Ancient Greek warfare

Warfare occurred throughout the history of Ancient Greece, from the Greek Dark Ages onward. The Greek 'Dark Age' drew to a close as a significant increase in population allowed urbanized culture to be restored, which led to the rise of the city-states (Poleis). These developments ushered in the period of Archaic Greece (800-480 BC). They also restored the capability of organized warfare between these Poleis (as opposed to small-scale raids to acquire livestock and grain, for example). The fractious nature of Ancient Greek society seems to have made continuous conflict on this larger scale inevitable.

Along with the rise of the city-state evolved a new style of warfare: the hoplite phalanx. Hoplites were armored infantryman, armed with spears and shields, and the phalanx was a formation of these soldiers with their shields locked together and spears pointed forward. The Chigi vase, dated to around 650 BC, is the earliest depiction of a hoplite in full battle array. With this evolution in warfare, battles seem to have consisted mostly of the clash of hoplite phalanxes from the city-states in conflict. Since the soldiers were citizens with other occupations, warfare was limited in distance, season and scale. Neither side could afford heavy casualties or sustained campaigns, so conflicts seem to have been resolved by a single set-piece battle.

The scale and scope of warfare in Ancient Greece changed dramatically as a result of the Greco-Persian Wars, which marked the beginning of Classical Greece (480-323 BC). 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, on a scale never seen before. The rise of Athens and Sparta during this conflict led directly to the Peloponnesian War, which saw diversification of warfare. Emphasis shifted to naval battles and strategies of attrition such as blockades and sieges. Following the defeat of the Athenians in 404 BC, and the disbandment of the Athenian-dominated Delian League, Ancient Greece fell under the Spartan hegemony. But this was unstable, and the Persian Empire sponsored a rebellion by the combined powers of Athens, Thebes, Corinth and Argos, resulting in the Corinthian War (395-387 BC). Persia switched sides, which ended the war, in return for the cities of Ionia and Spartan non-interference in Asia Minor. The Spartan hegemony would last another 16 years, until, at the Battle of Leuctra (371) the Spartans were decisively defeated by the Theban general Epaminondas.

The Thebans acted with alacrity to establish a hegemony of their own over Greece. However, Thebes lacked sufficient manpower and resources, and became overstretched. Following the death of Epaminondas and loss of manpower at the Battle of Mantinea, the Theban hegemony ceased. The losses in the ten years of the Theban hegemony left all the Greek city-states weakened and divided. The city-states of southern Greece were too weak to resist the rise of the Macedonian kingdom in the north. With revolutionary tactics, King Phillip II brought most of Greece under his sway, paving the way for the conquest of "the known world" by his son Alexander the Great. The rise of the Macedonian Kingdom is generally taken to signal the beginning of the Hellenistic period, and certainly marked the end of the distinctive hoplite battle in Ancient Greece.

Hoplite grave relief
Ancient Greek marble relief c. 330 BC depicting a soldier in combat, holding his weapon above his head as he prepares to strike a fallen enemy; the relief may have been part of an official Athenian state memorial; from the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek collection.

Military structure and methods in ancient Greece


Greek hoplite
A hoplite armed with an aspis and a doru. nb: it is usually agreed that the doru could not be used two-handed with the aspis.

Along with the rise of the city-state evolved a brand new style of warfare and the emergence of the hoplite. The hoplite was an infantryman, the central element of warfare in Ancient Greece. The word hoplite (Greek ὁπλίτης, hoplitēs) derives from hoplon (ὅπλον, plural hopla, ὅπλα) meaning an item of armor or equipment, thus 'hoplite' may approximate to 'armored man'. Hoplites were the citizen-soldiers of the Ancient Greek City-states. They were primarily armed as spear-men and fought in a phalanx (see below).

Hoplite armor was extremely expensive for the average citizen, so it was commonly passed down from the soldier's father or relative. Alexander’s Macedonian army had spears called sarissas that were 18 feet long, far longer than the 6–9 foot Greek dory. The secondary weapon of a hoplite was the xiphos, a short sword used when the soldier's spear was broken or lost while fighting.

The origins of the hoplite are obscure, and no small matter of contention amongst historians. Traditionally, this has been dated to the 8th century BC, and attributed to Sparta; but more recent views suggest a later date, towards the 7th century BC. Certainly, by approximately 650 BC, as dated by the 'Chigi vase', the 'hoplite revolution' was complete. The major innovation in the development of the hoplite seems to have been the characteristic circular shield (Hoplon), roughly 1 m (3.3 ft) in diameter, and made of wood faced with bronze.[1] Although very heavy (8–15 kg or 18–33 lb), the design of this shield was such that it could be supported on the shoulder. More importantly, it permitted the formation of a shield-wall by an army, an impenetrable mass of men and shields. Men were also equipped with metal greaves and also a breast plate made of bronze, leather, or stiff cloth. When this was combined with the primary weapon of the hoplite, 2–3 m (6.6–9.8 ft) long spear (the doru), it gave both offensive and defensive capabilities.

