Monthly Archives: February 2014

Revision of Spartan Training

One of the greatest armies in history was the Spartan army. But what made them great? They used the phalanx as was customary of the time and their phalanxes were filled with ranks of hoplites. The difference for the Spartans may have come from their militaristic society. The Spartans began training warriors almost from birth, the men going through a process called the Agoge, or “the upbringing” to become the warriors and the women being educated to run the affairs of the house and prepared to give birth to warriors.


Young Spartans Exercising, located in the National Gallery in London.


When a child was born in Sparta, they were washed with wine, and presented before a council of elders who would decide if the child was strong enough and healthy enough to be a Spartan. If the council decided the child wasn’t healthy enough, the child was taken to Mount Taygetus to die from exposure. Otherwise the children lived at home until they were 7 years old. At age seven, the boys were put into a mitilary school and their training began. They were trained in several disciplines including gymnastics, warfare, and others,  all of which were designed to produce great warriors. As part of their training, they were not well fed, which was believed to produce tall warriors (Cartledge, p. 69-70). The lack of food also prepared the men for long campaigns with little food, and encouraged stealing. If the boys were caught stealing, they were punished for being caught, rather than for stealing. Stealth was a highly desired quality for Spartan warriors.


When the boys reached the age of 20, they had ten years to join a group or messes (pheiditia, sussitia). Election into these groups was highly competitive. All members of a mess had to accept the applicant in order for them to join the group. If the individual was not accepted into one of these groups by age 30, they were not granted full citizenship in Sparta. These individuals became part of the Perioikoi, a group of free people but not full citizens who contributed to society in a variety of ways.. They may have been part of what we would understand as the military reserve, but that isn’t known for sure. They were a step up from the helots, who were serfs, the group of the Spartan society that did not enjoy freedom (Wikipedia, Sparta).


After being admitted into a group, the warriors continued training and the leaders would have rewards to keep the men fit for battle. In Xenophon”s Hellenika, Xenophon records “As [Agesilaos] wished to train the army, he set up prizes among the hoplites for the one who was found to be in the best physical condition.” Agesilaos also set up prizes for the cavalry, the peltasts, and the archers as well.  Xenophon continues, “Because of this policy, one could see all the gymnasia full of men exercising,” and the other groups all training and preparing for their specific factions of the army (Xenophon, p 105).


The spartan army was one of the greatest armies of the world and much of that was in part to the lifestyle of complete dedication of the men to the military until they reached the age of 60. If a person wanted to be a Spartan, they had to live the life, be part of a mess, and fight honorably and with singularity of purpose. The training brought discipline, discipline brought trust, trust brought unity, and unity led to success for the Spartans.


Works Cited

“Agoge.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Feb. 2014. Web. 7th Feb. 2014. <;.


Cartledge, Paul. “Under the Sign of Lycurgus.” The Spartans: The World of the Warrior-heroes of Ancient Greece, from Utopia to Crisis and Collapse. Woodstock, NY: Overlook, 2003. 69-70. Print.


Degas, Edgar. Young Spartans Exercising. 1860. Oil on Canvas. National Gallery, London. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 3 Jan. 2014. Web. 10 Feb. 2014. <;.


Kyriazis, Nicholas, and Xenophon Paparrigopoulos. “War and Democracy in Ancient Greece.” European Journal of Law and Economics. 2012. Springer US. Web. 12 Feb. 2014. <;.


Sacks, David, and Oswyn Murray. “Sparta.” A Dictionary of the Ancient Greek World. New York: Oxford UP, 1995. 233. Print.


“Sparta.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 17 Feb. 2014. Web. 8 Feb. 2014. <;.


Xenophon. The Landmark Xenophon’s Hellenika: A New Translation. Trans. John Marincola, and Robert B. Strassler. New York: Pantheon, 2009. 105. Print.

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The Organization of the Army

In the times of the Spartans and Athenians, warfare was very common. There was constantly someone who wanted more power, so there were many wars and battles over land, people, and power. For some of the civilizations, like Sparta, war was everything; even a way of life. One might ask, how did these people in ancient times do battle then? Of course it is nothing like to day. There were no guns, no technology, and certainly no aircrafts. So, in this post today, I will answer this question of how these people fought. I am going to also talk specifically about the organization of these groups and what each member of the army did.

