Greek Warfare to Alexander Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The period from 1600 to 336 b.c.e. saw the emergence in Greece of four distinct ways of war.

Military Achievement

The period from 1600 to 336 b.c.e. saw the emergence in Greece of four distinct ways of war. The first of these, Mycenaean Chariots;Mycenaeanchariot warfare, did not survive past about 1100 b.c.e. It was succeeded by an infantry-based system of individual combat, often called “heroic” because of its prominence in Homer’s Iliad (c. 750 b.c.e. ; English translation, 1611) and Odyssey (c. 725 b.c.e. ; English translation, 1614). This system in turn gave way to the close-order infantry warfare of classical Greece. A fourth way of war, the combined arms system developed by the Macedonians in the mid-fourth century b.c.e. , ultimately overcame the classical Greeks and provided the basis for the conquests of Alexander the Great.GreeceMycenaeansGreeceMycenaeans

Mycenaean civilization, named after the citadel of Mycenae in southern Greece, emerged about 1600 b.c.e. and reached its height between 1400 and 1200b.c.e. Mycenaean monarchs ruled from fortified royal palaces, which were economic as well as political and religious centers. Palaces flourished at Mycenae, Pylos, Tiryns, Thebes, and elsewhere on mainland Greece, as well as at Knossos on the island of CreteCrete. These citadels shared a common culture but were not politically unified. Mycenaean society was hierarchical and bureaucratic; professional scribes used clay tablets and a script called Linear B to track everything that entered or left the palaces. Although little conclusive evidence survives, it appears that Mycenaean armies relied heavily on chariots, perhaps supported by infantry. As in the contemporary Egyptian and Hittite military systems, these chariots probably served as mobile fighting platforms for aristocratic archers and spearmen.

For uncertain reasons, Mycenaean civilization began to collapse around 1250 b.c.e. Indeed, there were upheavals throughout the Mediterranean at this time; the fictional story of the Trojan Trojan War (c. 1200-1100 b.c.e.)War reflects later poetic memories of these disturbances. In mainland Greece, the palaces were burned, the countryside was depopulated, and Linear B Linear B scriptscript disappeared. The chariot forces, dependent on logistical support from the palaces, also declined. Consequently, foot soldiers seem to have gained greater prominence in late Mycenaean warfare. By 1100 b.c.e., however, the great Mycenaean centers and the military system they supported had disappeared completely.

The centuries (1100-750 b.c.e.) following the destruction of Mycenaean civilization are often designated the Greek Dark Greek Dark AgeAge. As petty chieftains replaced Mycenaean kings, warfare became sporadic and local, in the form of raids for booty and individual Duelingduels between aristocratic champions. The Homeric poems suggest that Dark Age or heroic warriors preferred spears to swords; spears could be thrown from a distance or used hand to hand. Archery, however, was disdained as barbaric and unfair. Chariots may have continued in limited use, perhaps as transports to and from battle. Eventually aristocrats also began to fight from horseback, as Cavalry;Greekcavalry. Yet the most significant military development of the Dark Age was metallurgical: By 900 b.c.e., iron weapons were in widespread use.

By 800 b.c.e. Greece was recovering from the Dark Age. Renewed commerce with the wider Mediterranean world led around 750 b.c.e. to the introduction of the alphabet. During the eighth century b.c.e., increased population and prosperity throughout Greece fostered the rise of the Poleis (Greek city-states)polis, or city-state. A polis (plural, poleis) was a self-governing political unit with a defined territory. Eventually there were more than a thousand poleis in Greece, each one with its own laws, calendar, and military organization. Athens and Sparta, the best known of these states, were exceptionally large in territory and population. Most other poleis were relatively small, with perhaps a few hundred citizens each. Polis governments came in many forms, but all included an assembly of adult male citizens and a council of elders. Political rights and military service were closely linked, so the new emphasis on community over individualism soon transferred into warfare. By about 650 b.c.e. a communal way of war, the Hopliteshoplite system, had supplanted the individual aristocratic fighting of the Dark Age.