Regardless of where it developed, 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).[1] 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 hoplite phalanx

Greek Phalanx
Reconstruction of a Hoplite Phalanx formation

The ancient Greek city-states developed a military formation called the phalanx, which were rows of shoulder-to-shoulder hoplites. The Hoplites would lock their shields together, and the first few ranks of soldiers would project their spears out over the first rank of shields. The Phalanx therefore presented a shield wall and a mass of spear points to the enemy, making frontal assaults much more difficult. It also allowed a higher proportion of the soldiers to be actively engaged in combat at a given time (rather than just those in the front rank).

The phalanx formed the core of ancient Greek militaries. Because hoplites were all protected by their own shield and others’ shields and spears, they were relatively safe as long as the formation didn't break. When advancing towards an enemy, the phalanx would break into a run that was sufficient to create momentum but not too much as to lose cohesion.[2] The opposing sides would collide viciously, possibly terrifying many of the hoplites of the front row. The battle would then rely on the valour of the men in the front line, while those in the rear maintained forward pressure on the front ranks with their shields. When in combat, the whole formation would consistently press forward trying to break the enemy formation; thus, when two phalanx formations engaged, the struggle essentially became a pushing match,[3] in which, as a rule, the deeper phalanx would almost always win, with few recorded exceptions.

When exactly the phalanx developed is uncertain, but it is thought to have been developed by the Argives in their early clashes with the Spartans. The chigi vase, dated to around 650 BC, is the earliest depiction of a hoplite in full battle array. The hoplite was a well-armed and armored citizen-soldier primarily drawn from the middle classes. Every man had to serve at least two years in the army. Fighting in the tight phalanx formation maximised the effectiveness of his armor, large shield and long spear, presenting a wall of armor and spearpoints to the enemy. They were a force to be reckoned with.

Hoplite warfare

At least in the Archaic Period, 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 their 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. Sparta was an exception to this rule, as every Spartiate was a professional soldier. Spartans instead relied on slaves named helots for civilian jobs such as farming.

If battle was refused by one side, they would retreat to the city, in which case the attackers generally had to content themselves with ravaging the countryside around, since the campaign season was too limited to attempt a siege. When battles occurred, they were usually set piece and intended to be decisive. These battles were short, bloody, and brutal, and thus required a high degree of discipline. At least in the early classical period, hoplites were the primary force; light troops and cavalry generally protected the flanks and performed skirmishing, acting as support troops for the core heavy infantry.

The strength of hoplites was shock combat. The two phalanxes would smash into each other in hopes of quickly breaking the enemy force's line. Failing that, a battle degenerated into a pushing match, with the men in the rear trying to force the front lines through those of the enemy.[3] This maneuver was known as the Othismos or "push." Thucydides described hoplite warfare as othismos aspidon or "the push of shields".[4] Battles rarely lasted more than an hour.[5] Once one of the lines broke, the troops would generally flee from the field, chased by peltasts or light cavalry if available. If a hoplite escaped, he would sometimes be forced to drop his cumbersome aspis, thereby disgracing himself to his friends and family. Casualties were slight compared to later battles, amounting to anywhere between 5 and 15% for the winning and losing sides respectively,[6] but the slain often included the most prominent citizens and generals who led from the front. Thus, the whole war could be decided by a single field battle; victory was enforced by ransoming the fallen back to the defeated, called the 'Custom of the Dead Greeks'..

Other elements of Greek armies

Greek armies also included significant numbers of light infantry, the Psiloi, as support troops for the heavy hoplites, who also doubled as baggage handlers for the heavy foot. These included javelin throwers (akontistai), stone throwers (lithovoloi) and slingers (sfendonitai) while archers (toxotai) were rare, mainly from Crete, or mercenary non-Greek tribes (as at the crucial battle of Plataea 479 B.C.) Greek armies gradually downgraded the armor of the hoplites (to linen padded thorax and open helmets) to make the phalanx more flexible and upgraded the javelineers to lightly armored general purpose infantry (thorakitai and thyreophoroi) with javelins and sometimes spears. Eventually, these types effectively complemented the Macedonian style phalanx which prevailed throughout Greece after Alexander the Great.

