Hoplite and Phalanx in Archaic and Classical Greece: A Reassessment

Author(s): Fernando Echeverría
Source: Classical Philology, Vol. 107, No. 4 (October 2012), pp. 291-318
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
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Classical Philology 107 (2012): 291–318
[© 2012 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved] 0009-837X/12/10704-0001$10.00
And ClAssiCAl GreeCe: A reAssessmenT
fernando echeverría
1. introduction: A matter of Concept
CHOLARSHIP ON THE Archaic Greek military has been frequently re-
duced to a discussion on the rise of the hoplite and the introduction
of the phalanx. The methodological approach to the issue has often
consisted of an attempt to “discover the phalanx” in the sources: to identify
a closed formation or a specifc kind of heavy-armed warrior in the scattered
pieces of literary, iconographic, and archaeological evidence. As a result,
research on the Archaic Greek military has at times been carried out with the
hoplite and the phalanx already in mind.
The debate on the origins of the hoplite and the phalanx has been instru-
mental in the general interpretation and understanding of the Archaic period
for a considerable number of scholars: those supporting the idea of a “hoplite
reform” have argued for the existence of tight connections between military
developments and broader social, political, and economic transformations in
Archaic Greece.
Others, more critical of the determinism inherent in the
“phalanx-polis” equation,
have tried to make new sense of the scarce, scat-
tered, and at times contradictory pieces of evidence, and ofer alternative
explanations to the Greek military evolution in the Archaic period that imply
a reconsideration of the nature and the role of the phalanx.
in such a long-standing and broad discussion, conceptual accuracy in de-
fning the terms “hoplite” and “phalanx” becomes essential. Attempts have
This paper was written during a postdoctoral stay at the University College of london, funded by the
spanish ministry of science and innovation. it ofers an updated revision of my previous treatment of the issue
(echeverría 2008, 144–91), to which i refer for a complete catalogue of sources, texts, and references. i have
considerably revised the arguments exposed there, and moderated the blunt exposition of particularly contro-
versial ideas, but the catalogue of references remains indispensable. All dates are B.C.E. and all translations of
ancient texts are my own unless otherwise noted.
i am greatly indebted to hans van Wees for reading an earlier draft of the paper and making valuable com-
ments. i also appreciate the challenging remarks of CP’s anonymous referees. They all contributed to improve
the ideas and arguments presented here. All remaining mistakes are of course my own.
1. lorimer 1947 and 1950; Andrewes 1974; detienne 1968; Greenhalgh 1973; Cartledge 1977; salmon
1977; latacz 1977; snodgrass 1964, 1980, and 1993; murray 1980; Bryant 1990; hanson 1990, 1991, and
1999; Bowden 1995; schwartz 2002 and 2009.
2. About determinism, phalanx, and the polis, see echeverría 2008 and 2010.
3. Pritchett 1985; Wheeler 1991; storch 1998; Krentz 2000 and 2002; van Wees 1986, 1988, 1994a,
1994b, 1995, 1997, 2000, 2001b, and 2004; rawlings 2007; Osborne 2009. To a lesser extent, Forrest 1966,
starr 1991, and de ste. Croix 1983 and 2004.
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been made to defne both concepts,
but practical use and repetition have re-
sulted in the fossilization of working, informal defnitions of them: the hoplite
is commonly regarded as a heavy-armed warrior identifed by a specifc set
of weapons, of which the Argive shield is the paramount item; the phalanx is
usually connected with closed order, neat fles and ranks, the use of “hoplite”
equipment, cohesion, and discipline. These broad defnitions, corresponding
roughly to the military situation of the Classical period, are rarely questioned
by modern scholars, and their meanings are thus generally taken for granted.
But since no chronological or geographical connotations are usually attached,
both “phalanx” and “hoplite” can be (and have been) transferred to various
contexts and historical periods, from homer to Polybius, from etruria to the
near east. This results in a methodological problem.
This work is a reconsideration of the concepts of “hoplite” and “phalanx”
from the point of view of the extant literary and epigraphical evidence. As it
will be argued here, both “hoplite” and “phalanx” are concepts belonging to
the Classical period. Whether they were formulated then for the frst time or
reinterpreted from older and previous notions will be elucidated below, but the
extant evidence suggests that the terms as we conceive them must be linked
to the specifc literary and intellectual circumstances of the Classical period.
2. The hoplite
let us start with the hoplite. Commonly interpreted as the quintessential
Greek heavy-armed infantryman, the hoplite has been consistently and repeat-
edly situated in the Archaic period, whether in the fragments of Tyrtaeus and
Callinus or in the painted scenes of Archaic vases. This identifcation has been
possible usually through the so-called “hoplite panoply,” the set of weapons
typically associated with the hoplite. it is a fairly established consensus that
the Corinthian helmets, spears, breastplates, and Argive shields depicted on
Greek vases represent hoplites in a fairly accurate way.
The crucial element in that identifcation is the Argive shield. Anthony
snodgrass long ago connected the blazons on vase paintings with the Argive
thus facilitating an equation that has been (and still is) extraordinar-
ily infuential. The equation is based on two connected arguments: frst, the
alleged qualities of the Argive shield (supposedly more ftted for the phalanx
due to the presence of the double grip and its combination of concavity, broad
surface, and sturdiness), and second, its identifcation with the Greek term
ὅπλον (to be discussed below). Thus the following picture emerges: a new
type of warrior (the hoplite), determined by a new set of weapons (the “hoplite
panoply”) and characteristically belonging to a middle class of propertied
farmers (the “hoplite class”), would evolve through the eighth and seventh
centuries, leading to a new tactic (the phalanx).
4. hanson 1990 and 1999; van Wees 2001a and 2004; Wheeler 2007, 192–93; schwartz 2009.
5. snodgrass 1964, 61–63.
6. Among others, see nilsson 1928, 246; Andrewes 1974, 34; snodgrass 1965a, 115 and 1980, 101–2;
Cartledge 1977, 23; holladay 1982, 99; Bryant 1990, 497–98; Jameson 1992, 158; donlan 1997, 45–47; han-
son 1996, 290–92 and 1999, passim; schwartz 2002 and 2009.
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serious criticism, however, can be raised against this view. The identifca-
tion of a set of weapons is not reason enough by itself to talk about “hoplites,”
especially in the Archaic period. moreover, scholarship tends to apply the
term to realities far beyond the limits of what ancient Greeks themselves
considered or intentionally recognized as a hoplite. it is necessary to review
the literary sources in order to reconsider the actual meaning of the word
“hoplite” and the possible contexts for its use.
Argive shield, hoplite, and ὅπλον
The frst step must be to dig into the origins of the term “hoplite.” As John
lazenby and david Whitehead have recently shown,
there is a widespread
consensus that the hoplite took his name from his most characteristic weapon,
the shield, which was supposed to be called ὅπλον. scholars have accepted
this view for decades.
The apparent connection between hoplon, hoplite, and
Argive shield is considered so strong that, as lazenby and Whitehead point
out, “textbooks and reference works on warfare serve it up with monotonous
regularity as if stating a simple fact.”
But this connection is actually based
on at least two assumptions: frst, that hoplon is the most common term in
Greek to designate the Argive shield; second, that the term “hoplite” derives
from it. Both assumptions have been proved to be wrong.
The frst assumption can be traced back to diodorus, who stated (15.44.3)
that “the hoplites were called originally after their shields [ἀσπίδων], exactly
in the same way as the peltasts were called after their πέλτη.” As lazenby and
Whitehead show, the phrase mixed up the terms hoplitês and aspis, making
the statement confusing and unreliable.
diodorus’ testimony seems to jus-
tify the idea that the Argive shield could be connected with the term hoplitês
around the frst century C.E., but it in fact makes a much stronger connection
between the Argive shield and the term aspis. in the Archaic period, both
Archilochus (frag. 5) and Alcaeus (frags. 179 col. 2.6, 357.8) refer to their
shields as aspis. if these aspides are in fact Argive shields (which is likely but
uncertain), then the connection of the weapon with the term aspis, confrmed
by diodorus and Pausanias, could fnd some frm ground. This connection
seems much clearer in the Classical period.
7. What follows is a cursory analysis of the literary evidence which, for obvious reasons of space, cannot
be undertaken at length here. Arguments that would perhaps require more patient exposition are thus merely
summarized, relying on relevant bibliography to complete the picture. i am, however, confdent that the gen-
eral scheme retains its consistency.
8. lazenby and Whitehead 1996.
9. e.g., Adcock 1967, 3; hammond 1967, 110 and 1982, 340; murray 1980, 124; ducrey 1985, 49, 50,
pl. 27; hanson 1990, 27; Anderson 1991, 15, 272; mitchell 1996, 89; schwartz 2009, 25; even lazenby him-
self, 1985, 30. lsJ maintain that hoplon is “the large shield from which the men-at-arms took their name of
10. lazenby and Whitehead 1996, 27.
11. lazenby and Whitehead 1996, 28. it is exactly the same mistake made by Pausanias when dealing
with the institution of the armored race in the Olympic Games circa 520 B.C.E.: in 5.8.10, he states that in
that period “a hoplites’ race [τῶν ὁπλιτῶν ὁ δρόμος] was established,” but he again uses the term aspis (and
not hoplon) when explaining that the runners had to carry their shields (–5: τοὺς δραμόντας ἀσπίσιν).
12. Thucydides, for example, refers to the shield as aspis 12 times, most likely shields of the Argive type.
For the Argive shield in the Classical period, see hanson 1990, 65–71. As a result, instead of hoplitês, the term
ἀσπιστής (present in homer Il. 4.90, 4.201, 4.221, 5.577, 8.155, 8.214, 11.412, 13.680, 16.490, 16.541, 16.593,
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regarding the second assumption, lazenby and Whitehead have convinc-
ingly shown that hoplites did not take their name from their shield (ὅπλον),
but from the whole panoply (ὅπλα).
it is possible, however, to be much more
precise: analysis of the group hoplon/-a in Archaic Greek literature reveals
that it originally had no frm connection with military matters, the connection
emerging and consolidating only gradually. We are naturally dealing here with
poetic language, characteristically unsystematic, so it must be treated with
caution. The group, however, seems to derive from a stem originally mean-
ing “tool” or “implement,”
while the plural, much more frequently used,
referred generically to a set of tools.
in this semantic context, references to
weapons or any kind of military equipment represent a clear minority, both
in homer and in later Archaic poetry.
