Hoplite › Hypatia of Alexandria » Ancient origins

Articles and Definitions › Contents

  • Hoplite › Antique Origins
  • Hypatia of Alexandria › Who Was

Ancient civilizations › Historical and archaeological sites

Hoplite › Antique Origins

Definition and Origins

by Mark Cartwright
published on 09 February 2013
Greek Hoplite (Johnny Shumate)
A hoplite (from ta hopla meaning tool or equipment) was the most common type of heavily armed foot-soldier in ancient Greece from the 7th to 4th centuries BCE, and most ordinary citizens of Greek city -states with sufficient means were expected to equip and make themselves available for the role when necessary.
Athens had a system of compulsory military service for 18-20 year olds, but during a war all male citizens up to the age of 60 could be called up to the armed forces. Other city-states followed a similar policy which meant that hoplites were not professional soldiers and often lacked sufficient military training, although some states did maintain a small elite professional unit, the epilektoi. The most famous of these was the Sacred Band of Thebes, a unit composed of 150 pairs of male lovers who swore to defend their partner to the death. Sparta, where all male citizens over 20 were members of a permanent professional army, was the notable exception to this approach of only calling up an army when absolutely needed.



The principal weapons of a hoplite infantryman were a long ash wood spear ( doru ) and a short sword ( xiphos ). The spear measured on average 2.5 metres (8 ft.) in length and was fitted with a bronze or iron blade and a four-sided end spike ( sauroter ). The sword was also of iron with a straight or sometimes curved blade ( machaira or kopis ) no more than 60 cm in length. No doubt many hoplites also carried a dagger ( encheiridion ) as an extra insurance. Protection was provided by a leather-lined bronze helmet which could vary in design, was often crested, and protected the head, neck, and face. A corselet or breastplate ( thorax ) of bronze or leather (later reduced to a laminated linen vest to save weight - a linothorax ), bronze greaves ( knemides ) to protect the shins, and sometimes arm-guards were also worn. The hoplite carried a large circular shield ( hoplon or aspis ) some 80 cm (30 in.) in diameter and weighing as much as 8 kg. This was made of wood or stiff leather, faced with bronze, and was held with the left arm placed through a central band ( porpax ) and gripped via a strap ( antilabe ) attached to the shield rim. Shields often carried particular designs - the most famous being the inverted V-shape of Spartan hoplites - and emblems - particularly popular was the gorgon from Greek mythology with its association with changing the onlooker into stone. Surviving examples of breastplates and helmets also display engraved decoration. Fully armoured then, the hoplite was required to carry some 20 kg of equipment and so good physical training must have given one side a strong advantage (eg the well-trained and professional Spartans). Precisely because all of this equipment amounted to quite an investment, being a hoplite also indicated that the individual had a certain status in wider Greek society.
Greek Hoplites

Greek Hoplites


Hoplites were organised into regiments or lokhoi (several hundred men strong), and they fought in ranks eight or more men deep (known as a phalanx), and standing close together, half of the shield of one man protected his neighbour on his left side.This, interestingly, meant that the phalanx often moved forward at a slight angle to the right as men sought to keep behind the shield of their neighbour. This resulted in the left flank usually breaking formation first, and so this was the flank a competent commander would attack with priority, and he would therefore ensure he had his best troops on his own right flank. The phalanx advanced at a walk or faster, often accompanied by rhythmic music from aulos players, and shouting a tremendous war-cry ( paean ). On engaging the enemy the hoplites first thrust their spears, usually over-arm. After that initial contact the opposing lines usually went through a series of pushing and shoving ( othismos ) and close-quarter fighting with swords which only ended when one side broke ranks. Pursuit of retreating hoplites was usually only over a short distance in order to maintain the protective close-formation.
Greek Hoplites Fighting

Greek Hoplites Fighting

Hoplites were instrumental in the Greek victories over Persia at the battles of Marathon (490 BCE) and Plataea (479 BCE).The weaknesses of the phalanx formation - attack from the flanks, rear, or when on rough terrain - were sometimes exploited by more wily commanders; however, the formation, albeit with lighter-armed infantry, was still in use through Hellenistic and early Roman times.

