Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Ancient Greek warfare

Ancient Greek warfare

This is a short version of articles from Wikipedia.

The fragmentary nature of Ancient Greece, with many competing city-states, increased the frequency of conflict, but conversely limited the scale of warfare. Unable to maintain professional armies, the city-states relied on their own citizens to fight. This inevitably reduced the potential duration of campaigns, as citizens would need to return to the own professions (especially in the case of farmers). Campaigns would therefore often be restricted to summer. Armies marched directly to their target, possibly agreed on by the protagonists. 

The battlefield would be flat and open, reducing the possibilities for complex tactical maneuvers. These battles were short, bloody, and brutal, and thus required a high degree of discipline. At least in the early classical period, other troops than hoplites were less important; (cavalry) generally protected the flanks, when present at all; and both light infantry and missile troops were negligible. The most famous tactic from these times was hoplite phalanx.

The model for the hoplite army evidently quickly spread throughout Greece. The persuasive qualities of the phalanx were probably its relative simplicity (allowing its use by a citizen militia), low fatality rate (important for small city-states), and relatively low cost (enough for each hoplite to provide their own equipment). The Phalanx also became a source of political influence because men had to provide their own equipment in order to be a part of the army.

The scale and scope of warfare in Ancient Greece changed dramatically as a result of the Greco-Persian Wars. To fight the enormous armies of the Achaemenid Empire was effectively beyond the capabilities of a single city-state. The eventual triumph of the Greeks was achieved by alliances of many city-states (the exact composition changing over time), allowing the pooling of resources and division of labour. 

One of the most famous battles of the Greco-Persian Wars was battle of Marathon. An Athenian army of 10,000 hoplites won against Persian army of 20-60,000. Tactically, the hoplites were very vulnerable to attacks by cavalry, and the Athenians had no cavalry to defend the flanks. However Persians didnt use this advantage and lost. This was the first true engagement between a hoplite army and a non-Greek army. The Persians had acquired a reputation for invincibility, but the Athenian hoplites proved crushingly superior in the ensuing infantry battle.

Ten years later Persians Came back with 150,000-250,000 men. Many polis-states united and formed an anti-Persian league. The visionary Athenian politician Themistocles had successfully persuaded his fellow citizens to build a huge fleet to combat the Persian threat (and thus to effectively abandon their hoplite army, since there were not men enough for both). Amongst the allies therefore, Athens was able to form the core of a navy, whilst other cities, including of course Sparta, provided the army. The use of such a large navy was also a novelty to the Greeks.

The second Persian invasion is famous for the battles of Thermopylae and Salamis. As the massive Persian army moved south through Greece, the allies sent a small holding force (10,000) men under the Spartan king Leonidas, to block the pass of Thermopylae whilst the main allied army could be assembled. The allied navy extended this blockade at sea, blocking the nearby straits of Artemisium, to prevent the huge Persian navy landing troops in Leonidas's rear. Famously, Leonidas's men held the much larger Persian army at the pass (where their numbers counted for nothing) for three days, the hoplites again proving their superiority. Only when a Persian force managed to outflank them by means of a mountain track was the allied army overcome; but by then Leonidas dismissed the majority of the troops, remaining with 300 Spartans (and perhaps 2000 other troops) to guard the pass, in the process making one of history's great last stands. The Greek navy, despite their lack of experience, also proved their worth holding back the Persian fleet whilst the army still held the pass.

The Athenians navy defeated huge Persians Navy under Salamis and a united Greek army of 40,000 hoplites decisively defeated them at the Battle of Plataea, effectively ending the invasion. Warfare in Greece had moved beyond the seasonal squabbles between city-states, to coordinated international actions involving huge armies. The ambitions of many Greek states had dramatically increased, and the tensions resulting from this would lead directly onto the Peloponnesian War.

The Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC), was fought between the Athenian dominated Delian League and the Spartan dominated Peloponnesian League. Building on the experience of the Persian Wars, the diversification from core hoplite warfare, permitted by increased resources, continued. There was increased emphasis on navies, sieges, mercenaries and economic warfare. In the aftermath, the Spartans were able to establish themselves as the dominant force in Greece for three decades.

Although tactically there was little innovation in the Peloponessian War, there does appear to have been an increase in the use of light infantry, such as peltasts (javelin throwers) and archers. Many of these would have been mercenary troops, hired from outlying regions of Greece. Nevertheless, it was an important innovation, one which was developed much further in later conflicts.