At this time, the military sense of
hopl- is thus just a possibility (a rare one) in a group with a broad and still
unspecialized meaning. The connection of the group with a military meaning
will become frmer and more widespread only at the beginning of the ffth
while the frst unequivocal identifcation between the Argive shield
and the term hoplon (in the singular) will appear much later, in Xenophon
(Hell. 2.4.25).
here, as in the following arguments, we are dealing with the unfortunately
unbalanced distribution of the literary sources, concentrated in the Classical
period and almost nonexistent in the Archaic period. The argument ex silentio
is always controversial, and must be treated with caution, but it is an argu-
ment at hand, and a fairly useful one if we stick to what information we have
and avoid hypothesizing about what we do not have. since the discovery of
entirely new narratives coming from the Archaic period is out of the ques-
tion (least of all narratives in prose), and only further examples of lyric and
epic poetry could be expected to be found, i will consciously treat the extant
evidence as representative of the literature of the age and thus as suitable for
and then lost until recovered by euripides Heracl. 277; El. 443; HF 1192; Ion 198; IA 1069) should have been
preferred to designate a shield-bearer.
13. lazenby and Whitehead 1996, 33.
14. The group is almost certainly connected with the verb ἕπω (“to be about, to busy oneself with,” lsJ),
with a “-lo-” sufx. see Chantraine 1990, s.v. “hoplon.”
15. The term appears 19 times in homer, 17 of them in the plural form. Their meaning is commonly
“tackle” of a ship, and even “tools”; the two cases in the singular are usually translated as “rope.” The verb
ὁπλίζω can be found 23 times as well, but 21 of them are referring to the common action of “preparing” (a
chariot, a ship, or even a meal). These patterns (predominance of the plural form, generic meaning as “tools”)
are preserved in the scarce testimonies of the extant Archaic Greek literature. detailed information and a
complete list of references, sources, and meanings, with a discussion of other related terms (such as ὁπλότερος/
ὁπλότατος or ὅπλη), can be found in echeverría 2008, 151–52.
16. Hopla as “weapons”: hom. Il. 10.254, 10.272, 18.614, 19.21. Hoplizô as “to arm oneself”: hom. Il.
8.55; Od. 24.495. hesiod uses hopla in a possible reference to weapons (Theog. 853), and we later fnd the
term πάνοπλοι in Tyrtaeus (11.38), the word ἔνοπλοι in a fragment also attributed to Tyrtaeus (frag. 16b, Page
857; see Page 1967, 455), and the expression βίην ὑπέροπλον in mimnermus (frag. 9.3). The terms panoploi,
hyperoplon, and enoploi certainly indicate a military meaning, but the fact that they seem to be variations
that are just mentioned once suggests that Greek vocabulary is still exploring the diferent possibilities of the
broad semantic feld of hopl-. Apart from these, there are no further references in Archaic literature until the
ffth century.
17. Hopla as “weapons” in the frst half of the ffth century: Pind. Pyth. 10.14; Nem. 1.51, 7.25, 8.27,
9.22, 10.14; frag. 106.6; simon. Epig. 6.215.2; Bacchyl. Dub. 62b.10; Dyth. 18.33. see also IG i
1 (Athenian
cleruchs in salamis; meiggs and lewis 1988, no. 14), dated to c. 500.
18. see lazenby and Whitehead 1996, 31.
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my exposition. Arguments ex silentio will be in any case further supported
with additional arguments.
As a result, the conclusion follows that during the Archaic period the group
hopl- preserved a generic meaning without a frm connection with the military
feld, its military meaning only becoming widespread during the Classical
period. so if the term “hoplite” is to be connected with the plural form hopla
(as lazenby and Whitehead suggest), this identifcation could only have taken
place after 500, when the military meaning of the group hopl- fnally started
to predominate. This would render extremely unlikely the presence of the term
hoplitês with a military sense during the Archaic period, and it is in fact in
absolute accordance with the extant literary evidence: as we shall see below,
the term hoplitês will appear in the sources for the frst time around 470.
The hoplite in literature and epigraphy
snodgrass suggested that the term hoplitês must have been already in use at
the time of the frst race in arms at the Olympic games (c. 520), and quoted
Pausanias (5.8.10) to support his view.
leaving aside Pausanias’ hoplon-
aspis mistake (mentioned above, p. 293 n. 11), a source almost six centuries
later than the events (and assuming that the race received the same name in
the sixth century) cannot be taken as a solid ground for the identifcation.
For that reason, it is necessary to look into contemporary sources to trace the
origins of the term.
The frst occurrences of hoplitês in Greek literature, as far as we know, can
be found in Pindar (Isthm. 1.23, dated c. 470) and Aeschylus (Sept. 466 and
717, dated to 467). The term seems to spread gradually from then on, and it
can be found in herodotus, euripides, and contemporary Attic inscriptions.

Thucydides enormously expands its uses in his work, with 180 occurrences,
and during the 420s we fnd it again in euripides, Aristophanes, and an Attic
inscription describing the treaty of Athens and Argos in 420.
in the follow-
ing decade, new references to hoplitai can be found in euripides (HF 190;
Phoen. 1096, 1191), Aristophanes (Av. 402, 448; Lys. 394, 590, 1143), and
two new inscriptions dated to around 410 (IG i
.2.1191.60; IG i
31). The term will preserve its predominance during the fourth century, being
found in Xenophon (186 occurrences), ephorus, Plato, Aristotle, and the Attic
Thus the following picture emerges: the term makes its frst appearance
in the extant sources at the beginning of the ffth century (a coherent date
19. snodgrass 1964, 204; cf. 1980, 152. The idea is later subscribed to by Wheeler 1991, 134.
20. see also lanzenby and Whitehead’s treatment of the issue (1996, 32). i am only concerned about
occurrences of the term at this point, so i will not make distinctions between the diferent literary genres,
distinctions that will be relevant further on.
21. herodotus: 3.120.14, 4.160.13, 5.111.2, 6.117.10, 7.158.16, 7.173.10, 7.202.3, 7.217.6, 8.38.7, 8.95.4,
9.12.1, 9.17.7, 9.28.12, 9.29.3, 9.29.4, 9.30.4, 9.63.10. euripides: Heracl. 694, 699, 729, 800. inscriptions: IG
.1.138.1–2 (dated to c. 430) and IG i
.1.60.14–18 (dated either to 430 or 417).
22. euripides: Andr. 458, 760, 1123; Supp. 585. Aristophanes: Eq. 1369; Vesp.  359. inscription: IG
.1.83.22–24 (dated to 420; cf. Thuc. 5.47.8). The complete catalogue of Thucydides’ references, too long to
be reproduced here, can be found in echeverría 2008, 154–55, n. 11.
23. The complete catalogue of references with their texts can be found in echeverría 2008, 153–57.
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provided by both Aeschylus and Pindar) and, after a short gap, it spreads
gradually from 430 onward, experiencing a swift expansion by 420–400
and becoming a common word for the Classical historians and orators in
the fourth century. This, i suggest, can be taken as a sign that hoplitês was a
strictly Classical word, on two grounds. First, there were other ways to refer
to the heavy-armed infantryman during the Archaic period, in much better
accordance with the literary conditions and characteristics of the time (see the
analysis below, pp. 296–99). second, issues of source availability or literary
genres seem to have little to do with this phenomenon: the absence of works
in prose in the Archaic period is not a real obstacle in this case, because the
generalization of the term hoplitês can be entirely traced in the poetic lan-
guage of the tragedy, where (as i will argue below) the new term coexists with
other concepts for a long time. in fact, the term is “invented” in the realm of
poetry, and then transferred to prose in a matter of a few decades.
Before moving on to the next point, something must be said about the
specifc forms of the word in ffth-century written sources. remarkably
enough, its original occurrences are in the form of an adjective, not a noun:
Pindar describes a ὁπλίτης δρόμος at Isthmian 1.23, and Aeschylus talks of
an ἀνὴρ ὁπλίτης at Seven against Thebes 466 and 717. This adjectival form
will be preserved in euripides (Heracl. 699, 800; Supp. 585; HF 190) and
Aristophanes (Vesp. 359), both frequently referring to an anêr hoplitês (but
also to other combinations). The substantive will appear for the frst time
around 430, frst in herodotus and contemporary inscriptions, and will be
predominant in the later historians, but for a long time it will share the stage
with the adjectival form.
As a result, we can diferentiate a periphrastic, poetic construction, employ-
ing hoplitês as an adjective, and a nominal one (perhaps an abbreviation of
the former), predominantly employed in prose. The periphrastic form will
completely disappear by the end of the ffth century, and no occurrences will
be found in Thucydides and Xenophon. Another crucial detail is that the noun
will spread mainly in its plural form: only nine out of more than 200 occur-
rences of the noun in ffth-century authors are in the singular.
This process
fts nicely with the evolution i have previously described for the group hopl-,
showing a turn toward a military meaning around 500.
Archaic Warriors
According to this analysis, the term hoplitês is not to be found in the extant
literary sources until the ffth century. The question then is how did the Greeks
refer to the warriors armed with heavy equipment before then?
To answer this question we must start with homer. The analysis of homeric
terminology reveals that there are no technical terms to denote fghters in the
epics, but a wide range of generic words referring to diferent qualities. most
24. i refer to the following section for a detailed analysis of these points.
25. For detailed references, see echeverría 2008, 157.
26. eur. Heracl. 729; Andr. 458, 1123; Ar. Eq. 1369; Av. 402; hdt. 5.111.2, 6.117.10; Thuc.,
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of these words even lack a military meaning per se, and it must be inferred
from the specifc circumstances of the action. The most general terms are λαός
and πλῆθος/πληθύς, denoting a multitude or mass; ὅμιλος, οὐλαμός, or ἔθνος
can be used in the same manner. Terms expressing ethnic origin (Achaioi,
danaoi, Argives, Trojans, lykioi, etc.) denote a military meaning at times,
only circumstantially. Finally, the term στρατός can also be applied to the
army, while πεζοί denotes the infantry in contrast with the cavalry.
Other epic terms can be more specifcally connected with the notion of
“warrior,” but they are again common words whose military meaning is in-
cidental and depends on the context. This is the case with ἀνήρ, which com-
pletely pervades the poems and can be often interpreted in a military sense.

The context is crucial to render “man” as “warrior,” and hence some refer-
ences can be doubtful, but in other cases the military meaning is much clearer:
for example, in constructions such as στίχας ἀνδρῶν (Il. 3.196) or φάλαγγες
ἀνδρῶν (Il. 19.158–59). The same applies to other terms like κοῦρος, νέος,
ἑταῖρος, and ἐπίκουρος. At a more specifc level we can list the several adjec-
tives entailing the notion of “enemy” (δήϊος, δυσμενής, ἐναντίος), which can
be found either as nouns or adjectives. speaking about “the enemy” in general
terms is not uncommon, and it is sometimes the only way to refer to the fght-
ing sides in the epics. Finally, although in a clear minority, some specifcally
military terms can be found, such as αἰχμητής, ἀσπιστής, or τοξότης, that are
derived from the weapons employed.