Athenian Empire, Fifth Century b.c.e.

The hoplite was a heavily armored spearman who fought alongside his fellow citizens in a close-order formation called a Phalanx;medievalphalanx. Because hoplites were required to provide their own equipment, most hoplites were middle-class farmers who could afford metal arms and armor. Because citizen farmers could not spare time for extensive training, hoplites were militia, rather than professional, forces. Battles were limited, ritualized affairs, fought on the borderlands between poleis during lulls in the agricultural schedule. There was little in the way of tactics or strategy: Opposing phalanxes lined up against each other on flat open ground, listened to speeches and performed sacrifices, then marched forward against each other. Inevitably one side won the shoving match that followed. Although the losers broke and ran, the victors usually preferred to strip the enemy dead, erect a trophy, and head home. Pursuit after battle was rare. Hoplite warfare, then, did not often result in the complete subjugation of the losing opponent.

The great achievement of the hoplite system was not so much military as political. Hoplite warfare demanded teamwork. There was no room for displays of individual heroism. The communal structure of the phalanx thus reinforced the community spirit of the polis. The hoplite system also helped confine the destructiveness of war to decisive single-day struggles that would not interfere with farming. It therefore gave middle-class agrarians a monopoly on organized violence. Aristocrats were relegated to the cavalry, which usually played only a minor battlefield role. Poor men who could not afford arms and armor were left out of battle altogether, unless they served as slingers or rock throwers.

Sparta Spartawas the exception to the hoplite rule. Threatened by military defeat and internal disorder during the mid-seventh century b.c.e., the Spartans responded by turning their state into an armed camp. Spartan Children;SpartaBoys as soldiers;Spartaboys began military training at age seven. For most of their adult lives, even when married, they lived in sex-segregated barracks rather than private homes. Women;SpartaChildren;SpartaGirls also received military training. Adult male Spartan citizens, or Spartiates, practiced almost constantly for war, giving Sparta the only professional phalanx in all of Greece. Unlike the militiamen of other city-states, Spartan hoplites marched in step to the sound of flutes and could carry out complex tactical maneuvers. This drill and discipline made the Spartan army invincible on the battlefield. Yet in order to free its citizens for war, Sparta’s economy had to rely on the labor of Helots (Spartan serfs)Serfs;Spartanhelots, serfs who worked the land for their Spartiate masters. Fear of helot revolts often kept the Spartan army at home, thus inhibiting Spartan control of the whole Greek world.

For more than two centuries, the hoplite reigned supreme on Greek battlefields. The Greco-Persian Greco-Persian Wars (499-448 b.c.e.)[Greco Persian Wars]Wars (499-448 b.c.e.) reinforced Greek beliefs in their own military superiority. At the Battle of Marathon, Battle of (490 b.c.e.)Marathon in 490 b.c.e., for example, some 10,000 Athenian and Plataean hoplites routed about 25,000 lightly armed Persian invaders. Even the Greek defeat at Thermopylae, Battle of (480 b.c.e.)Thermopylae (480 b.c.e.), where 300 Spartiates held off perhaps 70,000 Persians for several days, represented in some sense a victory for the hoplite system. To the Greeks, Thermopylae showed that only treachery and vastly superior numbers could overwhelm free citizens fighting in a hoplite phalanx.

In the last half of the fifth century b.c.e. the hoplite way of war confronted several challenges. In particular, during the Greco-Persian Wars several city-states had developed fleets of oared galleys called Trireme (oared vessel)Naval warfare;AthensAthens;navytriremes. Athens took the lead in naval warfare and by 450 b.c.e. had a skilled professional fleet numbering two hundred ships, the best and largest in the Greek world. Navies added strategic mobility to the military equation. No longer were battles confined to the borderlands between neighboring poleis. Fleets could now launch amphibious assaults hundreds of miles away from their home cities.

