Below is an
artist's impression of what could be young Athenian boys at
school in Ancient Greece in the 5th
This was during the famous Classical
Period in Ancient Athens, and the
Golden Age of Pericles. But it was also a time of
ongoing warfare between the different City-States in Greece, and
between the Greek States and the invading armies from the mighty
These young boys below, could well be wishing they were old
enough to be ephebes, and out
training with their older brothers. The
ephebes, just like the young men in other Greek
City-States, were learning the arts of war. They became skilled
in weapons and warfare, so they could defend their City-State of
Athens and protect their way of life.
Citizens received military training during their service as
ephebes from age 18 to 20:
"The people elect two athletic trainers and instructors for
them, to teach them their drill as heavy-armed soldiers and
to use the bow, javelin, and sling.... They go on in this
mode of life for the first year; in the following year an
assembly is held in the theatre, and the
ephebes give a
display of drill before the people.
They receive a shield and
spear from the state and they then serve on patrols in the
country and are quartered at the guard-posts. Their service
on patrol goes on for two years; in uniform ...;
they are exempt from all taxes.... When the two years are
up, they now are members of the general body of citizens."
(Aristotle, Athenian Constitution 42.2-5)
Bronze Corinthian style helmet.
The Greeks started to fight as
organized lines of battle called a phalanx.
The first Greek author to use the word phalanx (φαλαγξ ) is
Homer, and in
his poems it means something like an organized battle line.
The tactics must have been very simple. The heavily-armed soldiers,
recruited from the upper class of a town (because only they could afford
arms and panoply - armour), were standing in long, parallel lines, close to each
other. Every hoplite carried a large round shield (the aspis or
hoplon) which covered his own left side and the right side of the
man to his left. A phalanx was, therefore, very densely packed and could
not easily turn to the left or right.
If its allowed to compare war with
sport: a hoplite battle was something like a "scrum" in a rugby match:
both sides, armed with spears, tried to push over the enemy, and once a
phalanx was victorious, the losses at the other side were extremely
heavy, because the victors would use their swords to kill the defeated
Vase painting showing a Hoplite Battle c.600 BC
("Chigi vase", Louvre, Paris.)
Behind them a boy plays the double aulos (flute).
||1. If you were
a young Athenian ephebe in ancient Athens, what would have been
your activities and duties?
(Include a few quoted words from (SOURCE A) to support your
answer. Blend the quoted words into your own sentences.)
The Men of
Standing in a battle line and waiting for the clash with the enemy
took considerable courage, as the Athenian playwright
suggests in a diatribe against the demigod
... he is a man who has won a reputation for
valor in his contests with
beasts, but in all else is a weakling; who ne'er buckled shield to arm nor
faced the spear, but with a bow, that coward's weapon, was ever
ready to run away. Archery is no test of manly bravery; no! he is a
man who keeps his post in the ranks and steadily faces the swift
wound the spear may plough.
Wounds were likely, and therefore, the hoplites
wore armour. As well as wearing metal
helmets, they were protected by a breastplate,
greaves, their hoplon, and a tunic of stiffened linen.
Their offensive weapons were a spear and a
the latter only to be used in the second phase of the battle. The
soldiers must have been strong men, because the full panoply could weigh
as much as 15 kg, and it comes as no surprise that foreigners often
noted that the Greek soldiers were "men of bronze" (Herodotus,
The traditional tactics
The normal practice of the Greeks, such as the Athenians and the
Spartans, was to establish their heavily armed infantry in a
solid mass, or
phalanx, some eight to twelve men deep. ...The infantry
would advance together so that the attack flowed unbroken
against their enemy.
In order to combat the phalanx's infamous right-hand drift
... [because the men on the right would bring their shield
across to cover their unprotected right side, and then the man
next to him would move across to keep behind the shield that
should protect and overlap him
from his right.] Greek commanders traditionally placed their most
experienced, highly regarded and, generally, deadliest troops on
the right wing as this was the place of honour.
By contrast, the shakiest and/or least influential troops
were often placed on the left wing. In the Spartan battle plan
hippeis (an elite force numbering 300 men) and the king of
Sparta would stand on the right wing of the phalanx.
