Young men were assigned to a military duty of two years when they turned 18. Often they were sent to the frontiers of Attica. At the age of 17 sons from prosperous families were recruited as soldiers and trained in athletics, hunting and mock warfare. Those that didn't make the grade had their rights reduced and those that graduated, at the age of 19, starting living with other men and participating in battles when the need arose. The families of married soldiers lived apart.

The typical Greek soldier was a hoplite with a spear. In the navy there were oarsmen and marines. The hoplites were the world's first known citizen soldiers. They owned land, bought their own armor, and voted, giving them a voice in the states that they protected.

Soldiers occupied the upper level of society. "My wealth is spear and sword," went one Cretan drinking song," and the stout shield which protects my flesh; with this I plow...with this I am an entitled master of the serfs.” The 7th century solider-poet Archilochos wrote: "I am two things: a fighter who follows the Master Battles, and one who understands the gift of the Muses' love."

See Separate Articles on The Spartans and Greek Military

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Websites on Ancient Greece: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks; Canadian Museum of History; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; ;; British Museum; Illustrated Greek History, Dr. Janice Siegel, Department of Classics, Hampden–Sydney College, Virginia ; The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization ; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ;; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Ancient City of Athens; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Ancient Greek Sites on the Web from Medea ; Greek History Course from Reed; Classics FAQ MIT; 11th Brittanica: History of Ancient Greece ;Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy;Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Ancient Greek Military Units

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: The hippeis ("horsemen"), earned enough from their land to maintain a horse and so fought as cavalry; 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. \^/

Archeologist can sometimes determine the military specialities of soldiers by their remains. Archers tend to develop asymmetrical bone growths on their right shoulder joints and left elbows. Hoplites (armed spearmen) carried large round shields that weighed up to 14 pounds on their left arms. Such burden sometimes leave skeletal traces. The remains of soldiers also often supply evidence of severe traumas that killed them such as sword cuts and arrow strikes. Graves in Himera Sicily have revealed soldiers buried with iron spear heads lodged in their bodies. Arrowheads often provide evidence that allows archeologist to determine where the soldiers originated.

Hoplite Phalanx

Spartan hoplite

Professor Daniel Moran wrote for the BBC: A seventh-century B.C. pottery jug from Corinth, in ancient Greece “provides the earliest known illustration of the hoplite phalanx, a dense formation of heavily armed infantry. This kind of formation became characteristic of the armies of the ancient Greek cities at about the time the jug was made. [Source: Professor Daniel Moran, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“Hoplites acquired their name from their round wooden shield, the hoplon. This shield, together with a brass helmet, breastplate, greaves, a nine-foot spear designed for thrusting, and a short iron sword as a reserve weapon, constituted the hoplite's panoply (his complete armour and weaponry). Membership in the phalanx was confined to those male inhabitants of a city who could afford such relatively elaborate equipment. |::|

“Prior to the advent of the phalanx, ancient warfare featured individual combat between aristocratic champions on the one hand, and mass confrontations between loosely-organised mobs on the other. Compared to these immemorial methods, the advantages afforded by the phalanx were partly psychological. |::|

“Hoplites advanced shoulder-to-shoulder in tight columns that were normally eight rows deep, a formation that was both reassuring to its members and intimidating to those awaiting its approach. Such a mass could move at no more than a moderate walking pace - the illustration on the jug includes a piper, who helped the warriors keep in step - but even so an advancing phalanx could deliver a considerable shock, sufficient to shatter a less rigorously organised opponent. |::|

“Given that only the first one or two rows of hoplites could have hoped to employ their weapons, combat between opposing phalanxes must have amounted to highly ritualised, intensely lethal shoving matches, in which those in the front ranks were pushed forward by their comrades in the rear. |::|

“In such circumstances the skill and bravery of individuals would have counted for less than the discipline of the group. The phalanx was thus a natural military expression of the democratic ethos of the Greek cities. Its cohesion and strength were rooted in, and gave form to, the communal values and civic equality of its citizen-soldiers.” |::|

Soldier Citizens in Ancient Greece

Every citizen under 60 could be called up for military service. Greek-farmer citizen soldiers usually fought among themselves, but could be united against an external threat like the Persians. The Greek citizen soldier were not paid a wage like Roman soldiers, they fought on their own behalf to protect land they owned.

Macedonia phalanx under Alexander the Great counter-attacks during the Battle of the Carts

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “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....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. [Source: Department of Greek and Roman Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2000, \^/]

“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 ("horsemen"), 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.” \^/

Male Friendship in Ancient Greece: Brothers in Arms

J. Addington Symonds wrote: “Nearly all the historians of Greece have failed to insist upon the fact that fraternity in arms played for the Greek race the same part as the idealization of women for the knighthood of feudal Europe. Greek mythology and history are full of tales of friendship, which can only be paralleled by the story of David and Jonathan in the Bible. The legends of Herakles and Hylas, of Theseus and Peirithous, of Apollo and Hyacinth, of Orestes and Pylades, occur immediately to the mind. Among the noblest patriots, tyrannicides, lawgivers, and self-devoted heroes in the early times of Greece, we always find the names of friends and comrades received with peculiar honor Harmodius and Aristogeiton, who slew the despot Hipparchus at Athens; Diocles and Philolaus, who gave laws to Thebes; Chariton and Melanippus, who resisted the sway of Phalaris in Sicily; Cratinus and Aristodemus, who devoted their lives to propitiate offended deities when a plague had fallen on Athens; these comrades, staunch to each other in their love, and elevated by friendship to the pitch of noblest enthusiasm, were among the favorite saints of Greek legend and history. In a word, the chivalry of Hellas found its motive force in friendship rather than in the love of women; and the motive force of all chivalry is a generous, soul-exalting, unselfish passion. The fruit which friendship bore among the Greeks was courage in the face of danger, indifference to life when honor was at stake, patriotic ardor, the love of liberty, and lion-hearted rivalry in battle. Tyrants,' said Plato, ' stand in awe of friends."' [Source: “Studies of the Greek Poets.” By J. S. Symonds, Vol. I, p. 97, Edward Carpenter's “Ioläus,”1902]

