Here we see an Athenian hoplite who is characteristic for the Persian wars. 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.
Organization of the Athenean army.
The Athenian army was lead by ten generals who were commonly known as the strategos, who were each year chosen by the people's council. The same people could become strategos year after year, unlike as in many other Greek cities. The problem was that this gave more power in the hands of the strategos, but it also made sure that policy of the city did remained consistent. The strategos were responsible for the security and the defences of the city and the surrounding plains. Below them there was a large military hierarchy. The infantry was commanded by ten taxiarchoi, who had several officers, or lochagoi, under them who led the companies of the army. The cavalry on its turn was commanded by two officers who were called the hiparchen, and they were assisted by ten fylarchen. Fylarch means as much as chieftain and this reminds us of the social structure of Athens: the population was divided in ten tribes. The recruitment of soldiers was also based on this division in tribes.
An Athenian hoplite was not as well trained as a Spartan hoplite, but he was superior to most other fighters nevertheless. At the age of 18 the boys from the rich classes of the hoplites received a training which took two years. They learned how to handle the weapons, but they also learned several tactical manoeuvres and fortification methods. After this they remained liable to military service till the age of 60. However, men younger than 20 or older than 50 could only be used for garrison duties in Attica itself. Pericles estimated the number of hoplites at 13000 in 431 BC, while 16000 had garrison duties. Rich citizens who could afford themselves a panoplia are also included in the 16000 people who had garrison duties.
The equipment of a hoplite.
The suit of armour of the Athenian hoplite was hardly any different from the hoplites of other Greek cities. This hoplite is wearing a good suit of armour, which we will call panoplia from now on. The costs of such is a panoplia were very high, it could be compared with buying a good new car in modern times. That is why the hoplites only consisted of nobility at first. Later on the costs were reduced because new construction techniques were used. This enabled the normal man to buy a decent panoplia. More and more people bought one as it not only improved their chance of survival on the battlefield, but it also raised their social status. At a certain time there were enough hoplites to form a phalanx, and since then was the Greek army superior to any other army for a very long time. The creation of the phalanx not only resulted in military superiority, it also had social results as we already know from the history chapter.
On the head of this hoplite we find a slightly obsolete bronze Corinthian helmet. The Corinthian helmet remained the most used helmet through the history of Hellas, but there were many types available. Examples of this are the Chalkidic and Illyrian helmets which were better than the Corinthian type as they gave better protection to the cheeks and neck, and they had openings for the ears so that the orders were heard better. The helmets were made by hitting a plate of bronze on a wooden pole. This was done until it fitted the head of the buyer exactly. Of course this took a lot of work, and that is why these very expensive helmets often passed from father to son. The helmets were often decorated with a crest of horsehair, and sometimes even with engraved drawings. The horsehair for the helmetcrest was placed in a block of wood, very much like a brush, and placed on the helmet. Horsehair is very difficult to paint, so the colours were normally the natural colours: black, white, and brown. Sculptures always show hoplites with a helmetcrest, but know from archaeological studies that it was often not present.
The body was protected by a cuirass. The most expensive type was the bronze jointed cuirass, but the most common one was a tunic with multiple layers of linen or canvas glued together to form a strong protection. This tunic was often reinforced with small metal plates or bronze rings as we see in the picture. The cuirass itself consisted of a part for the chest, and one for the shoulders. The part for the chest had openings for the arms, and at the bottom there were two rows of plates which were placed like roofing tiles, the so-called wings or pteruges. The cuirass was wrapped around the body and closed at the left side were it was protected by the shield. The part for the shoulders completed the cuirass. Different types were used: the wings which protected the shoulders were shaped differently, or they were removable. This type of cuirass replaced the older type armour which was shaped like a bell.
In his left hand he is holding the famous hoplon, or shield. The word hoplite is based on this hoplon, and certainly not without any reason: the hoplon was one of the cornerstones of the phalanx. Basically it was a wooden bowl which was protected on the outside with bronze plates, while the inside was covered in leather. It was held with a handle for the lower arm and a grip. The part of the shield that rested against the arm was often protected with an additional plate of bronze. The size of the shield resulted in quite a heavy shield: about 8 kilograms. Sometimes a piece of leather was hung at the lower side of the shield to protect the legs of the hoplite for arrows. The hoplites picked the decoration on their shields by themselves, and often drawings of animals or mythological characters were chosen. Here you see the head of a Gorgon, and popular decoration for the shield.
The hoplon was not big enough to cover the legs, that is why they are protected by a pair of bronze greaves, which were shaped in such a way that they followed the muscles in the legs. This had a decorative purpose, but it also reinforced them and now they could be clamped around the legs instead of using straps. In earlier times the warriors also used plates for the thighs, arms and feet but at the time of the Persian wars they were not used anymore as they were to heavy and they decreased the manoeuvrability of the hoplite drastically. The hoplite was very well armoured nevertheless.
The main weapon was the long spear, which could vary in length from 2 to 3 metres. The iron point has a bronze counterbalance, for a better balance, but it also could be used during an attack. The spear was normally drilled overarm, and the grasp was entwined with a leather strap for better grip. The spear was not thrown as was the case with the spears in the time of Homer: they were only used for thrusting. The second weapon was a short sword, which was carried around in a wooden scabbard which was wrapped in leather. The blade of such a sword was made from iron and around the 60 centimetres long, while the remaining parts were normally constructed in bronze. It was used for cutting as well for thrusting.'); //-->