The Armed Forces of Athens
Greek battles are thus very simple things as a rule. It is the general who, accepting the typical conditions as he finds them, and avoiding any gross and obvious blunders, can put his men in a state of perfect fitness, physical and moral, that is likely to win the day. Of late there has come indeed a spirit of innovation. At Leuctra (371 B.C.) Epaminodas the Theban defeated the Spartans by the unheard-of device of massing a part of his hoplites fifty deep (instead of the orthodox eight or twelve) and crushing the Spartan right wing by the sheer weight of his charge, before the rest of the line came into action at all. If the experiment had not succeeded, Epaminondas would probably have been denounced by his own countrymen as a traitor, and by the enemy as a fool, for varying from the time-honored long, "even line" phalanx; and the average general will still prefer to keep to the old methods; then if anything happens, he at least will not be blamed for any undue rashness. Only in Macedon, King Philip II (who is just about to come to the throne) will not hesitate to study the new battle tactics of Epaminondas, and to improve upon them.
The Athenians will tell us that their citizen hoplites are a match for any soldiers in Greece, except until lately the Spartans, and now (since Leuctra) possibly the Thebans. But Corinthians, Argives, Sicyonians, they can confront more readily. They will also add, quite properly, that the army of Athens is in the main for home defense. She does not claim to be a preëminently military state. The glory of Athens has been the mastery of the sea. Our next excursion must surely be to the Peiræus.
Next Chapter : The Peiraeus and the Shipping
Back to A Day in Old Athens Contents
The Greek Word Library
Reference address : https://www.ellopos.net/elpenor/greek-texts/ancient-greece/old-athens-armed.asp?pg=14