Hoplites and Obstacles

Until the mid-fourth century BC, Greek poliorcetics remained rudimentary, and well-walled cities were usually secure from enemy attack.

The long dominance of hoplite battle as the primary means of conflict resolution among the city-states of classical Greece is ironic. Hoplites were soldiers of the open plain. Because of their highly specialized equipment and phalanx formation, hoplites could do battle properly only in a wide, clear, flat space that was free of even minor obstacles.Yet as the most casual visitor is immediately aware, the geography of central and southern Greece is not defined by wide open plains, but rather by rugged mountains and deep ravines. The set forms of hoplite battle thus defy geomorphic logic. Common sense suggests that since Greece was a mountainous country, and the Greeks were (sometimes) rational men, the citizens of the city-states should have developed the arms, armor, and tactics suitable to mountain warfare.Yet, for most of the Classical Period, they failed to do so.

A second irony is involved in the slow development of poliorcetic science in classical Greece. Greece is not only a land of mountains, but a land of stone - the limestone and marble bedrock is typically close to the surface of the ground,- and makes ideal building material. Early Greek masons learned how to quarry and finish large stone blocks,and architects assembled these blocks into formidable walls. Stone could be made higher by adding superstructures of dried brick.Thus, from the Mycenean period onward, major Greek settlements were protected by massive and well-built circuits.

This being the case,we might expect that the classical Greeks would have developed effective forms of siegecraft - ways for warriors victorious on the field to get at the wives, children, and goods of their defeated opponents.Yet, once again, our commonsense expectations are confounded. Until the mid-fourth century BC, Greek poliorcetics remained rudimentary,and well-walled cities were usually secure from enemy attack.

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Author:  Josiah Ober

Article Source: Stanford University

Keywords: Hoplite,Warfare,Siege Warfare,Military History,Fortifications



Josiah Ober

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