Monday, 14 June 2010

Hoplite - different types of hoplites

I'm not a historian but I think we can distinguish 4 main types of hoplites.
  1. Classic Hoplite - heavy infantry
  2. Ekdromoi - light hoplite (support unit)
  3. Ifkratican Hoplite - reformed hoplite (light hoplite with a longer spear and smaller shield)
  4. Macedonian Phalangites - Macedonian hoplite (hoplite with a long pike and small shield)
 A hoplite is nothing more than a heavy armed and armoured foot-soldier, but the Greek armies depended on them as they formed the feared phalanx. Later on the Greek armies got more versatile as light infantry, the peltasts, and cavalry were added, but the hoplite remained by far the most important unit.

Classic Hoplite

The most common, known by everyone and used around the whole Greece was a  heavy infantry hoplite. Hoplite armor was the most sophisticated of its time and would only be bested by the armor of the Roman Legionnaires.

(Source: Wikipedia)
A hoplite was primarily a free citizen who was usually individually responsible for procuring his armour and weapon. In most Greek city-states, citizens received at least basic military training, serving in the standing army for a certain amount of time. They were expected to take part in any military campaign when they would be called for duty. The Lacedaemonian citizens (Sparta) were renowned for their lifelong combat training and almost mythical military prowess, while their greatest adversaries, the Athenians, were exempted from service only after the 60th year of their lives.

Each hoplite provided his own equipment. Thus, only those who could afford such weaponry fought as hoplites; as with the Roman Republican army it was the middle classes who formed the bulk of the infantry. Equipment was not standardised, although there were doubtless trends in general designs over time, and between city-states. Hoplites had customized armour, and possibly family symbols on his shield. The equipment might well be passed down in families, since it would have been expensive to manufacture.

Hoplites generally armed themselves just before battle. Hoplite equipment ranged from light to heavy – the total weight of a set of heavy bronze breastplate armour was around 22–27 kilograms (49–60 pounds). The body was protected by a cuirass, cuirasses typically ranged from the super expensive bronze-jointed cuirass to the relatively common tunic with many layers of canvas glued to it.

A more well-to-do hoplite would have linothorax, armour composed of stitched/laminated linen fabrics that was sometimes reinforced with animal skins and/or bronze scales. Most cuirasses where customized, which often contributed to confusion on the battlefield. The linothorax was the most popular type armour worn by the hoplites, since it was cost-effective and provided decent protection. The average farmer-peasant hoplite typically wore no armour, carrying only a shield, a spear, and perhaps a helmet plus a secondary weapon.

 The richer upper-class hoplites typically had a bronze breastplate of either the bell or muscled variety, a bronze helmet with cheekplates, as well as greaves and other armour. Greaves were the leg protection and were made to conform to the legs and leg muscles of the user (source).

The design of the helmets used varied through time. The Corinthian helmet was at first standardised and was a very successful design. Later variants included the Chalcidian helmet, a lightened version of the Corinthian helmet, and the very simple Pilos helmet worn by the later Spartan hoplites. The crests on the helmet differed for each city-state. The Thracian helmet had a huge visor to further increase protection.

Skins made by King Louise Assurbanipal for TW
Hoplites carried a circular shield called an aspis (often referred to as a hoplon) made from wood and covered in bronze, measuring roughly 1 metre in diameter. It spanned from chin to knee and was very heavy. It weighed 8–15 kg (17.6–33 pounds)

The primary weapon was a spear called a dory. Although accounts of its length vary, it is usually now believed to have been seven to nine feet long (~2.1 – ~2.7m). It was held one-handed, the other hand holding the hoplite's shield. The spearhead was usually a curved leaf shape, while the rear of the spear had a spike called a sauroter ('lizard-killer') which was used to stand the spear in the ground (hence the name). It was also used as a secondary weapon if the main shaft snapped, or for the rear ranks to finish off fallen opponents as the phalanx advanced over them.

Skins made by King Louise Assurbanipal for TW

Hoplites also carried a short sword called a xiphos. The short sword was a secondary weapon, used if or when their spears were broken or lost, or if the phalanx broke rank. The xiphos usually has a blade around 2 feet (0.61 m) long, however those used by the Spartans were often only 12–18 inches long. This very short xiphos would be very advantageous in the press that occurred when two lines of hoplites met, capable of being thrust through gaps in the shieldwall into an enemy's unprotected groin or throat, while there was no room to swing a longer sword.

Hoplites could also alternatively carry the curved kopis, a particularly vicious hacking weapon. Spartan hoplites were often depicted using a kopis, instead of the xiphos, in Athenian art, as the kopis was seen as a quintessential "bad guys" weapon in Greek eyes.

After the Macedonian conquests of the 4th century BC, the hoplite was slowly abandoned in favour of the phalangite, armed in the Macedonian fashion, in the armies of the southern Greek states.


The northern Polises began to use a type of hoplite that wore little or no armor called an Ekdromoi, these light hoplites however were not wide spread and the Greek military as a whole did not change. In the period between the end of the Persian Wars and the Peolponnesian War the Greek army went under drastic change: Ekdromoi became wide spread, javelin-throwing troops became commonplace, and mercenaries were beginning to form large parts of the main armies. The hoplites themselves went under changes such as: lighter armor, slightly wider shields, and more practical helmets (source).