To take advantage of this mobility, a new type of soldier began to appear: the Peltastspeltast. The original peltasts were Thracian mercenaries equipped with a small shield, or peltē, in Greek; later the term “peltast” denoted a wide variety of lightly armored foot soldiers equipped primarily with javelins. Peltasts fought in loose skirmishing formation. Although they could not confront a phalanx head-on, they were more mobile than heavily armored hoplites and so excelled at quick attacks in difficult terrain. Other light infantry, including slingers and archers, also became more common.

The long and agonizing Peloponnesian Peloponnesian War (431-404 b.c.e.)War (431-404 b.c.e.), fought between opposing coalitions led by Athens and Sparta, clearly demonstrated the effects of these military innovations. Near Pylos in 425 b.c.e., for instance, an amphibious assault by Athenian peltasts and other light infantry overwhelmed Spartiate hoplites stationed on the rocky island of Sphakteria. The next year, at Amphipolis in northern Greece, the Spartan general Brasidas used a surprise attack combining hoplites, peltasts, and cavalry to rout a superior Athenian force. In this period, battle lost its limited and ritual character, and fighting occurred instead in both summer and winter, in both rain and snow, at night, on mountains, and even inside cities. The growing importance of fleets and light troops, in sum, was bringing an end to the agrarian monopoly on organized violence.

The Peloponnesian War also spurred the growth of military Professional militaries;Greekprofessionalism. Commanders, once amateurs, became skilled tacticians through constant campaigning. Some states imitated Sparta by drilling units of picked Epilektoi (Spartan corps)troops–epilektoi, in Greek–to provide a trained corps for their phalanx militias. Along with growing professionalism, the economic devastation caused by the war prompted many men to seek employment outside Greece. By the end of the fifth century, tens of thousands had enlisted as mercenaries with the Persian army in Asia Minor. In fact, twelve thousand of these soldiers supported the Achaemenid prince Cyrus the Cyrus the YoungerCyrus the Younger (king of Persia) Younger (c. 424-401 b.c.e. ) during his abortive attempt to usurp the Persian throne (401 b.c.e. ).

Although shaken, the hoplite system was not totally overthrown by the Peloponnesian War. Indeed, its best practitioners, the Spartans, took comfort in the fact that they had triumphed in the major phalanx clashes of the conflict. During the Corinthian War(395-386 b.c.e.), though, Spartan military confidence suffered when a Spartan unit was attacked and nearly destroyed near Corinth by Athenian troops under the general IphicratesIphicrates (Greek general)Iphicrates (c. 410-353 b.c.e.) Iphicrates is said to have trained his hoplites as peltasts, lightening their armor and lengthening their spears.

The real blow came in 371 b.c.e., when the ThebesThebans defeated the Spartans in a pitched hoplite battle at Leuctra, Battle of (371 b.c.e.)Leuctra. The Theban commander, EpaminondasEpaminondas (Theban commander)Epaminondas (c. 410-362 b.c.e.), took advantage of many of the military innovations of the preceding century. He deployed cavalry and light troops to screen his advance and protect his flanks and used his force of picked troops, the Sacred Sacred Band (Theban elite force)Band, to spearhead his hoplite assault. Epaminondas also drew up the left wing of his phalanx fifty men deep; the usual depth was eight men. The Thebans easily crushed the much thinner opposing Spartan wing. For the first time in centuries, a Spartan army had been defeated in hoplite battle; the era of Spartan invincibility was over.

Thus by the mid-fourth century b.c.e. the classical Greek way of war had undergone many modifications. Nonetheless, as long as the polis remained the characteristic Greek political organization, the hoplite phalanx of citizen militia persisted. Ultimately, a fourth military system evolved to challenge the phalanx. It arose not in the poleis, but in MacedonMacedon, a region of northern Greece long considered a backwater.

