The Greek Way of War

When we think of the Greek Way of War, we either think of the film 300 or of the Macedonian phalanx. While it was simple when compared to contemporary military tactics, the Greeks developed their army to be more complicated as time went on. Before the Persian Wars, the Greek armies were very simple lines of hoplites in a phalanx formation but it evolved to its highest point under Philip II.

The standard Hoplite was armed with a spear at most two meters and a short sword while armored with a bronze helmet, a bronze covered shield called the hoplon (where it derives its name hoplite) and armor of bronze grieves and either a bronze chest plate or linothorax armor. In a phalanx, a hoplite would be in a tight square/rectangle formation of anywhere between four men wide and fifty deep to upwards of twenty wide and ten deep. The phalanx formation was not set in stone and would change depending on tactics and numbers. So the standard Greek battle during the Persian Wars involved a long line of bronze shields.

By the time of the Peloponnesian War, the Greeks started to add skirmishers. These were called Peltasts for the type of shield they used called the Pelte. They would be armed with a short sowrd and javelins while wearing a light wooden shield (the Pelte) with little to no armor. They would go up to the enemy and either get rid of the enemy skirmishers or try to thin out the enemy with a javelin barrage. Generally, the skirmishers were not very effective but still a step up in the tactical evolution.

After the Peloponnesian Wars, cavalry started to appear on the battlefield. Before the War, the Greeks did not use cavalry due to the geographical considerations of Greece (which is bad for raising and using horses in battle) but due to the need to get rid of the light infantry, cavalry would be used. Here, cavalry had two purposes; either cavalry could attack the enemy light infantry or protect the flanks of the phalanxes to ensure that the enemy cavalry doesn’t attack either the hoplites or the peltasts.

From this, Philip II was given a tactical concept that was rich in possibilities. He would marry the Greek cavalry with heavy Macedonian cavalry that would allow for a more aggressive use of cavalry. Further, he would change the standard phalanx by giving his soldiers sarissas, long pikes that are five to  eight meters long.  From all of this, Alexander was given a very strong military machine that would propel him to glory.


Pictures will be coming soon. I plan to figure out the copyrights for the computer game Rome II: Total War which will illustrate these concepts..


Anglim, Simon, et al. Fighting Techniques of the Ancient WOrld, 3000 BC- AD 500: Equipment, Combat Skills, and Tactics. London: Greenhill Books, 2002.

Jones, Archer. The Art of War in the Western World. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

Warry, John. Warfare in the Classical World. United States: Salamander Books Ltd, 1998.

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