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A hoplite was a citizen-soldier of the Ancient Greek city-states. Hoplites were primarily armed as spear-men and fought in a phalanx formation. The word "hoplite" (Greek: ὁπλίτης hoplitēs; pl. ὁπλίται hoplitai) derives from "hoplon" (ὅπλον, plural hopla ὅπλα), the type of the shield used by the troopers,[1] although, as a word, "hopla" could also denote weapons held or even full armament. In later texts, the term hoplite is used to denote any armored infantry, regardless of armament or ethnicity.

A hoplite was primarily a free citizen who was usually individually responsible for procuring his armor and weapon. In most Greek city-states, citizens received at least basic military training, serving in the standing army for a certain amount of time. They were expected to take part in any military campaign when they would be called for duty. The Lacedaemonian citizens (Sparta) were renowned for their life-long combat training and almost mythical military prowess, while their greatest adversaries, the Athenians, were exempted from service only after the 60th year of their lives.

The exact time when hoplitic warfare was developed is uncertain, the prevalent theory being that it was established sometime during the 8th or 7th century BCE, when the "heroic age was abandoned and a far more disciplined system introduced" [2] and the Argive shield became popular. Peter Krentz argues that "the ideology of hoplitic warfare as a ritualized contest developed not in the 7th century, but only after 480, when non-hoplite arms began to be excluded from the phalanx".[3]

After the Macedonian conquests of the 4th century BCE, the hoplite was slowly abandoned in favor of the phalangite, armed in the Macedonian fashion in the armies of the southern Greek states.

Many famous personalities, philosophers, artists and poets, fought as hoplites.[4][5]



The rise and fall of hoplite warfare was intimately connected to the rise and fall of the city-state. As discussed above, hoplites were a solution to the armed clashes between independent city-states. As Greek civilization found itself confronted by the world at large, particularly by the Persians, the emphasis in warfare shifted. Confronted by huge numbers of enemy troops, individual city-states could not realistically fight alone. During the Greco-Persian Wars (499-448 BCE), alliances between groups of cities (whose composition varied over time) fought against the Persians. This drastically altered the scale of warfare and the numbers of troops involved. The hoplite phalanx proved itself far superior to the Persian infantry at such conflicts as the Battle of Marathon, Thermopylae, and the Battle of Plataea.

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