Cavalry had always existed in Greek armies of the classical era but the cost of horses made it far more expensive than hoplite armor, limiting cavalrymen to nobles and the very wealthy (social class of hippeis). During the early hoplite era cavalry played almost no role whatsoever, mainly for social, but also tactical reasons, since the middle-class phalanx completely dominated the battlefield. Gradually, and especially during the Peloponnesian war, cavalry became more important acquiring every role that cavalry could play, except perhaps frontal attack. It scouted, screened, harassed, outflanked and pursued with the most telling moment being the use of Syracusan horse to harass and eventually destroy the retreating Athenian army of the disastrous Sicilian expedition 415-413 B.C. One of the most famous troop of Greek cavalry was the Tarantine cavalry, originating from the city-state of Taras in Magna Graecia.[7]

The economics of ancient warfare

Campaigns were often timed with the agricultural season so as to impact the enemies or enemies' crops and harvest. The timing had to be very carefully arranged so that the invaders' enemy's harvest would be disrupted but the invaders' harvest would not be affected. Late invasions were also possible in the hopes that the sowing season would be affected but this at best would have minimal effects on the harvest.

One alternative to disrupting the harvest was to ravage the countryside by uprooting trees, burning houses and crops and killing all who were not safe behind the walls of the city. Ravaging the countryside cost much effort and was also dependent on the season because green crops do not burn as well as those nearer to harvest which are drier.

War also led to acquisition of land and slaves which would lead to a greater harvest, which could support a larger army. Plunder was also a large part of war and this allowed for pressure to be taken off of the government finances and allowed for investments to be made that would strengthen the polis. War also stimulated production because of the sudden increase in demand for weapons and armor. Ship builders would also experience sudden increases in their production demands.

Ancient Greek military campaigns

The Greco-Persian Wars

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. Although alliances between city states occurred before this time, nothing on this scale had been seen before.

The Greco-Persian Wars (499-448 BC) were the result of attempts by the Persian Emperor Darius the Great, and then his successor Xerxes I to subjugate Ancient Greece. Darius was already ruler of the cities of Ionia, and the wars are taken to start when they rebelled in 499 BC. The revolt was crushed by 494 BC, but Darius resolved to bring mainland Greece under his dominion. Many city-states made their submission to him, but others did not, notably including Athens and Sparta.[8] Darius thus sent his commanders Datis and Artaphernes to attack Attica, to punish Athens for her intransigence. After burning Eretria, the Persians landed at Marathon.

An Athenian army of c. 10,000 hoplites marched to meet the Persian army of about 25,000 troops. The Athenians were at a significant disadvantage both strategically and tactically. Raising such a large army had denuded Athens of defenders, and thus any attack in the Athenian rear would cut off the Army from the City. Tactically, the hoplites were very vulnerable to attacks by cavalry, and the Athenians had no cavalry to defend the flanks. After several days of stalemate at Marathon, the Persian commanders attempted to take strategic advantage by sending their cavalry (by ship) to raid Athens itself.[9] This gave the Athenian army a small window of opportunity to attack the remainder of the Persian Army.

Battle of Marathon Greek Double Envelopment
The Greek wings (blue) envelop the Persian wings (red)

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. To counter the massive numbers of Persians, the Greek general Miltiades ordered the troops to be spread across an unusually wide front, leaving the centre of the Greek line undermanned. However, the lightly armored Persian infantry proved no match for the heavily armored hoplites, and the Persian wings were quickly routed. The Greek wings then turned against the elite troops in the Persian centre, which had held the Greek centre until then. Marathon demonstrated to the Greeks the lethal potential of the hoplite, and firmly demonstrated that the Persians were not, after all, invincible.

The revenge of the Persians was postponed 10 years by internal conflicts in the Persian Empire, until Darius's son Xerxes returned to Greece in 480 BC with a staggeringly large army (modern estimates suggest between 150,000-250,000 men). Many Greeks city-states, having had plenty of warning of the forthcoming invasion, formed an anti-Persian league; though as before, other city-states remained neutral or allied with Persia. Although alliances between city-states were commonplace, the scale of this league was a novelty, and the first time that the Greeks had united in such a way to face an external threat.

This allowed diversification of the allied armed forces, rather than simply mustering a very large hoplite army. The visionary Athenian politician Themistocles had successfully persuaded his fellow citizens to build a huge fleet in 483/82 BC 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 Sparta, provided the army. This alliance thus removed the constraints on the type of armed forces that the Greeks could use. 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 (c. 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 were less of an advantage) 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 had dismissed the majority of the troops, remaining with a rearguard of 300 Spartans (and perhaps 2000 other troops), 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.

Thermopylae provided the Greeks with time to arrange their defences, and they dug in across the Isthmus of Corinth, an impregnable position; although an evacuated Athens was thereby sacrificed to the advancing Persians. In order to outflank the isthmus, Xerxes needed to use this fleet, and in turn therefore needed to defeat the Greek fleet; similarly, the Greeks needed to neutralise the Persian fleet to ensure their safety. To this end, the Greeks were able to lure the Persian fleet into the straits of Salamis; and, in a battleground where Persian numbers again counted for nothing, they won a decisive victory, justifying Themistocles' decision to build the Athenian fleet. Demoralised, Xerxes returned to Asia Minor with much of his army, leaving his general Mardonius to campaign in Greece the following year (479 BC).

