Below is an artist's impression of what could be young Athenian boys at school in Ancient Greece in the 5th Century B.C.
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 Persian Empire.
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)



SOURCE B   Bronze Corinthian style helmet.

The Phalanx

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 men.


       SOURCE C  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 Bronze

Standing in a battle line and waiting for the clash with the enemy took considerable courage, as the Athenian playwright Euripides suggests in a diatribe against the demigod Heracles, who was...
... 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 sword - 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, Histories, 2.152)



  2. Research and read about a typical Hoplite's weapons and armour. Then complete this activity sheet.
    Sites like the following one will help you:

Spartan Hoplite

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 therefore, the 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" (Thucydides V70).

  3. 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.

  5. Find out and explain what this symbol represented on the Spartan shields.

6. Do some research on how the citizens of Sparta were trained to be soldiers.
     Write down five key points that explain how Spartan citizens were trained so well for warfare.

    Thracian peltast soldier.
The Skirmishers
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 bows, javelins, slings, and sometimes carried light 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 friendly cavalry.
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.

SOURCE D 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, from Athens, (British Museum)
  7. 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.

SOURCE E  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 archery.

The Battle of Marathon
490 BC
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 Persian 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 civilization.

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 Persians. There 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 Persians, 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


SOURCE F Diagram showing the terrain, positions and movements of the two opposing forces in the Battle of Marathon.

Persian 'Immortal'*. 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.


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, Histories 7.61)


Herodotus later in comments about the Battle of Plataea, noted that

"what 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, Histories 9.64).


  9. 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 arguments.)

A Kylix - wine 'glass'.

  SOURCE I 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 soldiers.



  10. 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
Thracian Peltast mercenaries, 4 are mounted cavalry with javelins, 6 have slings, and 5 carry bows.)

 Right mouse click this terrain picture and select 'open in a new window'.

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 Power Point (No.7) or Prezi (No.24) to aid your presentation.