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Essay/Term paper: Sparta

Essay, term paper, research paper:  History

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In the 7th Century BC a new era of

warfare strategy evolved. Before this new strategy, foot

soldiers (known as hoplites) engaged in battle in the form of

one mob for each army which on the command of their

generals runs at each other and proceeds to hack blindly at

the enemy with little to no direction other then to kill the

enemy in front of them. This proved to be very messy and

the tide of battle depended mostly on emotion and size of an

army. In the name of strategy and organization, the phalanx

was developed. A phalanx is simply defined as a line

formation with its width significantly larger then its depth. The

depth of the phalanx is a variable which some suggest was

decided by the army itself rather then by the leaders of the

army. The smallest depth appears to have been that of one

man deep. However this was a unique occurrence which is

widely believed to be fictitious. The largest depth is that of

120 men deep which was fielded at one time by the

Macedonians. On average, the depth of the phalanx appears

to be about eight men deep. During the time of Alexander

the Great, the phalanx was believed to be eight men deep,

but some argue that it evolved into a sixteen man deep

phalanx. The Spartans purposely varied the depth of their

phalanx so to confuse the enemy about the number of

soldiers fielded. The phalanx proved to be a very valuable

weapon for the military at that time. Armies which did not

adapt to the phalanx formation were quickly slaughtered.

The use of the phalanx allowed the Greeks to win the

Persian Wars.


Many historians believe that the development of the phalanx

led directly to social changes occurring throughout Greece

during the time of the phalanx's implementation. The phalanx

formation allowed men to participate in the military who

otherwise could not have because a much smaller investment

in weapons and armor was needed to participate in the

phalanx. The combined increase in the number of those

participating in the army and the increase in importance of

the common foot soldier lead to the common man being

increasingly treated better by the ruling classes. Eventually

this may have led to the invention of democracy. The most

noticeable difference between ancient Greek and modern

warfare is the amount of "intelligence" information. Today

our military maneuvers are almost exclusively reliant on

information we get from satellites, scouts, or spies in the

opposition. The ancient Greeks totally ignored this area of

military strategy. Countless tales of armies meeting each

other by chance or armies passing within miles of each other

without knowledge of the other. Intelligence information

seemed to have come by chance for the ancient Greeks

rather then by conscious effort.


Surprise is also an element of war which in modern times is

taken very seriously and which was taken very lightly in

ancient Greece. In fact there is evidence that ancient Greek

soldiers raised their voices in the form of a marching song

when they were told that an enemy was near and may be

caught unprepared. This war song, called a paian, was also

used to promote organization in the marching army so that all

soldiers would march with an even step. In addition, the

paian was used to promote courage and bravery. A paian

was also used on ships to announce the nearness of the

enemy. When the actual battle was joined the paian turned

into a war cry. The Spartans often accompanied the paian

with a flute or several flutes. The Spartan King would lead

the paian as well. The use of the paian for attack appears to

have Dorian roots. The Spartans are usually the ones

associated with the use of a paian. Thucydides mentions that

when the Dorians, from other city-states, started a paian

when they were serving in an Athenian army, fear was struck

into the hearts of the Athenians.


Finally the sizes of the armies were very different from what

we are accustomed to today. We are familiar with armies of

tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions.

The entire Spartan army was estimated to be under five

thousand men. In the beginning, Greek armies showed

almost no pay structure. This was do to the fact that military

participation was seen as a man's duty to his city-state or as

a form of taxation. Each man was required to provide his

own armor for battle. There for only those who could afford

armor and weapons could be in the army. Since most men

could not afford armor, most could not participate. Those

who could afford to participate had other forms of income.

However there was a pay system in place by 445 or 444

BC in Athens. The pay system was enacted during a time of

peace for Greece, just after the signing of the thirty year

peace between the Delian League and the Peloponnesian

League. The standard rate of pay seems to have been a

drachma a day until it was cut in half in 413 BC. However

the standard rate over time was between three obols (half a

drachma) to a full drachma a day for a hoplite soldier. In

Sparta, the military was a way of life. From an early age,

children were trained to be strong and to have good fighting

skills. With most of their population being helots, or serfs, it

was necessary to have a well-organized and highly trained

fighting force to put down any revolts. Therefore, even

though the Spartan military was comparatively small, it was

very strong.


Athens derived her military strength from a strong navy. In

481 BC the city of Athens discovered a large silver mine on

publicly owned land. Athens used this silver to build a fleet

of 200 ships of a type called triremes. This naval force not

only gave Athens an advantage against the Persians in the

Persian wars, it also gave Athens the power to force the

membership of almost all the Aegean islands and many other

city-states into the Delian League. The Greek hoplite wore a

helmet, breastplate and greaves of bronze. The hoplite is

typically armed with a wooden lance for the phalanx

formation and a short sword for in close fighting. The round

shield was strapped to the left forearm and gripped by a

leather strap with the left hand at the opposite end. In the

third century B.C. (the 200's) the round shield evolved into a

more door-like shield. The shields were easily carried on the

back when travelling and were commonly used as a stretcher

for carrying the dead off the field of battle. The soldiers were

traditionally required to provide for their own weapons and

armor, but eventually the responsibility fell to the government

and the costs were deducted from the soldiers' pay. There

were a variety of reasons for this transfer of responsibility

including the state's ability to buy quality armor for all and the

benefits of soldiers fighting in armor to which they are

accustomed. There is also an aesthetic benefit to having all

soldiers, weapons, and banners of the same appearance, not

to mention the economic benefit for the city-state when all

weapons and armor for the army must be bought within the


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