Further Examination of the Hoplite Debate


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This is a paper I wrote for a class in Ancient Greek History. This is a continuation of the theme I explored in "A Proposed Alternative to the Hoplite Debate." I examine the thesis of John R. Hall in Donald Kagan's "Men of Bronze." I filter the thesis through Kagan's definition of the debate points and conclude by incorporating Hall's thesis (that hoplites emerged from Greek mercenaries) into my own iterative model.

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Further Examination of the Hoplite Debate

  1. 1. FURTHER EXAMINATION OF THE HOPLITE DEBATE 1 Further Examination of the Hoplite Debate Mike Lally History of Ancient Greece Professor Denise Kawasaki SUNY Empire State College June 26, 2014
  2. 2. FURTHER EXAMINATION OF THE HOPLITE DEBATE 2 John Hale attacks the hoplite orthodoxy in Chapter 9: Not Patriots, Not Farmers, Not Amateurs: Greek Soldiers of Fortune and the Origins of Hoplite Warfare, of Donald Kagan’s and Gregory Viggiano’s Men of Bronze (Kagan and Viggiano 2013, 176). Hale attempts to introduce an “alternative context for the origin of hoplite warfare, and tracks early hoplites into a realm where private enterprise, not public service, was the guiding star.” (Kagan and Viggiano 2013, 176) I will share the hoplite orthodoxy as defined by Kagan and Viggiano in Men of Bronze (Kagan and Viggiano 2013, 1). I will compare Hale’s thesis against both Kagan’s definition and the reigning champions of the current factions of the hoplite debate, Victor Davis Hanson for the orthodox and Hans Van Wees for the revisionists. I will show that Hale bases his thesis on a partial acceptance of the orthodoxy. I will share my alternative approach to the orthodoxy and explain how Hale does not prove his thesis. Lastly, I will describe how Hale’s findings can easily be incorporated into my own thesis that hoplites emerged in an iterative manner. I do not find that Hale proves hoplites emerged mainly from private Greek enterprise. He does not present enough compelling evidence to declare a definitive end to the debate by providing a final answer to the questions regarding the emergence and evolution of the Greek hoplite in both warfare and politics. Hale does produce a convincing argument for the inclusion of entrepreneurs/mercenaries as a third group providing hoplites alongside Hanson’s farmers and Van Wees’ aristocrats. I continue to accept the definition of the hoplite orthodoxy detailed by Donald Kagan and Gregory F. Viggiano in their introductory chapter of Men of Bronze. The orthodoxy defines the early Greek polis as the result of a sudden change or “revolution” in military equipment and tactics which drove social and political “revolutions” in Greece. The authors’ state:
  3. 3. FURTHER EXAMINATION OF THE HOPLITE DEBATE 3 “A central part of the thesis is that the change in fighting style was directly related to recent innovations in arms and armor. Second, the phalanx depended on the weight and the cohesion of heavily armed men who employed “shock” tactics in brief but decisive battles. Third, it has been critical to identify the greatest number of hoplites with a middling group within the polis, which had the wealth to provide its own arms. Fourth, this middling group transformed Greek values.” (Kagan and Viggiano 2013, 1) Both Victor Davis Hanson and Hans van Wees find common ground in the hoplite debate in that hoplites emerged in support of the polis. Hanson feels that all social, political, economic and military issues in Ancient Greece were always concerning land pressure. Hanson’s theories provide the backbone of the orthodox position. In The Western Way of War, Hanson states that hoplites were middling farmers who fought for and over farmland. He feels the adoption of the full hoplite panoply, including the double-grip shield were used tactically in the phalanx formation. In his book, The Other Greeks, Hanson takes the position that the hoplites came from an expanding class of middling farmers and became a force the affected socio-political change that culminated in the rise of the polis. Hans van Wees leads the charge of the anti-orthodoxy revisionists in two of his papers: The Homeric Way of War: The ‘Iliad’ and the Hoplite Phalanx (I and II). In a footnote to Part II, van Wees concludes: “I do not believe that the introduction of the double-grip shield greatly accelerated the growth of the phalanx formation.” (van Wees, The Homeric Way of War: The 'Iliad' and the Hoplite Phalanx (II) 1994, 155). He feels that the infantry fighting men came from an aristocratic leisure-class who fought for their respective poleis rather than for individual gains in political power. Van Wees does not feel hoplites played a revolutionary force in politics. Hale relies heavily on Nino Luraghi’s article Traders, Pirates, Warriors: The Proto- History of Greek Mercenary Soliders in the Eastern Mediterranean (Luraghi 2006) to make his