The commonest phalanx tactic was
a simple advance to contact. Thucydides described the advance of
the two armies at Mantinea:
"The Argives and their allies advanced with great violence and
fury, while the Spartans came on slowly and to the music of many
flute-players in their ranks. This custom of theirs has nothing
to do with religion: it is designed to make them keep in step
and move forward steadily without breaking their ranks"
Explain in your own words, the meaning of
the word phalanx, as used to describe the
fighting methods used in
Ancient Greece during the Classical Period.
4. As some of the Greek helmets had solid
bronze covering over the ears, (see SOURCE B
above); How do you think
the troop commanders kept the soldiers marching in formation,
and conveyed orders to the Hoplites?
Orders such as 'stop', 'move slowly forward', 'wheel to the
left', 'fast run attack'.
In your answer, refer to the archaeological evidence
shown in SOURCE C, and the
primary literary evidence of Thucydides.
Find out and
explain what this symbol represented on the Spartan
6. Do some research on how the citizens
were trained to be soldiers.
Write down five key points that explain how
Spartan citizens were trained so well for
Thracian peltast soldier.
Not every Greek warrior was a hoplite, and though
often neglected, Greek armies were usually accompanied by other
troop types. Light infantry and cavalry troops were used as
skirmishers and to protect the vulnerable flanks of the
ponderous phalanxes. [Mounted troops at the time though did not
use saddles with stirrups, so there is some debate about how
effective they would have been.] Javelin throwers called
peltasts would be
used as skirmishers, harassing enemy formations and masking
troop movements behind them. They were armed with several
javelins. Peltast warfare was developed in Thrace while the
Greeks were developing an heavy infantry almost exclusively.
This led to many of the light infantry troops from the outlying
regions of Greece, being hired as mercenary troops.
Skirmishers also carried
slings, and sometimes carried
shields. Acting as
light infantry with their light arms and minimal armour, they
could run ahead of the main battle line, release a volley of
arrows, slingshots or javelins, and retreat behind their main
battle line, before the clash of the opposing main forces. The
aims of skirmishing were to disrupt enemy formations by causing
casualties before the main battle, and to tempt the opposing
infantry into attacking prematurely, throwing their
organization into disarray. Skirmishers could also be
effectively used to surround opposing soldiers in the absence of
In classical Greece,
skirmishers had low status. For example,
Herodotus, in his account of the
Battle of Plataea of
479 BC, in the wars against Persia, mentions that the
Spartans fielded 35,000 light armed
helots (slaves) to 5,000
hoplites yet there is no mention of the skirmishers
fighting. Often Greek historians ignored them
altogether. It was far cheaper to equip oneself as light
armed as opposed to a fully armed hoplite – indeed it
was not uncommon for light armed to go into battle
equipped with stones. Hence the low status of
skirmishers reflected the low status of the poorer
sections of society who made up skirmishers.
Ancient Greek lead sling bullets with a winged
thunderbolt engraved on one side and the inscription
"take that" (ΔΕΞΑΙ) on the other side, 4th century BC,
List and write
one point about the different types of soldiers you
could see fighting on a battle field in these times.
8. If you had to choose to be
one of the following, and fight as: a) Peltast with
javlins, b) Skirmisher with a bow, c) Greek Hoplite, d)
Skirmisher with a sling, e) Spartan Hoplite, f) Persian
'Immortal' (see below*)
Or g) One of the cavalry with javelins, which would you
choose? Give reasons for your choice.
Black figure vase painting of Hoplites
advancing quickly into battle.
According to Herodotus, the Greeks at the
Battle of Marathon, " were the first Greeks
we know of to charge their enemy at a run". Many
historians believe that this innovation was precipitated
by their desire to minimize their losses from Persian
The Battle of Marathon
The problem is that the Athenian hoplite has to carry
around 30 kg of armour, and is thus not very fast like a Persian
soldier. At the Battle of Marathon,
the Greek phalanx moved slowly in formation
towards the Persian army. The Persians assumed that they
could break the Greek phalanx with their archers when
the Greeks approached at 400 meters distance, in the
range of the Persian artillery. But instead, when
at this distance, the
Greek Phalanx moved as fast as possible, even if it was
difficult to keep the formation intact. The
archers could not open holes in the phalanx wall. The
Greeks had better armour, and
also used a tactic that enabled
them to attack the Persians from the sides. The Persians
were thrown into a panic tried to reach their ships.
