Hoplites: Problems, solutions and Explanations

  • Jeff Benjamin Curtis


This paper examines closely several commonly accepted models of the manner in which hoplite warfare worked in antiquity. Generally through the logical deconstruction of descriptions of hoplites in action such as those in Herodotus, Thucydides and Xenophon. The seemingly counterintuitive charge of the hoplite force at Marathon against the Persian army contrasted to the slowly advancing Spartan army at the battle of Plataea. A cornerstone of the paper’s analysis centers on the difference between professional armies, such as the Spartans or the Theban sacred band and non-professional armies, employed by the Athenians and most other city-states. The difference between professional and non-professional armies is of great importance in considering the means in which they combat each other. The paper also revisits glossed-over points in the mechanics of hoplite warfare such as the “othismos” which can be interpreted in many ways; it attempts to shed some clarity on this concept in particular by examining the use of the word by ancient authors. The article also studies the Greek hoplite in military situations where it was unsuccessful, looking specifically at the failure of the allied Greek force at Chaironeia against the Macedonian pike phalanxes. This helps further clarify the strengths and weaknesses of hoplite armies.