This is the situation in the epics. if we move forward into the Archaic pe-
riod, we fnd an extremely similar scene: a wide range of generic terms whose
connection with the military relies heavily on the context. We fnd the terms
στρατός, λαός, ἔθνος, and πεζοί in the lyric poems,
and new poetic designa-
tions appear, such as mimnermus’ βίην ὑπέροπλον (frag. 9.3). The ethnics
(Thracians, Carians, naxians, Cimmerians, Treres, messenians, lydians) are
also present. in all these cases, the ethnic is a metaphor for an army or a con-
tingent, but the exact meaning relies almost completely on the context. more
specifc terms are κοῦρος, νέος, and τις; indefnite adjectives can be used in the
lyric poems with a military sense, like Tyrtaeus’ (hereafter Tyrt.) ἀμφότεροι or
ἀλλήλων (frags. 19.14 and 19.16), and even adjectives referring to age groups
(παλαιότερος/γεραιούς, Tyrt. 10.19–20, 22). But again the most common term
is ἀνήρ, the predominant way in poetry to refer to a warrior. more evident
references to “allies” (ἐπίκουροι), “comrades” (ἑταῖροι), and “enemies” can
be found, and fnally the group of specifc terms connected with the equip-
ment: αἰχμητής is again the most common, but new terms referring to the
27. For a complete catalogue of references and texts of all these terms in homer, see echeverría 2008,
158–59. The same will apply for the rest of the terms in the epics studied in the following paragraphs.
28. For the sake of the argument, i ofer here a mere sample of the occurrences of anêr with a military
meaning in the frst fve books of the Iliad: 2.122, 131, 362, 368, 554, 611, 701, 768, 798, 805, 837; 3.49, 166,
167, 185, 196, 226, 241, 429; 4.86, 231, 250, 251, 273, 306, 445, 447, 457, 472, 492, 498, 519; 5.118, 166, 172,
244, 332, 456, 483, 488, 533, 541, 558, 641, 746, 779. The rest of the references can be found in echeverría
2008, 159 n. 22.
29. For a complete catalogue of references and texts of all these (and the following) terms in the lyric
poets, see echeverría 2008, 160.
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heavy (πάνοπλοι, ἔνοπλοι)
or light equipment (γυμνῆτες, Tyrt. 11.35), and
the rare κορυστής (Alcm. 1.1.5) and λευστήρ (Tyrt. 19.2) appear in this period,
although they will immediately fade away.
The result of this analysis reveals the lack of specifc terms to denote the
heavy-armed infantryman during the Archaic period, and the use of a wide
range of indefnite words instead. remarkably enough, ἀνήρ becomes the
most common term in Greek between the eighth and ffth centuries for that
and thus it deserves further attention.
As the evidence collected so far suggests, the term anêr could by itself
(and depending on the context) successfully denote the notion of a warrior
or fghter. The sources show, however, that, in order to eliminate its natural
ambiguity, the term could be constructed with an adjective, forming a periph-
rasis. This seems to be quite a common structure in Archaic literature.
parently, the general and indefnite meaning of the term anêr made it possible
to ft it into diferent contexts, and the military feld clearly was a frequent
option: in homer, a commander could be called ἀρχὸς ἀνήρ (Il. 1.144), and a
warrior resisting in combat was a μενέχαρμος ἀνήρ (Il. 14.376). Friends could
be designated as ἑταῖρος ἀνήρ, and foes as δήϊος ἀνήρ, δυσμενὴς ἀνήρ, and
ἐναντίος ἀνήρ.
The periphrasis with military content could be even more
specifc, and the constructions ἀνὴρ αἰχμητής (Il. 3.49, 4.86–87, 11.738–39,
17.740), ἀνὴρ κορυστής (Il. 4.457, 8.256, 16.603), ἀνὴρ ἀσπιστής (Il. 8.214),
and many others were also possible.
The case of νέοι μαχηταί (Il. 8.102)
illustrates the fact that nouns other than anêr could be the nucleus of the
periphrasis. The same situation can be found in lyric poetry.
This phenomenon sheds light on Aeschylus’ ἀνὴρ ὁπλίτης, later preserved
in euripides, Aristophanes, and herodotus. The adjectival form in the frst
occurrences of the term hoplitês seems now to ft an old literary tradition,
using the noun anêr in combination with diferent adjectives to denote dif-
ferent realities. in the military feld, the wide range of possible periphrasis
30. These terms have been mentioned before to trace the semantic evolution of the group hopl-, represent-
ing two interesting examples of the presence of its military meaning during the Archaic period (see n. 16
above). They designate warriors with full (pan-) or sufcient (the prefx en- must be taken here to refer to the
action of wearing or carrying) equipment (-oploi) in a way reminiscent of the original meaning of hoplitês in
the ffth century. in this sense, they attest the semantic range of the group hopl- in a certain period, but for the
question of the pre-classical use of hoplitês they seem to be rather irrelevant.
31. The tradition is still preserved, and in remarkably good health, in Aeschylus: Supp.  500, 528, 937;
Pers. 60, 85, 235, 243, 915, 920, 927, 993; Sept. 42, 57, 114, 314, 324, 347, 397, 412, 432, 436, 466, 478, 502,
505 (x2), 509, 519, 544, 568, 644, 651, 717; Ag. 445, 642, 660, 804, 1627.
32. examples taken from homer include ethnics (Δάρδανος ἀνήρ, Il. 2.701, 16.807; Ἀχαιὸς ἀνήρ, Il. 3.167,
226; Ἀρκάδες ἄνδρες, Il. 2.611), jobs (αἰπόλος ἀνήρ, Il. 2.474, 4.275; δρυτόμος ἀνήρ, Il. 11.86; ἰητρὸς ἀνήρ,
Il. 11.514), and qualities (δεινὸς ἀνήρ, Il. 11.654; δειλὸς ἀνήρ, Il. 13.278; ἐσθλὸς ἀνήρ, Il. 16.600, 19.122,
23.112). A man is a βροτὸς ἀνήρ (Il. 5.361, 604, 18.362, 19.22), while the common man can be τις ἀνὴρ
(Il. 1.144, 2.553, 6.487, 521, 9.341, 10.204, 222, 341, 13.222, 14.484, 19.11) or, more emphatically, δήμου
ἀνήρ (Il. 2.198).
33. Hetairos anêr: Il. 16.170, 17.466. Dêios anêr: Il. 9.317, 10.358, 12.57, 15.533, 17.148, 22.84, 24.684.
Dysmenês anêr: Il. 5.488, 6.453, 10.40, 100, 221, 395, 13.263, 17.158, 19.168, 232, 24.288. Enantios anêr:
Il. 20.97.
34. see a detailed list with references in echeverría 2008, 161.
35. The military content is provided by the context: κρατερόφρονος ἀνδρός (Callinus 1.18, herafter Cal-
lin.), Τρήερας ἄνδρας (Callin. 4), ἄνδρα παλαιότερον (Tyrt. 10.22), ἀνὴρ διαβάς (Tyrt. 12.16), Παίονας ἄνδρας
(mimnermus 17, hereafter mimn.). in other cases it is much clearer: ἐπίκουρος ἀνήρ (Archil. 15), δήϊον ἄνδρα
(Tyrt. 11.30), δυσμενέων ἀνδρῶν (Tyrt. 12.21), ἀνδράσιν αἰχμηταῖς (Tyrt. 19.13), ἄνδρα μαχαίταν (Alc. 350.5).
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proves the lack of specifc terms in the Greek language to denote military
Thus, it is not unlikely that, when the military meaning became
predominant in the semantic feld of the group hopl- circa 500, a new adjective
to refer generically to the fully-equipped warrior appeared. This adjective,
originally similar to others in use, could be used in combination with substan-
tives other than anêr (such as Pindar’s ὁπλίταις δρόμοις, Isth. 1.23), and would
fnally predominate as a substantive to become the most common name of the
standard Greek heavy-armed warrior of the Classical period.
The meaning of Hoplitês
According to this analysis, it can be argued then that the term hoplitês simply
did not exist in the Archaic period. This conclusion is based on the three
complementary arguments explored above: frst, its absence from the extant
sources, as far as our present knowledge goes; second, the semantic evolution
of the group hopl-, leading to the consolidation of the military meaning by
the beginning of the ffth century; and third, the vocabulary of the warrior in
the Archaic period, consisting in generic and non-technical terms expressing
diferent qualities of the fghter (strength, multitude, equipment). The “in-
vention” of hoplitês fts the evolution of the vocabulary of the warrior as a
new possibility in a time of experimentation: hoplitês appears in ffth-century
poetry as an adjective to introduce a variation in the military metaphor of
poetic constructions with substantives like anêr.
At this point it is crucial to identify to which realities the Greek sources
refer with the term hoplitês in order to elucidate if they resemble the mean-
ings given to it by modern scholarship. There are two complementary ways to
approach this issue, the frst one being to study the “internal contexts” of the
texts, namely, the periods, historical or not, to which the term refers. For what
it is worth, Greeks themselves did not consistently apply the term hoplitês to
realities in their past (as we do), but employed it to designate contemporary
realities. This again points to the Classical period.
To start with, the occurrences of the term in tragedy almost invariably refer
to a mythological time; i am thus inclined to think that, rather than an indica-
tion of hoplites being part of the tradition, this reveals a tendency to describe
myth in contemporary (and thus anachronistic) terms: to describe the hero
eteocles, for example, as an ἀνὴρ ὁπλίτης (Aesch. Sept. 717) is not a way to
push hoplites into the legendary past, but to make that past more accessible
and understandable for the contemporary audience.
The remaining ffth-century cases, however, refer to historical periods in a
remarkable pattern: only three occurrences can be unequivocally connected
36. Another proof of the strength of that tradition is the frequent periphrasis with anêr that can be found in
Aeschylus himself. if we pick out constructions with a military content, we can fnd ἄνδρας πολεμίους (Pers.
243), ναυβάτης ἀνήρ (Pers. 375), ἄνδρες λοχαγέται (Sept. 42), δοχμολόφων ἀνδρῶν (Sept. 114), γυμνὸν ἄνδρα
(Sept. 432), ἐχθρὸς ἀνήρ (Sept. 509), ἀνδρὶ στρατηγῷ (Ag. 1627), δορυσθενὴς ἀνήρ (Choe. 160), πολέμαρχος
ἀνήρ (Choe. 1072), and ταγοῦχος ἀνήρ (Eum. 296). The constructions ἀνὴρ τευχηστής (Sept. 644) and ἀνὴρ
τευχεσφόρος (Choe. 627) must be emphasized, because they are perhaps the closest concepts to the ἀνὴρ
ὁπλίτης in Sept. 466 and 717 as an “armed warrior.” They prove that it is not a casual or isolated expression.