However, a united Greek army of c. 40,000 hoplites decisively defeated Mardonius at the Battle of Plataea, effectively ending the invasion. Almost simultaneously, the allied fleet defeated the remnants of the Persian navy at Mycale, thus destroying the Persian hold on the islands of the Aegean.

The remainder of the wars saw the Greeks take the fight to the Persians. The Athenian dominated Delian League of cities and islands extirpated Persian garrisons from Macedon and Thrace, before eventually freeing the Ionian cities from Persian rule. At one point, the Greeks even attempted an invasion of Cyprus and Egypt (which proved disastrous), demonstrating a major legacy of the Persian Wars: warfare in Greece had moved beyond the seasonal squabbles between city-states, to coordinated international actions involving huge armies. After the war, ambitions of many Greek states dramatically increased. Tensions resulting from this, and the rise of Athens and Sparta as pre-eminent powers during the war led directly to the Peloponnesian War, which saw further development of the nature of warfare, strategy and tactics.

The Peloponnesian War

Pelopennesian War, Key Actions in each Phase, 431 - 404 B.C.
The key actions of each phase
Agrianian peltast holding three javelins, one in his throwing hand and two in his pelte hand as additional ammunition

The Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC), was fought between the Athenian dominated Delian League and the Spartan dominated Peloponnesian League. The increased manpower and financial resources increased the scale, and allowed the diversification of warfare. Set-piece battles during this war proved indecisive and instead there was increased reliance on naval warfare, and strategies of attrition such as blockades and sieges. These changes greatly increased the number of casualties and the disruption of Greek society.

Whatever the proximal causes of the war, it was in essence a conflict between Athens and Sparta for supremacy in Greece. The war (or wars, since it is often divided into three periods) was for much of the time a stalemate, punctuated with occasional bouts of activity. Tactically the Peloponnesian war represents something of a stagnation; the strategic elements were most important as the two sides tried to break the deadlock, something of a novelty in Greek warfare.

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. Far from the previously limited and formalized form of conflict, the Peloponnesian War transformed into an all-out struggle between city-states, complete with atrocities on a large scale; shattering religious and cultural taboos, devastating vast swathes of countryside and destroying whole cities.[10]

From the start, the mismatch in the opposing forces was clear. The Delian League (hereafter 'Athenians') were primarily a naval power, whereas the Peloponnesian League (hereafter 'Spartans') consisted of primarily land-based powers. The Athenians thus avoided battle on land, since they could not possibly win, and instead dominated the sea, blockading the Peloponnesus whilst maintaining their own trade. Conversely, the Spartans repeatedly invaded Attica, but only for a few weeks at a time; they remained wedded to the idea of hoplite-as-citizen. Although both sides suffered setbacks and victories, the first phase essentially ended in stalemate, as neither league had the power to neutralise the other. The second phase, an Athenian expedition to attack Syracuse in Sicily achieved no tangible result other than a large loss of Athenian ships and men.

In the third phase of the war however the use of more sophisticated stratagems eventually allowed the Spartans to force Athens to surrender. Firstly, the Spartans permanently garrisoned a part of Attica, removing from Athenian control the silver mine which funded the war effort. Forced to squeeze even more money from her allies, the Athenian league thus became heavily strained. After the loss of Athenian ships and men in the Sicilian expedition, Sparta was able to foment rebellion amongst the Athenian league, which therefore massively reduced the ability of the Athenians to continue the war.

Athens in fact partially recovered from this setback between 410-406 BC, but a further act of economic war finally forced her defeat. Having developed a navy that was capable of taking on the much-weakened Athenian navy, the Spartan general Lysander seized the Hellespont, the source of Athens' grain. The remaining Athenian fleet was thereby forced to confront the Spartans, and were decisively defeated. Athens had little choice but to surrender; and was stripped of her city walls, overseas possessions and navy. In the aftermath, the Spartans were able to establish themselves as the dominant force in Greece for three decades.

Mercenaries and light infantry

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. For instance, the Agrianes from Thrace were well-renowned peltasts, whilst Crete was famous for its archers. Since there were no decisive land-battles in the Peloponnesian War, the presence or absence of these troops was unlikely to have affected the course of the war. Nevertheless, it was an important innovation, one which was developed much further in later conflicts. Sileraioi were also a group of ancient mercenaries most likely employed by the tyrant Dionysius I of Syracuse

Spartan & Theban hegemonies

Following the eventual defeat of the Athenians in 404 BC, and the disbandment of the Athenian-dominated Delian League, Ancient Greece fell under the hegemony of Sparta. The peace treaty which ended the Peloponnesian War left Sparta as the de facto ruler of Greece (hegemon). Although the Spartans did not attempt to rule all of Greece directly, they prevented alliances of other Greek cities, and forced the city-states to accept governments deemed suitable by Sparta.

However, from the very beginning, it was clear that the Spartan hegemony was shaky; the Athenians, despite their crushing defeat, restored their democracy but just one year later, ejecting the Sparta-approved oligarchy. The Spartans did not feel strong enough to impose their will on a shattered Athens. Undoubtedly part of the reason for the weakness of the hegemony was a decline in the Spartan population.

This did not go unnoticed by the Persian Empire, which sponsored a rebellion by the combined powers of Athens, Thebes, Corinth and Argos, resulting in the Corinthian War (395-387 BC). This was the first major challenge Sparta faced.

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 Cnidus, undermining the Spartan presence in Ionia. The war petered out after 394 BC, with a stalemate punctuated with minor engagements. One of these is particularly notable however; at the Battle of Lechaeum, an Athenian force composed mostly of light troops (e.g. peltasts) defeated a Spartan regiment...

The Athenian general Iphicrates had his 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.

The war ended when the Persians, worried by the allies' successes, switched to supporting the Spartans, in return for the cities of Ionia and Spartan non-interference in Asia Minor. This brought the rebels to terms, and restored the Spartan hegemony on a more stable footing. The peace treaty which ended the war, effectively restored the status quo ante bellum, although Athens was permitted to retain some of the territory it had regained during the war. The Spartan hegemony would last another 16 years...

Battle of Leuctra, 371 BC - Decisive action
The Battle of Leuctra, 371 BC, showing Epaminondas's tactical advances

The second major challenge Sparta faced was fatal to its hegemony, and even to its position as a first-rate power in Greece. As the Thebans attempted to expand their influence over Boeotia, they inevitably incurred the ire of Sparta. After they refused to disband their army, an army of approximately 10,000 Spartans and Pelopennesians marched north to challenge the Thebans. At the decisive Battle of Leuctra (371 BC), the Thebans routed the allied army. The battle is famous for the tactical innovations of the Theban general Epaminondas.

Defying convention, he strengthened the left flank of the phalanx to an unheard of depth of 50 ranks, at the expense of the centre and the right. The centre and right were staggered backwards from the left (an 'echelon' formation), so that the phalanx advanced obliquely. The Theban left wing was thus able to crush the elite Spartan forces on the allied right, whilst the Theban centre and left avoided engagement; after the defeat of the Spartans and the death of the Spartan king, the rest of the allied army routed. This is one of the first known examples of both the tactic of local concentration of force, and the tactic of 'refusing a flank'.

Following this victory, the Thebans first secured their power-base in Boeotia, before marching on Sparta. As the Thebans were joined by many erstwhile Spartan allies, the Spartans were powerless to resist this invasion. The Thebans marched into Messenia, and freed it from Sparta; this was a fatal blow to Sparta, since Messenia had provided most of the helots which supported the Spartan warrior society. These events permanently reduced Spartan power and prestige, and replaced the Spartan hegemony with a Theban one. The Theban hegemony would be short-lived however.

Opposition to it throughout the period 369-362 BC caused numerous clashes. In an attempt to bolster the Thebans' position, Epaminondas again marched on the Pelopennese in 362 BC. At the Battle of Mantinea, the largest battle ever fought between the Greek city-states occurred; most states were represented on one side or the other. Epaminondas deployed tactics similar to those at Leuctra, and again the Thebans, positioned on the left, routed the Spartans, and thereby won the battle. However, such were the losses of Theban manpower, including Epaminondas himself, that Thebes was thereafter unable to sustain its hegemony. Conversely, another defeat and loss of prestige meant that Sparta was unable to regain its primary position in Greece. Ultimately, Mantinea, and the preceding decade, severely weakened many Greek states, and left them divided and without the leadership of a dominant power.

The rise of Macedon and the end of the hoplite era

Ancient Macedonian soldiers, from the tomb of Agios Athanasios, Greece
Paintings of Ancient Macedonian soldiers, arms, and armaments, from the tomb of Agios Athanasios, Thessaloniki in Greece, 4th century BC

Although by the end of the Theban hegemony the cities of southern Greece were severely weakened, they might have risen again had it not been for the ascent to power of the Macedonian kingdom in the northern 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 and 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 and 150 BC.

The innovations of Phillip II

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 armored, 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. This 'combined arms' approach was furthered by the extensive use of skirmishers, such as peltasts.

Tactically, Phillip absorbed the lessons of centuries of warfare in Greece. He echoed the tactics of Epaminondas at Chaeronea, by not engaging his right wing against the Thebans until his left wing had routed the Athenians; thus in course outnumbering and outflanking the Thebans, and securing victory. Alexander's fame is in no small part due to his success as a battlefield tactician; the unorthodox gambits he used at the battles of Issus and Gaugamela were unlike anything seen in Ancient Greece before.

See also


  1. ^ a b Holland, T. Persian Fire. pp. 69–70. ISBN 978-0-349-11717-1.
  2. ^ Hanson, Victor (1989). The Western Way of War. University of California Press. pp. 139–141. ISBN 978-0-520-26009-2.
  3. ^ a b Hanson, Victor (1989). The Western Way of War. University of California Press. p. 169. ISBN 978-0-520-26009-2.
  4. ^ Hanson, Victor (1989). The Western Way of War. University of California Press. p. 173. ISBN 978-0-520-26009-2.
  5. ^ Hanson, Victor (1989). The Western Way of War. University of California Press. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-520-26009-2.
  6. ^ Sage, Michael (2002). Warfare in Ancient Greece: A Sourcebook. Routledge. p. 95. ISBN 113476331X.
  7. ^ Ueda-Sarson, Luke. "Tarantine Cavalry". Retrieved 20 March 2014.
  8. ^ Holland, Tom (2005). Persian Fire. Abacus. pp. 178–9. ISBN 9780349117171.
  9. ^ Holland, Tom (2005). Persian Fire. Abacus. p. 192. ISBN 9780349117171.
  10. ^ Kagan. The Peloponnesian War. pp. XXIII–XXIV.


  • Adcock, Frank E., The Greek and Macedonian Art of War, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1962.
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External links

Artemisia II of Caria

Artemisia II of Caria (Greek: Ἀρτεμισία; died 350 BC) was a naval strategist, commander and the sister (and later spouse) and the successor of Mausolus, ruler of Caria. Mausolus was a satrap of the Achaemenid Empire, yet enjoyed the status of king or dynast of the Hecatomnid dynasty. After the death of her brother/husband, Artemisia reigned for two years, from 353 to 351 BC. Her ascension to the throne prompted a revolt in some of the island and coastal cities under her command due to their objection to a female ruler. Her administration was conducted on the same principles as that of her husband; in particular, she supported the oligarchical party on the island of Rhodes.Because of Artemisia's grief for her brother-husband, and the extravagant and bizarre forms it took, she became to later ages "a lasting example of chaste widowhood and of the purest and rarest kind of love", in the words of Giovanni Boccaccio. In art, she was usually shown in the process of consuming his ashes, mixed in a drink.

Another Artemisia also is well-known, Artemisia I of Caria, satrap of Caria and ally of Xerxes I about 150 years earlier in the early 5th century BCE.

Artemisia I of Caria

Artemisia I of Caria (Ancient Greek: Ἀρτεμισία; fl. 480 BC) was a Greek queen of the ancient Greek city-state of Halicarnassus and of the nearby islands of Kos, Nisyros and Kalymnos, within the Achaemenid satrapy of Caria, in about 480 BC. She fought as an ally of Xerxes I, King of Persia against the independent Greek city states during the second Persian invasion of Greece. She personally commanded her contribution of five ships at the naval battle of Artemisium and in the naval Battle of Salamis in 480 BC. She is mostly known through the writings of Herodotus, himself a native of Halicarnassus, who praises her courage and the respect in which Xerxes held her.Another Artemisia also is well-known, Artemisia II of Caria, satrap of Caria and builder of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus in the 4th century BC.

Athenian military

The Athenian military was the military force of Athens, one of the major city-states (poleis) off Ancient Greece. It was largely similar to other armies of the region – see Ancient Greek warfare.


Caeria was an Illyrian queen who reigned in the second part of the fourth century BC. Cynane, an Illyrian princess and daughter of Philip II of Macedon, engaged in battle with Caeria in 344/343 BC. Caeria was killed by Cynane's own hand, and with great slaughter, her army was also defeated.

Deidamia II of Epirus

Deidamia or Deidameia (Greek: Δηϊδάμεια) or Laodamia (Greek: Λαοδάμεια) (died c. 233 BC) was a Greek princess, daughter of Pyrrhus II of Epirus, king of Epirus. After the death of her father and that of her uncle Ptolemy, she was the last surviving representative of the royal Aeacid dynasty in Epirus. She had a sister, Nereis, who married Gelo of Syracuse. During a rebellion in Epirus her sister sent her 800 mercenaries from Gaul. Part of the Molossians supported her, and with the aid of the mercenaries she briefly took Ambracia. The Epirotes, however, determined to secure their liberty by extirpating the whole royal family, resolved to put her to death; she fled for refuge to the temple of Artemis, but was murdered in the sanctuary itself by Milo, a man already responsible of matricide, who shortly after this crime committed suicide. The date of this event cannot be accurately fixed, but it occurred during the reign of Demetrius II in Macedonia (239–229 BC).


Gynaecothoenas (Greek: Γυναικοθήνας), "the god feasted by women", was an epithet of the Ancient Greek god Ares at Tegea. In a war of the Tegeatans against the Lacedaemonian king Charillus, the women of Tegea made an attack upon the enemy from an ambuscade. This decided the victory. The women therefore celebrated the victory alone, and excluded the men from the sacrificial feast. This, according to Pausanias, gave rise to the surname of Ares.

