Greek Military Tactics essay

Greek history is one of the most well-known stories across the world. Many Greek traditions and cultures have become immortalized in the works of its literary giants and its philosophical minds. Who has not heard of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey? Who has not chanced upon accounts of the spectacle that was the Trojan War? Who has not heard of the Battle of Thermopylae? The legendary accounts of the exploits of the Greek bring so much appeal that even to this day, the stories are recounted and made fresh through the works of new storytellers.

The entertainment industry make full use of the popularity of Greek history by creating movies such as Troy and 300 that depict the greatest battles fought by both the Trojan and the Spartan armies. It is in the fact that the tactics of these Greek militaries were so masterful and well planned out that the Greek story of war continues to attract an audience even to this very day. There are no longer wars like that staged by the great Trojan and Spartan armies. Their tactics were unique and were of a certain quality and characteristic that they were studied and documented.

This paper aims to collate the characteristics building up the military tactics of both the Trojan and the Spartan military. It will also compare the two styles involved in the two Greek military’s art of war. The Spartan Military The most acclaimed of all the Greek armies was the army of the Spartans. They were known to have the strongest and most disciplined military forces in the world. Even from birth, Spartan men were already groomed for a life of battle. There was no room for those who would have a life outside of the army.

Spartan law was the code of conduct and honor and anyone who disobeyed it was not considered to be a Spartan. The military of Sparta was so strong and forceful that even to this day the word Spartan is used as an adjective that portrays invincibility, strength and military-like characteristics. (Connoly, 1977) Spartans were so intent on creating the best military in the world that training, begun at childhood, was brutally rough. Military education was required of the boys and they were made to train in running, wrestling, throwing javelins, and other physical sports.

Upon the birth of a boy, Spartan custom dictated that development would be monitored closely. A weak child would be thrown out as a means of showing that their society did not tolerate weakness. (Cartledge, 2003) The Spartans were a phalanx army. This meant that they made use of a closed formation of soldiers with interlocking shields and outstretched spears in a straight line. The phalanx formation gives any army using it an impenetrable defense but only if the line is held long enough and only if the discipline of the soldiers is so well-ingrained that the unit is able to move as one.

The tactic of using this formation during war was an ingenious one. The phalanx army simply marched at their enemies and engaged in one-on-one combat upon the clash. Should a man in the line fall, he would simply be replaced by the man behind him. The only problem with the phalanx formation lay in the difficulty it posed when the unit had to turn. However, the casualty count after successfully applying this formation was usually only around 5%, a very small number compared to other military tactics. (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1981)

The phalanx formation was not unique to the Spartan army. Many other Greek armies utilized this type of formation during battles and wars. However, it was only the Spartan warriors who were ever able to perfectly execute this formation, perhaps owing to their early rigid military training that allowed them to be able to perform the maneuvers with the required discipline. (Connoly, 1977) The best soldiers of the Spartan army were often put at the head of the phalanx with the expectation that they would become heroes in the war.

This was something that all Spartan men aspired to. They were trained to be fearless and to be ready for any form of battle. Being at the front of the phalanx line required great bravery. In the face of such a great risk to his life, however, a true Spartan would only hope to die gloriously in combat during the battle. (Lane Fox, 2006) The Spartans were also unique in Greek militaries because of the fact that they were the only Greek army that bought the arms and armor that the soldiers used.

Thus all the Spartan soldiers that came into battle were equipped with the same weapons, main of which was the aspis, and with the same quality of armor. This was a good strategy on the part of the Spartans because the army is only as good as the soldiers that compose it. Insuring that the soldiers were well-equipped added to the strength of the Spartan military. It might have also been one of the reasons for their successful phalanx formation. (Connoly, 1977) The Trojan Military The Trojan military was relatively less talked about in terms of their strength and their military strategies.

If not for the glorious tale of the Trojan war as written by Homer, the Trojan army might not have created such a indelible imprint on the history of Greek military. However, the truth behind the accounts of the Trojan War are highly controversial and it should be noted that the description of the Trojan military and their strategies made here will be based on both the version of Homer and of the supposed actual events of the Trojan War. It is safe to say that at certain points during their battles, the Trojan army also employed the popular phalanx formation.

This was a formation that was often used by the Greek armies although to little credit because they were unable to successfully execute the formation. The same can be said for the Trojan army. In the most famous battle of the Trojan military, however, there is no account of the use of the phalanx formation. The legend of the Trojan War as depicted by Homer shows the two sides approaching each other, volleying projectiles when the range required, and having two representatives come forward to duel one another in a man-to man combat.

This ideal version of military warfare allowed for heroes to be created. However, the truth behind this account is highly unlikely as a true war could not afford the time and patience such a siege as the Trojan War required. (Homer, 1951) A truer description of the true Trojan army would include one whose military had no clear formation or strategic plan. The soldiers would have only a scattering of light armor and also only light arms. Because the Trojan men had to provide their arms and armor for themselves, it would be most likely that the richer men had better armor and perhaps heavier arms.

However, it is clear that these were only few in numbers. (Anonymous, 2005) Perhaps it was because of this scattering of good armor and heavy arms in the Trojan as well as the Mycenaean army that Homer described the battle as being single-handed with only those having better arms and armors being able to truly put up a good fight. The rest of the army that had only light weapons and armor could not have had much spirit to actually engage in a heated fight. Also, the phalanx formation was not yet conceptualized at that time and as a result the Trojans were highly disorganized in the field.

It should be noted, however, that the same could be said of the opposing Mycenaeans. A Comparison It is clear from the given descriptions of the two Greek armies that the Spartan army was the more powerful of the two. This was not only in terms of training and discipline but also in terms of the military strategies the Spartans employed. Where the Spartans were able to perfect the phalanx formation, historians are still unable to clearly understand what form of military formation the Trojans utilized.

Also, the Spartans showed a highly advanced war mentality in that they were able to foresee the advantages of supplying their men with weapons and armor. The Trojans simply fought with whatever their men could muster up for themselves. Thus only the richer Trojans, those who could afford it, were able to bring onto the battlefield weapons and armor equal to that of the ordinary Spartan soldier. The Spartans were groomed to be warriors even from their birth and left this memory of their exploits and their hope for their race for the whole world to view.

The Trojan army, however, will only be remembered because of the romanticized version of the Trojan War as created by Homer and all those who followed in his steps. It is clear, then, that the Spartan military had the best military style in all of Greece, perhaps in the entire world. War was in their blood. They lived for it and perfected it. The Trojan army, on the other hand, fought only when the need arose. They developed tactics and strategies only when the battle was already coming.

Also, they did not devise new means by which their warfare could be improved and instead only copied popular strategies that were not maximized because of the lack of training and discipline on the part of the Trojans. Over-all, it is clear that the Spartans were most successful because of their training and because of the fact that they chose one strategy, the phalanx formation, and perfected that strategy. One perfect strategy in battle, then, is better than a dozen mediocre ones.


Anonymous (2005). Tactics and Equipment of the Trojan War, The Trojan Cycle. Least I Could Do. Retrieved 29 February 2008 from <http://www. leasticoulddo. com/forum/index. php? showtopic=10854> Connoly, Peter. (1977). The Greek Armies. Morristown, NJ: MacDonald Educational Ltd.. Cartledge, Paul. (2003). The Spartans – An Epic History. London: Pan Macmillan Homer. (1951). The Iliad. Trans. Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: University of Chicago Press Lane Fox, Robin. (2006). The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian. Jackson, TN: Basic Books “Phalanx” (1981). Encyclopedia Brittanica 15th Ed. London: Encyclopedia Britannica Inc.