Hoplites Vase showing Hoplite Battle c.600 BC (Louvre, Paris)

Hoplite infantrymen were the military ideal of ancient Greece and were recruited from the wealthy middling ranks of society, particularly the farmers.

They wore bronze armor breastplates, helmets, shin guards, shoulder pads, and sometimes foot protectors, thigh guards and forearm guards. With an eight-foot long spear, a short sword, and a bronze-covered shield, the total weight of their equipment was therefore in the region of 60 to 70 lbs: almost half their own bodyweight!

They fought primarily in a phalanx, a tightly packed shield and spear formation that might be several ranks deep and many soldiers wide. A highly successful 'war machine', the phalanx was used primarily against other Greeks who obeyed the same honor-bound rules of warfare. Initially it was also extremely successful against foreign opponents, such as the Persians, though in time they adopted tactics to overcome the close combat favored by Greek armies.

During the 5th century BC, swords became increasing shorter as tactics changed in favor of less armor, increased agility, and closer combat. This was partly in response to the threat of Persian archers, who had forced the Greeks to run at them in full armor during the battles of Marathon in 490 and Plataea 479. These hoplite runs were celebrated in the Olympics as the hoplitodromos, or 'armed race'.