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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

William Davis, A Day in Old Athens


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The Armed Forces of Athens













Page 15


[1] Of course the greatest military power of Greece had been Sparta until 371 B.C., when the battle of Leuctra made Thebes temporarily "the first land power."

[2] Thus if 3000 men were called out, the average "taxis" would be 300 strong, but if 6000, then 600.

[3] The hoplite's panoply (see description later) was sufficiently expensive to imply that its owner was at least a man in tolerable circumstances.

[4] Greeks could seldom have been brought to imitate the reckless medieval cavaliers. The example of Leonidas at Thermopylæ was more commended than imitated. Outside of Sparta at least, few Greeks would have hesitated to flee from a battlefield, when the day (despite their proper exertions) had been wholly lost.

[5] Especially the Athenian general Iphicrates was able to cut to pieces a "mora" (brigade) of Spartan hoplites, in 392 B.C., by skillful use of a force of peltasts.

[6] Possibly fifty or more—we have no correct means for an exact estimate. [A note from Brett: Looking at web sites where reconstruction of the armor has been done and estimates made (ca. 1999) there seems to be a consistent top end of 70 pounds. Scholarly circles (e.g. Rudolph Storch of the University of Maryland) seem to lock the estimate more tightly, with the consensus saying that a fully armored Hoplite carried between 60 and 70 pounds. Most of this weight seems to be in the cuirass, which in some cases was linen and weighed only 10-15 pounds (the actual thickness is unknown, so the broad range of weight estimate covers the minimum to maximum reasonable thickness). For reference, a modern (2000) soldier is generally limited to 50 pounds of gear when fighting and 70 pounds when marching.]

[7] The "Corinthian" type of helmets came more closely over the face, and the cheek protectors were not movable; these helmets were much like the closed helms of the medieval knights. The Spartans, in their contempt for danger, wore plain pointed steel caps which gave relatively little protection.

[8] Earlier Greek shields seem to have been very large and correspondingly heavy. These had only a single handle; and to aid in shifting them they were swung on straps passed over the left shoulder.

[9] This last is a matter of safe inference rather than of positive information.

[10] The object would be to give each man just enough distance to let him make fair use of his lance, and yet have his shield overlap that of his neighbor.

[11] The "phalanx" is sometimes spoken of as a Macedonian invention, but Philip and Alexander simply improved upon an old Greek military formation.

[12] It may be suspected that it was very seldom the omens were allowed to be unfavorable when the general was really resolved on battle.

[13] Any sudden attempt to extend your line beyond the foe's, so as to outflank him, would probably have produced so much confusion in your own phalanx as to promise certain disaster. Of course for an inferior force to accept battle by thinning its line, to be able by extending to meet the long lines of the enemy, would involve the greatest risk of being broken through at the center. The best remedy for inferior numbers was manifestly to decline a decisive battle.

[14] In siege warfare Oriental kings had a great advantage over Greek commanders. The former could sacrifice as many of their "slaves" as they pleased, in desperate assaults. The latter had always to bear in mind their accountability at home for any desperate and costly attack.

[15] As in the siege of Potidea (432-429 B.C.), when if Athens had failed to take the place, her hold upon her whole empire would have been jeopardized.

A Day in Old Athens

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