Chapter XIII. The Armed Forces of Athens.
85. Military Life at Athens. - Hitherto we have seen almost nothing save the peaceful civic side of Athenian life, but it is a cardinal error to suppose that art, philosophy, farming, manufacturing, commerce, and bloodless home politics sum up the whole of the activities of Attica. Athens is no longer the great imperial state she was in the days of Pericles, but she is still one of the greatest military powers in Greece,[*] and on her present armed strength rests a large share of her prestige and prosperity. Her fleet, which is still her particular boast, must of course be seen at the Peireus; but as we go about the streets of the main city we notice many men, who apparently had recently entered their house doors as plain, harmless citizens, now emerging, clad in all the warrior's bravery, and hastening towards one of the gates. Evidently a review is to be held of part of the citizen army of Athens. If we wish, we can follow and learn much of the Greek system of warfare in general and of the Athenian army in particular.
[*]Of course the greatest military power of Greece had been Sparta until 371 B.C., when the battle of Leuctra made Thebes temporarily "the first land power."
Even at the present day, when there is plenty of complaint that Athenians are not willing to imitate the sturdy campaigning of their fathers, the citizens seem always at war, or getting ready for it. Every citizen, physically fit, is liable to military service from his eighteenth to his sixtieth year. To make efficient soldiers is really the main end of the constant physical exercise. If a young man takes pride in his hard and fit body, if he flings spears at the stadium, and learns to race in full armor, if he goes on long marches in the hot sun, if he sleeps on the open hillside, or lies on a bed of rushes watching the moon rise over the sea, - it is all to prepare himself for a worthy part in the "big day" when Athens will confront some old or new enemy on the battlefield. A great deal of the conversation among the younger men is surely not about Platonic ideals, Demosthenes's last political speech, nor the best fighting cocks; it is about spears, shield-straps, camping ground, rations, ambuscades, or the problems of naval warfare.
It is alleged with some show of justice that by this time Athenians are so enamored with the pleasures of peaceful life that they prefer to pay money for mercenary troops rather than serve themselves on distant expeditions; and certain it is that there are plenty of Arcadians, Thracians, and others, from the nations which supply the bulk of the mercenaries, always in Athenian pay in the outlying garrisons. Still the old military tradition and organization for the citizens is kept up, and half a generation later, when the freedom of Athens is blasted before Philip the Macedonian at Cheroneia, it will be shown that if the Athenian militia does not know how to conquer, it at least knows how to die. So we gladly follow to the review, and gather our information.
86. The Organization of the Athenian Army. - After a young "ephebus" has finished his two years of service in the garrisons he returns home subject to call at the hour of need. When there is necessity to make up an army, enough men are summoned to meet the required number and no more. Thus for a small force only the eligibles between say twenty and twenty-four years of age would be summoned; but in a crisis all the citizens are levied up to the very graybeards. The levy is conducted by the ten "Strategi" (at once 'generals,' 'admirals,' and 'war ministers') who control the whole armed power of Athens. The recruits summoned have to come with three days' rations to the rendezvous, usually to the Lyceum wrestling ground just outside the city. In case of a general levy the old men are expected to form merely a home guard for the walls; the young men must be ready for hard service over seas.
The organization of the Athenian army is very simple; each of the ten Attic tribes sends its own special battalion or "taxis," which is large or small according to the total size of the levy.[*] These "taxeis" are subdivided into companies or "lochoi," of about an average of 100 men each. The "taxeis" are each under a tribal-colonel ("taxiarch"), and each company under its captain ("locharch"). The ten strategi theoretically command the whole army together, but since bitter experience teaches that ten generals are usually nine too many, a special decree of the people often entrusts the supreme command of a force to one commander, or at most to not over three. The other strategi must conduct other expeditions, or busy themselves with their multifarious home duties.
[*]Thus if 3000 men were called out, the average "taxis" would be 300 strong, but if 6000, then 600.
87. The Hoplites and the Light Troops. - The unit of the Athenian citizen army, like practically all Greek armies, is the heavy armed infantry soldier, the HOPLITE. An army of "three thousand men" is often an army of so many hoplites, unless there is specific statement to the contrary. But really it is of six thousand men, to be entirely accurate: for along with every hoplite goes an attendant, a "light-armed man," either a poor citizen who cannot afford a regular suit of armor,[*] or possibly a trusted slave. These "light-armed men" carry the hoplites' shields until the battle, and most of the baggage. They have javelins, and sometimes slings and bows. They act as skirmishers before the actual battle: and while the hoplites are in the real death-grip they harass the foe as they can, and guard the camp. When the fight is done they do their best to cover the retreat, or slaughter the flying foe if their own hoplites are victorious.
[*]The hoplite's panoply (see description later) was sufficiently expensive to imply that its owner was at least a man in tolerable circumstances.