On the ancient Greek peninsula a loose confederation of city-states dominated the Mediterranean and eventually won a lengthy, protracted battle with their ancient foe, Persia. They did it on the back of the mighty shoulders of the Grecian hoplite, whose heavy shock and violence humbled the western world.
In an age where soldiers wore linen or leather for protection and carried wooden or whicker shields, the Greek hoplite was a fearsome foe.
The hoplite was a heavily armed infantryman, the central focus of warfare in Ancient Greece. They were the world's first shock troops. They first appeared around the late seventh century BC. They were a citizen-militia, armed at their own cost as spearmen in the famous phalanx. They were relatively easy to equip and maintain; and as all were wealthy and important citizens of their city, could afford the cost of the armaments. Almost all the famous men of ancient Greece, even philosophers and playwrights, fought as hoplites.
With the exception of the Spartans, each Greek hoplite provided his own fairly non-uniform gear. As a result of the non-uniform gear, friendly troops would often fail to recognize one another. A hoplite typically had a bronze breastplate, helmet with cheekplates, greaves and often other armor. Each hoplite also carried a bowl-shaped shield called an aspis, made from wood or bronze and measuring roughly 1 meter in diameter. It spanned from chin to knee and was extremely heavy (8-38 kg). Every Greek hoplite had different customized armor, and family symbols on his shield. The primary weapon was a spear around 2.7 meters in length called a doru. Hoplites also carried a short sword called a xiphas. The short sword was a secondary weapon, after their spear broke. All weapons and armor were mainly made from bronze. Equipment was costly, so only the rich could afford to be hoplites. Soldiers sometimes inherited their father's or grandfather's equipment.
The exception to this customized armor, were the Spartans. All Spartans had the same uniform and the Greek letter lambda () on their shield, in reference to their homeland Lacedaemonia. Every Spartan wore a scarlet robe to represent them as Spartans, though the cape was never worn in combat.
In battle, hoplites held their shield to protect their left side, while the hoplite next to them had their shield overlapping and protecting his neighbor. In fact, as citizen militia they were neighbors, soldiers who protected each other as part of a close brotherhood.
Greek against Greek battles were normally little more than pushing battles. The hoplites formed into large rectangular formations up to eight ranks deep and charged their foe. When heavy hoplite met heavy hoplite the crash normally brought both walls to a standstill, with each side heaving against the other, trying to break an opposing rank., like two rams, straining to overwhelm the other with strength. Should a rank break, all within the phalanx would be endangered and the battle would quickly develop into a route. Few were killed in Greek battles. However, since city leaders typically lead the army, those killed were almost always the most important.
However, against non-Greeks, the hoplite phalanx was deadly. Without the heavy armor and shield, and the great reach of the Greek spear, most non-Greeks where crushed by the first Greek charge. Typically, against their hated foes the Persians, the Greek hoplites would simple burst through any lightly-armed Persian formation, leaving a path of hacked bodies behind.
Philip of Macedonia, and later his son, Alexander the great, reached supremacy over the Greeks because they successfully married the heavy hoplite phalanx with effective calvary, light skirmishers and siege warfare to turn the Greeks into an unstoppable force. The Greek city states ruled their part of the world, only falling to the great discipline of the Roman legions in