Hypatia of Alexandria › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by Joshua J. Mark
published on 02 September 2009
Rachel Weisz as Hypatia of Alexandria (Focus Features, Newmarket Films, Telecinco Cinema)
Hypatia of Alexandria (c. 370 CE - March 415 CE) was a female philosopher and mathematician, born in Alexandria, Egyptpossibly in 370 CE (although some scholars cite her birth as c. 350 CE). She was the daughter of the mathematician Theon, the last Professor at the University of Alexandria, who tutored her in math, astronomy, and the philosophy of the day which, in modern times, would be considered science. Nothing is known of her mother and there is little information about her life. As the historian Deakin writes, "The most detailed accounts we have of Hypatia 's life are the records of her death. We learn more about her death from the primary sources than we do about any other aspect of her life" (49). She was murdered in 415 CE by a Christian mob who attacked her on the streets of Alexandria. The primary sources, even those Christian writers who were hostile to her and claimed she was a witch, portray her as a woman who was widely known for her generosity, love of learning, and expertise in teaching in the subjects of Neo-Platonism, mathematics, science, and philosophy in general.
Hypatia of Alexandria Experimenting

Hypatia of Alexandria Experimenting


By all accounts, Hypatia was an extraordinary woman not only for her time, but for any time. Theon refused to impose upon his daughter the traditional role assigned to women and raised her as one would have raised a son in the Greek tradition; by teaching her his own trade. The historian Slatkin writes, "Greek women of all classes were occupied with the same type of work, mostly centered around the domestic needs of the family. Women cared for young children, nursed the sick, and prepared food" (34). Hypatia, on the other hand, led the life of a respected academic at Alexandria's university; a position to which, as far as the evidence suggests, only males were entitled previously. She never married and remained celibate throughout her life, devoting herself to learning and teaching. The ancient writers are in agreement that she was a woman of enormous intellectual power. Deakin writes:
The breadth of her interests is most impressive. Within mathematics, she wrote or lectured on astronomy (including its observational aspects - the astrolabe), geometry (and for its day advanced geometry at that) and algebra (again, for its time, difficult algebra), and made an advance in computational technique - all this as well as engaging in religious philosophy and aspiring to a good writing style. Her writings were, as best we can judge, an outgrowth of her teaching in the technical areas of mathematics. In effect, she was continuing a program initiated by her father: a conscious effort to preserve and to elucidate the great mathematical works of the Alexandrian heritage (112).
This heritage was so impressive that Alexandria rivalled Athens as a jewel of learning and culture. From the moment of its founding by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE, Alexandria grew to epitomize the best aspects of civilized urban life. Early writers like Strabo (63 BCE-21 CE) describe the city as "magnificent" and the university was held in such high regard that scholars flocked there from around the world. The great Library of Alexandria is said to have held 500,000 books on its shelves in the main building and more in an adjacent annex. As a professor at the university, Hypatia would have had daily access to this resource and it seems clear she took full advantage of it.


In 415 CE, on her way home from delivering her daily lectures at the university, Hypatia was attacked by a mob of Christian monks, dragged from her chariot down the street into a church, and was there stripped naked, beaten to death, and burned.In the aftermath of Hypatia's death the University of Alexandria was sacked and burned on orders from Cyril, pagan temples were torn down, and there was a mass exodus of intellectuals and artists from the newly-Christianized city of Alexandria. Cyril was later declared a saint by the church for his efforts in suppressing paganism and fighting for the true faith. Hypatia's death has long been recognized as a watershed mark in history delineating the classical age of paganism from the age of Christianity.
The 2009 feature film Agora, which tells the story of Hypatia's life and death, accurately depicts the religious turmoil of Alexandria c. 415 CE at the same time that it takes license with events in the philosopher's life (such as the details of her death). The film sparked controversy upon its release from some segments of the Christian community who objected to the depiction of early Christians as fanatical enemies of learning and culture. History is clear, however, that Alexandria began to decline as Christianity rose in power and the death of Hypatia of Alexandria has come to embody all that was lost to civilization in the tumult of religious intolerance and the destruction it engenders.


Article based on information obtained from these sources:
with permission from the Website Ancient History Encyclopedia
Content is available under License Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported. CC-BY-NC-SA License

Recommended content