First off, the armies were split up into three main categories: the armed men on foot, the cavalry, and the special forces. The special forces consisted of spear throwers, archers, and even elephant riders. The cavalry were armed men on horseback whose main purpose was often to shape the battlefield. But the group I want to focus on mainly is the armed soldiers on foot.

There were three main types of soldiers: the hoplites, the phalanx, and the helots. The helots were the most basic form of soldier and were most commonly known as the peasants or servants. These soldiers were only armed with simple weapons and armor, generally farming tools and other cheap types of weaponry. The most commonly type of soldier used by all of the ancient civilizations was the Hoplite. The hoplite was a heavy infantry unit, armed with a shield called a Hoplon, helmet, breastplate, greaves, spear, and sword. The Hoplon “was round, wide (three feet in diameter), heavy (about 16 pounds), and deeply concave on the inside” (Sacks 117). It was made out of wood reinforced with bronze. The shield was very heavy and hard to hold up for long periods of time. In battle, the shield was the first thing to usually be cast aside when either retreating or chasing the enemy’s forces, as it is heavy and cumbersome. But, for the Spartans, keeping their shield meant keeping their honor, so many did not throw away their shields.


Hoplite in full armor

The hoplite was the main force in most armies and took up the majority of the population. Some people even ruled with just an army of hoplites. For example, Around 375 BCE, Jason of Pherai, a powerful man who sought to take control of Thessaly, became tagos, or ruler, over all of Thessaly. When he became tagos, “he assessed how many horsemen and hoplites each city of Thessaly was able to contribute, and he found that he had in all more than 8,000 cavalry and more than 20,000 hoplites. His peltasts were sufficiently numerous to array against those of the whole world – indeed, it would be a difficult task simply to list the cities that furnished them” (Strassler 225). With his great army, he marched through Phocis and destroyed the wall of Herakleia; on his return to Thessaly he is the greatest man in Greece. From fear of Jason becoming tyrannical and too powerful, 7 young men assassinated him.

The other main unit in the army was the phalanx. The phalanx was “the body of Greek heavy-armed infantrymen deployed in lines that usually takes the center of the battlefield and plays the most relevant role in combat” (Fernando 304). The phalanx consisted of rows of men, sometimes up to a few hundred, who all had long spears and shields strapped to their shoulder. They would then march forward towards the enemy troops. The phalanx could be “drawn up in open order with two paces per man or doubled up to form close order” (Connolly 37). An Argive shield was strapped to the left shoulder. In close order, the shield was wide enough to offer protection to the unguarded side of the man on the left.

Work Cited

Connolly, Peter. Greece and Rome at War. Great Britain: Frontline Books, 2012. Print.

Echeverría, Fernando. “Hoplite and Phalanx in Archaic and Classical Greece: A Reassessment.” Classical Philology: Vol. 107, No. 4 (October 2012): pp. 291-318. JSTOR. Web. 2 Feb. 2014.

Sacks, David. A Dictionary of the Ancient Greek World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. Print.

Shumate, Johnny. Ancient Greece Hoplite with his Hoplon and Dory. 2006. Wikimedia Commons. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 17 November 2006.

Strassler, Robert. The Landmark Xenophon’s Hellenika. New York: Pantheon Books, 2009. Print.


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The Battle of Salamis: Consequences & Signifcance

The Battle of Salamis was a naval battle fought by the allied Greek city-states and the Persian Empire in September 480 BC between the island of Salamis and the mainland Greece (Wikipedia Contributors). Prior to the battle, Xerxes, ruler of Persia, had won battles in Artemisium, Thermopylae, and most notably, Athens, which he captured in September 480, as a part of the Greek Conquest. However, the Greeks, stationed at Salamis, remained close to the Athenian harbor, and thus were a strategic problem for the Perisans who hoped to be able to transport supplies to their army, which was moving to the Isthmus of Corinth (Lendering). The following map, which shows the Greco-Persian wars, indicates the location of Salamis, and its proximity to Athens.

