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The organization of the Spartan army changed over time as the population of Sparta came under increasing demographic pressure.  The best ancient sources – Xenophon, Thucydides, Aristotle, and Plutarch – describe the Spartan army at a significantly later period than covered in this book.  Furthermore, they describe an army created after the traumatic impact of the earthquake and helot revolt of ca. 465 BC.  Since all modern sources agree that the Spartan army underwent a major reform in the mid-5th century BC following the shocks of the earthquake and revolt, the only ancient source about the army during the life of Leonidas is that provided by Herodotus.

Herodotus writes that a Spartan force 2000 strong arrived in Athens one day too late for the Battle of Marathon (after an impressive forced march).  He tells us that King Demaratus gave the total number of Spartiates as 8000, and that the “full” Spartan army of 5 lochagoi and 5000 Spartiates fought at the battle of Plataea.

For the purposes of this trilogy on Leonidas, I have therefore relied heavily on Thomas Figueira in his article “Population Patterns in Late Archaic and Classical Sparta,” published in Transactions of the American Philological Association 116 (1986), pp. 165-213.  Based on Figueira’s excellent data, I have evolved a simple and logical structure for the Spartan army that contradicts no known facts and provides a consistent framework for the events described in this novel.  Since the characters in the novel are presumed to understand every aspect of this organization, the terms are not described in detail in the text. Instead, they are provided below.

In accordance with Demaratus’ statement to Xerxes in Herodotus, I assume that the total adult male population of Sparta was 8000, with an average of 200 men in each age cohort.  The “active army,” composed of the first 10 age cohorts of young men (those required to sleep in barracks), was, therefore, 2000 men strong.  This is consistent with the size of the force sent to assist Athens in 490.  A “full” call-up would be a call-up of 15 classes (age cohorts) of reserves to produce an army of 5000 men, all of whom would be expected to be fit enough to march long distances and fight effectively in a phalanx.  This is consistent with the force sent to Plataea.  The remaining 3000 adult male citizens are presumed to be over the age of 45 and fit only for garrison duty and home defense.

I further assume that in the age of Leonidas, the largest unit in the Spartan army was the lochos.  While this term is used by ancient sources to refer to a variety of large fighting units from different cities, it is the term Herodotus uses for the Spartan units at Plataea.  Also, later in the fifth century the Spartan army deploys mora, composed of two lochos each.  I further assume that perioikoi units of this period were not yet integrated into the Spartan line, but served as independent auxiliary units – including scouts, cavalry, and naval units.  This is consistent with Herodotus’ statement that Cleomenes deployed a purely Spartiate army against Argos, and that the Spartan army at Plataea consisted of 5000 Spartiates and 5000 perioikoi.  Based on this assumption, Sparta sent her full standing army to support Athens during the Marathon campaign – the only response that I believe would have been commensurate with the threat posed and the urgency of the Athenian request.

Based on our knowledge of hoplite warfare, I assume that the very smallest unit in the army would be a section of 8 men.  This represents one complete file of hoplites at more or less minimum strength, or one man on the battle line backed by seven comrades in single file behind him.  Again, this assumption matches references to a Spartan unit called an enomotia, which numbered between 25 and 40 men – that is, between 3 and 5 sections.  Finally, although the existence of a unit called a pentekostus cannot be traced back to before the reform of the Spartan army in the midfifth century, the need for flexibility and control in a highly organized force such as the Spartan army suggests that in Leonidas’ time there must have been some intermediate unit between the tiny enomotia and the thousand-strong lochos of Plataea.  Since pentekostus means “fiftieth,” I have postulated a unit called a pentekostus, or company, which is initially 100 men strong (one-fiftieth of the full army) and expands as reserves are called up.

The organization of Spartan society was designed to enable the rapid call-up and integration of older age cohorts into the army when needed.  This could best be achieved if reservists were, to the extent possible, reintegrated into the same units in which they had served when on active service.  Thus, the size of individual units and the composition of units would have adjusted marginally to accommodate reservists called up whenever the Spartan leadership felt the 2000-man standing army was insufficient to the task assigned. Where entire units needed to be added, these too would be created out of a mix of active and reserve troops – but by splitting out men from the active units and merging them with the older cohorts under, predominantly, reserve officers.  With an estimated 200 men in each age cohort, it is unlikely that the Spartan leadership would have reactivated troops in increments smaller than 5 age cohorts at a time.

Taking all of the above factors into account, I have hypothesized the following organization of the Spartan army:

Active Army (all adult males 21-30 years old): 2000 Men
(size of the Spartan force sent to aid Athens in 490 ― Marathon campaign)

  • 5 lochos of 400 men each, composed of 4 pentekostus (companies)
  • 20 pentekostus of 100 men each, composed of 3 enomotiai
  • 60 enomotiai of 32 men each, composed of 4 sections of 8 men each
  • 240 sections of 8 men each

Army After a Call-Up of 5 Classes of Reserves (all adult males 21-35 years old): 3000 Men

  • 5 lochos of 600 men each, composed of 5 pentekostus
  • 25 pentekostus of 120 men each, composed of 4 enomotiai
  • 100 enomotiai of 30 men each, composed of 4 sections of 7-8 men
  • 400 sections of 7-8 men each

(Note: Here the organizational structure is expanded by 1 pentekostus and by 1 enomotia per pentekostus – or a total of 5 pentekostus and 40 enomotiai – at the expense of a slightly shallower line depth.)

