hoplites

Silver Tetradrachm from Byblos, Phonecia, c.  544 BC    

A hippocamp swims below a Phonecian galley with 3 hoplites aboard. On the reverse, a lion attacks a bull, inscription above.

The Phoenician seamen were renowned in Antiquity; Homer mentions them in the Odyssey. Founded more than seven thousand years ago, Byblos is one of the eldest cities in the world that is still inhabited; its influence is due to its trade with the Egypt of the Pharaohs, to whom it supplied Lebanese wood.

The Boeotian League

Boeotia was a region caught between the two dominant forces in Greek politics, Sparta and Athens. To counter this, the Boeotian League was formed between eleven of the city-states in the region, and based in Thebes, the largest of the cities, and found themselves allied with one or the other at different points between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE.

The two Boeotians on the left carry only helmets and shields, lacking any other armor. The Greeks in general were obsessed with the nude male form, but none more than the Boeotians, some of whom were reported to fight in the nude.

The central power of the Boeotians were the Thebans, and it was they, led by Epaminondas, who finally brought an end to the hegemony that Sparta had enjoyed in the decades following the conclusion of the Peloponnesian War, breaking the Spartans at the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BCE and marching on Sparta itself.

The core of their force was the Sacred Band of Thebes, an elite unit of 300 men chosen from the best soldiers, and made up of 150 pairs of lovers. As with most male sexual relationships it was pederastic, with one older veteran - the erastai (lover) - and a younger man - the eromenos (beloved). The logic of the formation was that that there was nothing which would devote the men more to supporting each other in battle. Although homosexual behavior was common and accepted between soldiers in a number of the ancient Greek militaries, Thebes was one of the few to so integrate it into their military structure.

(Angus McBride)

Hoplites are perhaps best remembered as the main component of the Spartan army. In fact, it was the only type of warrior in the Spartan army.

They formed in a line, with one shield covering most of one man and part of the one next to them. Keeping in a strict, close formation, these shields protected most of the men. The combination of these large shields with long spears made getting to the Spartans, much less fighting them one-on-one, nearly impossible.

Unless you’re too slow to keep up with the line.

The Spartans and the Tegeans

The Spartans were by far the most renowned of Greek city-states when it came to martial prowess. The youth of Lakedaimonia were removed from their mothers at the age of seven to be raised in military barracks and trained to be warriors, their primary duty to the state, circumstances allowed by the slave/feudal system imposed by the Spartan elites on the helots of the region who farmed and supported this warrior society.

At 20, a boy became a man and joined the ranks of the Spartan Army, serving until the age of 60. Bravery was prized above all else, and a man who turned and fled in battle was considered to have committed treason, and faced summary execution. Marching off to war with spear, sword, and shield, the women of Sparta would remark to their sons “With it, or on it." 

At the height of their power Sparta controlled most of the Peloponnesian peninsula and most of the city-states were subjugated to them and provided additional hoplites to bolster the Spartan battle lines. Tegea was, during the 5th Century BCE their most important ally and their men were afforded the most important place in the battle plans aside from the Spartans themselves.

(Angus McBride)