This semester, Visiting Assistant Professor Matthew Taylor’s class Ancient Warfare has, he explains, spent a significant amount of time exploring the topic of Greek hoplite warfare, a style of fighting that was somewhat unusual and unique to Greek armies of the 7th–4th centuries B.C. (and which was recently made popular by the 2006 film 300). The experiments below were based on similar endeavors designed by Professor John Lee of the University of California-Santa Barbara.
“It can be readily established that this mode of warfare was built around the phalanx—a rectangular formation of men each bearing the 3-foot hoplite shield and an 8-foot thrusting spear—but the precise arrangement of this formation and the tactics involved are still a matter of great debate in the scholarly world.
In order to make greater inroads into the question, the students constructed their own replica hoplite shields and for one class we practiced forming up into and moving as a phalanx. The students experimented with different spacings of ranks and files, marching in formation, and the massed pushing of shield against shield.
Throughout the exercise, they brought their curiosity and intuition to bear on the questions we had formed in the previous weeks, offering observations on the relative merits and difficulties of certain organizational choices within the phalanx, and sharing ideas about the practical and emotional realities that seemed like they may have been inherent to the phalanx.
The class culminated with the student phalanx attempting a running charge like that of the Athenians at the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C.—with their unfortunate professor standing in for the Persian army!”
Photos courtesy of Assistant Professor of Classics Lisl Walsh.