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with the Archaic period,
while the overwhelming majority refer to contem-
porary events of the Classical period. most of the occurrences in herodotus
are inscribed in the context of the Persian Wars, while Pindar (Isthm. 1.23),
Aristophanes (Lys. 1143), and several occurrences in Thucydides correspond
to events in the Pentecontaetia, like the Athenian attacks on the megarid in
459 (Thuc. or the battle of Koroneia i in 447 (Thuc.
Finally, the bulk of Thucydides’ and Aristophanes’ references (165 and six
cases, respectively) and the diferent Attic inscriptions evoke contemporary
events of the Peloponnesian War.
The only three references to the Archaic period (hdt. 3.120.3, 4.160.3;
Thuc. 6.58.1) belong to contexts concentrated in the second half of the sixth
century, but they are not likely to entail an intentional efort by herodotus
and Thucydides to identify hoplites in that specifc time. hoplites are not
mentioned in other crucial campaigns of the period in which infantry troops
are present, such as Cleomenes’ expeditions against Athens in 512–508 (hdt.
5.64–65, 71, 74–76) or the successful Athenian campaign against the Boeo-
tians and euboeans in 507/6 (hdt. 5.77). moreover, herodotus’ and Thucyd-
ides’ vocabulary of infantry in events of the Archaic period is generic and
unspecifc: for example, the troops used by Cylon in his coup are a δύνα-
μις (Thuc. 1.126.5), and the Athenians who rushed to besiege the Acropolis
against him were πανδημεί (Thuc. 1.126.7); the Argive and spartan warriors
in the Battle of Champions (c. 546) were ἄνδρες (hdt. 1.82.4); and the Argives
defeated in the battle of sepeia (c. 494) were simply Ἀργεῖοι (hdt. 6.77–79).
These references are just a sample of a much longer list, and they are likely
to suggest that both herodotus and Thucydides (but especially the latter) kept
a safe distance from the military realities of the past, realities they apparently
did not feel too confdent to describe in detail. There is indeed a considerable
gap between their ambiguous way to describe Archaic infantry and their more
detailed and technical descriptions of Classical hoplites. in this case, i think
it is safer to regard herodotus’ and Thucydides’ references to hoplitai in the
Archaic period as anachronisms, since they “described the past with the words
and political concepts of their own time; without independent confrmation
we cannot know whether such words and concepts were really used in the
time described.”
The second way to approach the question of the meaning of hoplitês is a
semantic study (naturally cursory) of the catalogue of references. The seman-
tic feld of this term in Classical literary sources is, as far as our evidence
suggests, made of a core meaning and two complementary (and sometimes
overlapping) notions. The diferent meanings of hoplitês in the sources are
thus obtained from the combination in varying proportions of these elements,
and their identifcation and diferentiation rely mainly on the specifc literary
37. hdt. 4.160.13 mentions “hoplites” in a campaign of king Arkesilaos of Cyrene, c. 550; hdt. 3.120.14
refers to the ffteen “hoplites” that supported Polykrates to establish his tyranny in samos, c. 540; and Thuc. situates “hoplites” in the Great Panathenaia the day hipparchus is murdered, c. 514. All of them refer
to the second half of the sixth century.
38. For a complete list of references and contexts, see echeverría 2008, 163.
39. raafaub 2000, 251.
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context. regarding the core meaning, the term takes it from its root hopl- as
“military equipment,” implying a man with his gear of military “tools,” his
The idea of “equipment” seems to be enough by itself to dif-
ferentiate a heavy-armed infantryman from other types of combatants, but
does not ofer further information regarding the specifc set of weapons he is
wearing. Aeschylus’ ἀνὴρ ὁπλίτης is thus not necessarily a hoplite in the later
sense, i think, but more properly an “armed warrior.” This basic meaning is
characteristic in tragedy.
The semantic core is supplemented with additional information (connota-
tions), rendering it conceptually more complex and suitable for application
to various felds. The additional information takes two complementary forms:
technical military connotations and sociopolitical connotations. The evolution
of these two forms during the Classical period seems to be, however, the
opposite: hoplitês gradually acquires a more technical military sense, while
it simultaneously loses sociopolitical connotations. let us examine these two
processes more carefully.
regarding the frst, a look at the catalogue of references suggests that from
the original “warrior in full equipment,” the meaning of hoplitês is gradually
evolving toward a more technical “heavy-armed infantryman,” as opposed
to other kinds of troops, especially in the historical works in prose and from
herodotus onward. in ffth-century epigraphy and in countless references
in herodotus and Thucydides
the hoplite is systematically diferentiated
from other types of troops (archers, horsemen, slingers, light-armed). it thus
belongs to a period in Greek history in which this diferentiation becomes
relevant, perhaps because armies are getting more complex and sophisticated.
more interestingly, the ffth-century hoplite is often connected with the
phalanx in the sources,
suggesting the kind of warrior armed with shield
and spear commonly described by modern scholarship. naturally, i am not
implying that there was an exclusive relationship between the hoplite and the
What i am describing here is the conceptual connection estab-
lished between both realities from the ffth century onward. i suggest that the
phalanx contributed to the consolidation of the Classical notion of hoplitês,
since the phalanx entails primarily the presence of hoplites: they seem to be
40. it, however, means just “equipped” or “armed” when constructed as an adjective with substantives that
entail a non-human agent, like “race” (ὁπλίταις δρόμοις, Pind. Isthm. 1.21–23) or “army” (ὁπλίτην στρατόν,
eurip. Heracl. 800–801).
41. epigraphy: IG i
.1.138.1–2, IG i
.1.60.14–18, IG i
.1.83.22–24. herodotus: 7.158.4, 7.173.2, 7.202,
9.17.2, 9.28.3, 9.29.1, 9.30. Thucydides (sample from the frst two books): 1.49.1, 1.60, 1.106, 2.13.6–8,
2.22.2, 2.31.2, 2.56.2, 2.79, 2.80.4–5.
42. i will beneft here from the notion of phalanx i will develop in the next section. According to it, it is
possible to fnd hoplites connected to phalanxes in the main battles of the ffth and fourth centuries: marathon
(hdt. 6.111–17), Plataea (hdt. 9.59–75), Potidaia (Thuc. 1.62–63), Olpai (Thuc. 3.107–108), solygeia (Thuc.
4.42–45), delium (Thuc. 4.88–101), Amphipolis (Thuc. 5.6–12), mantineia i (Thuc. 5.63–74), syracuse i
(Thuc. 6.62–71), nemea (Xen. Hell. 4.2.9–23), Koronea ii (Xen. Hell. 4.3.17–19), Olynthus i (Xen. Hell.
5.2.40–43) and ii (Xen. Hell. 5.3.3–6), Thespiae (Xen. Hell. 5.4.42–46), leuktra (Xen. Hell. 6.4.8–15), and
mantineia ii (Xen. Hell. 7.5.18–27).
43. As modern scholarship frequently does: see, among many others, lorimer 1947, 128; 1950, 462;
Andrewes 1974, 32; mitchell 1996, 89; schwartz 2002, 40.
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the main component of the phalanx,
while the reverse does not necessar-
ily follow: hoplites, as has been convincingly shown, performed many other
military duties beyond the phalanx in Classical warfare.
regarding the second semantic process, hoplitês seems in certain contexts
to contain some social and political connotations involving prestige and sta-
tus: a hoplite could also be a “citizen-soldier,” a fully integrated adult male
with political rights and distinctively separated from other groups in the city.

These status connotations pervade the references to hoplitês in tragedy, and
this fact, combined with the use of the periphrastic form, recalls the poetic
tradition to designate heavy-armed infantrymen as status warriors. The term
“hoplite,” hence, seems to be the last example (and for some time just one
among many others) of a long tradition of literary solutions to the trouble of
designating the fgure of the warrior.
This semantic argument (connecting hoplitês to a literary tradition coming
from the Archaic period) suggests that the status connotations could be part
of the original meaning of the term when it was “invented.” in fact, these
connotations can be found in the very frst occurrences of the term: Pindar
describes in Isthmian 1.23 an athletic event, characteristically connected with
aristocratic practices, while Aeschylus (Sept. 466, 717) refers to mythological
heroes, commonly portrayed as “status warriors” in the tragedy, a tradition
preserved four decades later in euripides (Heracl. 694, 699, and 729). The
status connotations recur in later literature: at 9.29.3, herodotus contrasts
the spartan citizens at Plataea (whom he calls “hoplites”) with the rest of
the lacedaemonian forces (perioikoi and helots); Aristophanes describes
lysistrata’s complaint for the fate of the Athenian women, forced to send
their sons to serve the city as hoplites (Lys. 590), and he later refers to the
hoplites sent with Kimon in 464, generally regarded by modern scholars as
full Athenian citizens (Lys. 1143).
Thucydides preserves the pattern, at times slightly more superfcially:
he designates Athenian citizens as “hoplites” in the course of the Pelopon-
nesian War, for example, the men from the deme of Acharnae in,
or the citizens at the Peiraeus during the events of 411 (,,,,,,, who are depicted at some
point gathered in assembly ( Citizen troops are diferentiated from
other contingents, especially metics, with this term (Thuc.,,, and during the Plague, the casualties among the citizen body are
referred to as “hoplites” (Thuc. Kleon’s troops at Amphipolis were
“exclusively made up of citizens” (Thuc., and from other passages
we know that there were only Athenian and allied hoplites in that campaign.
Finally, Thucydides refers to the hoplites from the list (ἐκ καταλόγου) at
44. For a recent discussion arguing that light-armed troops could fght mixed with the hoplites in the
phalanx, see hunt 1997 and van Wees 1995, 164 and 2004, 69.
45. see rawlings 2000.
46. modern scholars have also adopted this meaning, and commonly use the term “hoplite” to diferenti-
ate between citizens and non-citizens, as in the expression “hoplite class” (e.g., in snodgrass 1965a, 115 or
Cartledge 1977, 27, among many others).
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least four times (,,,, as does Aristophanes
(Eq. 1369; Lys. 394).
The evolution of this status notion, however, seems to lead to its gradual
(but never total) abandonment in the sources: although preserved in the fol-
lowing decades, this notion will become secondary against the more technical,
plainly military one we have just described. The references with status con-
notations become proportionally a minority in Thucydides, and will remain
secondary in Xenophon and fourth-century literature, but will always be at
hand to be invoked when necessary.