The first major challenge to the Spartan hegemony occurred in the Corinthian War (395-387 BC). Sensing the Spartan weakness, an alliance of Athens, Thebes, Corinth and Argos, supported by the Persians, sought to escape from the hegemony, and increase their own influence. The early encounters, at Nemea and Coronea were typical engagements of hoplite phalanxes, resulting in Spartan victories. However, the Spartans suffered a large setback when their fleet was wiped out by a Persian Fleet. At the Battle of Lechaeum, an Athenian force composed mostly of light troops (e.g. peltasts) defeated a Spartan regiment.

The Athenian had their troops make repeated hit and run attacks on the Spartans, who, having neither peltasts nor cavalry, could not respond effectively. The defeat of a hoplite army in this way demonstrates the changes in both troops and tactic which had occurred in Greek Warfare. Peltasts became the main type of Greek mercenary infantry in the 4th century BC. Their equipment was less expensive than traditional hoplite equipment and would have been more readily available to poorer members of society.

When faced by hoplites peltasts operated by throwing javelins at short range. If the hoplites charged they would flee. As they carried considerably lighter equipment than the hoplites they were usually able to evade successfully, especially in difficult terrain. They would then return to the attack once the pursuit ended, if possible taking advantage of any disorder created in the hoplites' ranks. When fighting other types of light troops, peltasts were able to close more aggressively in melee as they had the advantage of possessing shields, swords, and helmets.
The Athenian general Iphicrates destroyed a Spartan phalanx in the Battle of Lechaeum in 390 BCE, using mostly peltasts. Ultimately the preceding decade, severely weakened many Greek states, and left them divided and without the leadership of a dominant power.

Although by the end of the Theban hegemony the cities of Greece were severely weakened, they might have risen again had it not been for the ascent to power of the Macedonian kingdom in the north of Greece. Unlike the fiercely independent (and small) city-states, Macedon was a tribal kingdom, ruled by an autocratic king, and importantly, covering a larger area. Once firmly unified, and then expanded, by Phillip II, Macedon possessed the resources that enabled it to dominate the weakened and divided states in southern Greece. Between 356-342 BC Phillip conquered all city states in the vicinity of Macedon, then Thessaly and then Thrace.

Finally Phillip sought to establish his own hegemony over the southern Greek city-states, and after defeating the combined forces of Athens and Thebes, the two most powerful states, at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC, succeeded. Now unable to resist him, Phillip compelled most of the city states of southern Greece (including Athens, Thebes, Corinth and Argos; but not Sparta) to join the Corinthian League, and therefore become allied to him.

This established a lasting Macedonian hegemony over Greece, and allowed Phillip the resources and security to launch a war against the Persian Empire. After his assassination, this war was prosecuted by his son Alexander the Great, and resulted in the takeover of the whole Achaemenid Empire by the Macedonians. A united Macedonian empire did not long survive Alexander's death, and soon split into the Hellenistic kingdoms of the Diadochi (Alexander's generals). However, these kingdoms were still enormous states, and continued to fight in the same manner as Phillip and Alexander's armies had. The rise of Macedon and her successors thus sounded the death knell for the distinctive way of war found in Ancient Greece; and instead contributed to the 'superpower' warfare which would dominate the ancient world between 350-150 BC.

One major reason for Phillip's success in conquering Greece was the break with Hellenic military traditions that he made. With more resources available, he was able to assemble a more diverse army, including strong cavalry components. He took the development of the phalanx to its logical completion, arming his 'phalangites' (for they were assuredly not hoplites) with a fearsome 6 m (20 ft) pike, the 'sarissa'. Much more lightly armoured, the Macedonian phalanx was not so much a shield-wall as a spear-wall. The Macedonian phalanx was a supreme defensive formation, but was not intended to be decisive offensively; instead, it was used to pin down the enemy infantry, whilst more mobile forces (such as cavalry) outflanked them.

Tactical innovations included adaptations of the latest tactics applied to the traditional Greek phalanx by men such as Epaminondas of Thebes (who twice defeated the Spartans), as well as coordinated attacks (early combined arms tactics) with the various arms of his army — the phalanx, cavalry, missile troops, and (under Alexander III) siege engines. For the first time in Greek warfare cavalry became a decisive arm in battle. This 'combined arms' approach was furthered by the extensive use of skirmishers, such as peltasts.

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