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World History > Ancient Greece > Ancient Greek Military > Ancient Greek Military Tactics

Ancient Greek Military Tactics

  In ancient Greece the military might of the Greeks resided in its infantry forces. The Spartan forces, furthermore, gained fame among the Greek league of city-states as the most imposing and effective infantrymen. A typical Greek infantryman, called a Hoplite, went into battle in a well-organized Phalanx formation and was decked from head to toe in appropriate attire: carrying an 8 to 10-foot pike or spear, a helmet often made of bronze, a large bronze-sheathed shield, bronze body armor in the form of a cuirass, shin guards called greaves, and a short sword.
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  Greek citizenship was linked to the military as military service was a significant aspect of life in ancient Greece. Depictions of warfare and military units feature in many examples of art during the height of ancient Greece. One's military service was determined by their social standing and wealth. Classes were defined by economic status and this, in turn, affected one's role in the military. The wealthiest class, the pentakosiomedimnoi, became the leaders of the army, the hippeis, the second wealthiest class, formed the cavalry because they were able to afford horses, and the zeugitai, the third wealthiest class formed the body of the hoplite infantry. The thetes were the poorer classes who comprised the archers, the oarsmen in the fleets, and the general labourers for military projects.

The Greeks, particularly the Athenians, had a strong maritime culture and so too relied on a sophisticated navy. The famed Greek trireme was a great warship that relied on a divided row of six oarsmen. During battles with the Persian armies in the 5th century B.C. it was the Greek trireme that proved to be the defining and most dangerous weapon. The ancient Greek navy was one of the most powerful of its time. The triremes, built for speed and mobility, were 120 feet long, and were powered by 170 rowers arranged in three rows. Triremes were built low to the ground, the bottom row of rowers sitting 18 inches above the waterline.

They were narrow in structure and weighed comparatively little. The triremes were not built for long, open ocean campaigns but for short coastal battles. Apart from the rowing crew, made up of the thetes class, the boat also had aboard 14 spearsmen, 4 archers and 25 officers. In battle, boats would fight in close contact and initiate conflict with arrows and spears. The common tactics of the time were to ram the opponent's ship, most ships equipped with a large battering ram.
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