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The Othismos, Myths and Heresies: The Nature of Hoplite Battle

War in History , Volume 4 (1): 1 – Jan 1, 1997


Sage Publications
Copyright © 1997 by SAGE Publications
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The Othismos, Myths and Heresies: The Nature of Hoplite Battle


The Othismos, Myths and Heresies: The Nature of Hoplite Battle A.K. Goldsworthy W hat actually happened when two armies of Greek hoplites met on the battlefield in the sixth to fourth centuries Bc? How and why did one phalanx prevail over another composed of similarly equipped hoplites? These questions are not new, but they have received consider- able attention in the current resurgence of interest in the warfare between the city states of Classical Greece. This trend has produced a great number of highly innovative studies which have added enormously to our understanding of the subject.1 No other period of the military history of the ancient world has yet received comparable attention. Alongside these refreshingly new approaches to Greek warfare has come the almost uniform restatement of an old idea. This concerns the oth- zsmos, or shoving', the term used sometimes by Greek historians to describe the decisive combat in a battle. I hope to show in this article that the traditional understanding of this term does not fit the ancient evidence for what happened in hoplite battles.2 The orthodox view of the othismos sees the clash between two phalanxes as a gigantic pushing match. The opposing hoplites
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