Spartan War Machine, Xenophon

A History of Ancient Greece

Ancient History Sourcebook:
Xenophon (c.428-c.354 BCE):
The Spartan War Machine, c. 375 BCE

In the first instance, the ephors announce in proclamation the limit of age to which the service applies for cavalry and heavy infantry; and, in the next place, for the various artisans. So that, even on campaign, the Spartans are well-supplied with all the conveniences enjoyed by people living as citizens at Sparta. All the implements and instruments whatsoever which an army may need in common are ordered to be in readiness, some on wagons and others on baggage animals. In this way anything omitted can hardly escape detection.

For the actual encounter under arms, the following inventions are attributed to Lycurgos: the soldier has a crimson-colored uniform and a heavy shield of bronze; his theory being that such equipment has no sort of feminine association, and is altogether most warrior-like. It is most quickly burnished; it is least readily soiled. He further permitted those who were about the age of early manhood to wear their hair long. For so, he conceived, they would appear of larger stature, more free and indomitable, and of a more terrible aspect. So furnished and accoutered, he divided his hoplites into six morai [regiments] of cavalry and heavy infantry. Each of these hoplite morai has one polemarchos [colonel], four lochagoi [captains], eight penteconters [lieutenants], and sixteen enomotarchs [sergeants]. At a word of command any such morai can be formed readily into either enomoties [single-file], or into threes [three files of men abreast] or sixes [six files of men abreast].

As to the idea, commonly entertained, that the tactical arrangement of the Spartan heavy infantry is highly complicated, no conception could be more opposed to facts. For in the Spartan order the front-rank-men are all leaders, so that each file has everything necessary to play its part efficiently. In fact, this disposition is so easy to understand that no one who can distinguish one human being from another can fail to follow it. One set have the privilege of leaders, the other the duty of followers. The evolutional orders by which greater depth or shallowness is given to the battle line are given by word of mouth, by the enomotarch, and they cannot be mistaken. None of these maneuvers presents any difficulty whatsoever to the understanding.

I will now speak of the mode of encampment, sanctioned by the regulation of Lycurgos. To avoid the waste incidental to the angles of the square, the encampment, according to him, should be circular, except where there was the security of a hill or fortification, or where they had a river in the rear. He had sentinels posted during the day along the place of arms and facing inwards; since they are appointed not so much for the sake of the enemy as to keep an eye on friends. The enemy is sufficiently watched by mounted troopers perched on various points commanding the widest prospects. To guard against hostile approach by night, sentinel duty according to the ordinance was performed by the sciritai outside the main body. At the present time the rule is so far modified that the duty is entrusted to foreigners, if there be a foreign contingent present, with a leaven of Spartans to keep them company. The custom of always taking their spears with them when they go their rounds must certainly be attributed to the same cause which makes them exclude their slaves from a place of arms....The need of precaution is the whole explanation. The frequency with which they change their encampment is another point. It is done quite as much for the sake of benefitting their friends as annoying their enemies.

Further, the law enjoins upon all Spartans, during the whole period of the campaign, the constant practice of gymnastic exercises, whereby their pride in themselves is increased, and they appear freer and of a more liberal aspect than the rest of the world. The walk and the running grounds must not exceed in length the space covered by a morai, so that one may not find himself far from his own stand of arms. After the gymnastic exercises, the senior polemarchos gives the order by herald to be seated. This serves all the purposes of inspection. After this the order is given "To get breakfast," and for "The outpost to be relieved." After this, again, come pastimes and relaxations before the evening exercises, after which the herald=s cry is heard "To take the evening meal." When they have sung a hymn to the gods to whom the offerings of happy omen have been performed, the final order "Retire to rest at the place of arms," is given.

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