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The ancient and archaic greece

Although, thinking about Greece, the war is not the first thing that comes to mind, this was their most immediate concern so that the war was the subject of almost all the tragedies and comedies that have come down to us, and the warriors and the war are the most common subjects of statues and ceramics, while much of classical Greek philosophy dealt with the hoplite role: the citizen-soldier.

The main cause of the war, as the same Greeks state, was "the ambition to have more," and what everyone wanted to get was honour and wealth. The city tried to win more honours than neighbouring cities, so that the endless rivalry produced a constant tension that frequently ended in conflict.

Each citizen, in all free Greek states, has to do military service. In other words every Greek citizen was a soldier. After several centuries in which the Greeks lived in scattered villages, in the eighth century BC, they developed a number of small towns. Throughout the Archaic period (700-480 BC) the settlements continued to widen, appeared fortifications and monumental buildings and the Greeks began to travel the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, founding new cities. Slowly the typical form of Greek political organization was developed: the city-state (polis).

It is hard to recreate the military history of this period, because many testimonies come from later sources, which are incomplete and unreliable. From 550 BC the relationship between the poleis was formalized for the first time with treaties of alliance, for example the League of the Peloponnese formed alliances with neighbouring cities of Sparta or the Delian League with Athens. An epochal turning point came at the beginning of the classical period (480-338 BC), when the Greeks opposed the Persian expansionism. For a while Sparta and Athens shared the role of the Greeks guide, but the ambitions of both, brought them to a long series of wars to establish supremacy: the First Peloponnesian War (461-446 BC), the two phases of second (l 431-42 BC and 413-404 BC) and the War of Corinth (395- 386 BC). During the fifth century BC, the Athenians reported several successes and had so much confidence in their abilities to get involved in distant conflicts, such as the failed attempt to support the revolt of the Egyptians against the Persians, and the disastrous expedition to Sicily. Sparta, however, in the end managed to get the Persian financial support that allowed the city to defeat Athens and its allies. Towards the end of the fourth century BC, Sparta returned to have unchallenged hegemony over Greece and to be more powerful than before. His opponents, however, did not give up and gave birth to a Second Athenian Confederacy in 377 BC. Moreover they emerged new claimants to the leadership role, in particular the Boeotians, the Arcadians and the Thessalians. After the final defeat of Sparta at Leuctra, in 371 BC, the struggle for hegemony took place with unstable alliances, which saw continuous changes in the supremacy, but with less satisfactory results. The weaknesses of the military system and the intense rivalries that divided them, never allowed the Greeks to found a lasting empire and later to deal with the growing power of the Macedonians, who in 338 BC subdued them.

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The training of a Greek began at a young age, with differences among the different poleis. The new citizen-soldiers would be gathered together and would have lent a common oath. These young people were called ephebes or "young" and over the next two years would be subject to a physical and military training program.

In the Archaic period, the training was probably rudimentary and improvised, but over time it became increasingly organized and sophisticated. In Athens, the first year of the efebato was completely absorbed by a series of athletic contests, especially racing; the most important was the ride with torches. The pyrrhic dance in armour taught young warriors the moves necessary to avoid enemy and unleash their own potential. Another military activity organized was the stroke of hoplites, introduced in 520 in Olympia and Delphi in 498. The second year of training was generally more intense and more military characterized. In many states the youths lived together, away from home, in barracks. They provided the permanent garrisons for key defensive points of the city-state: the fortified citadel and forts and watchtowers along the border, overseeing them to prevent attacks by neighbouring states, also accomplishing tasks that border patrol and campaign.

The weapons began to be distributed by the state only at the end of the classical period; before this, it was the duty of the citizen-hoplite do so on their own. The equipment was expensive, so much so that normally were passed from father to son.

The Greeks were proud of their way of fighting. The typical Greek soldier, the hoplite, descended into battle protected by a heavy armour that allowed him to engage more violent melee ones usually fought in the ancient world. This fact increased the self-esteem of the Greeks who considered themselves a nation of warriors of great strength and courage, surrounded by weak and cowardly barbarians who preferred to fight at a distance, using spears and arrows.

A further source of pride was to fight with rules, following a code that provides, among other things, respect for the person dead while fighting, although the winners felt entitled to strip the corpses of enemies, which took away the plates, as well to any personal effects that were brought him. The weapons were going to be a trophy erected on the spot where the battle had been decisive. Although we are accustomed to think of the Greek soldiers as hoplites were well protected by their shield, helmet with crest and shining armour, most of the soldiers who fought in the wars of the archaic and classical Greece was made up of amateur warriors. All citizens in most poleis had a duty to obtain a kit, to cover their training and to participate in wars to the best of their ability.

