Spartan army

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The Spartan warrior , called Leonidas

The Spartan army , the troops of the Polis Sparta , was considered the most professional land force of all in ancient Greece during the archaic and classical times.


Until the 7th century BC Nothing definite can be established about a regional peculiarity of the Spartan troops. Here, as elsewhere, aristocrats seem to have gathered followers with whom they went into smaller or larger battles. Since the second half of the 7th century, the phalanx in Sparta seems to have been taken over and further developed, which fundamentally changed the character of the military clash: Whereas individual battles between aristocrats and long-range battles had so far constituted individual battles between aristocrats, now a close combat tactic was cultivated by heavily armed citizens.

By the middle of the 6th century at the latest, the Spartan army was considered to be the strongest in Greece, which can be proven by numerous calls for help and alliances from Hellenic and foreign states. It was considered exemplary in terms of discipline and morality, and therefore also in terms of its clout, which after the end of the war against Tegea around 470 BC. Was no longer questioned. From this point on, the troops of allies were also drawn in, creating the army of the Peloponnesian League .

Until after the Persian Wars, full-bourgeois Spartians and heavily armed free-bourgeois Periöken were each set up in their own units. Presumably in the wake of the losses of the severe earthquake of 464 BC. Chr. The Perioeci were integrated into the units of full citizens. However, in contrast to the full citizens, there seems to have been no general conscription among the Periöks and only selected, wealthy Periöks served in the civil army.

In the Peloponnesian War , changes were necessary that modified the formation of the civil army. From 424 BC. Not free helots were also trained as heavily armed and taken into battle in their own units. Occasionally these units were sent out alone under the leadership of full bourgeois Spartians. Furthermore, lightly and heavily armed mercenaries were recruited and enlisted in the army. Increasingly, the need to set up a cavalry was also recognized, but this always remained of secondary importance and presumably did not include pure civil units.

From the Spartan-Persian War onwards , the civil army was only rarely used, as the number of full citizens decreased to a frightening extent and the radius of the Spartan operations had become so large that the army would not have been able to return to Sparta quickly enough for home defense in an emergency. So the troops that Sparta sent out took on more and more trains from mercenary armies, while the civil army steadily decreased and the proportion of full citizens continued to decline. As a result, Sparta's clout continued to decline until 371 BC. The civil army suffered its first complete defeat at Leuktra , from which Sparta never recovered sustainably.

The Battle of Sellasia in the summer (July?) Of the year 222 BC. Chr. With the victory of the allied forces of Macedonia and the Achaean League over the Spartans under their king Cleomenes III. finally sealed the end of the Spartan ambitions to act as a power of order in Greece.

The army, equipment and fighting style


Despite the great importance of the military in Spartan life, there is little evidence of Spartan military practice. The written tradition from Sparta itself consists mainly of texts by archaic poets such as Tyrtaius , while later scattered sources come from non-Spartans. Pictorial representations that give information about armament, equipment and fighting style can be found primarily on ceramics. In addition, there are isolated material remains that were found during excavations. A warrior's grave is dated around 725 BC. Dated.

Equipment of the heavily armed citizen soldiers

In Sparta, as in the rest of Greece, in the archaic and classical period up to the Peloponnesian War, heavily armed citizens who fought on foot were the backbone of the army. The equipment of these hoplites was similar everywhere and consisted essentially of a shield, breastplate, helmet and greaves. The armor was very expensive and the warriors had to equip themselves. Financial performance was therefore also a necessary prerequisite for the political rights of full citizens . In addition to the full citizens, other groups of the population fought for Sparta as hoplites, such as a selection of the most capable Periöken , citizens with minor rights and helots released after the Peloponnesian War .

  • The shield (aspís) had a round shape and was so large that the entire upper body of a warrior was covered. That was the main part of hoplite equipment. A characteristic feature of the shield was a flat, offset edge. The shield was originally made of wood with a bronze edge, later it was completely covered with a thin layer of bronze. It had two handles on the inside. The porpax was the removable armband in the center of the shield. The arm was stretched through the porpax up to the elbow and the shield was held at the edge. The shield was difficult to maneuver and only partially covered the flank and better suited for narrow formations. In certain situations it was even inferior to the engaging shield types.
  • The armor (thorax) consisted of two bronze plates connected at the shoulders on the front and back, which were shaped according to the anatomy of the body. Plates curved outward were attached to the hips. This made movement easier and protected the abdomen. Although it was heavy and the heat stuck, it stood the test of time for over 200 years. It was only later replaced by a more agile model. The soldiers wore a linen chiton under their armor . The chiton was worn by everyone (regardless of rank) and was colored red.
  • The helmet (kranos, korus, kunee) was made from a single piece of bronze. The Corinthian helmet type was most widespread in the Archaic period . It served to protect the largest possible part of the head. Only the eyes were visible, which severely impaired hearing in the helmet. Occasionally a bush of horse hair was attached to the helmet. In addition to its psychological function, it also had an aesthetic function. The Spartan hoplites seem to have switched to the Pilos helmet relatively early , which essentially consisted of a bronze skull cap with an outwardly sloping brim a few centimeters wide. This helmet was lighter, left the ears free and the air in it was not as tight as in the Corinthian model.
  • The bronze leg splints (knemides) were a common part of the hoplite armor and on the back they were shaped after the muscles of the calf.


  • The spear (dory, aichme, enchos melie) was two to three meters long, had a heavy iron point with a thickening and was used as a stabbing weapon . In hand-to-hand combat after the first thrust, it was difficult to control.
  • The sword (xiphos) was an indispensable second weapon in combat due to the limited use of the spear. It was a short sword and was mainly used as a stabbing weapon .

The Athenians had similar equipment.

The gymnasts

In archaic times, lightly armed gymnasts seem to have had the opportunity to become full citizens through their commitment or to earn the material basis for hoplite status through the spoils of war in the form of land. They were mentioned by Tyrtaios , the contemporary poet of the 2nd Messenian War:

But you lightly armed guys, hide behind your shields and throw stones from here and there at the hostile crowd! Or throw them nimbly with many smoothed spears, join the wall of heavily armed men! "

- Tyrtaios: fragment 8, 35-39.

In classical times this possibility no longer existed, Spartians then fought exclusively as heavily armed and neither Periöks nor state-armed helots could acquire full citizenship. The term gymnets no longer appears in the sources of this time.

Mode of struggle of the Spartan civil army

Before Sparta got involved in a fight, the general sought the favor of the gods. Sacrifice ceremonies were performed immediately before the fight. The task of the general was u. a. in choosing a suitable area for the phalanx and of course taking part in the fighting oneself. The preparation process for battle was usually kept short and there were few carefully planned battles. In the archaic period, the battles were mainly dominated by rich aristocrats who had adequate financial resources. For classical and later times it is assumed that they no longer played such a prominent role.

In the phalanx, the hoplites formed a wall of shields , the right side of each heavily armed man being covered by the neighbour's shield. They marched in trains of two dozen men, usually three side by side and eight men deep, with the spear slung over their right shoulder.

According to Thucydides , the strength of the Spartians' troops was difficult to predict due to the secrecy of state affairs. The army was divided into Morai , Lochoi , Pentekostien and Enomotien .

The civil army of the Spartians was famous for its discipline and superiority over all opponents who engaged in open battle. They had perfected the classic phalanx.

Some differences to other armies can be identified: The phalanx of the Spartians moved more slowly because the top priority was to keep the ranks closed - so they did not pursue the opponents when they fled. The hoplites wore a kind of uniform , consisting of a purple coat (which they took off before the start of the fight) and a large letter lambda (for Λακεδαιμόνιοι, Lakedaimonioi, for " Lakedaimonians ") painted on their shields . The Spartans apparently had strikingly short, straight swords that were more suitable for a fight in a confined space than the usual wider or curved ones. They also seem to have set the pace when it came to lengthening the push lances. However, they took over the Macedonian sarissa quite late.

The reason for their superiority was, in addition to the disciplined, closed formation, the specific weapons and the ancient bourgeois ethics to which the individual had to subordinate, the excessive exercise of formation movements, e.g. B. to swivel or even bend the phalanx in battle.


Descriptions of the organization of the Spartan army can be found in Herodotus and Xenophon . Almost nothing is known about the time before. It can be assumed that the Spartan army was reorganized at least twice, as this was made necessary by the steadily declining number of citizens fit for military service.

It can be assumed that the phalanx was set up 8 men deep at the beginning. That seems logical, because the name pentekostys , which will be used later, means fifty shaft, which is 6 men wide. Later the phalanx was then staggered lower (12 instead of 8 rows) in order to pull with the armies of the other states.

At the time of Herodotus (mid-5th century BC)

Herodotus used the term lochos for departments of various sizes , which simply means unit .

5 Lochoi formed the Spartan army according to Herodotus. It is believed that this is the territorial contingent of the 5 districts of Sparta. Such a lochos would have a size of over 1,000 men.

At the time of Xenophon (early 4th century BC)

Organization of the Spartan army in Xenophon's time

Xenophon gives us a description of the Spartan army some 50 years after Herodotus. The target level can be explained as follows:

6 morai formed the Spartan army, which was commanded by a king.

1 mora of 4 lochoi each 144 men: the lochos was the smallest tactical unit of the phalanx.
1 lochos from 2 pentekostyes
1 lochos out of 4 enomotiai
1 mora were assigned about 60 riders

The enomotia was thus 3 men wide and 12 men deep. The hoplites were commanded by the first man in the row, whose deputy ( ouragoi ) was last. All officers, polemarch , pentekonter , lochagos , enomotarch had their position right in front in their units, with the king on the right outer edge of the first mora . The 300 hippeis were part of the first mora . Despite their name, they were not mounted, but represented the elite of the Spartan hoplites. Each year the three hippagretae selected the best soldiers for this unit, which acted as the king's bodyguard. The cavalry was set up very late and always retained a subordinate importance.

See also



Web links


  1. Lukas Thommen: Sparta - constitutional and social history of a Greek polis . Metzler, Stuttgart 2003, p. 44.
  2. KW Welwei: Sparta. The rise and fall of an ancient great power. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2004, p. 73 f.
  3. ^ Tyrtaios: Fragments. Translated by Z. Franyo. in: Early Greek Poets. Vol 1. The early elegists. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1971.
  4. Thuk. 5. 68.
  5. ^ A b Peter Connolly: Greece and Rome at War , p. 41.
  6. ^ Peter Connolly: Greece and Rome at War. P. 37