Warfare in Ancient Greece | Essay | The Metropolitan Museum of Art | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (2024)

As the economic resources of Greek city-states and individuals increased during the seventh century B.C., armies of foot soldiers were formed within the wealthier city-states. Known as hoplites, these soldiers were characteristically equipped with about seventy pounds of armor, most of which was made of bronze. The typical panoply included an eight- to ten-foot thrusting spear with an iron tip and butt, and bronze armor consisting of a helmet, cuirass (chest armor), greaves (shin guards), and a large shield about 30 inches in diameter. The heavy bronze shield, which was secured on the left arm and hand by a metal band on its inner rim, was the most important part of a hoplite’s panoply, as it was his chief defense.

In nearly every medium of Attic art of the sixth century B.C., the hoplite and warfare feature prominently, as military service was a primary distinction of citizenship—a mark of status and often of wealth, as well as a means of attaining glory. Furthermore, the initiatives taken during the latter part of the sixth century to standardize the Homeric epics in written form fostered a broader interest in heroic subject matter. In Athens, military service was determined by a citizen’s social and economic position. In the early sixth century B.C., the archon Solon instituted four classes defined by income and gave each class a proportionate measure of political responsibility. The second wealthiest class, the hippeis (“horsem*n”), earned enough from their land to maintain a horse and so fought as cavalry; the third wealthiest group, the zeugitai, were able to afford the equipment of a hoplite; the wealthiest class, the pentakosiomedimnoi (“five-hundred-bushel men”), supplied the leaders for the armed forces; and the poorest class, the thetes, were hired laborers who served as oarsmen in the Athenian fleet, or as archers and light-armed men on land.

Backed up by archers and light-armed troops, the hoplite phalanx remained the most important fighting unit for centuries. They advanced in close formation while protected by their overlapping shields. A successful battle often consisted of one phalanx, hundreds of men across and eight or more warriors deep, pushing against an enemy’s phalanx until one or the other broke formation, exposing its hoplites to danger and death.

Citation

Department of Greek and Roman Art. “Warfare in Ancient Greece.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/gwar/hd_gwar.htm (October 2000)

Further Reading

Everson, Tim. Warfare in Ancient Greece: Arms and Armour from the Heroes of Homer to Alexander the Great. Stroud: Sutton, 2004.

Hornblower, Simon, and Antony Spawforth, eds. The Oxford Classical Dictionary. 3d ed., rev. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Norris, Michael. Greek Art from Prehistoric to Classical: A Resource for Educators. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. See on MetPublications

Additional Essays by Department of Greek and Roman Art

  • Department of Greek and Roman Art. “Classical Cyprus (ca. 480–ca. 310 B.C.).” (July 2007)
  • Department of Greek and Roman Art. “The Antonine Dynasty (138–193).” (October 2000)
  • Department of Greek and Roman Art. “Ancient Greek Dress.” (October 2003)
  • Department of Greek and Roman Art. “Death, Burial, and the Afterlife in Ancient Greece.” (October 2003)
  • Department of Greek and Roman Art. “Geometric Art in Ancient Greece.” (October 2004)
  • Department of Greek and Roman Art. “The Flavian Dynasty (69–96 A.D.).” (October 2000)
  • Department of Greek and Roman Art. “The Julio-Claudian Dynasty (27 B.C.–68 A.D.).” (October 2000)
  • Department of Greek and Roman Art. “Augustan Rule (27 B.C.–14 A.D.).” (October 2000)
  • Department of Greek and Roman Art. “The Severan Dynasty (193–235 A.D.).” (October 2000)
  • Department of Greek and Roman Art. “Roman Egypt.” (October 2000)
  • Department of Greek and Roman Art. “Roman Copies of Greek Statues.” (October 2002)
  • Department of Greek and Roman Art. “Athenian Vase Painting: Black- and Red-Figure Techniques.” (October 2002)
  • Department of Greek and Roman Art. “Boscoreale: Frescoes from the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor.” (October 2004)
  • Department of Greek and Roman Art. “Early Cycladic Art and Culture.” (October 2004)
  • Department of Greek and Roman Art. “Geometric and Archaic Cyprus.” (October 2004)
  • Department of Greek and Roman Art. “Hellenistic and Roman Cyprus.” (October 2004)
  • Department of Greek and Roman Art. “Scenes of Everyday Life in Ancient Greece.” (October 2002)
  • Department of Greek and Roman Art. “Greek Art in the Archaic Period.” (October 2003)
  • Department of Greek and Roman Art. “The Symposium in Ancient Greece.” (October 2002)
  • Department of Greek and Roman Art. “Roman Painting.” (October 2004)
  • Department of Greek and Roman Art. “Tanagra Figurines.” (October 2004)
  • Department of Greek and Roman Art. “The Augustan Villa at Boscotrecase.” (October 2004)
  • Department of Greek and Roman Art. “The Cesnola Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.” (October 2004)
  • Department of Greek and Roman Art. “The Roman Republic.” (October 2000)
Warfare in Ancient Greece | Essay | The Metropolitan Museum of Art | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Jonah Leffler

Last Updated:

Views: 6187

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (65 voted)

Reviews: 80% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Jonah Leffler

Birthday: 1997-10-27

Address: 8987 Kieth Ports, Luettgenland, CT 54657-9808

Phone: +2611128251586

Job: Mining Supervisor

Hobby: Worldbuilding, Electronics, Amateur radio, Skiing, Cycling, Jogging, Taxidermy

Introduction: My name is Jonah Leffler, I am a determined, faithful, outstanding, inexpensive, cheerful, determined, smiling person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.