Even the poorest who could not afford to buy expensive weapons and armour, or to engage in regular workouts, flocked with their javelins, bows and stones, when they were summoned to defend the city or had to take part in short conflicts. The citizens who could afford to buy at least a shield and a spear and perhaps even a bronze breastplate and sword, could serve as hoplites, a term that simply means "men with military equipment" (hopla) , in contrast with the troops "light" and bare "(Psiloi, gymnetes), without shields. Despite the representations of Greek art of the archaic period, we know that some parts of the armour were much more widely used than others: the helmets were proportionally more numerous than the greaves and breastplates, and that most of the hoplites carried only a spear and a shield and was not wearing a helmet and a short tunic.

Only the wealthiest citizens got themselves a complete outfit with a shield that could have designed a custom coat of arms, instead of the one with the emblem of their city, often used on the shield by common soldiers. Wealthy hoplites were followed by some servants, usually slaves, and presented them in the richest horse battle, even though they fought on the ground.

In the Archaic period there were not so any troopers while in the course of the classical age, a growing number of cities organized the cavalry troops. Despite attempts to create some uniformity, everyone was fitted with what could or would get. Even the training was left largely to the initiative of the individual. The wealthy men spent much of their free time in the schools and gyms for the poor simply relied on the strength and fitness, resulting from hard work. Rarely were possible training exercises.

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We know that in the Archaic period was not unusual to witness acts of individual heroism and duels "to single combat"; the Iliad describes some. But these episodes were no longer compatible with the phalange training; they undermined the power and cohesion of it. The Spartan poet Tyrtaeus says that in his time, the seventh century BC, each warrior was required to fight shoulder to shoulder with their fellow soldier, and to refrain from any gesture, however valiant, that could undermine the cohesion of the formation. And it is this concept that we have to tie the beginning of Western art of the war, with all its ethical, political and social implications. And probably in this period it was institutionalized the practice of deploying troops in rows. Thus was born the hoplite and phalanx or in the meaning attributed to it by the ancient Greeks, the "battle formation". This will inspire the soldiers of the European armies from the thirteenth to at least the seventeenth century. It is believed that it was the Spartans who invented the phalanx also because at the time when we have an accurate description, in the early fourth century BC, theirs is by far the most advanced in the individual departments as in the subordinate commanders.

The basic unit of the Spartan phalanx was originally composed of twenty-three hoplites, arranged in three rows of eight elements, and two officers, one that was positioned in front of the first line, and one occupying one of the seats of the last row and had the responsibility of maintaining the cohesion of the training; this last one was the only officer who does not reach the first line or head of the right line.

All poleis, at least until the time of the Persian Wars, had adopted a standard depth based on eight lines. An aggregate cavalry unit was also present but had not counted more than sixty soldiers, and that began to appear in the Spartan army only during the Peloponnesian War, precisely in 424 BC; Hippeis, three hundred hoplites usually arranged on the right wing and that made up the royal bodyguard, formed the elite of the Spartan phalanx. Opposed to what the Romans will do, the Greeks have never built, even in danger, fortified camps.

The formation of the phalanx also led to changes in the panoply of Greek soldier. The attention was on the equipment weight to allow greater mobility and fluidity of manoeuvres. A panoply still quite expensive, which is transmitted from father to son; only at the end of the classical period, the State would have taken away from the citizens the task of buying armour and, perhaps, only with the end of the Peloponnesian War we see a full uniformity of equipment within the same polis. To obtain the desired cohesion, they wanted a more manageable shield and at the same time sufficiently large to cover the uncovered side of man to its left side, and a lance with which to sink the shots on impact itself, in place of the light javelin to run before the clash of the sides.

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The shield (the Greek word for it is aspis) that was used in the course of the classical age, was the result of a long evolution, yet inaugurated in Mycenaean age by a weapon "figure-eight"; it took its final form during the eighth century BC, with the Argive model, called hoplon, a round shield, more convex and with reinforced edges to prevent it from bending under the blows suffered in battle. With a diameter of about 1 meter, it was able to cover the fighter's body from the chin to the knee but also the uncovered part of the comrade on the left; it weighed just over 7.8 kilograms, which means that it was rather thin, so as to be sufficient against the thrusts of spears and swords, but not very effective against javelins and arrows.