Map: Bibi Saint-Pol. "Map Greco-Persian Wars." Map. Wikipedia. Captain Blood, 27 Feb. 2007. Web. 11 Feb. 2014.

Map: Bibi Saint-Pol. “Map Greco-Persian Wars.” Map. Wikipedia. Captain Blood, 27 Feb. 2007. Web. 11 Feb. 2014. 


Despite the successes of the Persians, the Greeks were persuaded by the Athenian general Themistocles to go battle at sea (Wikipedia Contributors). What was resulted was an overwhelming victory for the Greeks. Herodotus describes the shockwaves such news meant to the Persian people, who first heard about the victory of Athens only to be quickly informed of the devastating loss near Salamis, “the first message had arrived at Susa while Xerxes was in possession of Athens, and the news so delighted the Persians who had stayed behind that they scattered myrtle on all the roads, burned incense, and gave themselves over to sacrifices and pleasure. The second message, following closely as it did on the first, so disturbed them that everyone tore their tunics to shreds, with endless crying and wailing, and placed the blame on Mardonius” (Herodotus, 642).

Following the defeat, Xerxes sought the counsel of Artemisia, who had previously given him war advice. She recommended that Xerxes abandon the campaign and leave it to be managed by Mardonius, whose reputation and honor was intertwined with the campaign. With Xerxes back in Asia, he could rule free from the failures of the campaign, should it continue to go poorly, but reap the benefits if Mardonius was successful. Xerxes followed this advice, leaving Mardonius to continue the campaign against the Greeks (Herodotus, 644).

While Xerxes gave Mardonius the pick of top soldiers to stay behind, the transition period stalled their military strategy and caused them to rest at a winter quarters. This gave the Greek armies time to regroup. While Mardonius continued the conquest the following year, with an insufficient number of soldiers and an energized opponent, he was unable to maintain momentum, and the campaign ended (Lendering).

The great victory at Salamis also shaped Greek thought. In his thoughts of the Battle of Salamis in regards to political theory, J. Peter Euben states that, “Salamis set the terms in which Athenians defined themselves as a people.” Additionally, J. Peter Euben went on to explain that while initially the battle was seen as the will of the Gods,, the Greeks came to view it as a product of their own collective strength. Thus, forming an understanding that “their power (as distinct from their material strength) and so their triumph, as emulating from democratic ethos” (Euben, 1986).

Ultimately, the victory of the Greeks at the Battle of Salamis turned the tide of the war, delaying Persian action, and giving the Greeks time to regain strength in their numbers and stopping Persian advances. Additionally, the victory at Salamis impacted Greek consciousness, giving the Greek people a sense of “people” and value in democratic ethos.




Euben, J. Peter. “The Battle of Salamis and the Origins of Political Theory.” Political Theory 14.3 (1986): 359-90. Web.

Herodotus. The Landmark Herodotus. Ed. Robert B. Strassler. Trans. Andrea L Purvis. New York: Pantheon Books, 2007. Print

Lendering, Jona. “Naval Battle of Salamis (480 BCE).” Livius, 17 July 2008. Web. 10 Feb. 2014. <>.

Map: Bibi Saint-Pol. “Map Greco-Persian Wars.” Map. Wikipedia. Captain Blood, 27 Feb. 2007. Web. 11 Feb. 2014.

Wikipedia contributors. “Battle of Salamis.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 11 March. 2005. Web. 10 Feb. 2014.


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How the Peloponnesian War Proved the Utility of Cavalry

The Peloponnesian War was a war between Athens and Sparta that lasted from 431 B.C.E to 404 B.C.E. It is often referred to as the war between the elephant and the whale. Sparta had claim on the title of elephant with a formidable army. Athens was the obvious choice for whale, as it was well known for naval dominance. It may sound like every battle was one sided, depending on where it took place, but that isn’t the case. One little known advantage that Athens had was its cavalry. (Lendering)

Ancient Chariot Parade © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 2.5

Ancient Chariot Parade © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 2.5

