Subject: ὁπλίτης heavy infantry hoplite
Culture: Classical Greek
Setting: late Archaic, Persian wars, Aegean 7th-5thc BC
* Morillo w/ Pavkovic 2006 p83, 85
"Though Hanson's conclusions about Greek tactics, strategy, and especially the development of 'civic militarism' have been questioned by other Greek specialists, ... [w]hat attracted much wider attention and dispute was the claim Hanson built on his examination of Greek hoplite warfare: that the Greeks had established a 'western way of war' characterized by face-to-face combat (as opposed to the more indirect and missle-oriented tactices of 'oriental' warfare) and supported by political-military systems built on citizenship (as opposed to subjection) and a resulting 'civic militarism.' This style, he claimed, remained a constant characteristic of western combat and led to the triumph of western civilization globally. ...
"[...] That Greece and Rome qualify only as 'spiritual ancestors' of modern western powers is a conclusion that necessarily emerges not just from Hanson's omission of Byzantium from the list of western powers, but from the major substantive problem military historians find with Hanson's thesis: the place of the Middle Ages in his argument. Or more accurately, its lack of a place. Hanson posits Greeks as the creators of a continuous, connected tradition of civic militarism that made western powers more effective militarily -- 'more effective killers' -- than their rivals. But no historian of Imperial Rome or of medieval military history would accept Hanson's characterization of western 'civic militarism' as applying to the Roman Empire or medieval Western Europe, nor would the history of Western European military conflict between 400 and 1400 supply much support for the superiority of a 'western way of war.' ... Without continuity between classical Greece and the modern West, Hanson's argument loses much of its force."
Context (Period Sources, Event Photos)
* Museum of Fine Arts > Art of the Ancient World
"Conflicts between Greek city-states were frequent. Soldiers were largely volunteers who fought between March and October, when the weather allowed for easier troop movements. Elite warriors wore up to seventy pounds of equipment, including a thrusting spear with iron tip and butt, iron sword, bronze helmet, bronze chest and back armor, shin guards, and a large, round shield called a hoplon. These heavily armed foot soldiers, called hoplites, were trained to fight in phalanxes (hundreds of men across and eight or more deep), overlapping their shields for protection. Hoplites formed the primary Greek fighting unit for centuries. ..."
* Weapon 2006 40
"Warfare in Classical Greece was centered around the hoplite, a heavily equipped foot soldier armed with a spear and sword, and protected by a large round shield, bronze helmet, bronze or leather cuirass, and greaves. Hoplites fought closely together, forming a wall of shields in a phalanx that maximized their protection while enabling them to use their spear. The hoplite phalanx was supported by light infantry armed with bows and sling shots."
* Withers 2010 p16 = Withers & Capwell 2010 p264
"Infantry foot-soldiers, the ancient Greek hoplites (from the Greek word hoplon, or armour) formed the military backbone of the Greek city states. Hoplites were recruited mainly from the wealthier and fitter middle classes, and bore the financial responsibility to arm themselves. Bronze armour, sword, spear and shield all had to be provided from solely private means. Hoplites were not full-time professional soldiers whose only life was war. They had volunteered to serve their state only in times of war (usually in the summer), and, if they survived, would return afterwards to their civilian roles. The hoplite was a true manifestation of the classical Greek ideal of shared civic responsibility."
Helmets (Corinthian, Chalcidian, Illyrian)
* Warry 1980 p44-45
"Greek Hoplite Helmets The evolution of the hoplite and his equipment engendered two main types of bronze helmet, known today as the 'Corinthian' and 'Illyrian.' Such helmets wre prized possessions and often passed from father to son. The Corinthian was produced by beating metal over a stake and tailor-made so as to be very close fitting. On pottery and sculpture these helmets usually appear with crests, but a close study reveals that in practice a large number lacked them. Crests were usually made of horsehair set in wood, rather like a broom. As horsehair is difficult to dye, the bristles were normally left unstained; black, white and chestnut were common natural colours. Little is known about helmet linings but it is believed that felt may have been glued inside. What is certain is that skull-caps of felt or wool were worn, to keep hair in position and perhaps as padding."