On the customs connected with this fraternity in arms, in Sparta and in Crete, Karl Otfried Muller wrote in “History and Antiquities of the Doric Race,” book iv., ch. 4, par. 6: “At Sparta the party loving was called eispnelas and his affection was termed a breathing in, or inspiring (eispnein); which expresses the pure and mental connection between the two persons, and corresponds with the name of the other, viz.: aitas i.e., listener or hearer. Now it appears to have been the practice for every youth of good character to have his lover; and on the other hand every well-educated man was bound by custom to be the lover of some youth. Instances of this connection are furnished by several of the royal family of Sparta; thus, Agesilaus, while he still belonged to the herd (agele) of youths, was the hearer (aitas) of Lysander, and himself had in his turn also a hearer; his son Archidamus was the lover of the son of Sphodrias, the noble Cleonymus; Cleomenes III was when a young man the hearer of Xenares, and later in life the lover of the brave Panteus. The connection usually originated from the proposal of the lover; yet it was necessary that the listener should accept him with real affection, as a regard to the riches of the proposer was consid ered very disgraceful; sometimes, however, it happened that the proposal originated from the other party. The connection appears to have been very intimate and faithful; and was recognized by the State. If his relations were absent. the youth might be represented in the public assembly by his lover; in battle too they stood near one another, where their fidelity and affection were often shown till death; while at home the youth was constantly under the eyes of his lover, who was to him as it were a model and pattern of life; which explains why, for many faults, particularly want of ambition, the lover could be punished instead of the listener." [Source: Karl Otfried Muller (1797-1840), “History and Antiquities of the Doric Race,” book iv., ch. 4, par. 6 >>>]

"This ancient national custom prevailed with still greater force in Crete; which island was hence by many persons considered as the original seat of the connection in question. Here too it was disgraceful for a well-educated youth to be without a lover; and hence the party loved was termed Kleinos, the praised; the lover being simply called philotor. It appears that the youth was always carried away by force, the intention of the ravisher being previously communicated to the relations, who, however, took no measures of precaution and only made a feigned resistance; except when the ravisher appeared, either in family or talent, unworthy of the youth. The lover then led him away to his apartment (andreion), and afterwards, with any chance companions, either to the mountains or to his estate. Here they remained two months (the period prescribed by custom), which were passed chiefiy in hunting together. After this time had expired, the lover dismissed the youth, and at his departure gave him, according to custom, an ox, a military dress, and brazen cup, with other things; and frequently these gifts were increased by the friends of the ravisher. The youth then sacrificed the ox to Jupiter, with which he gave a feast to his companions: and now he stated how he had been pleased with his lover; and he had complete liberty by law to punish any insult or disgraceful treatment. It depended now on the choice of the youth whether the connection should be broken off or not. If it was kept up, the companion in arms (parastates), as the youth was then called, wore the military dress which had been given him, and fought in battle next his lover, inspired with double valor by the gods of war and love, according to the notions of the Cretans; and even in man's age he was distinguished by the first place and rank in the course, and certain insignia worn about the body. >>>

“Institutions, so systematic and regular as these, did not exist in any Doric State except Crete and Sparta; but the feelings on which they were founded seem to have been common to all the Dorians. The loves of Philolaus, a Corinthian of the family of the Bacchiadae, and the lawgiver of Thebes, and of Diocles the Olympic conqueror, lasted until death; and even their graves were turned towards one another in token of their affection; and another person of the same name was honored in Megara, as a noble instance of self-devotion for the object of his love." For an account of Philolaus and Diocles, Aristotle (Pol. ii. 9) may be referred to. The second Diocles was an Athenian who died in battle for the youth he loved. “His tomb was honored with the enagismata of heroes, and a yearly contest for skill in kissing formed part of his memorial celebration." [Source: J. A Symonds ”A Problem in Greek Ethies,” privately printed, 1883; see also Theocritus, Idyll xii. infra]

Battle of Gaugamela, where Alexander the Great defeated the Persians

In his Albanesische Studien, Johann Georg Hahn (1811-1869) says that the Dorian customs of comradeship still flourish in Albania “just as described by the ancients,”and are closely entwined with the whole life of the people-though he says nothing of any military signification. It appears to be a quite recognized institution for a young man to take to himself a youth or boy as his special comrade. He instructs, and when necessary reproves, the younger; protects him, and makes him presents of various kinds. The relation generally, though not always ends with the marriage of the elder. The following is reported by Hahn as in the actual words of his informant (an Albanian): "Love of this kind is occasioned by the sight of a beautiful youth; who thus kindles in the lover a feeling of wonder and causes his heart to open to the sweet sense which springs from the contemplation of beauty. By degrees love steals in and takes possession of the lover, and to such a degree that all his thoughts and feelings are absorbed in it. When near the beloved he loses himself in the sight of him; when absent he thinks of him only.”These loves, he continued, “are with a few exceptions as pure as sunshine, and the highest and noblest affections that the human heart can entertain." (Hahn, vol. I, p. 166.) Hahn also mentions that troops of youths, like the Cretan and Spartan agelae, are formed in Albania, of twenty-five or thirty members each. The comradeship usually begins during adolescence, each member paying a fixed sum into a common fund, and the interest being spent on two or three annual feasts, generally held out of doors. \=\