  4. 4. FURTHER EXAMINATION OF THE HOPLITE DEBATE 4 case. Luraghi provides ample evidence of mercenaries operating in the Near East. He highlights written document from Egypt and Assyria; the poetry of Archilochus, Alcaeus and Antimenidas (Alcaeus’ brother) and archaeological artifacts such as a horse frontlet found on Samos and a blinker found in Eretria both made of North Assyrian bronze and both bearing similar inscriptions. Figure 1 The Amathus Bowl
  5. 5. FURTHER EXAMINATION OF THE HOPLITE DEBATE 5 Perhaps the most striking piece of evidence is the Amathus Bowl pictured in Figure 1 (Luraghi 2006, 29). Luraghi says: “Quite surprisingly, if we look at the group of warriors that approaches from the city from the right, behind the man with a pointed helmet of Assyrian or Syrian type on his head leaning a ladder against the wall, we see four Greek hoplites in close formation, with the full equipment of Greek heavy infantry; crested helmets (possibly with cheek pieces), spears, round shields with delicately incised blazons, and greaves. In fact, this is the earliest depiction of a hoplite phalanx.” (Luraghi 2006, 37) There is no doubt that Luraghi builds a strong case that mercenaries were operating as early as 732 BC in Assyria. He concludes: The history of Greek mercenaries begins considerably earlier than is usually thought. Its roots would lie in the activities of pirates-traders from Euboea, the Cycladic islands and Asia Minor, who seem to have started their business in the Levant in the third quarter of the 8th century. They were the ancestors of the Greek mercenaries who fought for almost every single Near Eastern kingdom from the mid-seventh century to the age of Alexander the Great. (Luraghi 2006, 41-42) I feel that Hale, through Luraghi, has succeeded in proving that hoplites were employed in mercenary service abroad. Hale shifts to proving that hoplite arms and tactics evolved outside the realm of the polis to support his full thesis that hoplites solely emerged from the private Greek enterprise of mercenary service. We can now begin to examine Hale’s findings through the lens of Kagan’s definition of the hoplite orthodoxy. Hale does not focus on the first two points of the orthodoxy. He prefers to concentrate on points 3 and 4 concerning where hoplites came from and the impact they had on shaping the Greek social, political and economic landscape.
  6. 6. FURTHER EXAMINATION OF THE HOPLITE DEBATE 6 Hale presents contradictory sources on the arms and armor of the ancient Greeks. He cites a passage from Herodotus detailing the inventions of the Carians (near western Anatolia): … the Carians became by far the most famous of all peoples at that time. The Hellenes, in fact,adopted three of their inventionsfor their own use. The Carians taught them how to tie plumes to helmets, to decorate shields with devices, and to attach handles to shields. Indeed, they were the first to use shield handles; until then anyone who bore a shield manipulated it not by handles, but rather by a leather strap worn around the neck and left shoulder. (Herodotus 2007, 1.171.3-4) Immediately following this citation Hale points out that Anthony Snodgrass has argued against the Carians’ claims. (Snodgrass 1964). However, in reading Snodgrass’ paper, I find that he concludes that there is no definite answer. We can only infer from conflicting sources. The second point of the orthodoxy pertains to the tactics of the phalanx. Hale suggests that phalanx emerged from shield wall tactics employed by raiders in beach landings. He cites a lengthy passage from an Athenian commander named Iphicrates who orders his troops to land in formation prior to commencing a raid near Phoenicia. Hale also cites from Douglas Gerber’s translation of a fragment from Mimnermus. (Gerber actually cites from the wrong Gerber translation. He cites from Greek Iambic Poetry but the fragment is actually found in Greek Elegiac Poetry.) The fragment of only two lines, clearly describes a phalanx: So the king’s men charged, when he gave the word of command, making a fence with their hollow shields. (D. L. Gerber 1999, 13a) The third point of the hoplite orthodox pertains to the emergence of a middling class to form the majority of hoplites. This growing class of citizen had the wealth necessary to purchase the arms and armor necessary to fight in the phalanx. Hale’s entire paper is an argument against this point. Hale argues that hoplites were mercenaries returning home from foreign engagements.
  7. 7. FURTHER EXAMINATION OF THE HOPLITE DEBATE 7 Hale begins to prove his thesis by suggesting that hoplites were born and trained in mercenary service “in the wider Mediterranean world” (Kagan and Viggiano 2013, 179) and not from Hanson’s middling farmers nor van Wees’ aristocrats. According to Hale, “these men fought not on the fields of Greece but overseas, as pirates, raiders, mercenaries, bodyguards, land-grabbers, and generals for hire.” (Kagan and Viggiano 2013, 179) Hale holds up fragments from Archilochus and Athenaeus as his main sources of proof that mercenaries were operating in the Mediterranean. Archilochus actually tells us that he is a soldier of fortune: “I am servant of lord Enyalius [Mycenaean Greek name for Ares] and skilled in the lovely gift of the Muses.” (D. Gerber 1999, 77) It is important to note that Archilochus was real and not a fiction. Athenaeus presents us with an account of a drinking song by “Hybrias the Cretan”. Hale cites the following passage to support his argument for the existence of Greek soldiers of fortune: I have great wealth: a spear, a sword, and the fine leather shield which protects one’s skin. For with this I plough, with this I harvest, with this I trample the sweet wine from the vines, with this I am called master of serfs. Those who dare not hold a spear, a sword, or the fine leather shield which protects one’s skin, all cower at my knee and prostrate themselves, calling me ‘Master’ and ‘Great King’. (Athenaeus 695f-696a) Lastly, Hale refers to work from Hans van Wees in Greek Warfare: Myths and Realities. Van Wees supports the idea of mercenaries working abroad: “The kingdoms of Egypt and the Near East had hired soldiersfor their expeditionary forces, garrison troops, and rebel armies since the Late Bronze Age, and they had employeed Greeksatleastsince the seventh century.” (van Wees,Greek WarfareMyths and Realities 2004, 42) Van Wees ties the mercenary adventures back to the polis. He feels the men fighting abroad did so to bring “honour and profit” back to the community or polis.
  8. 8. FURTHER EXAMINATION OF THE HOPLITE DEBATE 8 I feel that Hale contradicts himself on this point as well. He writes: “Greek hoplites of the seventh and early sixth centuries, then, seem more likely to have been professionals fighting in foreign wars than part-time amateurs fighting for their own cities at home.” However, he continues “It may be that the sporadic wars between city-states and political factions in the seventh and sixth centuries were fueled in part by returning mercenaries…” (Kagan and Viggiano 2013, 185-186) Hoplites cannot be both mercenaries fighting in foreign wars and hoplites fighting at home. Point four of the hoplite orthodoxy holds that middling farmers transformed Greek values and encouraged the rise of the polis. Hale argues against the theory of farmers transforming Greek values and argues that Greek mercenaries were true entrepreneurs and felt they were the masters of their own destiny. Their successful exploits became an economic engine that pumped vast wealth and cultural baggage from more advanced cultures into the formerly impoverished Greek heartland. (Kagan and Viggiano 2013, 191). Hale provides a strong case that there were Greek mercenaries operating in the Near East and that these men strongly influenced the rise of the hoplite warrior. However, he does not present enough evidence to prove that hoplites emerged solely from mercenaries. I feel that Hale has further muddied the hoplite debate by introducing this mercenary strand. In Table 1, I have summarized the prevailing points of argument from the orthodox, the revisionists and John Hale who should also be considered within the revisionist camp.
  9. 9. FURTHER EXAMINATION OF THE HOPLITE DEBATE 9 Orthodox Definition Victor Davis Hanson Hans Van Wees John R. Hale Sudden changes in arms and armor Yes. No. Slow adoption. Yes. Adopted from Carians. Maybe. Hoplite phalanx depended on close order battle Yes. No. Battle was open ordered. Yes. Emerged from beach landing tactics. Middling group within a polis that bought their own kit Yes. No. Hoplites emerged from the Aristocratic leisure class. No. Returning mercenaries with kit and wealth. Middling group transformed Greek values Yes. No. Aristocrats fought for their individual polis. Yes. Table 1: Orthodoxy versus Revisionists My original thesis in Analysis of Hoplite Orthodoxy Arguments proposes iterative evolutions of hoplite arms, armor, tactics, increasing wealth, and the rise of the middling farmer leading to increases in political power for the middling class and subsequently, a rise of the polis. These iterations happened over hundreds of years. There was a gradual shift from the open order battle favored by Hans van Wees to the phalanx as the full panoply of the hoplite infantryman was adopted. In order to afford the cost of the panoply, new wealth had to be created. Hanson believes this wealth was created by a rise of a farmer class. Van Wees believes the wealth was already in the hands of the aristocratic leisure class. Hale believes this wealth was created by traders, raiders, and mercenaries returning home from overseas expeditions in the Near East flush with wealth gained from their exploits. I feel Hale’s concept fits within my iterative model. Below is a revision of my Iterative Hoplite Cycle. I have included Hale’s mercenary strand in the cycle.
  10. 10. FURTHER EXAMINATION OF THE HOPLITE DEBATE 10 Table 2 Iterative Hoplite Cycle v1.1 I am comfortable allowing for Hale’s proposed strand of mercenary service abroad contributing to the emergence of hoplites. I am not comfortable with the it being the only strand as Hale would have us accept. I propose folding Hale’s hoplite evolution into my iterative approach. Hale’s mercenary returned home to join the phalanx of his polis and demand voting rights. The hoplite was a combination of militia man, entrepreneur (farmer or professional soldier) and voter. This rise of the hoplites lead to changes in the political structures of ancient Greece and the rise of poleis. Hale even suggests support of this iterative approach, “Mercenary Land pressure Evolutions in farmingtechniques and increasein private trading/raiding/mercenary expeditions Creation and growth of the middling farmer class and mercenaries returning home Wealth creation / Wealth injection Increased adoption of hoplite panoply Infantrymen closingranks as farmers learn from mercenaries Fully formed phalanx Influenceof militia man, businessman, and voter grows Riseof the polis
  11. 11. FURTHER EXAMINATION OF THE HOPLITE DEBATE 11 service and raiding expeditions were part of the environment in which Greek hoplites EVOLVED [my emphasis].” (Kagan and Viggiano 2013, 182)
  12. 12. FURTHER EXAMINATION OF THE HOPLITE DEBATE 12 References Gerber, Douglas. Greek Iambic Poetry. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999. Gerber, Douglas L. Greek Elegiac Poetry. Cambridge: Harvard, 1999. Hanson, Victor Davis. The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece. New York: Knopf, 1989. Herodotus. The Landmark Herodotus. Translated by Andrea L. Purvis. New York: Anchor Books, 2007. Kagan, Donald, and Gregory F. Viggiano. Men Of Bronze. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013. Lally, Michael A. "A Proposed Alternative to the Hoplite Debate." Fairport, February 17, 2014. Luraghi, Nino. "Traders, Pirates, Warriors: The Proto-History of Greek Mercenary Soldiers in the Eastern Mediterranean." Phoenix 60, no. 1 (2006): 21-47. Snodgrass, Anthony. "Carian Armourers - The Growth of a Tradition." The Journal of Hellenic Studies (The Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies) 84 (1964): 107-118. van Wees, Hans. Greek Warfare Myths and Realities. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2004. van Wees, Hans. "The Homeric Way of War: The 'Iliad' and the Hoplite Phalanx (II)." Greece and Rome (Cambridge University Press) 41, no. 2 (1994).