Placing the "spotlight" on the Hoplites

We often hear or know of our own or other countries' military force. From the likes of their training regimes to the kinds of weapons or vehicles that are being used. However, how do they compare to the earlier/ancient soldiers? Despite such a big difference in the period of time, there may not be much difference between the ideologies of todays' modern military forces and the ones from the past. We may take a look at the specific ancient Greek soldiers known as Hoplites, from seeing how the Greek warfare started to the weapons and armor used by the Hoplites to the strategies employed by the Hoplites in battles, as a point of comparison.

The Beginnings of Greek Warfare

So, as a little introduction, how did the ancient Greek warfare actually start? Well, from the tribal-like warfare where armed bands were led by the warrior leader, the control of warfare began to move on from private individuals into the control of the state itself. Groups of elite citizens and generals were placed in charge of it and these citizens were appointed for fixed terms or specific military operations.

At the start, in the Archaic period, training was often haphazard and they had to make do with makeshift weapons. Uniforms or insignia were not available then and when the conflict had concluded, the soldiers would simply return back to their respective initial lives. *Doesn't this sound rather similar to what the routines of modern soldiers (for example, United States soldiers who are deployed for a certain period of time before returning back home)?*

Anyway, by the 5th century BCE, the Spartan army became the model for all other states to follow. Dressed in red cloaks and carrying a shield (that had their insignia on it) and all being well-trained, the Spartan army was deemed as the ideal image of how a state's army should look like. A professional military force was, hence, maintained in many of the Greek states and later on, the armies began to include resident foreigners, slaves, mercenaries and neighbouring allies, either voluntarily or by force. Warfare also moved on from short battles that took up a few hours to long, drawn out battles such as the Persian Wars!

Weapons and armor used by the Hoplites

Now that we know the progression of the military force in ancient Greece, let's take a look at the weapons and armor that they used. The name, Hoplites, given to the soldiers was derived from the name of their shield (hoplon). The first component of their defensive armor was a metal helmet which was fitted to the whole head from the collar bone upwards. The next component of their armor was the bronze bell-shaped corselet which had two sections, the breastplate and the back plate. *Let's take a moment to consider if such armor was still being used now. With the simple uniforms that most militaries have now, wearing an armor just seems silly right? It would just seem bulky and too much of a weight wouldn't it?*

Anyway, the next equipment they used (which gave them their name as stated earlier) was the shield. The shield was large and circular in shape and its diameter was between three and four feet. The shield was initially covered in leather and rimmed with bronze though later on, it was completely faced with bronze. It also had a detachable central armband, known as the porpax, through which the left arm was thrust up to the person's elbow. The hoplite would also use his left hand to grip a second element on the shield, the antilabe which was a leather thong located at the periphery of the shield's rim. This enabled the hoplite to have a firmer and more rigid grip, and it also helped in distributing the weight of the shield evenly between the hand and elbow. By now, maybe, you've wondered if the shield is on the left side, what about the hoplite's right side? well, that was one of the issues at that time. There, basically wasn't much protection on the hoplite's right hand side!

As for the weapons, the hoplites mainly used a heavy thrusting spear which was between six to ten feet in length. It had an iron head and a butt spike (which helped in supporting the spear when it was at rest on the ground, and it also acted a secondary weapon if the iron head broke). In addition to that, they also carried a short stabbing sword which was used for close combat.

Comparing these with modern equipment, clearly, the equipment used by the ancient Greeks seem bulky and heavy. However, the concept between the two are quite similar. Take, for example, a modern day weapon, the rifle. Just as the hoplite's shield was used to offer protection, so too are modern day armors such as bulletproof vest used as further protection against modern day weapons. Similarly, just as the spear had a butt spike to provide support or act as a secondary weapon, so too do the rifles have a part (known as the stock) that provides support for its user against any recoil and unsurprisingly, it can be used in close combat!

Strategies of the Greeks in battle

The hoplites were known to employ the strategic formation called the phalanx formation. The phalanx formation was, essentially, the formation of row upon row of men, about eight ranks deep and as far as a quarter of a mile or more. The commanding general would take position in the front rank, at the extreme right. However, this position was often the most exposed position in the formation which generally led to the short careers of the generals. The main idea behind this formation was that they would charge into battle head-on, on a straight and level ground with adequate protection on the flanks.

How the phalanx formation would be used in battle would be that the first four ranks of men would march with their spears level, while the rear ranks kept their spears mostly vertical, which provided an effective defence against missile weapons. The large shields on the left side of each soldier meant that each soldier had to lean towards the right which was important to the effectiveness of the phalanx formation. However, it wasn't a surprise that each army would frequently drift to the right during battle.

Taking a look at the idea and formation, we could say that the battle relied on both strength and at the same time, outwitting the opponent with the formation and ensuring that you remain at an advantage. If we compare this to modern day tactics, it is similar in a sense that we are often trying to be at a advantageous position as compared to the opponent, though we do it in a different manner rather than lining up in rows. In addition to that, soldiers often fall in or march in a similar row by row formation!

Conclusion

As we have seen, the ancient Greek's warfare was quite interesting. Though modern day equipment have made advancements such as being less bulky than its predecessors, we can actually see that there are still similar concepts being applied in modern military organisations than we used by military organisations in the past, such as the hoplites!