Sacred Band of Thebes

Edward Carpenter's “Ioläus,”1902] The Sacred Band of Thebes, or Theban Band, was a battalion composed entirely of friends and lovers; and forms a remarkable example of military comradeship. The references to it in later Greek literature are very numerous, and there seems no reason to doubt the general truth of the traditions concerning its formation and its complete annihilation by Philip of Macedon at the battle of Chaeronea (B.C. 338). Thebes was the last stronghold of Hellenic independence, and with the Theban Band Greek freedom perished. But the mere existence of this phalanx, and the fact of its renown, show to what an extent comradeship was recognized and prized as an institution among these peoples. [Source: Edward Carpenter's “Ioläus,”1902]

The following account is taken from Plutarch's Life of Pelopidas, Clough's translation: “Gorgidas, according to some, first formed the Sacred Band of 300 chosen men, to whom as being a guard for the citadel the State allowed provision, and all things necessary for exercise; and hence they were called the city band, as citadels of old were usually called cities. Others say that it was composed of young men attached to each other by personal affection, and a pleasant saying of Pammenes is current, that Homer's Nestor was not well skilled in ordering an army, when he advised the Greeks to rank tribe and tribe, and family and family, together, that so 'tribe might tribe, and kinsmen kinsmen aid,' but that he should have joined lovers and their beloved. For men of the same tribe or family little value one another when dangers press; but a band cemented together by friendship grounded upon love is never to be broken, and invincible: since the lovers, ashamed to be base in sight of their beloved, and the beloved before their lovers, willingly rush into danger for the relief of one another. Nor can that be wondered at since they have more regard for their absent lovers than for others present; as in the instance of the man who, when his enemy was going to kill him, earnestly requested him to run him through the breast, that his lover might not blush to see him wounded in the back. It is a tradition likewise that Ioläus, who assisted Hercules in his labors and fought at his side, was beloved of him; and Aristotle observes that even in his time lovers plighted their faith at Ioläus' tomb. It is likely, therefore, that this band was called sacred on this account; as Plato calls a lover a divine friend. It is stated that it was never beaten till the battle at Chaeronea; and when Philip after the fight took a view of the slain, and came to the place where the three hundred that fought his phalanx lay dead together, he wondered, and understanding that it was the band of lovers, he shed tears and said, ' Perish any man who suspects that these men either did or suffered anything that was base.' \=\

“It was not the disaster of Laius, as the poets imagine, that first gave rise to this form of attachment among the Thebans, but their law-givers, designing to soften whilst they were young their natural fickleness, brought for example the pipe into great esteem, both in serious and sportive occasions, and gave great encouragement to these friendships in the Palaestra, to temper the manner and character of the youth. With a view to this, they did well again to make Harmony, the daughter of Mars and Venus, their tutelar deity; since where force and courage is joined with gracefulness and winning behavior, a harmony ensues that combines all the elements of society in perfect consonance and order. \=\

“Gorgidas distributed this sacred Band all through the front ranks of the infantry, and thus made their gallantry less conspicuous; not being united in one body, but mingled with many others of inferior resolution, they had no fair opportunity of showing what they could do. But Pelopidas, having sufficiently tried their bravery at Tegyrae, where they had fought alone, and around his own person, never afterwards divided them, but keeping them entire, and as one man, gave them the first duty in the greatest battles. For as horses run brisker in a chariot than single, not that their joint force divides the air with greater ease, but because being matched one against another circulation kindles and enflames their courage; thus, he thought, brave men, provoking one another to noble actions, would prove most serviceable and most resolute where all were united together." \=\

Romantic Friendship Among Ancient Greek Soldiers

Stories of romantic friendship form a staple subject of Greek literature, and were everywhere accepted and prized. Athenaeus wrote: “And the Lacedaemonians [Spartans] offer sacrifices to Love before they go to battle, thinking that safety and victory depend on the friendship of those who stand side by side in the battle array.... And the regiment among the Thebans, which is called the Sacred Band, is wholly composed of mutual lovers, indicating the majesty of the God, as these men prefer a glorious death to a shameful and discreditable life." [Source: Athenaeus, bk. xiii., ch. 12, Edward Carpenter's “Ioläus,”1902]

Ioläus is said to have been the charioteer of Hercules, and his faithful companion. As the comrade of Hercules he was worshipped beside him in Thebes, where the gymnasium was named after him. Plutarch alludes to this friendship again in his treatise on Love: “And as to the loves of Hercules, it is difficult to record them because of their number; but those who think that Ioläus was one of them do to this day worship and honor him, and make their loved ones swear fidelity at his tomb." And in the same treatise: “Consider also how love (Eros) excels in warlike feats, and is by no means idle, as Euripides called him, nor a carpet knight, nor ' sleeping on soft maidens' cheeks.' For a man inspired by Love needs not Ares to help him when he goes out as a warrior against the enemy, but at the bidding of his own god is ' ready ' for his friend ' to go through fire and water and whirlwinds.' And in Sophocles' play, when the sons of Niobe are being shot at and dying, one of them calls out for no helper or assister but his lover. [Plutarch, Eroticus, par. 17]

“And you know of course how it was that Cleomachus, the Pharsalian, fell in battle.... When the war between the Eretrians and Chalcidians was at its height, Cleomachus had come to aid the latter with a Thessalian force; and the Chalcidian infantry seemed strong enough, but they had great difficulty in repelling the enemy's cavalry. So they begged that high-souled hero, Cleomachus, to charge the Eretrian cavalry first. And he asked the youth he loved, who was by, if he would be a spectator of the fight, and he saying he would, and affectionately kissing him and putting his helmet on his head, Cleomachus, wlth a proud joy, put himself at the head of the bravest of the Thessalians, and charged the enemy's cavalry with such impetuosity that he threw them into disorder and routed them; and the Eretrian infantry also fleeing in consequence, the Chalcidians won a splendid victory. However, Cleomachus got killed, and they show his tomb in the market place at Chalcis, over which a huge pillar stands to this day." [Source: Eroticus, par. 17, trans. Bohn's Classics.]