Philip II of Philip II of MacedonPhilip II of Macedon[Philip 02 of Macedon]Macedon (382-336 b.c.e.), father of Alexander the Great (356-323 b.c.e.), came to the throne in 359 b.c.e. He inherited a kingdom in crisis; Illyrian invaders had just smashed the Macedonian army, killing King Perdiccas III, Philip’s brother. Macedon was large and populous but in danger of being dismembered by its neighbors. To save his monarchy, Philip reformed his army. He began by creating a new mass infantry force. These soldiers, peasants rather than middle-class agrarians, fought as a phalanx but wore significantly less armor than hoplites. They carried a long pike, the Sarissa (pike)sarissa, rather than the hoplite spear. Philip also reorganized Macedon’s aristocratic cavalry, equipping it with lances and training it for mounted charges. In battle, cavalry and infantry functioned as hammer and anvil. The sarissa phalanx, with its hedgehog of pikes, would pin the enemy in place until the cavalry could charge a flank or other vulnerable spot. Specialized troops, including archers, light cavalry, slingers, and spearmen, protected the army’s flanks, screened infantry advances, and conducted reconnaissance before battles. Finally, Philip created a corps of Engineers;Macedonianengineers and a siege train, enabling the Macedonians to capture fortified cities.

The new Macedonian army, then, was a true combined arms force. Many of its elements had surfaced before in Greek warfare–Philip reputedly drew inspiration from both Iphicrates and Epaminondas–but they had never been fully developed. Only a large monarchy such as Macedon, not a traditional polis, could afford to maintain such an army. Philip himself added the final ingredient to the Macedonian way of war. A master diplomat, he combined intrigue and negotiation with swift military strikes. By 348 b.c.e., Macedon not only had recovered from crisis but also reigned supreme in northern Greece. Philip then moved gradually south, threatening the independence of the city-states. After much squabbling, Athens and its allies took the field against the Macedonians. The two sides met at Chaeronea in 338 Chaeronea, Battle of (338 b.c.e.)b.c.e., the citizen phalanx against Philip’s new model army. First the Macedonian infantry pinned their hoplite opponents. Then Philip’s cavalry, led by his eighteen-year-old son Alexander the GreatAlexander the Great;ChaeroneaAlexander, charged through a gap in the line and fell on the Greek rear. The Greeks broke and ran. Only the Theban Sacred Band stood its ground and fought to the death. The day of the independent polis and its citizen militia hoplites was over; the ascendancy of Macedon’s military system was just beginning.

Philip never lived to enjoy the fruits of his victories. He was assassinated in 336 b.c.e., bringing his son Alexander III, known as Alexander the Great, to the Macedonian throne. Within two years, Alexander would embark on a journey of world conquest that eventually took him to the banks of the Indus River. Alexander’s conquests, though, owed at least part of their success to the professional combined arms approach created by Philip II. The Macedonian way of war would reign supreme in the eastern Mediterranean until the second century b.c.e., when the successors of Alexander confronted the legions of Republican Rome.

Weapons, Uniforms, and Armor

The Armor;GreekUniforms;Greekearliest Mycenaean weapons, dating from the sixteenth century b.c.e., include long rapiers, daggers, large spearheads, and arrows of bronze, flint, or obsidian. Bows were of the simple, noncomposite type. Slings were certainly deployed in this period and in all following ones. Little evidence for armor exists, although small metal discs found in early graves at Mycenae may be the remnants of otherwise perishable leather or fabric armor. The famous boar’s tusk Helmets;Greekhelmet, known from Homer’s Iliad as well as from Mycenaean art, was also in use during this period. Artistic representations show two kinds of large shield: an oblong “tower” Shields shield and the more common “figure Figure eight (shield) eight,” both of animal hide with metal reinforcement. Neither type had handles. Instead the shield was suspended by a shoulder strap, so a warrior could easily throw it over his back to protect a retreat.