As a result, the two semantic phenomena afecting the basic meaning of
hoplitês (the gradual acquisition of a technical sense, and the gradual loss of
the sociopolitical connotations) seem to be to some extent complementary and
develop simultaneously during the ffth century. They, in fact, represent the
two sides of a single coin: the gradual development of technical vocabulary
in the military feld.
A crucial factor involved in the process, marking a decisive turning point,
will be the generalization of the nominal form in the historical prose of the
late ffth century. Both the development of the technical meaning of hoplitês
and the gradual loss of its status connotations seem to be connected with the
introduction and spread of hoplitês as a substantive. This entails that what was
originally a description or categorization (“a man with certain qualities”) has
turned into a proper agent (“a specifc kind of armed man”).
The pervivence
of a reference to hoplitês as an adjective in herodotus (6.117.3), and the pres-
ence of the substantive in the later works of euripides and Aristophanes,

both account for the difcult transition from one meaning to the other, and
bear witness to the coexistence of diferent applications of the term.
if this analysis is sound, the semantic evolution of hoplitês then points as
well to the Classical period: frst, Classical Greek sources (especially sources
in prose) seem to refer consistently to contemporary realities, and second,
the meaning of the term evolves in diverse semantic processes that develop
during the Classical period. That looks too consistent to be coincidental.
3. The Phalanx
The word φάλαγξ presents the opposite situation to hoplitês: found in homer
with extraordinary regularity, it would be preserved through the Archaic pe-
riod until Classical times. Apparently, its original meaning referred to a long
and solid segment of any material,
ofering thus a natural ground for its
later military meaning. it is doubtful, however, to what extent the homeric
and Archaic phalanges physically reproduced the metaphor of the “elongated
47. We have listed roughly eighteen possible ocurrences of the term with status connotations in
Thucydides, but they must be put against the total 180, a mere 10 percent. in Xenophon they are even harder
to fnd, perhaps some eight references against the total 186 (Hell.,,,,,; Mem. 3.5.19; see also [Xen.] Ath.Pol. 1.2.7).
48. i have already described the moment in which hoplitês appears as a substantive, in herodotus and
contemporary epigraphy. see above, p. 296, and n. 26 for references.
49. euripides: Heracl. 694, 729; Andr. 458, 760, 1123; Phoen. 1096, 1191. Aristophanes: Eq. 1369;
Av. 402, 448; Lys. 394, 590, 1143.
50. latacz 1977, 53; singor 1991, 26–27.
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segment” characteristic of the tactical formation of Classical times. As a re-
sult, we need to review the extant sources from homer onward in order,
frst, to look for similarities between the Archaic phalanges and the Classical
phalanx, and second, to check whether the term is actually used to designate
closed formations before the ffth century.
For that purpose, we frst need to determine what exactly was a phalanx,
how it was described, and how it operated tactically on the feld. The frst
unequivocal (and quintessential) depiction of a Classical phalanx appeared in
early fourth-century literature. For this reason (and because he was the frst to
use the term phalanx to designate that specifc infantry formation), we must
now turn to Xenophon.
The Phalanx in Xenophon
The fourth century begins with the recovery of a term from poetic tradition:
phalanx appears sixty times in Xenophon’s works to denote the dense forma-
tion of Greek heavy infantry. he will certainly create an entirely new concept
from scratch, pouring new wine (the fourth-century tactical formation) into
an old fask (the old term phalanx from the poetic tradition). in order to
approach this new tactical reality in Xenophon’s narrative, we need to pay
attention to at least three felds: frst, the forms and uses of the term phalanx
in Xenophon’s works; second, the vocabulary connected with the deployment
and organization of infantry formations; third, the narrative descriptions of the
characteristics and qualities of the phalanx. let us examine these arguments
in detail.
Broadly speaking, the term phalanx designates in Xenophon the body
of Greek heavy-armed infantrymen deployed in lines that usually takes the
center of the battlefeld and plays the most relevant role in combat. The term
appears in the accounts of the main battles of the period designating the
Greek heavy infantry formation,
but it is also employed marginally in other
uses, referring to cavalry, and even to the Persians,
which entails that it is
not a “technical” term yet.
Xenophon recognizes the phalanx as the most
common tactical formation, using the term to express the very idea of “draw-
ing up the army in battle order” (ἐπὶ φάλαγγος γένοιτο τὸ στράτευμα, An.; cf. A crucial feature, however, is that Xenophon’s phalanx
51. Counaxa (Xen. An.,, nemea (Xen. Hell.,, Koronea ii (Xen. Hell.,,, Acharnania (Xen. Hell., Olynthus i (Xen. Hell. and ii (Xen.
Hell., Thespiae (Xen. Hell., Corcyra (Xen. Hell., leuktra (Xen. Hell.,, and mantineia ii (Xen. Hell.,,
52. There are many occurrences of the term applied to Persian troops in the Cyropaedia (see echeverría
2008, 170 n. 47 for a full list) but, given the fact that Xenophon is reconstructing here the life of a Persian king
more than 150 years earlier in an account full of literary conventions, it seems unlikely that he is using the term
in any technical sense, but probably trying to make his descriptions of Persian life understandable for a Greek
audience. This argument could also be applied to the occurrences in the Anabasis. Cf. raafaub 2000, 251.
53. Greek cavalry units (Xen. Hell., and feets (Xen. Hell. can be deployed
“like a phalanx” (ὥσπερ φάλαγξ). Persian units can also be designated with this term: Xen. An.,,,, These testimonies show that Xenophon is not absolutely consistent when
applying the term to diferent realities, although he is fairly coherent when dealing with Greek infantry. it is
likely that he created the concept to designate the Greek heavy infantry and then applied it to other military
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is invariably one: the historian consistently presents the term in its singular
implying a single, coherent, and unitary formation (although likely to
be separated into contingents, sectors, and other subunits with some freedom
of action). For the frst time in Greek literature, the phalanx, even resulting
from the combination of minor parts, is conceived as a tactical unit.
This singularity is emphasized by the related vocabulary: the phalanx is
described in Xenophon’s narrative as “deep” (βαθεῖα, Hell.,,; Lac. 11.6.6), “dense” (πυκνήν, An., or “solid” (ἰσχυροτέρα,
Ages. 6.4.6), clearly emphasizing cohesion. it can perform diferent actions:
it can be “made” (ποιέω, Hell.,,, “led” (ἄγω, Hell.; Ages. 1.31.5, 2.11.10), and “turned” (ἐξελίσσω, Hell.; Ages.
2.11.10; Lac. 11.9.6); it can also “spread itself” (ἀποτείνω, Hell.;
ἐκτείνω, Hell., “break through” (ἐκκυμαίνω, An., “scat-
ter” (ἀποσκεδάννυμι, Hell., “turn round” (ἀναστρέφω, Hell.,, and even “fee” (φεύγω, Hell. Finally, the soldiers can
“run” from it (τρέχω, Hell.; Ages. 2.10.5), leave it to “pursue” their
enemies (ἐπιδιώκω, Hell., and “move in front” of it (πρόειμι, An. All these actions emphasize the idea of the phalanx as a unit.
regarding the second argument, Xenophon employs many other ways, be-
sides the term phalanx itself, to denote the formation of Greek heavy infantry.
The most important of these is the use of the verb τάσσω and related words
(with the noun τάξις and their many compounds) to refer to the organiza-
tion and deployment of troops on the battlefeld. Tassô (and its compounds
συντάσσω, παρατάσσω, and the several forms with anti-) is the most common
verb in Greek to denote the action of drawing up troops in battle order. it in
fact appears in most of Xenophon’s accounts of battles,
and its role is so
crucial that Xenophon refers to the Greek infantrymen as οἱ συντεταγμένοι
(Hell.; An., or οἱ παρατεταγμένοι (An.,,, and to the contingents as συντάγματα (Hell. The
noun taxis, on the other hand, can refer to a number of diferent tactical
realities depending on the context: in its most general sense, it can designate
a contingent of the army, a unit of the phalanx most likely under the direct
command of an ofcer of its own;
then, taxis can designate the “battle array”
54. specifcally, ffty-six occurrences in the singular and only fve in the plural. For the complete list of
references, see echeverría (2008, 169 n. 46). The singularity of the phalanx is emphasized even in those few
passages where the plural form is preferred: at Counaxa (Xen. An., the dual form clearly implies
that there are two phalanxes, one on each side, and the same happens in Xen. Ages. 2.9.6 and Xen. Eq. mag.
8.23.1. The plural at nemea (Xen. Hell., however, seems to refer to the phalanxes of every allied city
taking part in the battle, that is, one phalanx for each city. This is an intriguing use of the term that recalls its
traditional, poetic use, as we shall see.
55. Peiraeus i (Xen. Hell.,,, and ii (Xen. Hell.,,
Counaxa (Xen. An., nemea (Xen. Hell., (x2),, Koronea ii (Xen. Hell., lechaion i (Xen. Hell.,, and ii (Xen. Hell., Acharnania (Xen.
Hell., Olynthos i (Xen. Hell., Corcyra (Xen. Hell.,, Olympia (Xen. Hell.,, and mantineia ii (Xen. Hell.,,, For other uses of tassô
in combat, see echeverría 2008, 170 n. 48.
56. For a full list of references, see echeverría 2008, 171 n. 50. We can also fnd a πρώτη τάξις (Xen. An., which in its context refers to a unit at the forefront of the attack. i will later compare this meaning
with the use given to the same expression by Thucydides.
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in its broadest sense, the battle order or formation;
again, it can imprecisely
contain the idea of “position,” referring either to the spatial position of a man
in his unit or to the situation of the unit on the battlefeld (Hell.; An.,; fnally, it has also been intepreted as “rank” or “fle,” as if
designating each line of the phalanx.
There are, however, two problems with the group tassô-taxis. First, it
semantically entails the idea of order, which in a military context usually
involves a tactical formation, but the term itself gives no hint of the spe-
cifc nature and characteristics of that formation. And second, it is again not
technical vocabulary for Greek infantry, but can be marginally applied to
other military realities.
Xenophon’s tactical vocabulary, therefore, seems to
present some imprecisions, even to the point of resorting to other expressions
like “preparing for battle” to denote the action of deploying an army.
main problem lies in the idea of order, as it seems difcult to be described
and we need to resort to complementary ways to fgure it out:
for example, the several references to the rupture of the battle order.
if a
phalanx can be broken or penetrated, then we can infer a certain degree of pre-
vious cohesion, a certain unitary disposition, for these actions to be possible.
