Engaging the Persian defence, early 5th century BC

The famous Greco-Persian Wars of the 5th century BC began with a revolt by Ionian Greeks in Persian-occupied Anatolia. Once this was suppressed, King Darius I turned his attention to mainland Greece, from which support had been sent to support the Ionian revolt.

Greece at this time was a collection of city-states, which depended on citizen-armies called up in times of conflict, known as hoplites. Sparta was the exception to this, with all of its male population acting as full-time soldiers. Fighting shoulder-to-shoulder in the phalanx formation, the average hoplite paid for own weapons and equipment. The dory spear is his primary weapon, with the xiphos sword kept as a backup. Perhaps the most characteristic element of Greek armies was the bronze Corinthian helmet, featuring a horsehair plume: Flamboyant and protective, it also restricted movement. Additional protection is provided by a decorative wooden shield faced with bronze, as well as greaves for the lower legs and a linen cuirass with bronze scales on the sides.

Persian warriors, on the other hand, often wore no body armour, emphasising speed and superior numbers to combat the heavily-armoured hoplites. A much looser formation was used, with sparabara heavy infantry using spears and tall wicker shields as a defensive front for the light infantry behind them. Archers were a key element to Persian military strategy alongside cavalry, although the former would struggle penetrating the thick Greek shields. Men were recruited from the empire’s diverse population, and dressed in multi-coloured clothing. A practical white or coloured linen headdress was characteristic of the Persians, providing protection from the sun. Whilst large and well organised for invasion, Persian troops suffered at close quarters against the well-equipped hoplites.

By Ibrahim Zamir


David, Saul (2009). The Encyclopedia of War. London, England: DK Publishing.

McNab, Chris (2018). Greek Hoplite vs Persian Warrior, 499-479 BC. Oxford, England: Osprey Publishing.

Windrow, Martin (2015). Warriors: Fighting Men and their Uniforms. Oxford, England. Osprey Publishing.

Published by Ibrahim Zamir

Ibrahim Zamir - Junior Historian and Illustrator.

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