in  the  first  rank  (line)  of  the  phalanx,  holding  in  reality  the  same  position  as  in  the  irregular  line  of  the  Geometric  period.

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Hoplite  phalanx  of  eight  ranks  (“depth”)  in  battle  formation.

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TO BE A SPARTAN – PART II

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By  Periklis  Deligiannis1

The  river  Eurotas,  near  Sparta.

CONTINUED  FROM  PART  I

On  the  other  hand,  the  Spartan  society  was  not  so  rigid  and  robust  as  it  has  been  considered  by  most  of  the  modern  scholars.  When  not  exercising  in  the  art  of  war,  a  Spartan  used  to  entertain  himself  with  convivialitieshimself d in  the  art  of  warholars,  dances,  singing,  hunting,  participating  in  festivals  and  conversations in  the market place (Agora).  Men  who  faced  more  than  anyone  else  the  cruel  face  of  battle,  knew  as  well  how  to  enjoy  life.  The  citizens  of  Sparta  rejected  only  the  material  goods  and  comforts  which  they  considered  as  corrupters  of  men  and  women.  Although  they  were  actually  wealthy  landowners,  their  way  of  living  was  leaner  and  poorer  than  that  of  an  average  Greek  citizen  of  any  other  Greek  state.
Woe  to  any  Spartan  who  demonstrated  to  his  comrades  even  suspicion  of  cowardice  in  battle.  And  more  to  the  one  who  would  give  ground  in  battle,  even  if  he  wanted  to  avoid  a  useless  death  that  would  not  have  any  significant  benefit  for  the  state.  In  the  rest  of  his  life  he  would  face  any  kind  of  discriminations,  political,  social  and  personal,  that  they  often  reached  or  exceeded  the  limits  of  humiliation.  It  was  the  expression  par  excellence  of  the  cruelness  of  the  Spartan  society,  which  could  not  forgive  the  offense  of  undershooting  the  basic  rule  of  the  city.  The  tresas (i.e.  the  one  who  trembles  because  of  fear)  as  they  used  to  call  satirically  the  one  who  demonstrated  this  behavior,  was  facing  the  life-time  contempt  of  his  fellow  citizens.  Their  poisonous  teasing  and  the  social  isolation  accompanied  him  everywhere.  He  was  obliged  by  the  law  to  wear  clothes  with  colored  linen  pieces  sewn  to  them  and  to  always  have  shaven  half  his  beard  (as  a  half-man  because  of  cowardice).  Every  citizen  had  the  right  to  beat  him  with  impunity  and  no  one  wanted  to  marry  his  daughter  to  him.  This  celibacy  of  the  tresas  brought  about  to  him  also  a  fine  by  the  state,  because  he  deprived  it  of  new  warriors (his  children  who  would  not  be  born).  Additionally  he  was  loosing  his  civil  rights  and  his  farm,  with  whatever  this  entailed  in  terms  of  survival.  He  was  excluded  from  even  the  right  to  make  formal  legal  agreements  or  contracts.  Even  if  the  tresas  was  not  excluded  from  the  citizenry (which  occurred  from  time  to  time),  his  humiliation  did  not  stop.  His  comrades  felt  ashamed  to  have  him  in  their  syskenia (see  part  I) or  exercising  in  wrestling  with  him.  During  the  pyrrheche  (Spartan  war  dance)  they  used  to  send  him  in  the  worst  places.  When  the  tresas  met  on  the  way  his  fellow  citizens,  even  the  youngest  one,  he  had  to  step  aside  in  front  of  them.  The  spectrum  of  such  a  miserable  life  partly  explains  the  legendary  courage  of  the  Spartan  hoplite,  even  when  he  had  to  confront  the  human  ‘waves’  of  hundreds  of  thousands  of  Asiatic  warriors  in  the  battle  of  Thermopylae,  even  when  he  knew  very  well  that  death  was  inevitable.  As  mentioned,  those  who  lacked  bravery  were  relegated  to  the  class  of  the  hypomeiones.  They  were  loosing  their  civil  rights,  their  farmstead, and   they  generally  ceased  to  belong   to  the  ruling  class  of  the  state,  becoming  non-citizen  Spartans.
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