The third line of analysis (to study the narrative descriptions of the char-
acteristics and qualities of the phalanx) can shed some further light on the
issue. Xenophon regularly describes the battle order, referring to three main
aspects: its longitudinal disposition in a wide front, its depth, and its density.
starting with the frst, we have some indirect evidence of the existence of a
wide longitudinal front in the frequent references to the wings (κέρατα) of the
phalanx, which represent a visual metaphor: the army is made to extend from
side to side in a wide and shallow front, and hence the distinction between
a “right” (δεξιόν) and a “left” (εὐώνυμον) fank,
both usually behaving in-
dependently of one another, and even the occasional mention of a “center”
(μέσον, Hell.; An., The idea of the wide front fnds
further support in the several references to contingents deployed in consecu-
57. This is probably the most common use in Xenophon, implying a higher level of “order.” For a full
list of references, see echeverría 2008, 171 nn. 51 and 52. in the same situation we fnd σύνταξις (Xen. Hell.,
58. some possible cases: Xen. Hell.,; An., This meaning is quite un-
likely though: the idea of the “frst rank” cannot be justifed by the context, and in all these cases it is better to
interpret the term as “contingents.” The notion of “rank” is so specifc, providing additional tactical informa-
tion, that it needs further support besides the presence of the term taxis.
59. Tassô can refer to the marching order of infantry, to the battle array of cavalry and feets, and even to
Persian infantry and cavalry. Taxis in turn can refer to contingents of peltatst and Greek and Persian cavalry, to
the battle order of feets and Greek and Persian cavalry, and to the position of Persian cavalry on the feld. see
the catalogue of references in echeverría 2008, 170–71 and n. 49. remarkably enough, taxis can be used as
well to express the social “position” or status of a man (Xen. Hell.
60. Παρασκευάζεσθαι ὡς μάχης (Xen. Hell., διασκευάζεσθαι ὡς εἰς μάχην (Xen. Hell.,
εἰς μάχην παρασκευάζετο (Xen. Hell.
61. This is exactly the case with the terms ἀτάκτως/ἀταξία and εὐτάκτως/εὐταξία applied to the battle
order in Xenophon (see a full list of references in echeverría 2008, 172 n. 55). it is impossible to infer the
exact nature or characteristics of the formation from them, beyond the fact that it is “ordered” (eutaktôs) or
not (ataktôs).
62. The phalanx can be “cut” or “split” (διακόπτω, Xen. Hell.,; Ages. 2.11.8; An.,, and enemy troops can “break through” it (διαπίπτω, Xen. Hell.,; Ages. 2.11.11).
63. For a full list of references about kerata, see echeverría 2008, 172 and nn. 57–58.
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tive order, one close to another, and usually listed in Xenophon’s accounts
from side to side.
The presence of kerata, however, in the Persian infantry
formation (Hell.; An.,,,,
and in Greek feets (Hell.,,,, the mention
of the center of the Persian infantry (An.,,,,,, and the description of the consecutive order of the Persian
contingents at Counaxa (An. 1.8.9–10) all imply that they are not technical
terms for the Greek infantry, either.
The second aspect—depth—can be described through diferent elements.
To begin with, Xenophon seems at times to diferentiate an area at the front
of the formation (οἱ προτεταγμένοι, Hell.; οἱ πρωτοστάται, Hell.; οἱ πρῶτοι, Hell.,; this must be understood in a
general sense of “combatants at the front.”
Besides, Xenophon uses these
terms to designate peltasts (Hell. and Persians (Cyr. more
explicit reference to depth can be found in the presence of the term βάθος
(Hell.,,,, and in the several testimonies of
the number of ranks or “shields,” recurrent in Xenophon’s narrative.
testimonies are crucial because, for the frst time, they ofer accurate details
for visualizing the phalanx: the “shields” or “ranks” allow us to draw the
rectangle of the phalanx with great precision. Again, depth is not an exclu-
sive element of the Greek phalanx. Xenophon refers to the depth of Persian
cavalry (Hell., while the Greek cavalry can deploy four or six deep
(Hell.,, and the Greek feets can form a single line (Hell.,,
Finally, density: formations can be labeled as “dense” (ἁθρόοι, Hell.,,,, but apparently density does not ex-
clude the existence of disorder (as in Hell., and the verb ἁθροίζω
can also be applied to Greek cavalry (Hell. and Persian infantry
(An. most of the time, it preserves a general meaning (“to gather”
or “to collect”).
To sum up, the literary concept of the phalanx to refer to the Greek tacti-
cal unit of heavy infantry can be regarded as a creation of Xenophon: he
gives it its name, and he accurately describes its nature and characteristics.
Xenophon explicitly identifes a phalanx, described as a cohesive compound
of assembled contingents, in most of the greatest battles of his period. he
also collects a basic tactical vocabulary, still tentative and not exclusive of
the phalanx, emphasizing roughly the idea of order in its most general form
and thus suitable to be applied to diferent military realities. he describes
64. For example, in the battles of Counaxa (Xen. An. 1.8.4–7), nemea (Xen. Hell. 4.2.16–17), Koronea ii
(Xen. Hell. 4.3.15–16; Ages. 2.9–11), and lechaion i (Xen. Hell. 4.4.9).
65. And certainly not as a “frst rank” of the phalanx. Being “frst” does not necessarily imply being in
order: for example, Xenophon mentions prôtoi at Hell., but explicitly points out that they are fghting
“without any order” (ἅτε οὐδενὸς ἁθρόου ὄντος).
66. Fifty shields: Xen. Hell., sixteen shields: Xen. Hell. Twelve shields:
Xen. Hell. Ten shields: Xen. Hell., eight shields: Xen. Hell.,,; An. Four shields: Xen. An. “really deep” phalanx: Xen. Hell.–8 (βαθεῖαν
παντελῶς). it is also possible to make the phalanx “deeper” (ἰσχυροτέραν, Xen. Hell.,, or
even to “double” its depth (διπλόω, Xen. Hell.
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the phalanx as a wide longitudinal front with clearly diferentiated sections
(wings and center), and with a variable depth in homogeneous ranks. This dis-
position in a grid pattern, in which the infantrymen are posted in regular fles
and columns, is probably the main feature of the extremely shallow rectagle
that constitutes the essence of the Classical phalanx. The concept, however,
is still young and shows traces of evolution: accurately used when describing
the Greek heavy infantry, it still displays some margin for ambiguity. This
allows the historian to transfer the “image” of a phalanx (an ordered rectangle
of ranks and fles, with a fxed width and depth and a certain density) to other
realities like cavalry, feets, and even Persians, without shocking his audience.
To a great extent, the phalanx is still a metaphor of an ordered formation, an
abstract scheme of a tactical disposition, and it can be transferred to diferent
situations and contexts.
Xenophon’s phalanx represents the Classical phalanx of the fourth century.
We now need to go back to the ffth century to unveil the tactical formations
of the period.
Battle Formations in the Fifth Century
An overview of ffth-century Greek literature ofers the frst and most striking
result: the term phalanx does not appear in any literary source of the period.
Although the ffth century is the time of some of the greatest infantry battles
in Greek history, from marathon to Peiraeus, a concept to denote the Greek
battle array is apparently absent. As remarkable as this fact is, it seems to have
been overlooked by modern scholarship. This seems to point at Xenophon as
its creator, and gives a new dimension to the sixty occurrences of the term in
his works: despite seeming like a fairly low number of references, they must
be considered against the absolute vacuum of the previous century.
As a result, we need to resort to other ways to reconstruct the tactical
formations of the period, namely to the second and third steps of our meth-
odological approach to Xenophon’s phalanx: the vocabulary connected with
the deployment and organization of infantry formations, and the narrative
descriptions of the characteristics and qualities of the phalanx. This analysis
will allow us to compare the tactical formations in the ffth century with the
phalanx in Xenophon’s time.
starting with the analysis of the vocabulary, the most common way to
denote the tactical disposition of an army in ffth-century literary sources is
again the verb τάσσω, the noun τάξις, and their multiple compounds. The
group semantically implies that troops are deployed in some kind of tactical
order on the battlefeld, and thus contingents can be called οἱ παρατεταγμένοι
(Thuc., or οἱ ἐπιτεταγμένοι (Thuc. it is extremely
frequent in ffth-century literature, and appears in the accounts of the main
battles of the period.
The noun taxis preserves this general and unspecifc
67. marathon (hdt. 6.111.1, 6.111.6, 6.111.11, 6.112.1, 6.113.3), Citheron (hdt. 9.21.1), Plataea (hdt.
9.27.35, 9.28.5, 9.28.9–10, 9.28.18, 9.28.27, 9.28.28, 9.28.30, 9.29.2, 9.31.2, 9.31.6, 9.46.6, 9.48.12, 9.49.11,
9.54.4, 9.61.3, 9.69.2), mycale (hdt. 9.99.4, 9.102.2, 9.102.4, 9.102.16), Olpai (Thuc.,,
sphacteria (Thuc.,, solygeia (Thuc., delium (Thuc.,,,
mantineia (Thuc.,,, Anapus river (Thuc.,,,,
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sense of order, and its meaning varies according to the context, as happened
in Xenophon: it can mean “contingent,” sometimes identifed with the Athe-
nian tribal units; “formation” in a broad sense, referring to the battle array;
“position,” in a specifc (a man in his unit) or a general (a unit on the bat-
tlefeld) sense; and fnally “rank,” although the context is not always clear
enough to be certain.
The indefniteness of the idea of order allows the
group tassô-taxis, hardly a technical term for military deployments, to be
used in contexts other than Greek heavy infantry formations: it can refer
to the Persians, especially in herodotus’ narrative, and also to feets.
notion of “ordered formation” is also implied in other verbs as well, such
as ἵζω (hdt. 6.77.4), κοσμέω (hdt. 7.212.7), and παρακρίνω (hdt. 9.98.10),
while ἵστημι (hdt. 9.28.13, 14, 16, 21, 22, 25, 9.46.5, 9.48.1) and καθίστημι
(Thuc.,,,–4,,,–4,,,,, despite greater frequency, are a bit more
obscure in terms of tactical information.
This lack of technical vocabulary to describe the nature of the Greek tacti-
cal formation prompts the need for other, more linguistically complex, solu-
tions, like periphrasis: armies can “prepare for battle” (παρασκευαζομένους
ὡς ἐς μάχην, Thuc.; cf., “deploy for battle” (ἐτάσσοντο ὡς
ἐς μάχην, Thuc.; cf.,,, “stand for bat-
tle” (ἐς μάχην καθίσταντας, Thuc., and even “deploy in position”
(ἐς τάξιν καθίστασθαι, Thuc.–4; cf. or “deploy in order”
(καθίσταντο ἐς κόσμον, Thuc.–4). These expressions seem to be the
only available resort for Greek authors when the historical account demands
more precision and accuracy in tactical details than the extant vocabulary is
ready to provide. The use of κόσμος is particularly signifcant in this respect:
already present in the epics,
the term emphasizes the idea of order, although
without any further clarifcation. in the ffth century it can be used as well in
its negative form, implying the lack of order (ἄκοσμος, hdt. 7.220.25), and
parallels similar negative forms of taxis (ἀταξία, Thuc.,,,; cf., Order can be emphasized as well
through references to the disintegration of the line (as shown above in the
case of Xenophon). Fifth-century literature, however, prefers the verb ῥήγνυμι
(soph. Aj. 775; hdt. 6.113.4, 6.113.7; Thuc.–3,, which had
a long tradition in that sense.