And further on in the same: \“And among you Thebans, Pemptides, is it not usual for the lover to give his boylove a complete suit of armor when he is enrolled among the men ? And did not the erotic Pammenes change the disposition of the heavy-armed infantry, censuring Homer as knowing nothing about love, because he drew up the Achaeans in order of battle in tribes and clans, and did not put lover and love together, that so ' spear should be next to spear and helmet to helmet' (lliad, xiii. 131), seeing that love is the only invincible general. For men in battle will leave in the lurch clansmen and friends, aye, and parents and sons, but what warrior ever broke through or charged through lover and love, seeing that when there is no necessity lovers frequently display their bravery and contempt of life."

Bacchanal and Dioysiac dances

Hoplite Drinking and War Songs

The “Drinking Song of Hybrias” (c. 700 B.C.) goes: “My great wealth is my spear and sword and fine animal hide shield, the defense of my flesh. For it is with this that I sow, with this that I reap, with this that I tread out the sweet wine from the grape. Because of this I am called Lord of Slaves! As for those who do not dare to bear spear and sword and fine animal hide shield, the defense of flesh, they all bend their knee in fear and do me reverence, addressing me as Lord and Great King!! [Source: Fred Morrow Fling, ed., “A Source Book of Greek History,” Heath, 1907, pp. 17, 56-58

Tyrtaios: War Songs No. III (c. 650 B.C.): “This---this is virtue: This---the noblest meed that can adorn our youth with fadeless rays; While all the perils of the adventurous deed, the new-strung vigor of the state repays. Amid the foremost of the embattled train, Lo, the young hero hails the glowing fight; and, though fall'n troops around him press the plain, still fronts the foe, nor brooks inglorious flight. His life---his fervid soul opposed to death, he dares the terrors of the field defy; kindles each spirit with his panting breath, and bids his comrade-warriors nobly die! See, see, dismayed, the phalanx of the foe turns round, and hurries o'er the plain afar: while doubling, as afresh, the deadly blow, he rules, intrepid chief, the waves of war. Now fallen, the noblest of the van, he dies! His city by the beauteous death renowned; his low-bent father marking, where he lies, the shield, the breastplate, hacked by many a wound.

“The young---the old, alike commingling tears, his country's heavy grief bedews the grave; and all his race in verdant luster wears, Fame's richest wreath, transmitted from the brave. Though mixed with earth the perishable clay, his name shall live, while glory loves to tell, "True to his country how he won the day, how firm the hero stood, how calm he fell! But if he escape the doom of death (the doom to long---long dreary slumbers), he returns, while trophies flash, and victor-laurels bloom, and all the splendor of the triumph burns. The old---the young---caress him, and adore; and with the city's love, through life, repaid, he sees each comfort, that endears, in store, till, the last hour, he sinks to Pluto's shade.

“Old as he droops, the citizens, overawed (even veterans), to his mellow glories yield; nor would in thought dishonor or defraud the hoary soldiers of the well-fought field. Be yours to reach such eminence of fame; to gain such heights of virtue nobly dare, my youths! and, mid the fervor of acclaim, press, press to glory; nor remit the war!

Greeks Citizen Soldiers and Their Weapons

Melissa Lane wrote in The New Yorker: “The pioneers of citizen armies were also pioneers of withdrawing weapons from the places of civilized life. The ancient Greek armies were manned exclusively by citizens who brought their own weapons into battle. Getting to serve in an élite combat unit required being wealthy enough to afford to buy one’s own armor. [Source: Melissa Lane, The New Yorker, February 1, 2013, Lane is a professor of politics at Princeton and served as a fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford |*|]

Athenian warrior

“Writing of the evolution of Greek societies in the first book of his “History of the Peloponnesian War,” the Greek historian Thucydides reported that the Athenians were the first to lay aside their weapons. Whereas men in all Greek societies used to carry arms at home, this had been a sign of an uncivilized era of piracy in which the most powerful men could dominate all the rest. Laying aside the everyday wearing of weapons was part of what Thucydides believed had allowed Athens to become fully civilized, developing the commerce and culture that made her the envy of the Greek world. The Romans, too, banned the carrying of weapons within the pomerium, the sacred boundary of the city. |*|

“The banning of carrying weapons in public was based on the idea that civilized coexistence could not tolerate public spaces that were dominated by those wearing weapons, on pain of intimidating those around them. Apart from the physical risks posed, such intimidation would inherently undermine civic equality. It is hard for the unarmed to argue with the armed. Key to civil society was that citizen-warriors put their weapons in storage when they returned to everyday social and political life. |*|

“If weapons were taken out of storage and carried into public spaces, this was seen as an attempt to bring about violent constitutional change. To be sure, an outright ban on the possession of weapons was a measure of tyranny, since tyrants might seek to disarm the citizens in order to take power. Yet carrying weapons in public was as much a threat to the constitutional order as depriving citizens of weapons altogether. Aristotle’s remark that “those who control the weapons also control whether a constitution will survive or not” (as translated by C. D. C. Reeve) must be understood in this context. The carrying of arms in public spaces is to be seen as a revolutionary move to overthrow the constitution; it has no part in daily life or politics. |*|

“For a dramatic illustration of this point, consider the story of the lawmaker Charondas, of the Greek city of Catania, in Sicily. Charondas made a law against anyone entering the Assembly while carrying a weapon, but one day, having been out in the countryside fighting robbers, he returned and went straight into the Assembly without realizing that he still wore his dagger at his side. When he was accused of nullifying his own law, he made the ultimate sacrifice to uphold it: he drew the dagger and killed himself. |*|

“To be sure, that’s not the kind of action that we need—we don’t need any more killings. But the story of Charondas is a model of the seriousness with which such Greek societies took the issue of protecting public life from the threat posed by weapons.