It was firmly anchored to the hoplite arm using a bronze bracelet welded inside; the soldier will passed through the forearm and then grabbed with his hand a cord that ran along the entire circumference of the edge, anchored to the shield by “nails” arranged at regular intervals. The base was made of wood, probably walnut, and only in classical times it found a way to cover it with a thin pressed sheet bronze, as an alternative to beef skin, which nevertheless continued to be used; reinforcement bronze in the Archaic period was limited to the edges and central part, disappeared in the classical era. Even with the metal coating, however, the emblems continued to be painted. Following the first war with the Persians, even it appeared a sort of "apron" leather that hung along the bottom edge, as an additional defence against arrows.

The helmet was not particularly hard, and not always resistant to a sword thrust, while its flexibility allowed putting it and removing it with relative ease, or even holding it up to the height of the forehead. There were no straps to secure it on the chin and the hoplite was in danger of losing it during the fight.

The most common type was the one called "Corinthian", evolved from the eighth century through increasingly sophisticated forms, but always keeping its characteristic of covering the whole face except the eyes, nose and mouth. The ears were also covered, and this prevented to implement well the orders of their commander, so that they tended to hold it up until the moments before the collision; during the fifth century, therefore, it was modified and developed in at least three new models: one, called "Chalcidicum", with openings for the ears, and with fixed or removable cheek-pieces, another, the "attic" with cheek-pieces removable without the nose covering, and finally a third, called "Thracian," with raised edge to protect the eyes and ears, very long cheek-pieces up to close over the mouth and a slight ridge on the summit.

The "Boeotian" type, much more open, resulting from a felt hat also became common. The interior of the helmets was covered with cloth, but someone used to wear under the helmet, a woven headdress, to cushion the impact of blows.

The horse that sat on the summit ridge held the precise function to bring up the hoplite highest and imposing although, over time, with greater definition of the degrees and their uniforms, became instead a sign of rank. The warrior kept it separate from the helmet, in a box, so that the colours didn’t get ruined, and clung to the headgear through two separate systems, or one or more forks arranged along the top, or a slightly arched pin at the top, which greatly peeling off the crest from the helmet.

The Spartans officers were accustomed to level the transverse ridge, while there are reports of multiple ridges or plumed helmets with oyster feathers for senior officers. Another hallmark was a stick that could be completely straight or curved at one end, which they used to put under the left armpit for lean body weight.

In the Archaic period the armour of the most important soldiers seemed a sort of bell (hence its name), formed by bronze plates in the shape of a horizontal ring whose diameter is widened into life. A cumbersome model and that was probably worn by the Homeric heroes, and that is honed over time to become, in the classical age, the so-called "anatomical" armour, modelled according to the shape of the bust and closed at the waist, from which hung strips of leather hardened, said pteruges, arranged in two layers, the second of which was to cover the intervals left by the first.

The armature consisted of two bronze modelled valve, held together by a hinge on each shoulder and two along the sides. A second very popular model was called "composite" shell because the bronze was covered with linen or leather to prevent rusting or simply of several superimposed layers of leather hardened or pressed linen. The latter model was preferred for its flexibility, lightweight and particularly for its low cost, and could reach a half a centimetre thick. Another of the “U” shaped element, whose two ends were fastened on the chest, protected the shoulders. Until the mid-fifth century BC, under the armour soldiers wore chitoniskos, usually linen or wool; later, this garment was almost replaced by the exmosis, a short linen tunic sleeveless and tight at the waist with a belt.

Greaves were introduced from the seventh century BC, and were not rigid and thanks to the natural elasticity of bronze pressed around the calf, adapt to its muscles without the need for strings to hold them, so that they were custom made. The first models covered from ankle to below the knee, but over time even the latter proved to be vulnerable. At certain times, putting under it a fabric protection, to prevent the bronze friction on the skin, was quite common.

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The spear was the main armament of the hoplite. It was a weapon that does not require special training to be used, and exerted so, a more important role than the sword. The Greeks preferred the one made of ash tree, an abundant wood that offered the right balance between strength and lightness needs. The metal parts were iron and bronze. It was probably a little under two and a half meters, although the artistic needs of the vessels represented it as shorter and weighed about one kilogram.

A powerful blow at hand could be vibrated at impact, direct to the opponent's stomach, while, during scrums the person in the rear ranks used the overhand throws, injuring the opponent in the upper body with shots from above downward.