Horses had been used in warfare for quite some time before the Peloponnesian War. In their earliest days however, they were reserved almost exclusively for use with chariots. Over the years, their use evolved until the more modern idea of cavalry emerged: a unit of lightly armored soldiers charging into battle on horseback (Sidnell, 2006). These units had many uses, from both launching and preventing raids to both martial and psychological benefits on the battlefield (Gaebel, 2002). However, in order for them to be useful the horses had to actually reach the battle field. This wasn’t always the trivial task that it sounds like it should be, especially because transporting horses over water isn’t exactly simple using a boat designed for humans. This put Athens in something of a bind. In retrospect, the solution is obvious: innovation. Athens needed a way to transport horses over water more easily, so they designed a ship to do just that (Worley, 1994). This innovation was what allowed Athens to prove how useful cavalry to the rest of the world, despite the expense and difficulty involved in raising and maintaining it.

The simple truth about Greece is that it is a terrible place to raise horses. A combination of mountains and poor grazing land leaves few regions capable of supporting enough horses for a proper cavalry. This was especially true for Sparta, which barely had enough food to support its human population. As the war wore on however, even Sparta had to admit that well used cavalry could be devastating. As the war neared its end, Sparta was forced to raise cavalry of its own to help handle the Athenian forces. Their lack of training prevented the Spartan forces from being as effective, but they were still far from useless. Ultimately, the Peloponnesian War proved beyond doubt that cavalry was essential for an army to maintain dominance on the battle field (Strassler, 1996).


Gaebel, R. (2002). Cavalry Operations in the Ancient Greek World. University of Oklahoma Press.

Lendering, J. (n.d.). Peloponnesian War. Retrieved from

Nguyen, M.-L. (2009, June 28). Wikimedia Commons.

Sidnell, P. (2006). Warhorse. New York: Continuum.

Strassler, R. (1996). The Landmark Thucydides. New York: Free Press.

Worley, L. (1994). Hippeis. Boulder: Westview Press.




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The Importance of the Greek Cavalry on the Home Front during the Peloponnesian War

Visit the above link to view an image of a marble carving of two horsemen that is from the West Frieze of the Parthenon.

The Peloponnesian War occurred during 431-404 BC. This war between the Athenians and the Spartans was fought mostly in Peloponnesia and Attica. It is difficult to narrow down to one cause of the Peloponnesian War because sources conflict in their reasoning. Thucydides believed it was because “they are also metaphysical representations of opposite ways of looking at the universe” (Strassler xi). On the other hand, others believe it is attributed to the peace between Athens and Sparta being slowly broken down which first started in 440 BC. “The Thirty Years’ Peace, an attempt by Sparta and Athens to avoid further fighting which began in 446BC, was first tested in 440 BC, when Athens’ powerful ally Samos rebelled from its alliance with Athens (Wikipedia contributors).

The Greek cavalry, though small and outnumbered, played many roles in the Peloponnesian War. “They were used at home to prevent raiding beyond the enemy’s armed camp, in enemy country to make a raid” (Gaebel 90). In my opinion, one of the most important functions of the cavalry was staying at home and defending their cities from the Spartans. An Athenian, Thucydides, who wrote a history of the war, emphasized the members of the cavalry who stayed on the home front. “They were not to go out to battle, but to come into the city and guard it, and get ready their fleet, in which their real strength lay” (Strassler 98).

Xenophon, an Athenian horseman, provided an account of hippeis (the Greek cavalry) tactics. “But the horsemen sent by Dionysius, few though they were, scattering themselves here and there, would ride along the enemy’s line, charge upon them and throw javelins at them, and when the enemy began to move forth against them, would retreat, and then turn round and throw javelins again. And while pursuing these tactics they would dismount from their horses and rest. But if anyone charged upon them while they were dismounted, they would leap easily upon their horses and retreat” (Worley 84). This was an important tactic for the Greek cavalry

Both Thucydides and Xenophon’s accounts of the functionality of the cavalry on the homeland help us to understand the Athenians’ strategy for protecting the homeland during this war. Despite their efforts, the Athenians had to surrender after Lysander, the Spartan general, sent his fleet to Hellespont, the main source of Athens’ grain. The Athenians were “facing starvation and disease from the prolonged siege” (Wikipedia contributors).