Both weapons and armor improved during the height of Mycenaean power. Swords;MycenaeanSword redesign eliminated weak tangs and provided better hand guards. A new large Spearsspearhead, some 50 centimeters long, appeared by the fifteenth century b.c.e.; its ribbed blade ran straight into its socket for greater strength. Composite Bows and arrows;composite bowsbows, a borrowing from Minoan Crete, also came into use. Bronze body armor made its debut in the late fifteenth century b.c.e. An example from Dendra, constructed of overlapping metal plates with Greavesgreaves and a high neck, seems designed for chariot-borne use. A boar’s tusk helmet accompanies the Dendra armor; at Knossos and elsewhere conical bronze helmets have appeared. Shields became less popular; the “figure eight” type especially became more a ritual than a military item.

Striking changes in weapons and armor accompanied the last years of Mycenaean power. Between 1250 and 1150 b.c.e., long thrusting swords gave way to new types, shorter and stouter, with strong hilts and flat, straight-edged blades. The so-called Griffzungenschwert (sword)Griffzungenschwert, most distinctive of these types, was mass-produced and widely distributed. Examples appear in central Europe, Cyprus, the Levant, and Egypt as well as in Greece. Spearheads became smaller and less ornate, and spears began to be equipped with end spikes. Late Mycenaean arrowheads were invariably bronze and joined with a tang instead of slotted into shafts, like earlier arrowheads. Art of the period shows soldiers wearing reinforced leather or fabric, rather than bronze armor. Contemporary helmets may also have been made of reinforced hide rather than metal. Small circular or elliptical shields with handgrips appear alongside this armor.

The Peloponnesian Wars

Dark Greek Dark AgeAge weaponry made a major shift from bronze to iron. Lighter, tougher and sharper than bronze, iron came into widespread use during the eleventh century b.c.e. The late Mycenaean Griffzungenschwert sword, translated into iron, remained common in the early Dark Age, but in the ninth and eighth centuries, shorter, broader swords appeared. Spearheads, often with wide leaf blades, initially remained bronze but became iron by the tenth century b.c.e. Dark Age graves often included multiple spearheads but no swords, perhaps reflecting the long-range warfare in Homer. The paucity of early Dark Age arrowhead finds also reflects the Homeric disdain for Archers and archery;Greek Dark Agearchery. Only on Crete did long, tanged arrowheads remain relatively common. Extremely little evidence exists for early Dark Age metal armor, although there may have been perishable leather or fabric armor. Metal Corseletscorselets reappeared in Greece around 800 b.c.e. Conical metal helmets, with transverse or fore-and-aft crests, resurfaced around the same time. Artistic representations reveal the presence of cavalry throughout the later Dark Age; little evidence exists for the continued battlefield use of chariots.

New types of arms and armor accompanied the development of the hoplite phalanx during the eighth century b.c.e. HoplitesHoplites took their name from the Hoplonhoplon, a large, round shield of leather or bronze-covered wood, some 3 feet in diameter. The hoplon boasted an armband, or porpax, as well as a handgrip, or antilabē, making it far easier to handle. Shields might have borne either a state emblem or individual insignia. Hoplite equipment also included a bronze helmet, greaves, and corselet. The most common helmet was the Corinthian, beaten from a single piece of metal and offering all-around protection at the expense of vision and hearing. The hoplite’s main weapon, the spear, or Doru (spear) doru, was roughly 6 feet long, with a bronze point and end spike. A variety of short swords served as secondary weapons. Among these was the single-edgedMachaira (sword)machaira, a machete-like slashing blade. Over time the hoplite panoply got lighter. By the fifth century b.c.e. , greaves were discarded, leather and fabric composite corselets often substituted for bronze, and metal helmets sometimes replaced with felt ones. Although Spartiates all wore red cloaks, no polis army had standardized equipment or a real uniform.

Some Athenian helmets.