Often the spear broke in the first terrible shock, and then the fight could turn into a frantic fight with advanced piece (which had a special tip end, said stirax or " lizards’ killer "), with the hoplite sword or even bare hands.

As per the swords, there were different types, which the hoplite used to keep in a scabbard of wood covered with leather, hung shoulder. The most widespread, the xiphos, had a hilt cruciform and a straight blade, double-edged and a wider form of "leaf" towards the handle, for a blade length of approximately seventy-five cm.

But from the sixth century BC spread also likely swords of eastern influence, to a cutting, similar to a scimitar, with the back straight or slightly concave, and the other in the shape of a curved saber, denominated kopis and machaira respectively, approximately 60 long / 65 cm, often with the hilt in form of a bird or other animal-head, and with a marked hook to protect the knuckles. The blades were normally made of iron or bronze.

The Greeks did not like to make use of missile weapons: their conception of the war led them to face-to-face confrontation with the enemy, rather than cowardly strike, according to them, from a distance. For the Greek army was one of his biggest weaknesses. Hoplites however had invented a system to reduce the danger of the enemy's arrows: moving the spears upright, some arrows beat against auctions and were neutralized.

In the Greek army, poor was the presence of cavalry that was only used for secondary tasks and tactical minimum interest probably it is for that same philosophy of war that favoured the melee and it is because of the terrain, which created difficult conditions suitable to express the full potential of this unit. This turned out to be extremely disadvantageous, especially in the face of more dynamic exercises, flexible.

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Around 430 A.C. Greece spread the mercenaries and, thanks to them, soldiers and experienced officers, with discipline and the expertise to implement complex tactics. They brought several innovations in the military, experiencing a cavalry and light infantry used well could get the better of heavy hoplite formations.

Iphicrates, who created the prototype of the Macedonian phalanx, was great character that marked the development of light infantry. This general replaced the armour of his mercenaries with a leather jerkin, reduced the size of the shield, and considerably stretched the length of the spears. In fact, thanks to the new shield, that measuring about 50-60 cm in diameter could be easily attached to an arm, it was possible to adopt more long spears, easily managed, now that the soldiers had both hands free. The new soldiers, who were named peltasts because of the new shield, said "pelta", had some advantages over the phalanges hoplite: their light equipment made them less prone to fatigue, and therefore they could fight longer. The lower weight also carry a lot downplayed the problem of the soil, making it harder for the enemy raid and flaking of the training ranks. The long spears finally could strike hoplites first and keep them away easily.

The battle of Chaeronea, in 338 BC, marked a new turning point, because decreed the success of a revolutionary tactical system which coordinated effectively in the field units, alongside the cavalry to a variant of the traditional phalanx of light infantry. The new Macedonian way of fighting established itself quickly, and took the next fifty years to build one of the largest empires in history.

The Macedonian way of fighting was as follows: an infantryman with a pike of 5 m (the so called sarissa), and for the rest of small arms, at a short distance from the traditional Greek army hoplites and cavalry, formed by scions of the nobility, recruited from a special unit of guard, the hetairoi (companions of the king) and trained along with many other cavalry units to launch the charge against any phalanx of hoplites from different backgrounds. The front of the phalanx was expanded to 16 files.

Before the days of Philip, the techniques of the siege foresaw a ring of trenches around the city walls to starve, not being able to submit a direct assault or construction of ramps to allow attackers to overcome the fortifications. It seems that Dionysius I of Syracuse was the first to use the torsion catapult to conquer the Sicilian city of Mozia, in 397 BC, but probably no one realized the potential of up to Philip II. Only with the invention of torsion devices for shooting spears (oxybeleis), arrows (katapeltai) and stones (petrobaloi), towards the end of the fourth century BC, it became possible to attack from a distance the walls of a city. These cars had an effective range of 150 metres and the petrobaloi had sufficient force to destroy the city walls. To hit the top walls were built huge siege towers, like that of Demetrius, called helepolis, high 140 m, used in the siege of Rhodes 304 BC.

These towers were also equipped with missile weapons. These behaved technical advances that, while before the time of Philip the sieges rarely had success, between 317 and 303 BC well 59 of the 79 attempts were successful sieges. The siege specialists, katapeltaphetai and their extraordinary feats, accompanied Alexander; in places like Tyre, they show that they were able to build the most impressive tools and always improve their techniques over the years.

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Archaic Period (700-480 BC)

Classic Period (480-338 BC)

Hellenistic period (338 -31 BC)

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