Gaebel, Robert E. Cavalry Operations In The Ancient Greek World. 1st ed. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002. 90. Web.

Papakyriakou/Anagnostou, Ellen. Horsemen. 2013. Photograph. Ancient Greek CitiesWeb. 18 Apr 2014. <;.

Strassler, Robert B., 1st ed. The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War. 1996. New York: Free Press. Print.

Wikipedia contributors. “Peloponnesian War.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 22 Dec. 2013. Web. 23 Jan. 2014.

Worley, Leslie J. Hippies: The Cavalry of Ancient Greece. 1st ed. . Boulder: Westview Press, Inc., 1994. 84. Print.

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Greek Naval Technology and The Battle of Salamis: The Trireme

The Trireme (triêrês) was an ancient battle ship primarily used by Mediterranean Empires including the Greeks, Persians, and Romans. This great technological advancement was first documented c. a. 535 BCE by Herodotus when he refers to a conflict between Samos and Egypt which states, “Polycrates selected those citizens who he suspected were most likely to revolt and sent them off in forty Triremes…” (Herodotus, III.44) Evolving from the Bireme, the Trireme quickly became the Greek Navy standard often replacing other ancient ships such as the much smaller Pentekonter which only consisted of 50 oarsmen contrasted to the Trireme’s approximate 170 oarsmen. These massive ships served a major role in the Greek’s ability to hold off the Persians in The Battle of Salamis. To understand that role better, let’s first consider its design.


Depiction of a sailing Trireme based on the modern Trireme recreation Olympias

The basic architecture of the Trireme revolves around having three rows of rowers, as implied by the title, with one man per oar. The Engineers designed this warship with effective use of space in mind due to the large quantities of men required to operate it adequately. As such, the dimensions of the sheds were approximately 37 meters long, 6 meters wide, and 4 meters tall. This provided just enough space for oarsmen to operate effectively. The Trireme’s speed capability is approximated to have averaged around 5-8 knots (6-9 miles per hour) achieved by the use of sails, oars, and rudders to propel and direct its path. The oars were especially important in battle when great maneuverability and speed for ramming became vital, as the primary weapon utilized was a massive bronze ram heading the front of the ship near the surface of the water. The ram was the focus of Athenian Naval warfare because there was only little space for marines available, although they were carried in small quantities to defend the oarsmen who often could see very little.

The ships were constructed of available woods depending on location usually including: fir, Cedar, oak, and pine. These materials may have differed slightly from case to case as different areas constructed Triremes slightly different, but the basic design always remained constant. With the primary material being wood, the crews were required to beach the ships at night to ensure that the ship would not become waterlogged. The Trireme usually included around 200 men to operate, 170 of them being oarsmen, with a small crew and a few marines. This, again, indicates the importance of maneuverability as the Trireme required large quantities of man power to ram and sink enemy ships.

In The Battle of Salamis (c.a. 480 BCE), the Athenians utilized the Trireme and constricted waters to hold off The Persians. The Interesting thing about this battle is that The Persians and Greeks fought one another with similar technologies, the main material difference between the two was the volume of the fleets. Herodotus recorded the Athenians to have gathered 371 Triremes (Herodotus VIII,46), while the number of Persian ships is disputed, it is approximated to have been around 1200 triremes. The Persians relied on the Greeks being overwhelmed by their massive fleet, however the Greeks utilized the narrow strait between the island and mainland to effectively hold off the incoming fleet as they rammed and attacked, with a beneficial advancing breeze on their side. By considering the Trireme’s remarkable design, The Persian’s inability to swim, and the geography of Salamis emphasizing Greek battle tactics, it is clear to see how the Greeks succeeded in effectively defending themselves in this great naval siege.


“Battle of Salamis.” 5 February 2014. Web. 6 February 2014. <;.

Gabrielsen, V. 2012. Navies, Greek. The Encyclopedia of Ancient History

Greek Fleet of Galleys Based on Sources from The Perseus Project. 2008. Graphic. Web. 6   Feb 2014. <;.

Herodotus. Herodotus: The Histories. Trans. Robin Waterfield. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Book.

