Friday, August 21, 2009

The Phalanx and Its Influence Over Politics and Social Class in Ancient Greece

In recent posts we have been discussing the historical periods of ancient Greece. We’ve been focused on the Golden Age because that is the period most historians are interested in – the great wars, the acme of the polis as a political system, and the rise of Athens as the center of historical culture. In the last post I talked about the Dark Ages: the period in Greek history which came immediately after the Mycenaean culture disappeared. There is also another period that stands between the Dark Ages and the classical times -- the Archaic Period.

Spanning the years from 800 B.C. to 500 B.C, the Archaic Period has two important features: the development of the Polis as a stable political institution and the emigration of the Greek people to new lands in western Europe and Asia as far as the Black Sea. It is the former that we will talk about here, specifically how the phalanx as a military formation drove changes in the political structure and social fabric of the Greek society.

By 650 B.C. Greek cities contained a mixture of wealthy, poor, and those who were rising in economic status -- a middle class for want of a better term. Military leaders realized that they could easily build a new battle formation out of men who could now afford to buy equipment based on their higher incomes. Since the phalanx was central to the Greek victory when operated as a single unit, each hoplite had an equal, and important role, in its success. The average soldier was now as important as the strongest and bravest.

Moreover, since every soldier was important to the phalanx, every soldier had the right to demand political authority when the war was over, because he had made an equal contribution to victory. This demand for political authority manifested itself in the strengthening of the legal code and the increased participation of the lower classes in the apparatus of government.

As the phalanx grew in importance, burying weapons with the dead went out of favor. They had lost their value as a status symbol because even the lower classes could afford them.

No comments: