|ATHENS vs. SPARTA|
The Spartan army was known far and wide for their fierceness, brutality, and efficiency in battle. This was partly due to their militarily-oriented society, but it was also due to a remarkable innovation in land warfare that made the Spartans nearly unstoppable on the ground.(1)
The Hoplite Phalanx
TThe Hoplite Phalanx was a special formation of specially-equipped Spartan soldiers known as Hoplites.It changed the way land engagements were fought. Until then, land battles had primarily come down to individual hand-tohand combat, with warriors trying to kill the bravest and best fighter on the other side so as to demoralize the opposition.(6)
The hoplite phalanx, however, consisted of specially-armed infantry. They all wore bronze body armor, helmets, bronze shin guards, and all carried shields. Their primary weapons were a short sword for close-quarter fighting, and the weapon that became the trademark of the phalanx, an 8-15 foot long spear.
The phalanx fought in formation in a highly organized and disciplined manner. Shields were worn on the left shoulder, and were long enough to cover the soldier's knees. As the hoplite soldiers stood shoulder-to-shoulder, the shields overlapped each other, forming a wall of shields and protecting each other.
A phalanx could be as many as eight rows deep, and moving in formation, they were nearly unstoppable so long as their rear and flanks were protected. The phalanx was perfect for combat on open gound or level terrain.
The concept of the phalanx was evidence of the Spartan concept that battles should be quick, bloody, and decisive. Spartans did not want to spend a long time on a military campaign, as most of the soldiers had to be home in time for harvest. As a result, the Spartans were inexperienced at the concept of siegecraft and fortification, which became evident in the Peloponnesian War.(5)
Nevertheless, the hoplite phalanx was one of the most successful innovations in military history, the core concepts of which have been copied by armies the world over. For a good depiction of what the hoplite phalanx looked like, the Oliver Stone movie "Alexander" has an excellent portrayal of a phalanx.
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