The Spartan army.
Xenophon in his 'Constitution of the Lacedaemonians' describes the organization of the army (probably around 390 BC) thus
The blessings that I have enumerated so far were shared by all alike in peace
and in war. But if anyone wishes to discover in what respect Lycurgus' organization
of the army on active service was better than other systems, here is the
information that he seeks.
Here Xenophon is talking about a purely Spartan army undiluted by perioeci.
The Lacedaemonians kept their military strength and organization as secret as
possible. Little was understood of these things by contemporary historians and
more so of modern historians. Nevertheless it has been possible to construct a
somewhat sensible picture from the ancient descriptions available to us.
Originally the Spartan army was divided on the old Dorian tribal lines. About
the time of Lycurgus the population was split up into five villages (Limnai,
Mesoa, Pitane, Konosura and Dyme) which formed the administrative division of
the oba. The army also was divided into five regiments called locos, one per oba.
Herodotus in his description of the battle of Plataea in 479 B.C tells us that
the Lacedaemonians sent out an army of 5000 Spartans from the 8000 available of
which one was the Pitanate lochos. As well as Spartans 5000 perioeci equipped as
hoplites were also sent. Herodotus gives no clue as to the sub divisions of the
Xenophon, who had also been an officer, tells us about a different structure. Now the average row was 12 man deep, while only two of these rows were needed to form an enomotia. Two enomotiai formed a pentekostis, two pentekosteis formed a lochos, while four lochos formed a mora, or regiment, under the command of a polemarch. The army consisted of 6 mora The reduction of the Spartan population did decrease the total strength of the Spartan army, but not the strength of a mora (at a 40 year call up the nominal strength would have been 1280) as this depended on the age of the hoplites who were used. Whereas in 479 BC at Plataea Spartans and Perioeci fought in separate units by Mantinea in 418 BC and certainly by Laecheum in 390 BC Spartiates could not have made up the full strength of the 6 mora and we must look elsewhere. W.G Forrest speculates that perioeci fought in the same units as full Spartans but surely by diluting the units with 'amateurs' would detract from its capabilities. I therefore suggest that the perioeci fought in the same mora but not in the same enomotia and that there was a Spartan enomotia and a Perioecic enomotia and that Thucydides fails to mention the Perioecic enomotia at Mantinea and that when he says Spartan he means Equals and Un-equals. Also this explains the reason for Xenophon saying there were only 16 enomotia in the mora and not 32, he was thinking only of the Spartan ones. This theme will be developed further in 'Spartan population decline and army organization'
After the Persian Wars some reorganisation might have begun to take place but if so, only slight. The appearance of the lambda device is probably some time after the earthquake of 464 BC and the subsequent Messenian revolt which follows. At this time Greek began to fight Greek on a much more regular basis, and the perennial Spartan problem of declining homoioi numbers meant that the following happened. Firstly Spartiates (i.e. full homoioi 'peers'), other Spartans (i.e. the increasing number of inferior lower grade Spartans known as 'hypomeiones'), and the Laconian (probably Dorian) Perioeci began to be brigaded together into the new Moral army (excuse the pun). However, the three groups would, I am quite sure, have still been in separate enomotia (sword bands or platoons) within the mixed lochoi of the phalanx morai. The hypomeinones and perioeci would probably have had full Spartiate officers. This new mixed unit put more of an emphasis upon its Lakedaimonian make-up - something that all these grades of Laconian Dorians had in common whether full Spartiate, lesser Spartan, or non-Spartan Perioeci. Therefore the appearance of the lambda symbol was highly appropriate.
The enomotiai marched en echelon. Before the battle the last troops of each enomotia positioned themselves left behind their leader to form a phalanx of four columns, in total 16 rows wide, and 8 rows deep. A space of two metres was maintained between the columns, but on the order 'close the rows' the last troops walked to the left front to close gaps in the front row. Now the phalanx was in a closed formation and ready for the battle.
Whatever structure the Spartans might have used, it did not decrease their effective communication system. The king gave his orders directly to the polemarchs who passed it on through the troops via the lower officers. The biggest problem was that each soldier was trained so well that the Spartan army practically only consisted of men who were officially no officer, but who knew so much about warfare that they were almost equal to an officer. Such an organization does not always give the best results on the battlefield. An example of this is the battle of Plataea where the Spartan commander refused to follow the order of the Spartan king Pausanias to retreat. At Mantinea the polemarchs at the right wing ignored the orders of the king as they wanted to win the battle in their own way. Orders where hard to understand in the uproar of a battle, and the Corinthian helmet also reduced the hearing of the soldiers. That is why horn signals and hand signals were often used. However, sometimes they were misunderstood and during an incident at Amphipolis the unprotected right side of the phalanx was exposed to an Athenian attack with dramatic results.
After Leuctra in 371 B.C it seems that the mora was abandoned and the army reorganized into 12 lochoi, Xenophon mentions 3 serving at Mantinea in 362 B.C. Until 223 when Cleomenes III reorganized the army along Macedonian lines little is known of the organization.
The equipment of the Spartan hoplite.
The Lakedaimonian army also began to make use of volunteer Laconian Helots. Brasidas in 424, led a unit of 700 helots armed as light hoplites into Thrace, these were freed on return from Thrace and fought at Mantinea in a separate lochos as the Brasideioi. . These troops performed so well that other helots were freed and armed as hoplites (Neodamodeis, new citizens), a group were sent to Sicily in 413, 2000 were raised to fight with Lysander and a 1000 sent to Asia with Thibron in 399.
Spartan training for war
Each boy of a Spartan family was taken away at the age of seven and placed under the supervision of an adult Spartan till the age of 18. An extensive training till the age of thirty followed when the Spartan became a full citizen. He did not live together with his family any more while he was in training, but became part of a mess. These messes were clubs of Spartans who were together in Sparta as well as on the battlefield. The family was not seen as important, it was only an unfortunately necessary tool to preserve the number of full Spartans.
The 300 Hippeis or Royal Bodyguard who famously fought at Thermopylae, were a regular unit and always existed until Hellenistic times. They were wiped out in their entirety in 371 BC at Leuctra fighting with Cleombrotos I. Generally they were composed of youths in the 20-29 age groups (30 from each) and so each year a new group of 30 would have been admitted of the 20 year olds as a group of older hippeis were being retired at 30. They were selected as the best and most outstanding of each age group and deemed worthy to guard the king in battle. They also included Olympic victors. They were chosen by three sub-commanders known as the Hippagretai who in turn had been chosen by the Ephors. The unit fought separately from the other Spartan morai and always with the king who commanded them. In reality they would have numbered 304 - the king, three sub-commanders, and the 300 hoplites themselves. Unusually before setting off for Thermopylae, and possibly mindful of the fact that they might not return - king Leonidas I dismissed the hippeis who had not yet married and sired sons, and replaced them with older men who already had sons. Therefore the age-group at the pass might have been much older than the usual 300 would have.