Hippo (Greek woman)

Hippo was a Greek woman mentioned by the 1st century AD Latin author Valerius Maximus as an example of chastity. She was also included among the Famous Women written about by Giovanni Boccaccio in the 14th century.


Hydna of Scione (alternately called Cyana) (fl. 480 BC) was an ancient Greek swimmer and diver given credit for the destruction of the Persian navy in 480 BC.


Iphicrates (Greek: Ιφικράτης) (c. 418 BC – c. 353 BC) was an Athenian general, who flourished in the earlier half of the 4th century BC. He is credited with important infantry reforms that revolutionized ancient Greek warfare by regularizing light-armed peltasts.

Lamia of Athens

Lamia of Athens (fl. 300 BC) was a celebrated courtesan, and mistress of Demetrius Poliorcetes.


In Greek legendary history, Lampsace or Lampsake (Λαμψάκη) was the eponym of the city Lampsacus, honored as a heroine and later deified. The story concerning her, known from the works of Plutarch and Polyaenus, is as follows.

Lampsace was the daughter of Mandron, king of the Bebryces in Pityussa (the older name for Lampsacus). Her father was assisted by Phobus of Phocaea in a military conflict against the neighboring people, and, in reward, assigned to Phobus a part of his kingdom, to where the latter led a colony from Phocaea. The colonists subsequently led several successful military campaigns and obtained plenty of trophies, which made the barbarian population of Pityussa fear and envy them. Thereupon the Bebrycians devised a plot to drive the Greeks out of their land in the absence of Mandron. Lampsace became aware of the plot and reported it to the Greeks, who then forestalled the barbarians by developing a stratagem of their own: they invited the Bebrycians to a sacrificial banquet and when those got drunk, one half of the Greeks massacred them while the other half was taking control over the city walls. The Greeks then invited Mandron to reign over them but he chose to leave, taking wives and children of those slain away with him. Lampsace was greatly honored for having informed the Greeks of the imminent threat, but she fell sick and died. The citizens gave magnificent burial to her and went on to worship her as a heroine, renaming Pityussa to Lampsacus in her honor; later on a vote was held to promote her to the status of a goddess. As such she was venerated as late as the times of Plutarch.

Messene (mythology)

In Greek legendary history, Messene (; Ancient Greek: Μεσσήνη) was the daughter of Triopas, king of Argos (or, alternately, daughter of Phorbas and sister of Triopas). She was married to Polycaon, son of king Lelex, of Laconia. Messene was said to have been very ambitious. After her father-in-law died, her husband's brother Myles inherited the throne to Laconia. It was not her intent to be wed to an anonymous man, so she went about gathering an armed force from both Argos and Laconia. Once their army was ready, the newly married couple invaded a nearby territory. This territory was then named Messenia, after the aggressive princess of Argos. Following the establishment of the new kingdom, they founded the city Andania, where they built their palace. Glaucus, the son of Aepytus and grandson of Cresphontes, established a hero cult of Messene. There was a heroon of her in Messenia with a statue of gold and Parian marble. It is estimated that the story took place in 10th century B.C.Pausanias remarks that he checked through The Great Ehoiai, Naupactica and the works of Cinaethon and Asius of Samos in search for information concerning children of Polycaon and Messene, but found no relevant information.

Pheretima (Cyrenaean Queen)

Pheretima or Pheretime (Greek: Φερετίμη, died 515 BC), was the wife of the Greek Cyrenaean King Battus III and the last recorded queen of the Battiad dynasty in Cyrenaica.


In Ancient Greek warfare, psiloi (Ancient Greek ψιλοί, plural of ψιλός, psilos, literally “bare, stripped”), were extremely light infantry who acted as skirmishers and missile troops.

Psiloi, often used as a broad term to describe types of unarmored or lightly armored infantry, have often been more explicitly referred to by other names, such as gymnetes (lit. naked) or euzonoi (light armored; after whom the modern Evzones are named), grosphomachoi and akontistai (javelineers), sphendonetai (slingers), toxotai (bowmen or archers) or lithoboloi (stone throwers). The peltastai (bearers of light shields, targeteers) are often categorized as an intermediary infantry type, later grouped either with the psiloi or the heavy infantry, according to their main tactical role.

In Greek and Byzantine literature, the psiloi are light troops equipped with missiles, able to fight irregularly in a loose formation.