Greek Citizen Militias, the American Right to Bear Arms and the NRA

Athenian hoplite

Melissa Lane wrote in The New Yorker: “It was this vision of citizen militias, further developed by the Romans, that went on to inspire the English revolutionaries of the seventeenth century and the American revolutionaries of the eighteenth—so shaping the values expressed in the Second Amendment. [Source: Melissa Lane, The New Yorker , February 1, 2013 |*|]

“Nevertheless, when one early-nineteenth-century American reflected on what the new American Republic could learn from the ancient Greeks, he drew attention to another feature that was widespread in their politics: refraining from carrying weapons in public spaces. In some cities, this was a matter of custom, in others it was a matter of law. Citizens carried their weapons abroad when serving in the military for public defense. But, even in these cities, it was believed that carrying weapons at home would be tantamount to letting weapons, not laws, rule. |*|

“This point is emphasized in a study of ancient-Greek laws attributed to Benjamin Franklin, though apparently composed by the founding editor of the Western Minerva, who published it in 1820. The laws, the author insisted, “apply with peculiar energy and propriety to the circumstances of the United States.” Number fifteen in this collection of a hundred “principles of political wisdom,” drawn from the school of Pythagoras, legislators for Greek settlements on the Italian mainland, was this: “Let the laws rule alone. When weapons rule, they kill the law.” |*|

“This is the opposite of the view attributed to the Founding Fathers by the N.R.A.’s chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, in 2009, when he said that “our founding fathers understood that the guys with the guns make the rules.” On the contrary, letting the guys with weapons make the rules of ordinary life was the opposite of the classical practices that inspired the American founders. |*|

“Remembering the story of Charondas is a model of the seriousness with which such Greek societies took the issue of protecting public life from the threat posed by weapons could help inspire American lawmakers to get serious about gun control today without fearing that they are betraying the classical heritage of the citizen militia.” |*|

Cemetery at Marathon for Soldiers That Died in Battle

Pausanias wrote in “Description of Greece”, Book I: Attica (A.D. 160): There is also a monument for all the Athenians whose fate it has been to fall in battle, whether at sea or on land, except such of them as fought at Marathon. These, for their valor, have their graves on the field of battle, but the others lie along the road to the Academy, and on their graves stand slabs bearing the name and parish of each. “First were buried those who in Thrace, after a victorious advance as far as Drabescus1, were unexpectedly attacked by the Edonians and slaughtered. There is also a legend that they were struck by lightning. Among the generals were Leagrus, to whom was entrusted chief command of the army, and Sophanes of Decelea, who killed when he came to the help of the Aeginetans Eurybates the Argive, who won the prize in the pentathlon1 at the Nemean games. This was the third expedition which the Athenians dispatched out of Greece. For against Priam and the Trojans war was made with one accord by all the Greeks; but by them selves the Athenians sent armies, first with Iolaus to Sardinia, secondly to what is now Ionia, and thirdly on the present occasion to Thrace. [Source: Pausanias, “Description of Greece,” with an English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D. in 4 Volumes. Volume 1.Attica and Cornith, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1918]

Mound of the Plateans at Marathon

“Before the monument is a slab on which are horsemen fighting. Their names are Melanopus and Macartatus, who met their death fighting against the Lacedaemonians (Spartans) and Boeotians on the borders of Eleon and Tanagra. There is also a grave of Thessalian horsemen who, by reason of an old alliance, came when the Peloponnesians with Archidamus invaded Attica with an army for the first time, and hard by that of Cretan bowmen. Again there are monuments to Athenians: to Cleisthenes, who invented the system of the tribes at present existing, and to horsemen who died when the Thessalians shared the fortune of war with the Athenians. [.9.7] Here too lie the men of Cleone, who came with the Argives into Attica; the occasion whereof I shall set forth when in the course of my narrative I come to the Argives. There is also the grave of the Athenians who fought against the Aeginetans before the Persian invasion.

“It was surely a just decree even for a democracy when the Athenians actually allowed slaves a public funeral, and to have their names inscribed on a slab, which declares that in the war they proved good men and true to their masters. There are also monuments of other men, their fields of battle lying in various regions. Here lie the most renowned of those who went against Olynthus, and Melesander who sailed with a fleet along the Maeander into upper Caria; [.9.8] also those who died in the war with Cassander, and the Argives who once fought as the allies of Athens. It is said that the alliance between the two peoples was brought about thus. Sparta was once shaken by an earthquake, and the Helots seceded to Ithome. After the secession the Lacedaemonians (Spartans) sent for help to various places, including Athens, which dispatched picked troops under the command of Cimon, the son of Miltiades. These the Lacedaemonians dismissed, because they suspected them.[.9.9] The Athenians regarded the insult as intolerable, and on their way back made an alliance with the Argives, the immemorial enemies of the Lacedaemonians. Afterwards, when a battle was imminent at Tanagra, the Athenians opposing the Boeotians and Lacedaemonians, the Argives reinforced the Athenians. For a time the Argives had the better, but night came on and took from them the assurance of their victory, and on the next day the Lacedaemonians had the better, as the Thessalians betrayed the Athenians.

“ It occurred to me to tell of the following men also, firstly Apollodorus, commander of the mercenaries, who was an Athenian dispatched by Arsites, satrap of Phrygia by the Hellespont, and saved their city for the Perinthians when Philip had invaded their territory with an army. He, then, is buried here, and also Eubulus the son of Spintharus, along with men who though brave were not attended by good fortune; some attacked Lachares when he was tyrant, others planned the capture of the Peiraeus when in the hands of a Macedonian garrison, but before the deed could be accomplished were betrayed by their accomplices and put to death.

