Friday, January 25, 2013

Composition and Organization of the Spartan Army

The most important accomplishment of the Lycurgan reforms was the creation of the Spartan Army, an instrument of power that held off political revolution in Sparta for 400 years. At the same time, the reforms created some behaviors which had a negative impact on the army and diminished its power to protect the Spartan people.

Before discussing the army, it is necessary for us to explain how the words Spartan and Lacedaemonian come into play here. Spartans were the people inhabiting the five villages of Sparta – Mesoa, Kynosaura, Pitane, Limnae, and Amyklai, while Lacedaemonian defines the physical area of Spartan control including Sparta, Messenia, and the Perioikoi Villages of the Central Peloponnese. Because the Spartan Army used hoplites from the Lacedaemonian territories, the word Lacedaemonian more accurately describes its composition.

As we have discussed before, Homoioi were Spartiates who had graduated from the Agoge training and were able to make a regular contribution to the Mess. They constituted the most highly trained and skilled members of the Spartan Army, but were never large enough in numbers to constitute a potent military force, so Sparta came to rely on its neighbors for reinforcements.

At Platea in 479 B.C, for example, the Lacedaemonian Army was fifty percent Spartiates and fifty percent Perioikoi. By 425 B.C, the ratio was sixty percent Perioikoi.

The Spartan tactic of using territorial reinforcements was a necessity but at the same time a trap which limited the size of the army. Because the Perioikoi were more numerous, they offered a large auxiliary force, but their numbers in battle had to be limited by ratio to the number of Spartiates, otherwise the balance of the army’s power would be held by outsiders. This requirement led to the unfortunate consequence of a decrease in the size of the army as the number of available Spartiates declined.

Spartans had forty years of eligibility for service, from age twenty to sixty. To prepare for war, they chose a call up age limit based on the number of hoplites needed -- sometimes age forty-five, sometimes fifty, and in extreme cases, more.

As early as Platea, the Sparta’s ability to field adequate numbers of Homoioi was stretched relative to the Perioikoi. The Spartans selected a call up to age forty-five for that battle, while the Perioikoi had enough hoplites available to afford the luxury of selecting only elite troops. Since the Perioikoi did not attend the Agoge, they did not possess equivalent skill in battle, but were also not subject to the same cultural pressures as the Homoioi. They had their own professions and lived a “normal” life like other Greeks. During the centuries when the Spartan Army was the strongest in Greece, the Perioikoi contingent was never utilized to its capacity.

The Spartan Phalanx was built by aggregating small units into larger ones --the smallest unit being the Enomotia with a maximum of 40 men. Each Enomotia consisted of two Syssitia, the basic unit of the mess. The twenty men who dined every day together were considered a “band of brothers” who ate together, trained together, and went to war together. Each Enomotia was represented by all age classes required to be present in a specific deployment. For example, when the call up was to age forty-five, each Enomotia consisted of five hoplites between the age of 20 and 25, five between the age of 25 and 30, five between the ages of 30 and 35, five between the ages of 35 and 40, and five between the ages of 40 and 45, making a total of 25. In a call up to age 60, there would be 40 men for each Enomotia.

Four Enomotia made up a Pentecostys, two Pentecostys per Lochos, and four Lochos per Mora, making a total of approximately 1200 men. These ratios varied widely over time and there are questions about their accuracy. We know that the Spartan Army originally had five Lochi, one for each of the five villages of Sparta, but that would only total about 1500 men. Later there were twenty-four Lochi, or 7200 men at an age 60 deployment – a rare occurance.

Each of the units had its own commander: Enomotia were commanded by a Enomotiarch, Pentecostys by a Penetecosteres, Lochos by a Lochagoi, and Mora by a Polemarch.

The Perioikoi had the same unit structure but they had no Syssitia, no Agoge, and they were not a permanent army. Still, they probably utilized an age distribution among their units and the same unit structure the Spartans used.


Steve said...

Nice post. Good information.

I believe the Lacedaemonians provided 10,000 hopiltes at Plataea, and as you suggest, half were Spartiates and half from the dwellers around. Part of the reason the Spartans did not send out all of their men, is that they were always afraid the helots at home would rise up in rebellion.

For what it's worth, I believe the world 'enomotia' means 'sworn band' in ancient Greek.

Am curious to read your other posts...

Mike Anderson said...


Thanks for the comment. Yes that Helot situation was certainly a two-edged sword. If you love Spartan history, I hope you can visit there. I was in Sparta in 2010 and will never forget the experience. See my post Sparta Photo Album from 9/25/10.

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