* Sekunda ill. Hook 2000 p11
"The helmet ... was not expected to ward off all blows: strength was sacrificed for lightness and reasonable all-over protection. Hoplites used several varieties of close-helmet which must have seriously restricted hearing and vision. The inside was sometimes lined with fabric, but lacked the strap suspension system found in modern helmets. Blows to the head must have frequently resulted in injury. Hoplites are normally shown wearing nothing under the helmet, though occasional representations show that a cloth headband, or caps of various styles, were often worn for comfort. Homer (Il. 10.258) terms the leather cap worn in battle kataityx, but we do not know if this term was used later for 'cap-comforters' of this type.
"The brightly dyed horsehair crests attached to Greek helmets were mainly designed to make the hoplite appear taller and more imposing . In the classical period, when the concept of uniform began to develop, the crest also served as a badge of rank." [reference omitted]
*Coggins 1966 p20
"The main weapon was a heavy spear, some ten feet in length, which was used as a thrusting and not as a missile weapon. From a mention in the Anabasis of an Asiatic spear 'having but one spike' it may be inferred that the Greek spear had two -- the spearhead proper, and a spike on the end of the butt for planting it in the ground."
* Cassin-Scott 1977 p37
"A long spear was often used which had a head at either end; when the shaft was broken the weapon could be reversed and the fight continued."
* Weapon 2006 p40
"The spear was the hoplite's principal weapon, his short iron sword only being used if his spear was broken during fighting."
* Ashdown 1909 p28
"The sword continued to be of the leaf-like form which prevailed in the Bronze Age, and was longer than the Roman sword of the following era. At the same time a sword was in use which was the prototype of the subsequent weapon: it had a long, straight blade slightly tapering from the hilt to the point, where it was cut to an acute angle for thrusting. A central ridge traversed both sides of the blade, and it was double-edged. Upon these swords and their scabbards a wealth of decoration was lavished by the Greeks. "
* Coe, Connolly, Harding, Harris, LaRocca, Richardson, North, Spring, & Wilkinson 1989 p20-21 (Peter Connolly, "Greece and Rome" p20-29)
"The hoplite sword had a double-edged blade about 24 ins/60 cm long, waisted just below the hilt and then widening gradually, reaching its maximum width just over two-thirds of the way down and then tapering to a point. The tang was flat and very similar to its Bronze Age predecessor, being a complete cross-section of the hilt. The grip was formed by sandwiching the tang between two pieces of bone or wood and covering them, totally or partially, with a thin sheet of metal. The hoplite sword was essentially a slashing weapon, though some examples have long points and could have been very effective cut-and -thrust weapons, and was worn slung from a baldric over the right shoulder so that it hung almost horizontally on the left hip. "The hoplite sword, carried by Greek colonists throughout the length and breadth of the Mediterranean, was adopted by many indigenous peoples. In Italy it was almost universally accepted and remained in use until the Romans adopted the 'Spanish' sword in the third century BC."
* Withers 2010 p17 = Withers & Capwell 2010 p265
"There is great irony in noting that the most successful sword design of the Ancient World was developed by the Greeks, who were ostensibly spearmen. The sword was never regarded as a main battle weapon and played a purely secondary role. Once the spears had been thrown or lost in battle, swords were then engaged to finish the conflict in a decisive manner.
"The main battle sword of the ancient Greek military was the xiphos. Introduced around 800-400BC, it comprised a straight, double-edged, leaf-shaped blade of around 65cm (25.6in), and was particularly effective at slashing and stabbing."
* Cassin-Scott 1977 p37
"The short thrusting sword was carried hanging from a leather strap over the right shoulder."
* Coggins 1966 p20
"The shield was no longer the clumsy ankle length affair of Homeric days but was now round, some three feet or more in diameter. It was deeply dished and was held by a strap through which the left forearm passed, with a leather grip for the hand."
