Category: Term of the day
The hoplite was a heavy infantryman that was the central focus of warfare in Ancient Greece.
The word hoplite derives from hoplon meaning an item of armour 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, since it was in fact called an aspis).
These soldiers probably first appeared in the late seventh century BC. They were a
citizen-militia, and so were armed as spearmen, and assumed a phalanx formation, 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 not a militia force and did not receive permanent wages, campaigns were short and mainly confined to the summer. The exception to this was the Spartan warriors who were dedicated soldiers and had their state alloted lands managed for them by
the lower class. Armies marched directly to their target. There, the defenders could hide behind citywalls, in which case the attackers generally had to content themselves with ravaging the countryside (as siegecraft were 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 rectangular 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. The most well-known hoplites were the Spartans, who were trained from childhood in combat and warfare to become an exceptionally disciplined and superior fighting force.