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The Greeks and War

This map is part of a series of 16 animated maps showing the history of Ancient Greece.

Ancient Greece was characterized by ongoing warfare. Conflicts often erupted with foreign enemies, but usually involved neighbouring cities.  

The army was made up of infantrymen, the hoplites who marched in phalanxes, that is, in a tight formation of 8 rows. Each soldier was protected within the phalange by the shield of the man next to him and the whole formation created a wall of lances facing the enemy.

In addition to the round shield, approximately 90 centimeters in diameter, the hoplite was equipped with a cuirass, a helmet, a short sword attached to his belt, a spear in the right hand and sometimes bronze greaves to protect his legs.  He had to pay for his own equipment.

Under Philip of Macedon, a number of changes were introduced: iron was more commonly used in the hoplite’s equipment, including a new larger spear which was known as the ‘sarissa’ and was more than 6 meters long.

But the most important innovation during this period was the gradual replacement of soldier-citizens by mercenary troops. This led to the end of the citizen’s army. 

Naval battles first took place in the 8th century BC. In the 7th century, the ships were usually triremes, probably introduced by the Corinthians. The soldier-rower did not need special equipment, since his oar was provided by the city.


Two different strategies emerged: some cities sought to build bigger and bigger ships, while others preferred lighter ships, known as “lembos”, which could be handled easily by about 15 rowers.  The Illyrians, in particular, used these ships.