* Snodgrass 1999 p53
"[T]he most important single item in the panoply of the hoplite, from which indeed he took his name, was the great round shield or hoplon. It was much larger than the round shield of the preceding era: the regular diameter is about three feet, and one exceptional example was found to be nearly four feet across. The shape is gently convex, except that the rim is usually flat. The basic material was wood, reinforced with bronze. The whole shield sometimes had a bronze facing, and the rim was invariably faced with bronze, usually with a repousse cable-decoration. On the inner side was a bronze strip, sometimes short but more often running right across the shield, and bowed out in the middle to form a loop through which the left forearm was passed, up to just below the elbow. The arm-band, or porpax as the Greeks called it, was a new invention and peculiar in this kind of shield. At the edge of the shield -- the right-hand edge as seen from inside -- was a handle, the antilabe, a leather thong which was gripped by the left hand. This two-handled arrangement had many advantages: it helped to relieve the great weight of the shield, it enabled the soldier to release the antilabe, and it made it possible to hold the shield rigidly in an oblique position so that the enemy's weapons would glance off it. The telamon, or sling, for the heavy shield had finally been abandoned, which meant that the shield could no longer be left to hang from the back; this mattered especially on those regrettable occasions when the hoplite had to flee" ....
* Klučina ill. Pevný 1997 p24-25
"The most important piece [of Greek hoplite armor] was a large, round, slightly bulged shield, which protected the warrior from neck to midthigh. The shield's exterior was bronze, its center was wooden, and its interior was lined with leather. A metal grip, often ornamented, hung from the inside of the shield, which was meant to fit the warrior's forearm comfortably. On the interior of the shield, a cord was usually strung from one side to the other. This cord allowed a marching soldier to carry his shield on his shoulders. The shield, or aspis, was painted with a symbol known as an episema. Sometimes this as an embossed decoration made of metal. A popular episema was the head of the Gorgon."
* Ashdown 1909 p28
"The great shield of the Heroic Age gave place to a round or oblong shield reaching only to the knee; it was concave to the body, and appears to have been decorated as a general rule: one invariable ornament was a flat band or border round the circumference. This shield was the true battle-shield of the heavily-armed hoplites."
* Sekunda ill. Hook 2000 p11
"The hoplite of the early 5th century BC used two types of cuirass: the muscle cuirass and the composite cuirass. The muscle cuirass is so-called because the bronze breast- and back-plates were modelled to imitate the musculature of the torso. It developed out of the Archaic 'bell-cuirass', named after the flange which flared outwards below the waist like the mouth of a bell. This flange disappeared in the Classical period and the muscle-cuirass curves down to cover the groin.
"The composite cuirass is so-called because it was constructed from composite materials, normally scales or plates made of iron or bronze, often covered with leather or linen to prevent rusting. ... References to linen or leather armour perhaps refer to composite cuirasses covered with these materials, though armour made exclusively from layers of hardened leather or linen may also have been used."
* Coggins 1966 p19
"A metal cuirass -- breast and backplates, hinged at one side and suspended from the shoulders by a thick leather strap -- or a heavy leather tunic protected the body down to the waist.
"There seems to be some difference of opinion about the body armor of the hoplite. Boutell, in his Arms and Armour, states flatly that the body defense consisted only of a leather tunic, and that the metal cuirass was worn only by horsemen. A passage from the Anabasis might bear this out. When Xenophon, taunted by a hoplite, dismounted and took the fellow's place in the ranks 'he happened to have on his horseman's corselet, so that he was distressed,' as if it was not normal to march in such harness. Certainly, vase paintings show body armor, much of it depicted as being molded to fit the body, and so presumably of metal (although a cuirass of molded leather would appear the same)."
