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Outside the city

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Soldiers and Warfare

Being a true child of the city, Delphi was naturally suspicious of the countryside.  It seemed a very backward place, where the people were happy to spend their lives in the slow growing of grain or tending of goats.  It seemed a very boring life to Delphi – a life without the Agora, the Assembly or the theatre.

Occasionally, the men would come to the city for their duty in the courts, or to join in a festival, and they seemed overwhelmed and uncivilised compared to the locals.  The outside children were the worst.  They didn’t even show her the proper respect that befitted a real daughter of Athens.

Delphi made a point of avoiding the countryside at all costs.

Not that she got much opportunity.  She had heard of the other cities. Mighty and barbarous Sparta, who had warred against Athens for years.  Thebes, where Hercules was said to be from.  Not to mention Delphi of course, where there was the Oracle.  Men got to perhaps see these cities when they joined the army, but of course, she couldn’t do that.

Transport between cities in Greece was very rare and very dangerous.  Most people lived and died in the area they were born – especially girls like Delphi.  Had she known about the dramatic coastlines, soaring mountains and shimmering lakes then maybe she would have liked the idea of travel more.  But probably not.

Outside the City: Fact box

  • Greece was not an easy place to live in ancient times.  Much of the country is mountainous, and those bits that aren’t didn’t support growing food very well.  Luckily, Greece has an enormous coastline and many islands, so at least there were plenty of fish to eat!


  • Most people lived in the major cities, however it would be wrong to think of all those cities being in one ‘country’.  Instead, they were known as ‘city-states’ and each one ruled itself – often very differently.


  • Athens’ big rival was a city called Sparta and they were often at war with each other.  Sparta had little of the politics, culture and philosophy of Athens.  It was militaristic state which valued fighting above all else.  However it wasn’t all bad – women were treated much more equally in Sparta than in Athens, for example!

Greek Soldiers and Warfare

Greek Soldier
  • All male citizens of Athens were expected to spend some time in the army, and so every man would be trained to fight.  Even Socrates spent time in the army when he was younger.  There were plenty of wars around too – Athens often tried to attack weaker cities if they didn’t receive enough money from them, and they were often at war with the Persians or Spartans.


  • The Greeks were very successful in battles because they fought in a unique way.  The Greek soldiers were called hoplites.  Each hoplite had a long spear and a shield.  The idea was to use your shield to protect the soldier next to you, so the hoplites lined up for battle very close to each other and waited for the enemy to charge at them so they could attack with their spears.


  • Each soldier was expected to buy his own spear and armour, so it was important not to lose them during a battle!


  • Famous battles include the Battle of Thermopylae, where only 300 Spartans managed to hold off the entire Persian army, and the Battle of Marathon where the Athenians defeated the Persians.  There is a myth that a messenger ran back from this battle to Athens – a distance of over 25 miles – to tell of the victory, before dropping down dead of exhaustion.  This isn’t true – but did inspire the idea of a ‘marathon’ race as part of every modern Olympic games!

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