(F. R. Niglutsch)

Peltasts wore little or no armor and carried light animal-hide shields. Often they attached a throwing-loop to their Javelinsjavelins for increased range. Greek archers generally used a short, weak bow to shoot bronze- or iron-tipped arrows. The recurved Scythian type arrow was known but not widely used. Slings;GreekSlingers, their weapons made of gut or sinew, often outranged archers. They used stones or almond-shaped lead bullets as ammunition. Classical Greek cavalry was weak and suited mostly for pursuit. Horsemen carried javelins and wore light armor; they had no stirrups.

In the fourth century b.c.e., Macedonian phalangites usually wore only light fabric or leather armor. Their pike, or Sarissa (pike)sarissa, required both hands, so they carried a small light shield on a neck strap. Like the hoplite spear, the sarissa had a bronze tip and end spike. Both cavalry and infantry versions of the sarissa existed; the infantry version was 12 to 15 feet long, and the cavalry type relatively shorter. As shock troops, Macedonian cavalry often wore metal armor. They were expert lancers even without the aid of stirrups.

Military Organization

Virtually nothing is known about Mycenaean military organization. Linear B tablets from Pylos suggest an army divided into ten units with attached officers. The tablets also mention an official called the lawagetas (“people-leader”), who might have been the kingdom’s wartime commander. Dark Age military structure remains similarly obscure. Chieftains together with clansmen and retainers probably fought as loose warrior bands.

In the hoplite era, each polis had its own military structure, usually reflecting its civic organization. At Athens, for example, the Phalanx;Greekphalanx was divided into ten tribal regiments or Phylē (Greek regiment)[Phyle]phylai (singular phylē), also called Taxis (Greek regiment) taxeis (singular taxis). The phylē or taxis was not a tactical unit, and it varied in strength according to the number of men called up for any given campaign. Athens’s cavalry was also divided into ten tribal regiments. The early Athenian army was commanded by its polemarchos, or war leader; later a board of ten elected generals (stratēgoi, singular stratēgos) took over.

The Spartan phalanx possessed a defined tactical organization, but its details remain disputed. According to Thucydides, it consisted of seven Lochos (Spartan military unit)lochoi (singular lochos), each divided into four Pentekostys (Spartan miliatary unit) pentēkostyes (singular pentēkostys) of 128 men apiece. The pentēkostys in turn comprised fourEnomotia (Spartan military unit)enoomotiai (singular enoomotia) of 32 men apiece. Xenophon in contrast describes an army of six morai (singular mora), each containing four lochoi of 128 men. These lochoi mustered only two pentēkostyes of two enoomotiai apiece. Thucydides and Xenophon agree that each subunit had its own regular officers. The army as a whole was commanded by Sparta’s two kings.

During the fifth and fourth centuries b.c.e., a number of states experimented with units of picked troops, or Epilektoi (Spartan corps)epilektoi. Their size varied; the most famous of these elite units, the Theban Sacred Sacred Band (Theban elite force) Band, comprising 150 pairs of homosexual lovers, was maintained at state expense. Greek mercenaries in Asia Minor, perhaps following Persian military principles, were regularly organized into lochoi of one hundred men each. These lochoi were independent tactical and administrative units, with regular officers, called lochagoi (singular lochagos).

The basic unit of the Macedonian phalanx was the syntagma of 256 men, comprising 16 files of 16 men apiece. Macedonian Syntagmata (Macedonian unit) syntagmata were maneuverable tactical units, with regular officers. Cavalry was organized into squadrons of two hundred horsemen called Ilē (Macedonian squadron)[Ile] ilai (singular ilē). Units of elite infantry and cavalry functioned as vanguards in battle. Macedonian kings bestowed the coveted status of Companions (elite Macedonian rank) “Companions” (hetairoi) on both horse and foot soldiers in order to reward and encourage valor.