Spartan warriors

“Here also lie those who fell near Corinth. Heaven showed most distinctly here and again at Leuctra that those whom the Greeks call brave are as nothing if Good Fortune be not with them, seeing that the Lacedaemonians, who had on this occasion overcome Corinthians and Athenians, and furthermore Argives and Boeotians, were afterwards at Leuctra so utterly overthrown by the Boeotians alone. After those who were killed at Corinth, we come across elegiac verses declaring that one and the same slab has been erected to those who died in Euboea and Chios , and to those who perished in the remote parts of the continent of Asia, or in Sicily. The names of the generals are inscribed with the exception of Nicias, and among the private soldiers are included the Plataeans along with the Athenians. This is the reason why Nicias was passed over, and my account is identical with that of Philistus, who says that while Demosthenes made a truce for the others and excluded himself, attempting to commit suicide when taken prisoner, Nicias voluntarily submitted to the surrender. For this reason Nicias had not his name inscribed on the slab, being condemned as a voluntary prisoner and an unworthy soldier.[.9.] On another slab are the names of those who fought in the region of Thrace and at Megara, and when Alcibiades persuaded the Arcadians in Mantinea and the Eleans to revolt from the Lacedaemonians, and of those who were victorious over the Syracusans before Demosthenes arrived in Sicily. Here were buried also those who fought in the sea-fights near the Hellespont, those who opposed the Macedonians at Charonea 4, those who were killed at Delium in the territory of Tanagra5, the men Leosthenes led into Thessaly, those who sailed with Cimon to Cyprus6, and of those who with Olympiodorus 7 expelled the garrison not more than thirteen men.

“The Athenians declare that when the Romans were waging a border war they sent a small force to help them, and later on five Attic warships assisted the Romans in a naval action against the Carthaginians. Accordingly these men also have their grave here. The achievements of Tolmides and his men, and the manner of their death, I have already set forth, and any who are interested may take note that they are buried along this road. Here lie too those who with Cimon achieved the great feat of winning a land and naval victory on one and the same day. Here also are buried Conon and Timotheus, father and son, the second pair thus related to accomplish illustrious deeds, Miltiades and Cimon being the first; Zeno too, the son of Mnaseas and Chrysippus of Soli, Nicias the son of Nicomedes, the best painter from life of all his contemporaries, Harmodius and Aristogeiton, who killed Hipparchus, the son of Peisistratus; there are also two orators, Ephialtes, who was chiefly responsible for the abolition of the privileges of the Areopagus, and Lycurgus, the son of Lycophron; Lycurgus provided for the state-treasury six thousand five hundred talents more than Pericles, the son of Xanthippus, collected, and furnished for the procession of the Goddess golden figures of Victory and ornaments for a hundred maidens; for war he provided arms and missiles, besides increasing the fleet to four hundred warships. As for buildings, he completed the theater that others had begun, while during his political life he built dockyards in the Peiraeus and the gymnasium near what is called the Lyceum. Everything made of silver or gold became part of the plunder Lachares made away with when he became tyrant, but the buildings remained to my time.”

Greek Mercenaries Hired by the Persians

Greek mercenaries fought for and against the Egyptians, Persians and others. The “Anabasis” (“March Up Country”) by Xenophon (431-354 B.C.) — an Athenian who fought for Sparta and participated in the march ---- is the story of the march by Greek mercenaries to Persia to aid Cyrus, who enlisted Greek help to try and take the throne from his brother Artaxerxes,. The march occurred between 401 B.C. and March 399 B.C.

Spartan helmet

“Anabasis” is Xenophon's record of the entire expedition of Cyrus against the Persians and the Greek mercenaries’ journey home. Xenophon Under the pretext of fighting Tissaphernes, the Persian satrap of Ionia, Cyrus assembled a massive army composed of native Persian soldiers, but also a large number of Greeks, to fight against his brother Artaxerxes, the king of Persian. [Source: Wikipedia]

On the recruiting of Greek mercenaries by Cyrus, Xenophon wrote in “Anabasis” (March Up Country): “The manner in which he contrived the levying of the troops was as follows: First, he sent orders to the commandants of garrisons in the cities (so held by him), bidding them to get together as large a body of picked Peloponnesian troops as they severally were able, on the plea that Tissaphernes was plotting against their cities; and truly these cities of Ionia had originally belonged to Tissaphernes, being given to him by the king; but at this time, with the exception of Miletus, they had all revolted to Cyrus. In Miletus, Tissaphernes, having become aware of similar designs, had forestalled the conspirators by putting some to death and banishing the remainder. Cyrus, on his side, welcomed these fugitives, and having collected an army, laid siege to Miletus by sea and land, endeavouring to reinstate the exiles; and this gave him another pretext for collecting an armament. At the same time he sent to the king, and claimed, as being the king's brother, that these cities should be given to himself rather than that Tissaphernes should continue to govern them; and in furtherance of this end, the queen, his mother, co-operated with him, so that the king not only failed to see the design against himself, but concluded that Cyrus was spending his money on armaments in order to make war on Tissaphernes. Nor did it pain him greatly to see the two at war together, and the less so because Cyrus was careful to remit the tribute due to the king from the cities which belonged to Tissaphernes. [Source: Anabasis by Xenophon translation by H. G. Dakyns from ,Dakyns' series, "The Works of Xenophon," 1890, Project Gutenberg]

“A third army was being collected for him in the Chersonese, over against Abydos, the origin of which was as follows: There was a Lacedaemonian exile, named Clearchus, with whom Cyrus had become associated. Cyrus admired the man, and made him a present of ten thousand darics[2]. Clearchus took the gold, and with the money raised 9 an army, and using the Chersonese as his base of operations, set to work to fight the Thracians north of the Hellespont, in the interests of the Hellenes, and with such happy result that the Hellespontine cities, of their own accord, were eager to contribute funds for the support of his troops. In this way, again, an armament was being secretly maintained for Cyrus.