Army After a Call-Up of 10 Classes of Reserves (all adult males 21-40): 4000 Men

  • 5 lochos of 800 men each, composed of 5 pentekostus
  • 25 pentekostus of 160 men each, composed of 5 enomotiai
  • 125 enomotiai of 32 men each, composed of 4 sections
  • 500 sections of 8 men each

(Note: Here the organization is expanded by 1 enomotia per pentekostus, and the depth is restored to the line at the section level.)

Army After a “Full” Call-Up of 15 Classes of Reserves (all adult males 21-45): 5000 Men (size of the Spartan army at Plataea)

  • 5 lochos of 1,000 men each, composed of 5 pentekostus
  • 25 pentekostus of 200 men each, composed of 5 enomotiai
  • 125 enomotiai of 40 men each, composed of 5 sections
  • 625 sections of 8 men each

(Note: Here the organization is strengthened by adding 1 section per enomotia; alternatively the Spartans might have preferred to retain an organization of 4 sections per enomotia, but increase the depth of the line to 10, i.e., 4 sections of 10 men.)

In addition to these active units, 300 young men of active-service age (21-30) would have been selected for the elite unit commonly called the Hippeis.  The term hippeis has often been translated as “knights” and implies cavalry. However, the Spartan unit was purely infantry, and it served as the honor guard to Sparta’s kings.  I have therefore preferred to refer to it consistently as “the Guard” throughout my works.

Based on the above organization, the strength of the Spartan officer corps would have ranged from 335 in the active army units to 775 in a full call-up.  Specifically, 5 lochagoi, 20-25 company commanders, 60-125 enomotarchs, and 240-625 section leaders, plus the Guard commander, his 3 company commanders, 10 enomotarchs, and 30 section leaders.  The above number, however, includes only the tactical commanders.  In fact, the army would have required a corps of logistical specialists, at least for the larger units (pentekostus/company and lochos), and it would have been logical for the lochagoi to have tactical deputies as well.  In addition, there would have to be surgeons, priests, and salpinx players, all with important roles consistent with officer-like status.  Thus, including the Guard and officer corps, Sparta’s active army would have numbered something closer to 2750 men, and the army after a full call-up of 15 age cohorts would have theoretically numbered somewhat over 6000. In reality, no society can consistently produce exactly 200 healthy young males each year; and there would have been losses, particularly in the older age cohorts, due to accidents, illness, and war casualties.  All in all, the rounded figures used here provide a workable framework.

Looking at each unit individually, here are the key facts:

Section: A unit of 7-8 men (1 file in a phalanx), all drawn from the same tribe.  They would be commanded by a section leader, who would be selected as the most competent of the men from the oldest 5 age cohorts in the unit, and would stand at the front of the unit in battle.  The section leaders would retain their rank on retirement, and in a call-up they would assume command of additional sections as required.  In units with mixed active and reserve troops, the section leader would stand at the front with the other active troops in descending order of age, followed by reservists in ascending age order.

Enomotia: A unit of 30-40 men, composed of 3-5 sections (depending on the number of reserve classes called up).  All men would come from the same tribe.  They would be commanded by an enomotarch, and would also have a deputy with responsibility for supplies and provisioning, and a flautist to keep pace.  Although this term is often translated as “platoon,” I have opted to retain throughout this novel the Spartan designations for both the unit and the commanding officer, as these are widely used in ancient literature.  The enomotarch would be selected from the section leaders and would usually be on the brink of retirement.  On reaching age 31, an enomotarch would have the option either to go off active duty, or to remain with the army and pursue a career as an officer.  Those who opted to retire would be eligible to serve in the rank of enomotarch with reserve units reactivated in a crisis.

Pentekostus (or Company): a unit of between 100 and 200 men (depending on the number of reserves called up), composed of 3-5 enomotia plus the commander, a deputy/quartermaster with responsibility for supplies and provisions, a salpinx player and/or a priest, and a medic.  Since the term pentekostus is quite a mouthful and it is not recorded during Leonidas’ period, I have often elected to use the more neutral-sounding “company” and “company commander.”  The company commander would always be a man of full-citizen status and age, with the equivalent of a permanent commission.

Lochos: a unit of between 400 and 1000 men (depending on the call-up), consisting of 4-5 companies plus a staff including 1 commander, 1 tactical deputy, 1 quartermaster, and 2-4 surgeons, priests, heralds, and salpinx players.  Since this unit is variously translated as battalion, regiment, or division, I have decided to stick to the Spartan terms lochos and lochagos for unit and commander, respectively.  The commander would be a man of full-citizen status with the equivalent of a permanent commission.

We know that the ancient Greeks generally tried to keep kinsmen and men from the same villages or boroughs together in military units.  The presumption was that men were more likely to help their neighbors, and less likely to run away in front of people they knew.  Sparta had five villages that became boroughs, and we know that at least one of the lochagoi deployed at Plataea was named for one of these.  Thus I have named the five lochagoi after Sparta’s five boroughs:

  • Pitanate
  • Mesoan
  • Conouran
  • Limnate
  • Amyclaeon

For convenience I have assumed that each lochos was divided into the following companies, with the Lycurgan Company the designation for the reserve units created only during a call-up of 5 age cohorts or more:

  • (1st) Heraklid Company
  • (2nd) Kastor Company
  • (3rd) Polydeukes Company
  • (4th) Menelaion Company
  • (5th) Lycurgan Company

The assumption is that roughly 40 men from each lochos retired from active service each year, and were replaced by the young men who had just attained their citizenship.  A call-up of one class of reserves thus meant adding 200 additional men to the army.  A call-up of 5 classes would mean an additional 1,000 men (see above).
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