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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