“Then there was the Thessalian Aristippus, Cyrus's friend, who, under pressure of the rival political party at home, had come to Cyrus and asked him for pay for two thousand mercenaries, to be continued for three months, which would enable him, he said, to gain the upper hand of his antagonists. Cyrus replied by presenting him with six months' pay for four thousand mercenaries--only stipulating that Aristippus should not come to terms with his antagonists without final consultation with himself. In this way he secured to himself the secret maintenance of a fourth armament.

“Further, he bade Proxenus, a Boeotian, who was another friend, get together as many men as possible, and join him in an expedition which he meditated against the Pisidians, who were causing annoyance to his territory. Similarly two other friends, Sophaenetus the Stymphalian, and Socrates the Achaean, had orders to get together as many men as possible and come to him, since he was on the point of opening a campaign, along with Milesian exiles, against Tissaphernes. These orders were duly carried out by the officers in question.

Greek Mercenaries on the March

Corinthian helmet

Xenophon wrote in “Anabasis”:“But when the right moment seemed to him to have come, at which he 1 should begin his march into the interior, the pretext which he put forward was his desire to expel the Pisidians utterly out of the country; and he began collecting both his Asiatic and his Hellenic armaments, avowedly against that people. From Sardis in each direction his orders sped: to Clearchus, to join him there with the whole of his army; to Aristippus, to come to terms with those at home, and to despatch to him the troops in his employ; to Xenias the Arcadian, who was acting as general-in-chief of the foreign troops in the cities, to present himself with all the men available, excepting only those who were actually needed to garrison the citadels. He next summoned the troops at present engaged in the siege of Miletus, and called upon the exiles to follow him on his intended expedition, promising them that if he were successful in his object, he would not pause until he had reinstated them in their native city. To this invitation they hearkened gladly; they believed in him; and with their arms they presented themselves at Sardis. So, too, Xenias arrived at Sardis with the contingent from the cities, four thousand hoplites; Proxenus, also, with fifteen hundred hoplites and five hundred light-armed troops; Sophaenetus the Stymphalian, with one thousand hoplites; Socrates the Achaean, with five hundred hoplites; while the Megarion Pasion came with three hundred hoplites and three hundred peltasts ["Targeteers" armed with a light shield instead of the larger one of the hoplite, or heavy infantry soldier]. This latter officer, as well as Socrates, belonged to the force engaged against Miletus. These all joined him at Sardis. [Source: Anabasis by Xenophon translation by H. G. Dakyns from ,Dakyns' series, "The Works of Xenophon," 1890, Project Gutenberg]

“But Tissaphernes did not fail to note these proceedings. An equipment so large pointed to something more than an invasion of Pisidia: so he argued; and with what speed he might, he set off to the king, attended by about five hundred horse. The king, on his side, had no sooner heard from Tissaphernes of Cyrus's great armament, than he began to make counter-preparations. Thus Cyrus, with the troops which I have named, set out from Sardis, and marched on and on through Lydia three stages, making two-and-twenty parasangs [The Persian "farsang" = 30 stades, nearly 1 league, 3 1/2 statute miles, though not of uniform value in all parts of Asia.], to the river Maeander. That river is two hundred feet ["Two plethra": the plethron = about 101 English feet.] broad, and was spanned by a bridge consisting of seven boats. Crossing it, he marched through Phrygia a single stage, of eight parasangs, to Colossae, an inhabited city[4], prosperous and 6 large. Here he remained seven days, and was joined by Menon the Thessalian, who arrived with one thousand hoplites and five hundred peltasts, Dolopes, Aenianes, and Olynthians. From this place he marched three stages, twenty parasangs in all, to Celaenae, a populous city of Phrygia, large and prosperous.

Greek helmet

Here Cyrus owned a palace and a large park[5] full of wild beasts, which he used to hunt on horseback, whenever he wished to give himself or his horses exercise. Through the midst of the park flows the river Maeander, the sources of which are within the palace buildings, and it flows through the city of Celaenae. The great king also has a palace in Celaenae, a strong place, on the sources of another river, the Marsyas, at the foot of the acropolis. This river also flows through the city, discharging itself into the Maeander, and is five-and-twenty feet broad. Here is the place where Apollo is said to have flayed Marsyas, when he had conquered him in the contest of skill. He hung up the skin of the conquered man, in the cavern where the spring wells forth, and hence the name of the river, Marsyas. It was on this site that Xerxes, as tradition tells, built this very palace, as well as the citadel of Celaenae itself, on his retreat from Hellas, after he had lost the famous battle. Here Cyrus remained for thirty days, during which Clearchus the Lacedaemonian arrived with one thousand hoplites and eight hundred Thracian peltasts and two hundred Cretan archers. At the same time, also, came Sosis the Syracusian with three thousand hoplites, and Sophaenetus the Arcadian[6] with one thousand hoplites; and here Cyrus held a review, and numbered his Hellenes in the park, and found that they amounted in all to eleven thousand hoplites and about two thousand peltasts.

“From this place he continued his march two stages--ten parasangs--to 10 the populous city of Peltae, where he remained three days; while Xenias, the Arcadian, celebrated the Lycaea[7] with sacrifice, and instituted games. The prizes were headbands of gold; and Cyrus himself was a spectator of the contest. From this place the march was continued two stages--twelve parasangs--to Ceramon-agora, a populous city, the last on the confines of Mysia. Thence a march of three stages--thirty parasangs--brought him to Caystru-pedion[8], a populous city. Here Cyrus halted five days; and the soldiers, whose pay was now more than three months in arrear, came several times to the palace gates demanding their dues; while Cyrus put them off with fine words and expectations, but could not conceal his vexation, for it was not his fashion to stint payment, when he had the means. At this point Epyaxa, the wife of Syennesis, the king of the Cilicians, arrived on a visit to Cyrus; and it was said that Cyrus received a large gift of money from the queen. At this date, at any rate, Cyrus gave the army four months' pay. The queen was accompanied by a bodyguard of Cilicians and Aspendians; and, if report speaks truly, Cyrus had intimate relations with the queen.”

