The Spartans had a very peculiar form of government which enabled them to be professional soldiers. To be more precise: it not only enabled them, it even forced them to be superior soldiers as a small group of Spartans had to dominate an enormous amount of subjects and unwilling allies. The helots worked the
The Spartan army was superior in Hellas, and in the rest of the known world. No other army was so well trained, and had such excellent equipment. They believed that a traditional training was the key to success, and for centuries they were right as they had never lost a battle in spite of their small numbers. Ironically enough formed this idea also the end of Spartan supremacy as the Spartan phalanx could not resist the new sloped Theban phalanx and the invading integrated Macedonian forces. The end of the Spartan power marked the end of the domination of the phalanx.
The organization of the Spartan army.
The Spartan army was certainly not superior without any reason. Their equipment was very good, especially compared to those of non-Greeks, they had very much willpower, had not much fear as dying on the battlefield was the biggest honour for a Spartan, and they received a most excellent training. Each boy of a Spartan family was taken away at the age of seven and placed under the supervision of an adult Spartan till the age of 18. An extensive training till the age of thirty followed when the Spartan became a full citizen. He did not live together with his family any more while he was in training, but became part of an eatgroup. These groups were clubs of Spartans who were together in Sparta as well as on the battlefield. The family was not seen as important, it was only an unfortunately necessary tool to preserve the number of full Spartans.
Thucydides, a Greek historian and soldier, gives us a detailed overview of the structure of the Spartan army around 400 BC. He says that the organisation was based on an average row of 8 man deep. Four of these rows formed an enomotia or platoon; four enomotiai formed on their turn a pentekostis or company which was commanded by a pentekonter; four pentekosteis formed a lochos or battalion under the leadership of a lochagos. The average army had about seven of these lochois.
Xenophon, who had also been an officer, tells us about a different structure. Now the average row was 12 man deep, while only two of these rows were needed to form an enomotia. Two enomotiai formed a pentekostis, two pentekosteis formed a lochos, while four lochois formed a mora, or regiment, under the command of a ptolemarch. An army consisted of 6 morae. The reduction of the Spartan population did decrease the total strength of the Spartan army, but not the strength of a mora (500, 600, or 900 men) as this depended on the age of the hoplites who were used.
The enomotiai marched behind eachother in a big row. Before the battle the last troops of each enemotia positioned themselves left behind their leader to form a phalanx of four columns, in total 16 rows wide, and 8 rows deep. A space of two metres was maintained between the columns, but on the order 'close the rows' the last troops walked to the left front to close gaps in the front row. Now the phalanx was in a closed formation and ready for the battle.
Whatever structure the Spartans might have used, it did not decrease their effective communication system. The king gave his orders directly to the ptolemarchs who passed it on through the troops via the lower officers. The biggest problem was that each soldier was trained so well that the Spartan army practically only consisted of men who were officially no officer, but who knew so much about warfare that they were almost equal to an officer. Such an organisation does not always give the best results on the battlefield. An example of this is the battle of Plataea where the Spartan commander refused to follow the order of the Spartan king Pausanias to retreat. At Mantineia the ptolemarchs at the right wing ignored the orders of the king as they wanted to win the battle in their own way. Later on these ptolemarchs were sued and banished from Sparta. Orders where hard to understand in the uproar of a battle, and the Corinthian helmet also reduced the hearing of the soldiers. That is why hornsignals and handsignals were often used. However, sometimes they were misunderstood and during an incident at Amphipolis the unprotected right side of the phalanx was exposed to an Athenian attack with dramatic results.
The equipment of the Spartan hoplite.
The outfit of this Spartan hoplite is not very different from his Athenian colleagues. The most noticeable differences are the Spartan symbol on his hoplon, and the red cape which was not worn during a battle. He has long hair which was common under the Spartan men. In this picture he ties a lace around his spear to increase the grip while thrusting over the wall of hostile shields.