Saturday, December 18, 2010

Spartan Armor and the Phalanx Rebuttal

The ink wasn’t dry on my last post before I received a comment from an anonymous reader criticizing the post on multiple grounds. He seems to be a Spartan defender (as am I) emotionally invested in correcting my mistakes.

I thought I’d use this post to discuss the criticisms because I want all my readers to be exposed to the arguments. Although I approach my subjects from an academic point of view, I’m not immune to mistakes particularly in the way the facts are presented. I think there is some of the latter at work here but my readers can judge for themselves what they believe to be the correct arguments.

In the following discussion I have highlighted my own quotes from the post, then listed the criticisms in italics, and then entered a response to the criticisms.

‘’Historical evidence suggests that the hoplite armor (chest corslet, helmet, and greaves) developed at about the same time (circa 650 B.C.)’’

Please forgive me but I don’t understand this one..Bronze armor goes back to Mycenean era.Corinthian helmet and bell curiass however were developed somewhere in the Dark Ages, or after, let’s say 700 BC.

I didn’t mean to suggest at the various components of the Spartan armor were developed simultaneously but that they came together as a set of armor in about 650 B.C. I count the porpax shield as a new development because we know that the Assyrians were using single handled shields a century before. The porpax shield probably contributed to the development of the phalanx as a tactic.

‘’Also with the left hand unavailable, the hoplite would have to use a thrusting spear in his right hand.’’

Shield is among the most powerful weapons of the hoplite since spear could probably survive only the beginning phase of combat. Other parts being brute wrestling, killing with swords, shields, helmets, rocks, hands

I don’t dispute this comment, however, the hoplites also carried a sword and multiple spears. There are more examples on Greek pottery of hoplites carrying multiple weapons than there are of them carrying a single one.

‘This is a picture of frightened Spartan hoplites trying to survive’

That was a picture of LIGHTLY ARMED troops, not the full warriors-hoplites by any means. You severely misunderstood the probably poor translation. I would not go so far sir to call those Messenian war era men cowards Leonidas would be ashamed of. And second Messenian war probably came after reform of 650.

Here I’m looking at the big picture and my critic is taking a closer view. We know that Tyrtaios composed his poems during the Second Messenian War (First Messenian Revolt). My theory backing Toynbee is that the Messenian revolt was the igniter for the reforms of the Spartan army. Prior to the reforms, the Spartan army was not disciplined because it contained citizen soldiers rather than professionals. The reforms were driven by the realization by the Spartan elite that they could not control their vast new territory without a professional army, and the only way to build a professional army was to grant land to the people and level the classes. As I wrote in a previous post, the elite needed the phalanx and the phalanx was made up of commoners. The commoners refused to man the phalanx without rights.

The other reason to quote the poem was to show that we can pinpoint a time when the Spartan army was ineffective, again making it obvious that reforms were needed.

I wouldn’t say the men in the poem were cowards but I don’t think Leonidas would respect their performance.

I will also furiously disagree that they fought poorly before 6th C..First of all Spartans were by far most successful in disciplines of strength in Pan-Hellenic games at the time and later as well, and strength (lifting, wrestling, sprint) was absolutely necessary for hoplite combat, and it was almost the only thing that decided who won and who lost...

The commenter is correct in saying that the Spartans exhibited great athletic prowess at the Pan-Hellenic Games, but I think there is a difference between a few good athletes and 9,000 equally athletic hoplites. It takes a discipline on the order of the agoge to get there.

Again I agree with the commenter. If two armies are using a phalanx, the stronger and better conditioned army should win.

Secondly 669 Hysiae is mentioned only once, by a controversial author almost a millennium after the battle!?!? Never before, not by Herodotus, Xenophon, Thucydides??? No archaeological finds. Nothing..It may have never happened, there is no proof except his doubtful testimony...And Tegean chains is the episode of the overconfident therefore severely outnumbered Spartans. If they took it seriously outcome might be different. By the way Herodotus says ‘ALL other wars with Tegea at the time were successful’’

Regarding the Battle of Hysiae, I believe the battle actually happened and even though there is not a great deal of evidence, Toynbee, Cartledge, and Jones believe it happened and that’s good enough for me.

Again, I think the criticism misses the mark. All I’m trying to show is that once the military reforms were adopted in Sparta, it took a while for the Spartan army to exhibit the superiority it would be known for later.

I would also argue on Spartan achieving superiority and remaining there (Although I agree with 650 being date of new reform, and 550 being date of the peak of Spartan strength that lasted until wars with Tegea, Argos in 470)..Spartans were not invincible after 544 either.

Yes indeed, there are some surprising defeats later when one would think the Spartans were invincible.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was the one leaving the comments.And thank you for taking your time to answer, this quick.

Not to go through all but we pretty much seem to agree,as language barrier was probably the reason why I misunderstood your point,and maybe taking your words too literary. Now I do agree with your points.

...with minor exceptions.

8000 hoplites in prime,not 9k..if we are to believe Herodotos that is.

Cartledge chooses to believe what suits him,an institutionalized pederasty,infanticide and overall Helot hysteria for example...All being false fo course .So even Cambridge proffesors are not imune to mistakes..

Hyssiae being unmentioned throughout the entire history BC is very suspicious at best. I believe too the battle of some kind happened, but I can not include it as a fact in my research or book.It is just not prooven,thereby non existent..

And a particulary interesting is the following quote ‘’ Other events in Pausanians' book can be dated by the areas current king or leaders. In contrast this Peloponnesian battle is dated by giving the name of a Athenian archon and the Olympic victor. As the information given to Pausanians occured at Argos, why didn't the current Argive king want to have his name attached to the victory? Maybe it is because it was not a Argive victory, but a Spartan one.’’

Just a minor digression..6th BC showed an unmatched consistency in the results of the Spartans in games in Olympia.The direct product of Agoge being shown in youth competitions as well..It stops somewhere around big earthquake.One more proof Spartan system did collapse and started to degrade not in 370 but almost 100 years before.

Thank you sir,for your time and articles