Tactics

[13] Spartan hoplites

[13] Spartan hoplites

The Greek hoplite phalanx was a highly trained unit.  Every decision had to go through a chain of command, like the military today.  This meant that hoplites had highly coordinated movements, which would be needed for a fighting force of that size.  Even with everything planned out, hoplite combat would be very intense and confusing experience when the fighting started.

Before the fighting started, the hoplite sang a hymn called a paean as they were advancing.  The paean was a hymn for summoning Enyalius (Ares) , the Greek god of war, for protection and a victory over their enemies (see Sekunda 2000, 25).   One of the benefits of the phalanx was that it would have been a very intimidating sight to see on the battlefield, possibly enough to scare away the enemy.  In the many cases that opposing phalanxes did clash, the first 2 ranks would have done a majority of the fighting, due to the length of the 8 ft. spear.   The hoplites in the rear ranks needed to show their support and hold strong so that the men in the front wouldn’t retreat. The rear ranks would also quickly fill in the gap if a hoplite in a front rank was killed in action. This was of course done to keep the phalanx impenetrable (see Kagan 2009).   Sometimes in a hoplite battle, it has been suggested that when two opposing hoplite formations were 600 feet apart they would let out a loud battle cry and charge at the opposing phalanx (see Sekunda 2000, 26) .  This is disputed however because it would be near impossible to keep the integrity of the ranks in the phalanx.

Phalanxes were known to always have an up and rightward movement.  This could be due to a number of reasons; however fear and the use of the “close order” phalanx are probably the main ones. When their shields interlocked, hoplite would do what they could to shelter their unarmed side behind the shield of the man to their right, this was done to give them more protection from the advancing enemy (see Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, 5.71).  Another theory is that the best men of the phalanx were stationed on the right flank so they could press forward and attack an enemy’s left flank to try and make it collapse.  This would have made the men on their left flanks duty to try and hold the line and not break before the opposing left flank collapses.(Ferrill 1985, 104)

            The victor of the battle would be the phalanx that held the longest and did not collapse due to fear, death or retreat.  Once a phalanx collapsed the hoplites would need to run for their lives in order to save themselves.  Most commonly the phalanx would fall when the rear ranks began to retreat and the men in the front of the formation were left without support (see Sekunda 2000, 24)

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