Many were killed close to the beach. The victory was one
of the most important historic events for the Western
The Persian fleet
had landed at the bay of
Marathon, roughly 25 miles (40 km) from
Athens. Under the guidance of the Athenian
Miltiades, the general with the greatest
experience of fighting the Persians, the
Athenian army marched to block the two exits
from the plain of Marathon. Stalemate ensued for
five days, before the Athenians (for reasons
that are unclear) decided to attack the
were 9,000 Athenian hoplites, and they were
helped by 1,000 Plataeans. Plataea was an ally
of Athens. However, there were over 25,000
Persian soldiers. Despite the numerical advantage of the
hoplites proved devastatingly effective
against the more lightly armed Persian infantry,
routing the wings before turning in on the
centre of the Persian line. The remnants of the
Persian army fled to their ships and left the
battle. Herodotus records that 6,400
Persian bodies were counted on the battlefield;
the Athenians lost only 192 men.
The Persian Empire
the terrain, positions and movements of the two opposing
forces in the Battle of Marathon.
One of the 10,000 elite Persian soldiers. They carried a
"spara", or large wicker (cane) shield, spear, bow and
quiver of arrows.
In the battle
plan above, you can see how the Athenians put their best
and strongest forces, not in the centre of their attack as was
the traditional strategy,. Instead, the Athenians put their
strongest forces on the wings, on the flanks. This resulted in
the Persians (red) moving quickly in disarray through the centre of
the Greek force, only to be attacked with the surprising
strength of the Greek forces from the sides. The Persians, in
confusion and panic, fled back to their ships.
Another important factor in the Greek success, was their well
thought-out panoply of armour, that greatly protected the Greeks,
compared to the lack of armour and protective clothing worn by
the Persian forces.
Herodotus described the dress of
the Persian soldiers:
"The dress of these troops
consisted of the tiara, or soft felt cap, embroidered tunic
with sleeves, a coat of mail looking like the scales of a
fish, and trousers; for arms they carried light wicker
shields, quivers slung below them, short spears, powerful
bows with cane arrows, and short swords swinging from belts
beside the right thigh." (Herodotus,
later in comments about the
Battle of Plataea,
chiefly did them [the Persians] harm was that they wore no
armour over their
clothing and fought, as it were, naked against men fully
armed." (Histories 9.63).:..for
their manner of dress, without defensive armour, was a very
great cause of destruction to them, since in truth they were
contending light-armed against hoplites." (Herodotus,
Explain why the Athenians
were able to defeat the Persians at the battle of Marathon, even
though they were greatly outnumbered by the Persian forces. In
your answer quote from Herodotus to support your argument. Blend
a few of his quoted words into your own sentences. Try and come
up with four or five reasons.
Half to one A4 page minimum answer length, and remember to use paragraphs.
Also remember to use some of the main/key words from the
question, in the first sentence of each of your paragraphs.
Optional extra: You can also if you wish, do some
additional research, and quote from other sources to support
your argument. Note the sources you used at the end - whether
primary sources, like Herodotus from that time, or secondary
sources such as modern historians.
(Remember you can also refer to
vase paintings from the time, such as the paintings below, if
you want to use archaeological sources as well to support your
A Kylix - wine 'glass'.
Well known red
figure vase paintings from the time, that show the detail of the armour
used by the Athenians and the lack of armour used by the Persian
Your Own Command: Enlarge, scroll around
and study the features in the following picture.
It is a picture of the terrain at the side of a valley where an
ancient battle is about to be fought!
You are in command of 40 Athenian Hoplites and 20 skirmishers.
(Of your skirmishers, 5 are
mercenaries, 4 are mounted cavalry with javelins, 6 have slings,
and 5 carry bows.)
click this terrain picture and select 'open in a new
Your forces are at present moving in an Easterly direction
through the trees, towards position A seen in the above picture.
Your mounted cavalry, acting as scouts, have reported to you
that an invading enemy force of 50 Hoplites with 10 skirmishers,
has taken up position on the raised ground shown as position B
in the above terrain picture.
(Of their skirmishers, 5 have slings and 5 carry javelins.)
The enemy force has been alerted to your approach and are
looking down and across towards the West.
Group Work Option: Complete this task in groups of four
or five. Then present your war plans to the class and explain
the strategies and tactics you propose. Use
to aid your presentation.