West

While the equipment of the Hoplites provided both a strong offense and defense for the soldiers, it can be noted that the strength and success of the phalanx came from the utilization of the new western way of war.

The best way to understand the full concentration of force defined by the western way of warfare is use visual aids, examples of which can be taken from the Battles of Marathon and Leuctra. This discussion will focus more on the formation and deployment of troops, rather than the political reasons and specifics of the battles. For more information about the causes and happenings of each battle, please refer to the “Battle Examples” page.

[7]Marathon Battle Lines

[7] Formations at the Battle of Marathon.

The Battle of Marathon occurred during the first conflict between the Greeks and the Persians, taking place around 490 BC. As seen in figure [7], the Greek infantry was split into three main, dense regiments which proceeded to attack the more divided Persian lines via a head-on approach. The much larger Persian force was unable to fend off the heavier armored Greeks, as such they were quickly overwhelmed and the less numerous Greeks suffered minimal losses.

[4] Battle Lines at the Battle of Leuctra, Spartans are Red and Thebeans are Blue

[4] Battle lines at the Battle of Leuctra. Note the denseness of each, especially the Theban’s left phalanx.

The Battle of Leuctra can be seen as another example of a full-on frontal attack descriptive of the western style of war. With each side, the Spartans and the Thebans, being Greek, the method of a concentrated mass of soldiers was used by both parties, with the Thebans having a very dense left flank consisting of 50 lines of hoplites. It can be seen from the diagram that the Spartans were unable to break through the dense formation, ultimately leading to their retreat and defeat.

Another main component of the western way of war was that it was glorious to die in battle for a cause, and to flee was to lack honor and bravery. Aside from fighting for the life of the men next to them, the Hoplites fought for the honor of their city-state. To be a part of the military was something that men could take pride in, for they felt the survival of their home depended on their victory. This pride for one’s own country boosted the morale of the soldiers and pushed them to victory. The root of this ethic could be followed back to the poetry of Homer, who would put an emphasis on the brave and heroic actions of his characters, and would glorify a dying soldier:

“A young man it beseemeth wholly, when he is slain in battle, that he lie mangled by the sharp bronze; dead though he be, all is honourable whatsoever be seen. But when dogs work shame upon the hoary head and hoary beard and on the nakedness of an old man slain, lo, this is the most piteous thing that cometh upon wretched mortals” (Homer, Iliad, book 22; verse 59)

Here, Homer is not only glorifying a soldier’s death on the battlefield, but more specifically he is saying that it is best to die in one’s prime and that there is no honor in aging and eventually wasting away.

Honor as a key principle became so important to western warfare that in the next few centuries the Roman poet Horace Odes coined the famous quote, “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.” This translates to “It is sweet and right to die for your country” (Horace, Odes; III, 2, 13). Until WWI, this phrase was the battle cry of soldiers heading into battle even if they were facing certain and imminent death.

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