Lendering, Jona. “Naval Battle of Salamis (480BCE).” 17 July 2008. Web. 6 February 2014. <;.

Rankov, B. 2012. Trireme. The Encyclopedia of Ancient History.

Taylor, M. C. 2012. Salamis, island and battle of. The Encyclopedia of Ancient History.

“Trireme.” 4 February 2014. Web. 6 February 2014. <;.

Wood, Adrian K. Warships of the Ancient World: 5000-500 BC. Colchester: Osprey Publishing, 2013. Book.

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The Spartans at War

In 404 B.C.E., at the end of the Peloponnesian War, Sparta emerged victorious as the most powerful city-state in Greece (Sacks, 1995, p. 230).  Sparta was the only city-state to have a professional standing army in which the men devoted their entire lives to training to become killing machines.  This also gave them the benefit of campaigning during the harvest time, as the other city-states often had “farmer-soldiers” that would need to return home (Sacks, 1995, p. 232).

As a result, Sparta had the best army in all of Greece (for a few centuries).  At the core of their fighting force were the heavily armored hoplites, named for the hefty hoplon shield they carried into battle.  And nowhere was the shield more important than in Sparta.  As the old Spartan proverb, “Return with your shield or upon it,” suggests, the shield was like a badge of honor, and to lose it would bring devastating disgrace (Sacks, 1995, p. 117-118).

With their shield, set of bronze armor (called the panoply), and a 6-8 ft. spear for thrusting, the Spartans would march into battle in an “orderly, multiranked formation” known as the phalanx (Sacks, 1995, p. 118).  As the image below shows, the soldiers would be standing closely together, ready to repel or charge into their enemies (Tungsten (Wikipedia), 2007).  The illustration also reveals a weakness of the phalanx formation- an unprotected right flank, meaning that the soldiers weren’t just fighting for themselves, but for their vulnerable comrades.

Illustration of Greek hoplites in a phalanx battle formation. (Tungsten (Wikipedia), 2007)

Illustration of Greek hoplites in a phalanx battle formation. (Tungsten (Wikipedia), 2007)

In this formation, the hoplites would have preferred to fight on level ground, as it would be a lot easier to keep ranks.  And while the phalanx had a “natural function” of defense, the Spartans proved otherwise on more than one occasion (Sacks, 1995, p. 179).  They often employed “co-ordinated mass infantry manoeuvres, in which eight-deep shield walls bulldozered the enemy off the field of battle or terrorized them into giving up and running away” (Cartledge, 2004, p. 32).  This reputation seems to have preceded them when the peltasts (lightly armored, skirmisher troops) of Iphikrates “were so frightened of the Spartans that they would not approach within a spear-cast of the hoplites…” (Xenophon, 2009 Translation).

Despite the fact that the Spartans were fierce opponents in battle, they weren’t unbeatable.  In one case, during the battle of Koroneia in 394 B.C.E., it seems that “the Spartans deliberately marched head-on against the victorious Thebans, hoping to knock out their crack troops in a decisive second charge and thereby win the battle outright” (Hanson, 1988).  While charging at someone that just defeated you sounds absurd, it shows the great determination of the Spartans at war; that whether they were winning or losing, they would keep fighting for the glory and honor of their people.

The Spartans were without a doubt formidable adversaries, and while their traditional battle tactics later led to their downfall as a major military power, you have to admire their intense lifestyle and gutsy tactics on the battlefield.

Works Cited

Cartledge, P. (2004).  The Spartans: The World of the Warrior-Heroes of Ancient Greece. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

Hanson, V. (1988). Epameinondas, the Battle of Leuktra (371 B.C.), and the “Revolution” in Greek Battle Tactics. Classical Antiquity, 7, 190-207. Doi: 10.2307/25010887

Sacks, D. (1995). Hoplite; phalanx; Sparta. In A Dictionary of the Ancient Greek World (pp. 117-118; pp. 178-179; pp. 230-232). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Tungsten. (Artist). (2007). Greek Phalanx [Web Photo]. Retrieved from

Xenophon. (2009). The Landmark Hellenika (J. Marincola, Trans.). New York, NY: Pantheon Books.

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