71, Other occurrences: hdt. 5.102.8, 5.109.5, 5.109.14, 5.110.2, 5.110.3, 5.110.5; Thuc.,
68. For a full list of references, see echeverría 2008, 175–76, nn. 67–70.
69. Tassô: applied to individual warriors (Aesch. Sept. 408, 527, 570, 621), to Persians (hdt. 1.80.14,
3.155.24, 3.155.31, 7.218.11, 9.32.2, 9.33.1), to lydians (hdt. 1.80.7), to scythians (hdt. 4.134.1–2, 4.134.3),
to the Persian feet (Aesch. Pers. 366), and to the Greek feet (Aesch. Pers. 381; hdt. 6.8.2; Th.
Taxis: applied to the “position” or the “ranks” of the Persian troops (Aesch. Pers. 298; hdt. 9.31.8, respec-
tively), and to the “battle array” and “fles of rowers” of feets (hdt. 6.14.8; Aesch. Pers. 380, respectively).
These references are just a sample; for a full list, see echeverría 2008, 175–76 and nn. 65–66.
70. Kosmeô: hom. Il. 2.476, 554, 655, 704, 727, 806, 3.1, 11.51, 12.87, 14.379, 388. several heroes are
even labelled as “organizers of the troops” (κοσμήτορες λαῶν, hom. Il. 1.16, 375, 3.236).
71. it can be found in homer: Il. 6.6, 7.141, 11.90, 13.718, 15.408. military uses of this verb almost disap-
pear during the Archaic period, and only stesichorus shows an isolated exception (frag. s88 col. 1.21).
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if we move on to the second aspect (the narrative descriptions of the char-
acteristics and qualities of the phalanx), we fnd again a picture very similar to
Xenophon’s, with literary accounts emphasizing three elements: the creation
of a wide longitudinal front, depth, and density. regarding the frst, ffth-cen-
tury sources provide diferent clues: the extraordinarily frequent references
to the wings (κέρατα) of armies is certainly the main one, diferentiating not
only a “right” and “left” fank (sometimes separated by hundreds of meters),
but also a “center.”
The listing of successive contingents in order, side by
side, from one wing to the other, plays again the same role, emphasizing the
disposition of troops following a horizontal axis.
regarding depth, several possibilities are at hand: at least in two cases,
Thucydides distinguishes a “frst line” (πρῶτον ζυγόν,–5; πρώτη τά-
ξις, naturally, this does not provide sufcient ground to identify a
phalanx (the mass can be crowded in disorder behind this frst rank), but in
other cases Thucydides refers explicitly to the “depth” (βάθος, of a
certain formation. This technique is usually complemented with the speci-
fcation of “shields” or “ranks” in the phalanx, to a great narrative efect.

As happened in Xenophon’s account, descriptions are at this point detailed
enough to visualize the formation, the rectangle of the phalanx, with its sol-
diers posted in ordered ranks and fles and not at random.
Finally, density seems more difcult to describe with any accuracy: troops
can be described as “grouped” or “dense” (ἁθρόοι, hdt. 6.112.9; Thuc.,, and the old homeric adjective πυκνός/πυκινός is also
recovered (hdt. 9.18.5; Thuc. The formation can even be referred
to as a ξύγκλησις, a “shutting up” of the lines (Thuc., and the verb
συγκλείω is used in moments of great danger, such as the spartan last stand
at sphacteria (Thuc.–3; cf.,
The result of this analysis of ffth-century sources shows a remarkably
similar situation to that described for Xenophon: the vocabulary is neither
detailed nor technical (it barely transmits the idea of order), it lacks a specifc
tactical meaning, and can be marginally used for other military realities; there
is a tendency to use tassô and taxis in their diferent meanings (depending
on the context); order is emphasized through auxiliary terms and periphrasis
(like kosmos), and can be inferred from the idea of “breaking up” the line; the
Greek formation is presented as a wide longitudinal front through references
to the fanks and the listing of the consecutive contingents; depth is depicted
in a fairly accurate way through the specifcation of “shields” and the attempts
to diferentiate a “frst line”; density and cohesion are duly emphasized as
well. The only element missing is the term phalanx. Therefore, ffth-century
sources seem to be describing a phalanx (much in the same way as Xenophon
will do some decades later), but without calling it by its name.
72. For a full list of references, see echeverría 2008, 178 nn. 77–81. Again this term can be applied for
other uses, like feets (Aesch. Pers. 399; hdt. 6.8.4, 8.76.5, 8.85.2; Thuc.
73. hdt. 6.111.5–7, 9.28, 9.102; Thuc.–4, 5.67, 6.67.1. Thucydides even diferentiates “the frst
contingent from the wing” (ἡ πρώτη φυλὴ τοῦ κέρως,
74. Twenty-four shields: Thuc. sixteen shields: Thuc. eight shields: Thuc.,,,
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Thucydides plays a crucial role in the evolution of the literary notion of the
phalanx. The term, inherited from poetic tradition, was to be re-elaborated at
the beginning of the fourth century, but the tactical reality it was bound to
designate, still experiencing a process of gradual consolidation, was already
there in the late ffth century for Thucydides to describe. in contrast, the Greek
battle order is not so accurately depicted in herodotus (only a generation
before Thucydides), although some key elements (like the deployment in a
wide longitudinal front) are already present in his accounts.
Thus we can detect an evolution in the concept of the phalanx and in the
description of military events, leading toward a gradual specialization of
vocabulary. Thucydides clearly displayed an interest in ofering more accu-
rate details of the military events he described (an interest not so evident in
herodotus), a consequence of which was an efort to use a more technical
vocabulary. Xenophon followed Thucydides’ lead in the treatment of military
descriptions and vocabulary, assuming his narrative techniques, but intro-
duced slight variations and gave a crucial step further with the “reinvention”
of the concept of phalanx. With the consolidation of the fgure of the histo-
rian, military vocabulary and descriptions gradually became more accurate,
specialized, and technical.
According to this premise, if we proceed in the opposite direction back into
the Archaic period, military descriptions should be more and more imprecise:
the further we get into the past, the less accurate and detailed military termi-
nology we should expect to fnd.
The Phalanx in the Archaic literary sources
The Archaic period is the realm of poetry, and poetic language entails difer-
ent choices regarding vocabulary and narrative, a caveat that needs to be taken
into account when dealing with military descriptions in the Archaic sources.
let us begin with homer. The term phalanx is already present in the epics,
but, despite the repeated attention it has received in modern scholarship,

only 34 occurrences can be found in homer. signifcantly enough, only one
case is in the singular form, while the rest present the plural φάλαγγες:
epics, we can infer, consistently describe multiple units, not a single for-
mation. The plural also implies that these separated contingents, although
distinguishable from one another, perform the same activity, acting in unison.
The question arises how autonomous these phalanxes are in actual combat.
do they really act simultaneously?
homeric phalanges are presented performing actions (that is, as subject)
at least twelve times,
and the specifc actions are revealing. First, they can
simply “stay” or “stand” in front of the enemy (ἵστημι, Il. 2.558, 13.126), but
most of the time they seem to be extremely mobile, moving forward (κίνυμαι,
Il. 4.281, 332, 427), following the leaders through the battlefeld (ἕπομαι,
75. For example, latacz 1977; Pritchett 1985; singor 1991; van Wees 1986, 1988, 1994a, 1994b, and
76. singor notices this fact, but recognizes that there are no etymological arguments to explain it (1991,
27). see the complete list of references in echeverría 2008, 165 nn. 41–42.
77. hom. Il. 2.558, 4.281, 332, 427, 5.93, 591, 11.148, 344, 13.126, 15.448, 16.280, 19.158.
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Il. 5.591, 11.344), or even gathering or meeting together (ὁμιλέω, Il. 19.158).
These actions are generally collective, performed by the phalanxes in unison,
but the fact that they can also “push” or “shove” one another (κλονέω, Il. 5.93,
11.148, 15.448) proves that, even performing the same activity, the phalanxes
can move independently as well. Finally, they can also sufer emotions and
thus “be moved” by the surrounding events (κινέω, Il. 16.280).
in contrast, epic phalanges are presented as the object of actions twenty
troop leaders can “push,” “incite,” or “encourage” their contingents
(ὀτρύνω/ἐποτρύνω, Il. 4.254, 6.83, 13.90), but also “strengthen” them (κρα-
τύνω, Il. 11.215, 12.415, 16.563); they can be “held” (ἀνείργω, Il. 3.77, 7.55)
or “repelled” (ἐρητύω, Il. 11.567), “inspected” in search of a breach in the
line (ἐπείρομαι, Il. 13.806), but also “pushed” (κλονέω, Il. 5.96), “decimated”
(ὀλέκω, Il. 8.279, 19.152), “slain” (ἀλαπάζω, Il. 11.503), “broken” (ῥήγνυμι,
Il. 7.141, 11.90, 13.718, 15.408), “scattered” (κεδάννυμι, Il. 17.285), and
fnally “broken up” or “split up” (ἐπικείρω, Il. 16.394). These last cases
clearly show that epic phalanges are small units that can be separated and
act independently.
if we compare this list with ffth- and fourth-century vocabulary, a striking
fact emerges: the verb tassô and related words are completely absent. in fact,
there are no expressions in the epics to describe the action of deployment of
the phalanges in battle order, and while a great deal of information is given
about what they do, very little is said about how they are arranged. This seems
to be the result of a diferent narrative focus, characteristic of epic poetry,
that puts the emphasis on action and overlooks technical details of tactical
disposition, crucial for the Classical historians.
