Military Service

After the 18-year-old was registered in his deme as a citizen and was approved by the Council, he entered military service as a young conscript (ephebe) with other members of his tribe. “The fathers hold meetings by tribes and after taking oath elect three members of the tribe of more than 40 years of age, whom they think to be the best and most suitable to supervise the ephebes. . . . These take the ephebes and after first making a circuit of the temples then go to Piraeus and some of them garrison Munichia, others Akte” (Aristotle). When the ephebes’ military service was over, it was customary for decrees honoring them for their faithful service to be inscribed on stone, with the list of their names appended. The decrees often record in detail the activities of the group. One reads in part: “They made the voyage to Salamis for the games in honor of Aias; they sacrificed at the trophy to Zeus and while they were there also to Aias and Asklepios. They ran the torch race with dignity and grace. . . . They dedicated a cup worth 100 drachmas to the Mother of the Gods in accordance with the decree. They kept harmony and friendship among themselves throughout the year.”

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9. Drawing of a lead cavalry tablet, fourth century B.C., registering a horse belonging to Konon, chestnut in color, with a centaur brand, worth 700 drachmas.

After their two years of full-time military service, all Athenian citizens were on active service for 40 years. They could be called up at any time and asked to report with provisions for three or more days. Rich men served in the cavalry, providing their own horses; those who could afford armor made up the heavy-armed infantry, called hoplites; and the others served either as light-armed troops or as oarsmen in the navy. The cavalry actually trained on the broad street running through the Agora and the office of the cavalry commanders (Hipparcheion) lay nearby. Part of the cavalry archives consisting of assessment records of horses written on lead strips (9), lead tokens for the issuing of armor (10), and clay tokens serving to identify official messengers from specific officers have been found (11), all discarded down a well at the northwest corner of the square. Not even at 60 were Athenian citizens allowed to give up public service; each year the class that had entered ephebic training 42 years before was called up to arbitrate in various legal disputes.

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10. Lead tokens, third century B.C., stamped with items of armor (breastplate, helmet, greaves) to be issued to the cavalry.
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11. (top) Circular terracotta tokens of Pheidon of the deme of Thriasia, Athenian cavalry commander (hipparch) at Lemnos, fourth century B.C.; (bottom) rectangular terracotta tokens of Xenokles of the deme of Perithoidai, commander of the border patrol (peripolarch), fourth century B.C.

For those who did not come back from war but died in battle the People raised monuments, often simple lists of names, listed by tribes in their official order (12), but sometimes with a poetic tribute to the fallen. Just as the grief was public, so was the memorial of honor and glory won, like the shields taken from the Spartans in 425/4 B.C. at Pylos and hung as trophies on the Stoa Poikile (13). One bronze shield is inscribed: “The Athenians from the Lakedaimonians at Pylos.” Thucydides, in his account of the battle, comments: “Nothing that happened in the war surprised the Hellenes so much as this. It was the opinion that no force or famine could make the Lakedaimonians give up their arms, but that they would fight on as they could, and die with them in their hands.”

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12. Casualty list, fifth century B.C., with the fallen listed by tribe.
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13. Bronze shield captured from the Spartans at Pylos in 425/4 B.C. Punched inscription on the shield: “The Athenians from the Lacedaimonians at Pylos.”
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Excavations in the Athenian Agora are conducted by the American School of Classical Studies.
Primary funding is provided by the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI).