Types of Ancient Greek Soldiers
There were three basic types of Classical Greek land combat soldiers. These three ‘branches” or “combat arms” were the hippeis (cavalry), the hoplites (heavy infantry) and the psilos (light infantry).
The cavalry in general had 3 basic types. There was the light cavalry which wore no armor and were either archers or javelin throwers. Then the armored heavy cavalry armed with a thrusting spear. The mounted hoplite, which could rightly be called dragoons, or mounted infantry, that would ride to the battlefield and then dismount to fight. The hamippi were special infantry that ran alongside or rode on the horse and fought next to the cavalryman, one unit of hamippi was deployed by the Boeotian during the Peloponnesian War.
The hoplites were homogenous in arms and armor. Simply put, the hoplite had to be kitted out like his fellows to be a hoplite. The minimum equipment was the heavy shield; the hoplon and an 8 foot long thrusting spear. Previously it was thought that the hoplite derived the name from the hoplon, or the heavy shield, also called an apis, but now the prevailing view is that they were named for all the gear, (the hopla). The heavy panoply would also have included helmet, body armor, greaves and sword.
Light troops in Classical Greece were defined by the lack of heavy shields and armor. Within the category of light fighters were subtypes: the archers, the javelin throwers, the stone throwers, the slingers and the peltasts. This last was a medium class fighter; they would be armed with throwing javelins or a light stabbing spear and were named after the pelte, the small light shields they carried.
In the Greek city-states where a citizen or legal resident was responsible for buying their arms and armor, economic status determined their branch. It is safe to assume that all city-states, excluding Sparta and the Cretan polities, operated in a similar manner as regards who served in the military and how they served.
At the start of the Peloponnesian War, Pericles recounted Athens’ military strength of 13,000 front line heavy infantry, 16,000 reserve hoplites, including the oldest and youngest and resident aliens that had heavy armor. 1,200 horsemen included some mounted archers, 1,600 foot archers and 300 triremes fit for service. In this accounting of military forces, 7 percent of the front line troops were cavalry and 10 percent were archers. The remaining were hoplites.
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G. E. M. De Ste. Croix, “The Solonian Census Classes and the Qualifications for Cavalry and Hoplite Service” in Athenian Democratic Origins and Other Essays; 5-72, ed. by David Harvey and Robert Parker (Oxford; Oxford University Press, 2004).
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