The analysis of related adjectives can provide further information. The
emphasis has usually been placed on those cases of phalanxes described as
“compact” or “dense” (πυκιναί, Il. 4.281, 5.93, 13.145), as if they were testi-
monies of closed formations resembling the Classical phalanx. These occur-
rences must be put in context, however, since other examples show that the
use of adjectives in the epics is determined by literary reasons: phalanxes can
be “dark” or “somber” (κυάνεαι, Il. 4.281), “powerful” (καρτεραί, Il. 5.592,
13.90, 127), and even “bristling” (πεφρικυῖαι, Il. 4.282). Finally, the poet
sometimes diferentiates the “last” (πυμάτας, Il. 4.254) and the “frst” (πρώτας,
Il. 16.394) phalanxes, which probably means that they do not move simultane-
ously or at the same pace, and perhaps they do not form a single line, but an
irregular and deep front.
moving forward in the Archaic period, the term becomes much less fre-
quent in literary sources: only four occurrences can be listed for more than
two centuries. Those scarce testimonies, however, seem to be enough to per-
ceive a certain continuity of the homeric patterns: phalanxes are still multiple,
78. hom. Il. 3.77, 4.254, 5.96, 6.83, 7.55, 141, 8.279, 11.90, 215, 503, 567, 12.415, 13.90, 718, 806,
15.408, 16.394, 563, 17.285, 19.152.
79. Trojan phalanxes “spread” (προχέομαι) through a bridge built by Apollo to cross the Achaean ditch
and then push over the breach “in battalions” (φαλαγγηδόν, hom. Il. 15.360). The most likely explanation for
this is that the contingents did not keep an ordered formation, trying to cross a narrow pass, and then spread to
avoid getting crammed on the bridge.
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and they present similar features. hesiod describes the Titans “strengthen-
ing” their phalanxes (ἐκαρτύναντο φάλαγγας, Theog. 676), while Phobos and
deimos “push the dense formations of warriors” (ἀνδρῶν πυκινὰς κλονέουσι
φάλαγγας, Theog. 935); in Tyrtaeus, the brave warrior can make the “ferce
phalanxes of enemies” withdraw (δυσμενέων ἀνδρῶν ἔτρεψε φάλαγγας
τρηχείας, 12.21), while in mimnermus an anonymous warrior again “pushes
the dense phalanxes” (πυκινὰς κλονέοντα φάλαγγας, 14.3). mimnermus is
strikingly referring here to phalanxes of cavalrymen, something absolutely
new, but apart from this fact, these few occurrences show the same features
detected in homer: the term is always in the plural, and the related verbs
emphasize mobility and scattered units.
As a result, the term phalanx is used in poetry in a general, nontechnical,
sense: it is not connected with any specifc contingent or any specifc tactical
disposition, but represents a generic way to refer to the groups of troops or
units. This is naturally no surprise, since poetic language tends to be meta-
phorical, in contrast with the language of prose (in a permanent search for
conceptual clarity), but it needs to be emphasized. Furthermore, the actual
uses of the term seem to have nothing to do with our previous defnition of
a Classical phalanx: against a coherent and cohesive unit, we fnd scattered
and independent contingents; against an ordered formation in several ranks,
we fnd units moving at their will, creating an irregular front according to the
changing circumstances of the battle; against the slowness and alleged rigidity
of the Classical phalanx, we fnd highly mobile units going back and forth on
their own initiative. As i am arguing here, Archaic phalanges refer to a difer-
ent concept than Xenophon’s phalanx, which belongs to the Classical period.
4. Conclusions: Greek Combat in the Archaic Age
“hoplite” and “phalanx” must be regarded as concepts belonging to the Clas-
sical period, refecting the social, political, economic, and ideological context
of that time. Their evolutions, however, present diferent stories: while “hop-
lite” is a Classical term without Archaic record, “phalanx” is an Archaic term
completely reinterpreted in the Classical period.
The concept of “hoplite” appears at the beginning of the ffth century as
part of a longstanding poetic tradition to designate the “status warriors” of the
Archaic period. in its origins, the term contains a handful of literary conven-
tions (adjectival function, periphrastic construction) and social connotations
(citizen warriors, full participation, and integration), gradually left aside dur-
ing the Classical period. By Thucydides’ time, the social concept evolves into
a more technical one, referring mainly to the military, and the hoplite thus be-
comes a “heavy-armed infantryman,” identifed against other kinds of troops,
and frequently connected with the phalanx. This meaning will predominate
in Xenophon and will be preserved in later literature.
in contrast, phalanx appears as an old term with a new life in later times.
its original use in the epics as “segments” denoting the units or contingents of
the army, always in the plural, seems to lead to an almost complete vacuum
for more than two centuries, until Xenophon recovers the old term to create
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a new one: in the singular form to denote a unity, referring primarily to the
Greek heavy infantry, the phalanx will be described as a wide longitudinal
front with a variable depth in columns; soldiers seem to be posted in exact
positions, making up the long and shallow rectangle of the classical phalanx.
most of these elements can be detected in herodotus’ (although in an incipi-
ent form) and Thucydides’ accounts, but hardly earlier.
literary evidence thus points consistently to the Classical period for the
consolidation of the notions of “hoplite” and “phalanx”; they certainly denote
military realities of the Classical period. As a result, they should be used with
caution to refer to periods other than Classical Greece.
This means that,
for the sake of metholodogical and conceptual accuracy, we should be fairly
certain that Archaic heavy-armed warriors truly resemble classical hoplites in
order to call them “hoplites,” and that Archaic military formations resemble
the classical phalanx in order to call them “phalanx.”
And i think this is
hardly the case.
in the past decades, several scholars have analyzed the frequent testimonies
of mass combat in Archaic poetry.
The result is a fairly well-established
consensus on the existence of mass combat in homer. “All mass infantry for-
mations,” however, “do not signify a phalanx in its classical Greek sense”;

indeed, the view has been put forward recently
that the phalanx, contrary to
the previous belief that it was introduced around 700–650, developed gradu-
ally to consolidate during the early Classical period. despite recent attempts
to “reinstate” the phalanx and the hoplite to their previous Archaic origins,

the theory is appealing and compelling, presenting an entirely new picture
for Archaic Greek land warfare: masses carrying the weight of the fght, not
deployed in a regular or ordered disposition but scattered in diferent units and
open spaces, leaving room for autonomy, freedom, and mobility.
As shown here, the term phalanx is present in Archaic Greek literature, but
the classical concept elaborated by Xenophon is apparently not: there are no
references to the verb tassô or related words; there is no specifc vocabulary
80. As snodgrass (1964, 204), Foxhall (1997, 131), and Wheeler (1991, 127) suggest.
81. The so-called “lexical method,” “the principle that if a culture doesn’t have a word for a thing, then it
does not recognise that thing’s existence” in richard Gaskin’s words (1990, 3), advocated by Bruno snell and
eric dodds among others, has been critiziced recently, most notably by hugh lloyd-Jones (1983, passim) and
Gaskin himself (1990, 3–6). i am not an advocate of the “lexical method” myself, and i understand and share
Gaskin’s arguments to a great extent, but the mere existence of a scholarly controversy about the matter sug-
gests that some kind of connection between a concept and the reality it denotes (especially if it is a material or
physical reality, as this paper explores, and not an abstract idea) seems indeed plausible. intellectual or literary
conceptualization cannot be utterly dissociated from reality itself, and some kind of mutual interaction must
be allowed, as suggested here. Besides, my main concern is not about the ancient Greek conceptualization of
“hoplite” and “phalanx,” but about the implications of the modern concepts and uses in our understanding of
Archaic and Classical Greek warfare.
82. latacz 1977; Pritchett 1985; singor 1991; raafaub 2005 and 2008. Van Wees (1986, 1988, 1994a,
1994b, and 2000), in contrast, does not agree with the idea of an “Archaic phalanx.”
83. Wheeler 1991, 127.
84. see Van Wees 2000, 2004, and 2007, 292; Wheeler 1991, 129–31 and 2007; Krentz 2007, 79–80.
85. schwartz 2009. This particular work returns to deterministic arguments to reply to Krentz and van
Wees, quite unpersuasively in my opinion (echeverría 2011). For a detailed discussion on determinism and the
phalanx, with relevant bibliography, see echeverría 2008.
86. Van Wees 1986, 1988, 1994a, 1994b, 1997, and 2004. The discussion is too long and complex to be
reproduced within the limited framework of this paper, and i refer therefore to the relevant bibliography for
further details.
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to designate the diferent contingents and soldiers; there are no indications
about order, position, formation, or fanks; there is no information about the
disposition of troops, either in a longitudinal front or in any other form; there
are no details about width, depth, or density. in conclusion, none of the ele-
ments that allowed us to identify the phalanx in the Classical period can be
found in the Archaic literary sources. Considering the sources of the Archaic
period, as i do, as representative of the literary production of the time, the
possibility remains, thus, that these sources are not describing the Classical
phalanx, but something else. if we accept a late development of the phalanx
as a tactical unit, the gradual consolidation during the Classical period of an
entire notion to denote it makes good sense.
To this i would add the possibility of a late emergence of the hoplite.
lin Foxhall suggested that “whatever hoplites became by the middle of the
ffth century, in this period [seventh and sixth centuries] they were something
heavy-armed warriors belonging to the upper social classes and
presented as “status warriors”
(armed men who acted as leaders in their
communities) were commonplace in Greece since homer. These warriors,
representative of the social and military organization described in the ho-
meric epics, can be successfully transferred to lyric poetry and thus found
everywhere during the Archaic period. With the arrival of the ffth century
and its major social and political changes in Greece, these armed warriors (an-
dres, hetairoi, aichmêtai) could have evolved into heavy-armed infantrymen
more closely connected to the political and military institutions of the polis
(hoplitai). in my analysis, the concept evolves to designate the heavy-armed
infantryman of the Classical period, gradually deprived of sociopolitical con-
notations and becoming a technical term frequently (but not always and not
necessarily) connected to the phalanx.
To sum up, a group of scholars is currently questioning the established
views about the origins and development of the hoplite and the phalanx. They
have not convinced all doubters though, and academic discussion on the is-
sue is intense and heated. The presentation of the conceptual evolution of the
terms hoplitês and phalanx as a development belonging to Classical times,
however, could potentially render some support to the new approach, frst of
all because it all seems to point at the Classical period in a very consistent
manner; second, because the possibility cannot be ruled out that the evolution
in terminology parallels a contemporary transformation in the conduct of war-
fare. Changes in vocabulary can occur for multiple reasons, most commonly
connected with literary genres and traditions, literary and intellectual trends
and fashions, and broader social and ideological interests. But we can at least
consider the possibility that the simultaneous consolidation of two crucial
military concepts in a long and gradual process may indicate the need, new
for the intellectuals of the Classical period, to denote the evolving military
realities of their time.
87. Foxhall 1997, 131.
88. Van Wees 1992.
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This remains just a possibility and certainly needs to be addressed in detail.
For the time being, and in view of my analysis here, i think the terms “hop-
lite” and “phalanx” need to be used with extreme caution when referring to
military realities outside the Classical period. ideally, alternative designations
should be agreed upon, terms actually representing the reality of Archaic
Greek warfare, and not an incomplete and, to my mind, inaccurate comparison
with Classical times.
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