Doctrine, Strategy, and Tactics

Nothing certain can be said of Mycenaean or Dark Age military doctrine. The essential doctrine of the hoplite system, however, is clear: to engage in decisive phalanx battle. This principle undergirded Greek warfare from the rise of the polis on through the fourth century b.c.e. Its rationale was as much political as military: Short, decisive clashes kept war limited and allowed farmers to devote maximum time to agriculture. As long as hoplite warfare depended on mutual agreement to fight, moreover, strategy was not an issue.

The Peloponnesian War did see the development of Greek strategy. Athens, a sea power, sought to avoid hoplite battle by relying on its navy. Sparta, supreme on land, undertook annual invasions of Athenian territory in a fruitless attempt to lure the Athenian phalanx out to battle. These disparate strategies ensured that although neither side lost, neither side won a clear victory. Attempts in the middle years of the war by both belligerents to break the deadlock failed. Although each side had minor successes in the other’s territory, neither side could win the war unless it beat the other at its own game. Ultimately the Spartans did exactly this. They deployed their own fleet, defeated Athens at sea, and blocked the city’s grain imports. The Athenians could have prevented this outcome, but they overconfidently squandered much of their naval strength in a failed attempt to capture the island of Sicily.

As with strategy, there was not much to traditional hoplite tactics. Commanders were aware that advancing phalanxes tended to drift to the right, each man trying to get behind the shield of the man next to him, and they sometimes took measures to forestall this. The Spartans, with their intricate tactical organization, were able to maneuver effectively on the battlefield. This ability won them the day on several occasions. Otherwise, the main tactic of phalanx battle, even for the Spartans, was head-on collision. The development of light troops in the late fifth century b.c.e. gave impetus to flanking movements and surprise attacks. Using hit-and-run tactics, peltasts, slingers, and spearmen could discomfit the traditional phalanx. Greek armies, though, still relied on hoplites to strike the decisive blow. Two strategies for increasing the strength of this blow were a deeper phalanx–the tactic of Epaminondas at Leuktra–and the use of picked troops.

Use of the Macedonian phalanx during the Battle of the Carts (mid-fourth century b.c.e.).

(F. R. Niglutsch)

On the battlefield, the combined arms tactics of the Macedonians gave them a decisive edge over even the best Greek troops. Perhaps more important, though, was Macedon’s consistent strategy. From his accession, Philip proceeded methodically first to stabilize his kingdom, then to subjugate its neighbors, and finally to consolidate power over all Greece. Unlike the Greeks, the Macedonians were not tied to the doctrine of decisive battle. Indeed, Philip achieved some of his major victories through diplomacy and political intrigue.

The Macedonians also made logistics a keystone of strategy. The hoplite system gave little consideration to the requirements of extended campaigning. Traditional phalanx clashes, after all, occurred close to home. Furthermore, classical hoplites went to battle followed by slave servants bearing rations and equipment. When hoplites deployed far afield, as in the Peloponnesian War, they could usually depend on a fleet to carry supplies. The Macedonians, on the other hand, learned to conduct extended land campaigns without naval supply. Philip eliminated slave porters and made his troops travel light. He successfully employed coercion to ensure that food supplies would be ready and waiting when his troops entered new territory. Just as he trained Alexander’s army, Philip developed the logistical and strategic thought that made feasible his son’s conquests.

Ancient Sources

For all periods of Greek warfare from 1600 to 336 b.c.e., archaeological excavation provides the basic evidence for Greek arms and armor. A. M. Snodgrass, in Arms and Armor of the Greeks (1999), collects this evidence in a format accessible to nonspecialists. For the late Bronze Bronze Age Age, excavated Linear B tablets from Mycenae, Pylos, and elsewhere furnish information about the military organization and equipment of the Mycenaean kingdoms.

