Greek Soldiers On Campagin

The Men
The myth of the middle class hoplite has taken a real battering and rightly so. The rich, plousioi, could afford a life of leisure, the poor, penetes, needed to work. There were few middle class, the mesoi, and society and even the hoplite class, was polarised. A typical working-class hoplite was probably a small independent farmer with around 10-15 acres and worth around 2,000-3,000 drachmas, or craftsmen of similar wealth but perhaps a more "effeminate" indoor lifestyle. Poorer men like Socrates wanted to serve and were helped out by their neighbours and friends. The richest men in Athens and other city states were under a formal obligation to serve as a hoplite. But for the thetes, service was optional but often desirable. Out of 24,000 citizen hoplites at the beginning of the Peloponnesian War only 3,000 came from the zeugitai "yoked men", hippies "horseman" and the pentakosiomedimnoi "500 bushel men" all with an obligation to serve.

The others were poorer citizens and foreigners. In times of stress even slaves could be equipped. There is evidence of elite units of hoplites in Sparta, Boeotia, Elis and Argos. These were kept permanently under arms and paid for at public expense. A full Classical panoply would cost around 75-100 drachmas or around three months wages. But a shield and spear only around 25-30 drachmas, relatively cheap compared to the cost of outfitting a cavalryman. Spartan armies even from before the famous man-power shortage consisted of helots, former helots, peioikoi, allies and mercenaries all fighting with a single Spartan citizen in charge. Within the Peloponnese and central Greece more Spartans could be present, but wars were never fought solely by middle class citizen armies even in Sparta.

Cavalry service separated the very rich apart from the rest of the leisure class. Legal liability for hoplite service was at least 200 dry or liquid measures of produce each year, which would require an estate worth around 6,000 drachmas or one talent. Enough to support 10 to 15 people. Horse ownership required a minimum of 300 dry or liquid measure of produce. The hippies were a social elite from which "full time professional" soldiers where often drawn. An average horse for the cavalry seems to have cost around 500 drachmas, and a single horse could eat as much barley as six men. And a horseman would need a horse for his groom, plus possibly pack animals as well. The Athenian hippies would have been a social as well as military organisation.

Epikourai were foreign soldiers called in to fight from allies, symmachoi, volunteers, ethelontai or mercenaries, misthophoroi. The later Isocrates called "stateless exiles, runaways and other drifting miscreants". These seem an ever present necessity yet the ideal of the city militia never faced extinction, and epikourai supplemented it, not replaced it. If mercenary hoplites and light troops are relatively easy to envisage due to the writings of Xenophon, mercenary cavalry are less easy to understand. While mercenary infantry could be relatively poor happy to sign on for pay, the nature of mercenary horseman is less clear. They would need to be rich, but some of those riches could be spear-won on the battlefield. And horses or at least re-mounts could be supplied centrally. Native horseman, non-Greek troopers could be recruited with their horses.

Scythians were recruited by Athens and it is possible to suggest that they brought their horses, several for each man, with them. Thucydides mentions 200 Scythians in 431, and Xenophon writing in the 360's says they ride before other cavalry in the manner perhaps of Alexander's prodromoi. Lysias in around 395 says serving with them is less prestigious than serving with the "regular" Athenian cavalry. Pericles built his 1,200 cavalry upon this core of 200 horse archers and mentions them in his famous speech of 431. They seem to have been the only recorded paid professional cavalry in Greece for over 50 years. Mercenary horsemen would be very expensive to hire, perhaps be a mixture of rich exiles and skilled non-Greeks, with a logistic tail of grooms, remounts and baggage animals, serving to give a professional edge to the state's existing cavalry force.

The rich ideally had the time to train body and mind for war and politics. They could go to trainers who would concentrate on physical fitness. While rich young men would ideally train for war privately, after Chaeronea in 338 BC the Athenians introduced a state trained and armed egalitarian militia. Around 500 to 600 ephebes a year, the majority of the population, signed up for the two year course.

If it is possible to state the composition of most Greek armies, the rich and poor city militia and the epikourai, it is much harder to guess at their mind set. Before the Peloponnesian War the Greeks at least paid lip service to the notion of the "laws of the Greeks", nomima, but the conflict saw total war without morale boundaries.

Athenians intercepted and executed Spartan diplomats in violation of custom. Thucydides claims this was in part a response to Spartans executing the crews of Athenian and neutral shipping found off the Peloponnese. The male populations of captured cities were often executed and women and children sold in slavery. Thucydides describes the killing of the oligarchic garrison on Mount Istone. The Athenians had promised leniency to the captured garrison on the provision that none tried to escape. After a few risked flight the Athenians executed the rest.

Roped together in twos they were whipped by special executioners with a version of the cat-o'-nine-tails as they were forced to run between two lines of jabbing hoplites. After 60 were torn apart the rest refused to come out of their barracks, and died either by their own hand or under a hail of arrows and roof tiles. Theognis may advocate to Cyrnus that he should respect and fear the gods who will keep a man from doing or saying disrespectful things. But the unpalatable fact is that many Greek soldiers were as willing to kill a prisoner as a sheep or goat. Their moral code was of a different order to ours today.