Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Battles of the Greek and Roman Worlds

The hoplite seems to have made his debut on the martial stage at some point in the seventh century BC. He became the cardinal unit in Greek armies; indeed, at the battle of Marathon, the Athenian army was composed entirely of hoplites. He survived until near the end of the third century BC, by which time those foot soldiers who still possessed hoplite equipment were continuing to use it alongside infantrymen who were otherwise equipped. Hoplites were equipped with helmet, corslet, greaves and an unusual shield (hoplon or usually aspis) which was their hallmark. This was a circular shield which had two straps, one in the centre through which the hand was passed to grip the second one near the periphery. The double-grip arrangement transferred the weight of the shield away from the wrist muscles. The hoplite's chief weapon was a spear of 6 feet or more in length, and he also carried a sword. This equipment was greatly superior to that of the Persians in close combat and it accounted in no mean measure for the Greek victories in the Persian Wars. Troops of this type were deployed in a phalanx, a term which existed from Homeric times and which denoted a closely knit formation of men. They were drawn up in columns which might be as little as four deep but were usually eight deep. Over the years the figure tended to rise and at Leuctra in 371BC the Boeotian phalanx was 50 deep under Epaminondas, who relied on sheer weight of numbers to crash through the enemy lines. With this system of warfare, individual heroics ceased to exist and were indeed disruptive. In the phalanx every man depended on his neighbour. Protection was afforded to his left side by his own shield but he relied on his neighbour's shield to give him protection on his otherwise exposed right flank.