" Men wear their helmets and their breastplates for their own needs, but they carry shields for the men of the entire line. (Plutarch, Moralia)

The hoplite phalanx is the perfect example of classical Greek culture on the battlefield.

File:Stele of Vultures detail 01a.jpg
File:Stele of Vultures detail 01a.jpg

Phalanx soldiers depicted in 25th century in Sumerian Stele


The first known origin of the Phalanx formation is depicted in a Sumerian Stele in about the 25th century. This ancient stele showed warriors having spears, huge shields and armor. Later, with the ancient Egyptians, they employed similar formations in battles. The most exstensive origins of the term Phalanx was coined by the poet Homer, who defined it as the structured battle formations of hoplites, to separate it from the term of individual fighting and dueling. The fact that many civilizations used the same formations indicates that the Phalanx formation evolved over time, and so by the time the Spartan and Macedonians used these formations, they had become very effective tactics. The actual origin of the Greek phalanx formation as used by the hoplites is under debate by historians. One account explains that the Spartans were the first to use hoplites in a Spear wedge, shield wall formation. However, it is much more possible that it was first invisioned in 7th century Argos, who introduced the aspis, or shield. This city of Argos more than likely made it possible for this formation to be created, because in greek art, it is depicted that battle, the warriors of Argos were always armed with the aspis, spear and panoply, or complete suit of armor. This was most likely the origin of the Greek phalanx as known to modern era.

Modern Influence:

Phalanx, as a term in modern day time, is not a reference to a military unit itself. Instead, it is rather a reference to the formation of a unit. It refers to the fact that the entire amount of troops are all in the same formation, and are moving as one. Therefore, when an army uses a rectangular defensive position, more often than not it is based on the Phalanx formation. As a general term, the English use of the term is just a group of people moving closely together, so you could consider any small, tightly knit military or non-militant force to be in Phalanx formation. The formation in modern time doesn't infer the exact formation used by Hoplite Greeks however. In the modern day, such a formation wouldn't work because of heavy artillery.

external image phalanx.jpg


Armor: called the panoply, it consists of a shield, helmet, breastplate, greaves, sword, spear, and tunic. Total the armor weighs about 70 pounds in addition to the weight of the hoplite of 150 pounds.
Shield: defining piece of the hoplite phalanx, it is said to be part of the soldier, called the hoplon.The shield was made out of a concave piece of wood so it was lighter weight, and it rested on the left shoulder and extended down to the knee. It was effective because it was large enought to protect the right side of the hoplite and at the same time protect the next hoplite's left side, forming a shield wall.
Spear: principle offensive weapon of the phalanx. The spear extended 8 feet long and had a iron spearhead at one end and a bronze buttspike on the hilt. This buttspike was used to finish off trampled foes. The spear shaft usually shattered on impact, depending the strength of the foes armor and so the butt end became a primary weapon. The short sword was used as a weapon of last resort.


Phalanx in Battle:

The Phalanx formation in battle consist of row upon row of hoplites, 8 men deep, and stretching across a quarter mile span. This was more effective against foot soldiers as they were more spreadout so the phalanx could cover more distance and still be close enough together to form a shield wall if necessary. The general of the Phalanx was called the strategos was positioned in the front of the battalion. They fought on the frontlines on the extreme right, which was the weak point in the wall of shields, so Strategos generally were replaced often because of a short life span.

The Phalanx were different from the Spartans because of the paen, or battle song. The Spartans believe it to be "uneccessary bravado." The Spartans had musicical boys march behind their lines as they move at a mythodical pace. The Phalanx used the paen before charging, and they moved at a trot, so it is possible that Spartans were successful because they didn't rush into battle.

The formation of the Phalanx during the march consisted of the front line hoplites carried their spear level and the rear ranks held them vertical during the charge. This is to ensure that the spears of the front lines are drawn and the rear guard were rested enough to draw when and if the front lines went down. The rear formation also held the purpose of protection from projectiles, which was made more effective by the ranks staying as close together as possible. This wall of shields was the key to the success of the phalanx. Also this formation was extremely effective, the phalanx often favored the right side, most likely to protect their Strategos.

As they near the opposition, the Strategos became a field commander. It became his/her job to push the hoplites to maintain the shield wall while keep the men pushing forward on the foes to drive them back and weaken their defenses. The front line soldiers beared the majority of the onslaught by the opposition. The job of the rear lines was to push on the backs of the front lines' backs with their shields, and so the ability for the front line hoplites to stay in a vertical position was imperitive to the success of the Phalanx and was another key to their effectiveness.
See full size image
See full size image

Strategos of the Phalanx

Phalanx: Geography and Culture

As a general rule, the Greel phalanx were a devestating and indestructable force on the open battlefield. It was suited for battle that was army clashing with army, on level ground and had good flank protection which was the reason why they were so efficient at dispatch all enemy types, especially cavalry units. Because the Phalanx were suited for open plains battle , Hoplite battles often occured on very long and flat valleys or plains. which is naturally the common terrain of Greece. Because of the geography of the majority of battles, the phalanx were able to spread their force all the way across valleys, thus they couldnt be flanked and so at such sites, the Phalanx were almost always victorious. Also, the same site was used multiple times for battle, so they would eventually become very familiar with the battle ground, and Alexander's Macedonian Phalanx certainely exploited that time after time.

The culture around Hoplite battle was greatlly based on an agrarian society. This made most battles short, violent and decisive because the men had to back to their fields in time for the harvest. This sense of urgency to supply the temporal and natural needs outweighed any disputes or insuing battles. The battles were often something that happened as a necessity, and because of that, the battles were fought to just get it over with, and thus the casualties were very low. Also, because of the fact that the Phalanx led to the victory of battle more often then not, they were all seen as equally important and thus they were all seen as honourable soldiers, and so the majority of them never worried about poverty because of a secure social status.

external image 1.jpg