The Greek Hoplite - Influential in WMA

Discussion in 'Historical European Swords and Sword Arts' started by Jonathan Randall, Nov 8, 2006.

  1. Jonathan Randall

    Jonathan Randall Senior Master

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    The hoplite was a heavy infantryman that was the central focus of warfare in Ancient Greece. The word hoplite (Greek ὁπλίτης, hoplitēs) derives from hoplon (ὅπλον, plural hopla, ὅπλα) meaning an item of armor or equipment and consequently the entire equipment of the hoplite (but not specifically the circular shield, which is sometimes incorrectly referred to as a hoplon, though it was in fact called an aspis). These soldiers probably first appeared in the late eighth century B.C. They were a citizen-militia, and so were armed as spearmen, which are relatively easy to equip and maintain; they were primarily drawn from the middle class, who could afford the cost of the armaments. Almost all the famous men of ancient Greece, even philosophers and playwrights, fought as hoplites at some point in their lives.
    Since the hoplites were a militia force and did not receive permanent wages, campaigns were short and mainly confined to the summer. Armies marched directly to their target. There, the defenders could hide behind city walls, in which case the attackers generally had to content themselves with ravaging the countryside (as siegecraft was undeveloped), or meet them on the field. Battles were usually set piece and intended to be decisive. These battles were short, bloody, and brutal, and thus required a high degree of discipline. Both forces lined up on a level field, usually in a rough phalanx formation around eight ranks deep (though this varied). Other troops were less important; hippeis (cavalry) generally protected the flanks, when present at all, and both light infantry and missile troops were negligible.
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    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoplite
     
  2. Wes Tasker

    Wes Tasker Orange Belt

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    Two books that might be of interest on this subject are:

    "The Western Way of War"
    - Victor Davis Hanson

    "Soldiers and Ghosts"
    - J.E. Lendon

    -wes
     
  3. exile

    exile To him unconquered.

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    And let's also remember in particular the 300 Spartan hoplites, with 900 allies from the city state of Thespia, who fought tens of thousands of Persian invaders to a standstill at the Battle of Thermopylae, and probably saved Western civilization. They went to battle knowing they were going to die, and by their sacrifice gave the Athenians time to organize the Greek naval defenses and, at the Battle of Salamis, completely destroy the Persian fleet.

    There is an epitaph written for the Spartan dead at Thermopylae, supposedly written by Simonides, that translated into English reads

    Go tell the Spartans, friend, that on this hill
    We lie, obedient to their precepts still.


    The 19th century English essayist John Ruskin called this the noblest sequence of words every written. The sacrifice of the Spartans and their allies showed not only almost unimaginable courage in the face of impossible odds, but the formidable fighting capability of the hoplites, which thoroughly demoralized the Persians and probably contributed significantly to their king Xerxes' decision to abandon the campaign against the West and withdraw.
     
  4. Andy Moynihan

    Andy Moynihan Senior Master

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    Cool.

    I first heard it as :

    Go tell the Spartans, O stranger passing by
    That here obedient to their laws we lie
     
  5. exile

    exile To him unconquered.

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    Andy---me too. The reason I like the translation I gave is the suble implication of `still' in the second line---that the soldiers were faithful to the Spartan law at the time of their death, never wavering in their devotion. But I also like the version you give, it's the most widely quoted one and has an incredible dignity.

    I read somewhere that the original Greek is phrased in such a way that you have to understand two things: first, the dead soldiers aren't ordering the passerby to tell their story, but imploring him or her to do so---there isn't the same sense of a command that the translation might give rise to. The second point is still more important: the soldiers' concern is not that the Spartans realized that they have died standing their ground, but that they were faithful to the end---that the sense of the translation really is,

    `Please, should you find yourself among the Spartans, tell them that we stood by our duty and did our best, and were faithful to our charge, regardless of what anyone else may have told you'.

    I have to say, I find it incredibly moving...

    seems very silly, but I find I still shed a tear for these people who died two and a half millenia ago... :(
     
  6. Jonathan Randall

    Jonathan Randall Senior Master

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    Thanks for reminding me of this. One great tragedy of that era; however, was that after their victory, Greece fell into the bruatl civil war that was the Pelopennisian War.

    Great book recommendations, Wes. Thanks.
     
  7. exile

    exile To him unconquered.

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    Yes, a horrible waste of the valor that went into protecting the West from the Persian invasion. There seem to be so many examples of this---remember all those cenotaphs from the First World War for all those dead kids that died hideous deaths in rat-infested trenches, that memorialized them with the words These laid the world away, Poured out the sweet red wine of youth/That the world might live in freedom... and what was the outcome of that sacrifice? World War Two. After all that...
     
  8. Wes Tasker

    Wes Tasker Orange Belt

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    Mr. Randall-

    My pleasure on the book recomendations. Victor Davis Hanson's newest book is on the Peloponnesian War called "A War Like No Other". Of course there's Donald Kagan's classic "The Peloponnesian War".

    What's really interesting is one can admire the Spartans at Thermopylae, and still look critically at their society and how they sowed the seeds of their own destruction through isolationism, the Peloponnesian War, and most of all - the Helots. A two sided coin they were........

    -wes
     
  9. Blindside

    Blindside Senior Master

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    Regarding the title of this thread, do you really consider the hoplite to be influential on subsequent martial arts? Personally I would look to the later infantry of Macedonia or Rome as being more influential.

    Lamont
     
  10. Wes Tasker

    Wes Tasker Orange Belt

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    Maybe it should read "The Greek Hoplite - Influential in Westarn Martial Arts Strategy". I would also say that the Macedonian or Roman has its roots in the Hoplite strategy as either an improvement/modification or answer to...... Either way, the Hoplite method of warfare was very influential.

    -wes123
     

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