The Ekdromos (plural Ekdromoi) was the name of the Greek light hoplites that could break away from tight formation and chase or fend off enemy peltasts. The name means 'out-runners', and denotes their ability to exit the phalanx and fight in an irregular order, as the situation might demand. The Ekdromoi were mostly lightly armoured (with aspis and bronze helmet), fast infantry and were armed with spear and short sword. The term will actually describe any hoplite who practices the tactic of Ekdromi, that is the irregular exit from the battleline.

 Spartan Ekdromoi
When within the phalanx, they functioned as ordinary hoplites but upon order, they would exit their ranks and attack the enemy in loose irregular order. Tactical necessities that would ordain such a use would include constant harassment from enemy skirmishers, clearing the path from enemy presence for the army to pass in safety, the fast capture of key points within or around the battlefield, the pursue of a broken enemy etc. Their lightness did not guarantee contact with a skirmishing enemy, but they effectively would push the enemy and clear the way. Psiloi and peltasts would never allow themselves to fight in melee with the Ekdromoi, since the latter were, even without the armor, much better equipped for close combat, but poorly armed barbarian infantry often made that mistake (source).

Ifkratican Hoplite

After the Peolponnesian War ended in 404 B.C. and Thebes’ rise to power in 371 B.C. several new changes appeared in Greek hoplites. During the hegemony of Thebes an Athenian named Ifikrates created a new type of hoplite that was later named for him: the “Ifkratican Hoplite”. The changes made by Ifikrates were so radical that hoplites would never be the same again.  He changed the traditional outfit of an hoplite to give him more chance while he is in combat with an peltast. The hoplite had superior armour and weaponry, but he was so heavy because of all this that he was really slow on the battlefield. Ifikrates believed that he had to find a proper balance between both aspects. He changed the panoplia of the hoplites in such a way that they were not so heavy any more. (source)

Ifkratican Hoplit
The picture gives an impression of such a new hoplite. The large, heavy and in bronze covered hoplon is replaced by a smaller shield (pelte) which is covered with leather and could be strapped to the forearm, freeing the left hand to help hold the lengthened spears His metal grieves are removed, and now he is only wearing leather sandals which became known as Ifikratids. His cuirass is made of linen instead of multiple heavy layers. This cuirass became very much used as time passed on. Ploetarchus tells us that Alexander the Great wore one of these during the battle of Gaugamela. The head is the only part of the body of the hoplite which is protected as well as with the more traditional panoplia. This soldier is wearing the latest type of the Thracian helmet which had openings for the ears.

The panoplia (a complete suit of armor) of the hoplite is now much lighter, but he also had much less protection. That is why the length of his spear is increased to 3.6 metres (!) so that he could attack hostile hoplites before he was in the reach of their traditional spears. This new panoplia proved to be effective but nevertheless did it never manage to replace the traditional panoplia. The Greek warriors valued armour most likely higher than speed. (source)

He also paid special attention to discipline, drill and maneuvers; the longer weapons, combined with the lighter armor and shield, forced his troops to take a more aggressive approach in tactical situations. The reason for these changes was that Ifikrates saw that even with the new post-Persian Wars changes the hoplites could still be tormented by the aggravating peltasts.

Macedonian Phalangites

Philip took Iphikrates' reforms as his model and adapted them to his own needs. He needed to equip himself with an infantry force that could fight competently in hand-to-hand, in a phalanx, and to do so as cheaply as possible since he would have to pay for it personally, rather than his infantrymen, who being essentially peasants, not middle-class city dwellers, could not possibly afford to do so themselves. Iphikrates had pointed the way. (source)

Philip II brought new Macedonian Phalangites were an improvement on the Ifkratican reforms and the changes included were, lighter shields, a new main weapon called the “sarissa” a double-pointed pike over 6 m (18 ft) in length. Before a battle the sarissa were carried in two pieces and then slid together when they were being used. At close range such large weapons were of little use, but an intact phalanx could easily keep its enemies at a distance; the weapons of the first five rows of men all projected beyond the front of the formation, so that there were more spearpoints than available targets at any given time. The secondary weapon was a shortsword.

 They also created a new "Macedonian" style helmet made for the purpose of not only protection but for being able to hear orders as well. The new Macedonian Phalanx was also a big improvement on the Greek one, with the ability to be much more flexible as well to being able to quickly adjust to newest battle situation. But by far the biggest change was the Macedonian Phalanx was used not as the main force but as a support for the powerful Macedonian cavalry.

Neither Philip nor Alexander actually used the phalanx as their arm of choice, but instead used it to hold the enemy in place while their heavy cavalry broke through their ranks. The Macedonian phalanx was not very different from the Hoplite phalanx of other Greeks states, save it was better trained, armed with the sarissa enabling it to outreach its competitors and stave off enemy cavalry, and wore far lighter armor enabling longer endurance and long fast forced marches, including the ability to sprint to close and overwhelm opposing positions and archers. In essence, the range of their counter-weighted sarissa, allowed them superior mobility as well as superior defense and attack abilities despite the encumbrance disadvantages of the longer weapon once trained up to handling it in formation.

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