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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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ΤΗΕ GELOAN WAR MACHINE (ANCIENT SICILY) – PART II

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phalanx

cavalryThe hoplite phalanx (vase-painting above) and the cavalry of the Archaic type (artwork below, by Giussepe Rava) were the two main army formations of the Siciliot and Italiot Greeks including the Geloans.
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By Periklis Deligiannis
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CONTINUED FROM PART I
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Gela completed her hegemonic march when eventually Gelon, her greatest son, made Syracuse his capital. Henceforth, Acragas substituted Gela as the second most powerful city-state of Sicily, a great rival for Syracuse.
Many readers accustomed to the History of World War II, must have known Gela, because her site was one of the main landing areas of the Allied assault on Sicily on the 10th of July 1943.
After this historical introduction, I am going to deal in greater detail with ancient Gela’s armed forces.
The main military disadvantage of Gela was the lack of natural harbours in her core territory. Because of this geophysical situation, the Geloans never had a navy of some account. When the Geloan tyrants formed the ‘Geloan Empire’, they exploited the ports and the warships of the subject naval city-states to establish a navy.
The limited occupation of the Geloans with shipping and the fertile plain around their city turned them into an agricultural and ranching life. Moreover the ancestors of most settlers, although all of them islanders, were more attached to the land occupations than to sea life: these were the Cretans, the Coans and the colonists from the city-states Hialysos and Kamiros of Rhodes; the Lindians were actually the exception to this ‘general rule’.

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HOPLITE PHALANX: WHERE IT WAS INVENTED?

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Hoplitikon

A  hoplite  clash,  one  of  the  most  murderous  encounters  of  ancient  warfare (Australian  Historical  Association  Ancienthoplitikon  of  Melbourne).

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By  Periklis    Deligiannis

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The  conception  of  hoplite  warfare  (and  tactics)  is  one  of  the  greatest  “revolutions”  in  world  military  history.  Most  scholars  regard  it  as  important  as  the  invention  of  the  saddle  with  stirrups,  which  made  the  heavy  armoured  cavalry  ascendant  in  the  battlefields,  or  the  invention  of  firearms  which  changed  forever  the  nature  of  war.

The  abandonment  of  the  organization  of  the  tribe-state  by  the  southern  Greeks  and  the  progress  of  the  institution  of  the  Greek  city-state  and  the  socio-economic  changes  that  followed  this  fundamental  change  had  progressed  significantly  in  the  late  Geometric  period.  The  new  conditions  that  followed,  led  to  the  invention  of  hoplite  warfare  and  the  corresponding  new  kind  of  warrior,  the  hoplite.  There  is  a  great  controversy  among  scholars,  about  which  was  the  southern  Greek  territory  where  the  new  battle  system  first  appeared.  The  Argives,  the  Thebans,  the  Spartans  or  the  Mantineians  are  denominated  or  implied  by  various  ancient  writers  as  the  inventors  of  hoplite  warfare.  The  strongest  opinion  among  scholars  is  claiming  that  the  hoplite  phalanx  first  appeared  in  a  state  –  or  in  a  group  of  neighboring  states  –  of  eastern  and/or  southern  Peloponnese,  in  Doric  or  Arcadian  territory.  Corinth,  Sicyon  and  the  small  city-states  of  Argolis  should  be  excluded  from  the  potential  inventors  of  the  hoplite  phalanx,  because  their  citizen-warriors  have  adopted  it  under  the  influence  of  the  Argives  of  the  tyrant  Pheidon.  Athens  and  the  rest  of  Attica  should  be  excluded  also,  for  similar  reasons. Continue reading

THE HOPLITE PHALANX IN COMBAT (HOPLITE TACTICS)

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03A reenactment of the phase of ‘othismos’ during a hoplite conflict, from the Spanish Historical Association Athena Promachos (photo  copyright: Ana Belen Rubio).

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By Periklis Deligiannis

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Earlier related article: HOPLITE TACTICS: THE HOPLITE PHALANX

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The attack of the hoplite phalanx started with the hoplites of the three or four first ranks (lines) holding their spears horizontally facing the enemy. Thus three or four spearheads prevented the enemy from reaching the frontline of the phalanx. The hoplites of the rear ranks behind the third or the fourth one, were holding their spears in an inclined position in order not to injure with their spearheads the fellow hoplites of the front ranks and to have their sauroterae* directed downwards so that they could kill the wounded enemies lying in the ground, when they were marching over them. The main purpose of this inclined position of the spears was to intercept the missiles of the enemy light infantry (javelins, arrows, stones etc.).

The battle started with the two opposing hoplite phalanxes marching the one against the other. The approach to the battlefield was accompanied either by war anthems, the paeans – as the armies of Spartans and other Dorians used to do – or by war cries. When the hoplite armies approached each other at a distance of about half or one stadion (89 or 177 meters), the hoplites began to run in order to collide with the enemy. This is what the Athenians and the Plataeans did at Marathon against the Persians. The Spartans were an exception to this general rule because on the contrary they were marching in close quarters until the moment of the collision, and at a synchronized march, the pace of which was given by the sounds of pan-pipes. These tactics of the Spartans aimed to the terrorizing of the enemy army through their demonstrated collectedness and apathy. Some researchers have hypothesized that the armies of other Doric cities as well followed the same tactics when approaching the battlefield.

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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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