Stratonice of Macedon

Stratonice (Greek: Στρατονίκη, Stratoníkē; lived in the 3rd century BC) of Macedonia was the daughter of Stratonice of Syria and of the Seleucid king Antiochus I Soter (281–261 BC). She was married to Demetrius II (239–229 BC), king of Macedonia. Stratonice bore Demetrius II a daughter called Apama. The period of their marriage is unknown; but she appears to have remained in Macedonia until about 239 BC, when she left Demetrius in disgust, on account of his second marriage to Phthia, the daughter of Olympias, and retired to Syria. Here she in vain incited her nephew Seleucus II Callinicus (246–225 BC) to avenge the insult offered her by declaring war against the Macedonian king. According to another account, she was hoping to induce Seleucus himself to marry her; but that monarch was wholly occupied with the recovery of Babylonia and the upper provinces of the empire. While he was thus engaged, Stratonice took advantage of his absence to raise a revolt against him at Antioch; but she was easily expelled from that city on the return of Seleucus, and took refuge in Seleucia, where she was besieged, taken prisoner, and put to death.

Stratonice of Pontus

Stratonice of Pontus (Greek: Στρατoνίκη; fl. 1st century BC) was a Greek woman from the Kingdom of Pontus who was one of the mistresses and the fourth wife of King Mithridates VI of Pontus.Stratonice was a citizen of the Pontian city of Kabeira. She was originally a woman of mean birth and was the daughter of a Harpist.Stratonice was a harpist in the court of Mithridates VI. She became one of the mistresses to the King and eventually Mithridates VI married her as one of his wives after 86 BC. Stratonice bore Mithridates, a son called Xiphares.

Stratonice became one of the favorite wives of the King and had obtained much influence over him. When Mithridates VI was compelled to undertake his perilous retreat to the Black Sea, Mithridates VI left Stratonice in charge of a strong fortress, at Coenum in which he had deposited a large amount of treasure.Stratonice was induced to betray both the fortress and the fortress’ treasures into the hands of the Roman General Pompey, on the condition that Pompey should spare the life of her son. However Mithridates VI punished her for her treason by putting their son to death before her eyes. She died by 63 BC, when the Kingdom of Pontus was annexed by the Roman General Pompey.


Telesilla (Greek: Τελέσιλλα; fl. 510 BC) was an ancient Greek poet, native of Argos. She was a distinguished woman who was especially renowned for her poetry and for her leadership of Argos through a political and military crisis and subsequent re-building. Antipater of Thessalonica included her in his canon of nine female poets.


Timoclea or Timocleia of Thebes is a woman whose story is told by Plutarch in his Life of Alexander, and at greater length in his Mulierum virtutes ("Virtues of Women"). According to Plutarch's biography of Alexander the Great, when his forces took Thebes during Alexander's Balkan campaign of 335 BC, Thracian forces pillaged the city, and a captain of the Thracian forces raped Timocleia. After raping her, the captain asked if she knew of any hidden money. She told him that she did, and led him into her garden, and told him there was money hidden in her well. When the Thracian captain stooped to look into the well, Timoclea pushed him into the well, and then hurled heavy stones into the well until the captain was dead.Timoclea was seized by the Thracian soldiers and brought before Alexander the Great. She comported herself with great dignity and told Alexander that her brother was Theagenes, last commander of the Theban Sacred Band, who died "for the liberty of Greece" at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC, defeated by Alexander's father Philip of Macedon. Alexander was so impressed with Timocleia that he ordered her and her children released and she was not punished for killing the Thracian captain.The story in the Mulierum virtutes is essentially the same, except that the captain is told that the treasure, of silver bowls, gold and some money, was at the bottom of a dry well, which he climbs down into. When Timoclea hears that he has reached the bottom, she throws down rocks on him. Alexander dismisses her without punishment but does not set her or her family free. He instead tells his officers to take special care of them and other renowned families, making sure there is no more abuse.

Plutarch's main source for the incident, as he mentions in passing elsewhere, was the account by Aristobulus of Cassandreia, who knew Alexander well; this survives only in quotations by others, which may not all be accurate. The taking of Thebes took place in the second year of Alexander's reign, and was otherwise a very bloody affair, as the city was the leader in a Greek revolt, taking advantage of Philip's assassination, against the treaties he had enforced. Perhaps 6,000 Thebans died, and 30,000 were enslaved, and the city virtually ceased to exist for some decades. The only other act of clemency recorded is that Alexander ordered the house and descendants of the poet Pindar (died c. 443 BC) to be left alone.

Waldemar Heckel

Waldemar Heckel (born 1949) is a Canadian historian.

Heckel was born in Bad Königshofen in 1949. He attained his master's degree in 1973 from McMaster University in Hamilton Ontario, and earned his doctorate in 1978 at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, British Columbia. His dissertation on the "marshals" of Alexander the Great also formed the basis for his 1992 work on this subject. Heckel is internationally regarded as a researcher on Alexander the Great, and has published numerous works on this. Other focal points of his research are ancient Greek history and ancient Greek warfare.

Until his retirement in late 2013, Heckel taught as a professor of ancient history at the University of Calgary.

Ancient Greek and Roman wars
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