Fighting and Pillaging by Greek Mercenaries

Xenophon wrote in “Anabasis”: “From this place he marched two stages--ten parasangs--to Thymbrium, a populous city. Here, by the side of the road, is the spring of Midas, the king of Phrygia, as it is called, where Midas, as the story goes, caught the satyr by drugging the spring with wine. From this place he marched two stages--ten parasangs--to Tyriaeum, a populous city. Here he halted three days; and the Cilician queen, according to the popular account, begged Cyrus to exhibit his armament for her amusement. The latter being only too glad to make such an exhibition, held a review of the Hellenes and barbarians in the plain. He ordered the Hellenes to draw up their lines and post themselves in their customary battle order, each general marshalling his own battalion. Accordingly they drew up four-deep. The right was held by Menon and those with him; the 15 left by Clearchus and his men; the centre by the remaining generals with theirs. Cyrus first inspected the barbarians, who marched past in troops of horses and companies of infantry. He then inspected the Hellenes; driving past them in his chariot, with the queen in her carriage. And they all had brass helmets and purple tunics, and greaves, and their shields uncovered. [Source: Anabasis by Xenophon translation by H. G. Dakyns from ,Dakyns' series, "The Works of Xenophon," 1890, Project Gutenberg]

“After he had driven past the whole body, he drew up his chariot in front of the centre of the battle-line, and sent his interpreter Pigres to the generals of the Hellenes, with orders to present arms and to advance along the whole line. This order was repeated by the generals to their men; and at the sound of the bugle, with shields forward and spears in rest, they advanced to meet the enemy. The pace quickened, and with a shout the soldiers spontaneously fell into a run, making in the direction of the camp. Great was the panic of the barbarians. The Cilician queen in her carriage turned and fled; the sutlers in the marketing place left their wares and took to their heels; and the Hellenes meanwhile came into camp with a roar of laughter. What astounded the queen was the brilliancy and order of the armament; but Cyrus was pleased to see the terror inspired by the Hellenes in the hearts of the Asiatics.

“From this place they endeavoured to force a passage into Cilicia. Now 21 the entrance was by an exceedingly steep cart-road, impracticable for an army in face of a resisting force; and report said that Syennesis was on the summit of the pass guarding the approach. Accordingly they halted a day in the plain; but next day came a messenger informing them that Syenesis had left the pass; doubtless, after perceiving that Menon's army was already in Cilicia on his own side of the mountains; and he had further been informed that ships of war, belonging to the Lacedaemonians (Spartans) and to Cyrus himself, with Tamos on board as admiral, were sailing round from Ionia to Cilicia. Whatever the reason might be, Cyrus made his way up into the hills without let or hindrance, and came in sight of the tents where the Cilicians were on guard. From that point he descended gradually into a large and beautiful plain country, well watered, and thickly covered with trees of all sorts and vines. This plain produces sesame plentifully, as also panic and millet and barley and wheat; and it is shut in on all sides by a steep and lofty wall of mountains from sea to sea. Descending through this plain country, he advanced four stages--twenty-five parasangs--to Tarsus, a large and prosperous city of Cilicia. Here stood the palace of Syennesis, the king of the country; and through the middle of the city flows a river called the Cydnus, two hundred feet broad. They found that the city had been deserted by its inhabitants, who had betaken themselves, with Syennesis, to a strong place on the hills. All had gone, except the tavern-keepers. The sea-board inhabitants of Soli and Issi also remained. Now Epyaxa, Syennesis's queen, had reached Tarsus five days in advance of Cyrus.

Alexander's army in Babylon

“During their passage over the mountains into the plain, two companies of Menon's army were lost. Some said they had been cut down by the Cilicians, while engaged on some pillaging affair; another account was that they had been left behind, and being unable to overtake the main body, or discover the route, had gone astray and perished. However it was, they numbered one hundred hoplites; and when the rest arrived, being in a fury at the destruction of their fellow soldiers, they vented their spleen by pillaging the city of Tarsus and the palace to boot. Now when Cyrus had marched into the city, he sent for Syennesis to come to him; but 26 the latter replied that he had never yet put himself into the hands of any one who was his superior, nor was he willing to accede to the proposal of Cyrus now; until, in the end, his wife persuaded him, and he accepted pledges of good faith. After this they met, and Syennesis gave Cyrus large sums in aid of his army; while Cyrus presented him with the customary royal gifts--to wit, a horse with a gold bit, a necklace of gold, a gold bracelet, and a gold scimitar, a Persian dress, and lastly, the exemption of his territory from further pillage, with the privilege of taking back the slaves that had been seized, wherever they might chance to come upon them.”

Cyrus told the Greeks their enemy was the Pisidians, and so the Greeks were unaware that they were pawns in Cyrus plan to battle against King Artaxerxes II the larger army. At Tarsus the Greeks became aware of Cyrus's plans to depose the king, and as a result, refused to continue. However, Clearchus, a Spartan general, convinced the Greeks to continue with the expedition. The army of Cyrus met the army of Artaxerxes II in the Battle of Cunaxa. Despite effective fighting by the Greeks, Cyrus was killed in the battle. Clearchus was invited to a peace conference and was betrayed and executed along with other generals and many captains. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The mercenaries, known as the Ten Thousand, found themselves without leadership far from the sea, deep in hostile territory near the heart of Mesopotamia. They elected new leaders, including Xenophon himself, and fought their way north along the Tigris through hostile Persians and Medes to Trapezus on the coast of the Black Sea. They then made their way westward back to Greece via Chrysopolis. +

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks ; Canadian Museum of History ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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