The World of Christian Cameron

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Arimnestos of Plataea was a real man—the commander of the Plataeans at Marathon and Plataea and elsewhere, and historians have suggested him as a possible source for some of Herodotus’s information on the military campaigns of the Long War. Everything we know about him might be condensed into fifty words, and we don’t know his date Arimnestos of Plataeaof birth or death, his social class, his antecedents. I’ve made him the ancestor of Kineas of Athens; a descendent of Herakles, and that rarest of birds, a middle–class hoplite.

While early Archaic warriors were almost certainly aristocrats (by the somewhat hazy standards of Archaic Greece), by the time of Marathon, it appears that the major city–states like Thebes and Athens had lowered the property qualifications for military service to increase their fighting potential. This is a complex and contentious subject—one of many—that makes any detailed examination of Ancient Greece very difficult indeed. However, what seems to me more vital than how many hoplites can dance on the head of a pin is what ethos guided the Greek warrior—and that ethos was, and remained almost to the end, rigorously aristocratic and was largely based on the behavior of heroes in the Iliad. Aristocrats led armies, said their prayers, fought in the front rank, owned the best armour, ran all the offices, set all the standards. That there was very real social strife comes clearly through many of the Greek plays—and through Herodotus. Despite which, or perhaps because of which, the same handful of great families commanded Athenian (and Spartan) armies generation after generation.

I don’t really believe in “middle–class” hoplites. I believe that the term “middle–class” is hopelessly anachronistic. I think that there were men who were not well–born or rich who served in the emerging phalanx, and I think that those men ascribed to the heroic/aristocratic ethos as soon as they put the helms on their heads. Many historians disagree—Victor Davis Hanson amongst them. I respect his work, and that of other men and women—but on balance, I think that the texts favor my interpretation. Happy to debate it with any of you, on the Agora.