The Iliad (c. 750 b.c.e. ; English translation, 1611) and Odyssey (c. 725 b.c.e. ; English translation, 1614), epic poems ascribed to HomerHomer Homer, are among the earliest literary sources for information about Greek warfare. Scholars continue to debate the veracity of Homeric descriptions of warfare; most would agree that the poems reflect the battle conditions of the Greek Dark Age rather than those of the Mycenaean period.

In his Historiai Herodotou (c. 424 b.c.e. ; The History, 1709), HerodotusHerodotus (Greek historian) Herodotus (c. 484-424) recounts the major land and naval battles of the Persian Wars. Likewise, ThucydidesThucydides (Greek historian) Thucydides (c. 459-402 b.c.e. ) narrates the course of the long and agonizing Peloponnesian Wars. Both Herodotus and Thucydides provide useful information on Greek strategies, tactics, and military organization during the fifth century b.c.e.

The works of the Athenian author XenophonXenophon (Greek historian)Xenophon (431-354 b.c.e.) are essential for any understanding of Greek warfare. In addition to a memoir of his experiences as a mercenary commander during 401-399, Kurou anabasis (Anabasis, 1623; also known as Expedition of Cyrus and March Up Country), Xenophon composed a history of Greece, Ellīnika, also known as Helenica (History of the Affairs of Greece, 1685), and technical treatises on the cavalry, horsemanship, and hunting. His Lakedaimoniōn politeia (Polity of the Lacedaemonians, 1832; also known as Constitution of Sparta) describes Spartan army organization and training in the fourth century b.c.e.

Finally, the Roman magistrate and writer known as ArrianArrian (Roman historian)Arrian (c. 89-155 c.e.), produced several texts that furnish important evidence for the organization, equipment, and tactics of the Macedonian army. These texts include a history of the campaigns of Alexander as well as a tactical manual.GreeceMycenaeans

Books and Articles
  • Anderson, J. K. Military Theory and Practice in the Age of Xenophon. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970.
  • De Souza, Philip, and Waldemar Heckel. The Greeks at War: From Athens to Alexander. Botley, Oxford, England: Osprey, 2004.
  • Ducrey, Pierre. Warfare in Ancient Greece. Translated by Janet Lloyd. New York: Schocken Books, 1986.
  • Everson, Tim. Warfare in Ancient Greece: Arms and Armour from the Heroes of Homer to Alexander the Great. Stroud, Gloucestershire, England: Sutton, 2004.
  • Ferrill, Arther. The Origins of War. Rev. ed. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1997.
  • Hanson, Victor Davis. The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece. 2d ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.
  • Hanson, Victor Davis, and John Keegan, eds. The Wars of the Ancient Greeks: And Their Invention of Western Military Culture. London: Cassell, 1999.
  • Kern, Paul Bentley. The Greeks in Ancient Siege Warfare. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.
  • Lendon, J. E. Soldiers and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2005.
  • Montagu, John Drogo. Greek and Roman Warfare: Battles, Tactics, and Trickery. St. Paul, Minn.: MBI, 2006
  • Raaflaub, Kurt A., ed. War and Peace in the Ancient World. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2007.
  • Rawlings, Louis. The Ancient Greeks at War. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 2007.
  • Sage, Michael M. Warfare in Ancient Greece: A Sourcebook. New York: Routledge, 1996.
  • Santosuosso, Antonio. Soldiers, Citizens, and the Symbols of War: From Classical Greece to Republican Rome, 500-167 B.C. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1997.
Films and Other Media
  • Decisive Battles: Gaugamela. Documentary. History Channel, 2005.
  • Greek and Persian Wars. Documentary. Cromwell Productions, 2009.
  • In Search of the Trojan War. Documentary. British Broadcasting Corporation, 1985.
  • Troy. Feature film. Warner Bros., 2005.

Greek and Hellenistic Warfare from Alexander to Rome

Carthaginian Warfare

Roman Warfare During the Republic

Roman Warfare During the Empire

Celtic Warfare

Berber Warfare

Tribal Warfare in Central and Eastern Europe

Categories: History Content