* McDonnell-Staff 2012 p24 caption (describing a Corinthian krater, mid sixth century BC)
"The depiction of heroic nudity combines well with the historical protective capability of the hoplite's aspis. Wearing nothing but helmet and greaves, the bodies of warriors shown here are well protected by their shields."
* Sekunda ill. Hook 1998 p20
"Representations show, and texts describe, men doing dirty work like ploughing, sowing or potting naked. Athletic nudity may have been ritual in origin. At the start of the Archaic period light clothes were worn during athletic exercise, but they were eventually discarded completely. The rigours of warfare -- marching and fighting in heavy armour often under the summer sun -- were hardly less demanding than those of sport and physical training. Nor was warfare of less ritual significance than sport. When we see representations of Spartans fighting without a tunic, we should not dismiss them as being 'artistic' or 'heroising': undoubtedly some are, but nudity in Greek art is, more often than not, a depiction of reality."
* Ask Us 2011 p23
"Nakedness was an expression of intellectual independence and democracy, especially during 480 to 330 BCE. One might almost say that nudity then was akin to wearing a particular brand of blue jeans today, a kind of democratic uniform that especially confident and well-bred young men from the upper classes chose to wear.
"The naked body was the response of the privileged, intellectual Greeks to the more common peoples' habit of displaying their wealth in rich array. ... Perfect bodies like these were the aesthetic ideal. Older and less perfect bodies were, for the Greeks, associated with slaves, foreigners and satyrs ...."
* Garrison 2000 p179-182
"More than a form of art, male nudity became a form of costume displayed by a social elite, as Larissa Bonfante has shown. ... [P]erhaps under the influence of pictorial conventions that displayed male nudes as early as the time of Homer, a curious inversion of social custom developed in the Archaic period when young aristocrats adopted nudity as a form of social display. Exercising regularly outdoors in the nude, they developed deep tans and conspicuous muscles. Well protected by their social rank, they were fearless of physical attack by an enemy; the safety from enemies thus implied was a proclamation of solidarity within the class to which these kalokagathoi and their admirers belonged. These were the 'beautiful people' of their age, honored by the kalos dedications on red-figure ware .... As for the traditional shame of nakedness, honi soi qui mal y pense. It has been argued that phallic display was a gesture of masculine ascendancy over women, and it follows that where nudity is an exclusive privilege of males, women would indeed be subordinated. But such an argument, I believe, overlooks the meaning of the display. It is not directed against women, who were already thoroughly subordinated to men, but against outsiders, non-Greeks as well as any fellow citizens who were not privileged to exercise in the palaestra, develop well-balanced muscles, and keep their bodies clean and oiled."
* Weapon 2006 p42
"Showing the hoplites without clothing aside from their armor is only an artistic convention." [CONTRA McDonnell-Staff 2012 p24, Sekunda & Hook 1998 p20, Ask US 2011 p23, Garrison 2000 p179-182]
* Laver 1982 p34
"The artists of the classical revival in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were persuaded -- no doubt by the numerous nude statues in museums -- that the Ancient Greeks went into battle naked, armed only with a sword, a shield and a helmet. In reality the Greek warriors protected themselves with tunics of leather reinforced with metal plaques, and wore greaves on their legs." [CONTRA McDonnell-Staff 2012 p24, Sekunda & Hook 1998 p20, Ask US 2011 p23, Garrison 2000 p179-182]
* Stone 1934 p364
"KNEMIDES. The Greek greaves." [reference omitted]
* Weapon 2006 p41 caption
"The hoplite's large shield protected the lower abdomen and thighs, but to protect his knees and shins, he wore a pair of bronze greaves. The greaves shown here are sufficiently light and flexible that they could be 'clipped on' over the soldier's calves without the need for leather straps."
* Coggins 1966 p20
"The legs were protected by greaves, long enough to cover the knee but so formed as to restrict the action of knee and ankle as little as possible. These leg defenses appear to have been made to conform to the shape of the leg -- fitting the calf so perfectly that no straps or buckles were necessary."
Cups (Kantharos, Kylix)