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Argive Hoplites
AB Miniatures from the Collection of David Kuijt

Argives (I/52a)
(680-275 BC)

Occupied from the earliest Bronze age, Argos was subordinate to Mycenae but became the most prominent Greek city-state in the northeastern Peloponnese after the Dorian invasion. The city lay in the Argolid plain at the head of the Gulf of Argolis, approximately 5 miles (8 km inland). It grew to span the hills of Aspis and Larissa and was watered by the Kharadros river. Corinth lay approximately 25 miles to the north.

Originally Mycenean Argos was one three states shared out by the Dorians following their migration and conquest of the Peloponnese (the others being Sparta and Messenia). Argos was the lot given to Temenus and his company, who made the city his capital and ruled over the other city-states of the Argolid. It is referred to in Homer's Illiad as the Kingdom of Diomedes and it gave Herakles, Perseus, Jason and the Argonauts and the Hydra to Greek myth. The Argive King Adrastos gave refuge and the hands of his daughters to the exiled Thebans Polyneikes and Tydeus and then helped them in a failed attempt to gain the Theban throne, a military disaster immortalized in Aeschylus' "Seven against Thebes." It was also the aspirants Acrisius and Proetus who are credited with creating the classical Greek hoplon shields during their struggle for the throne of Argos.

Argos and the Early Hoplite Greek lists begin in 680 BC proper, which coincides with the dates attributed to the rise of King Pheidon of Argos, who is attributed with formalizing the hoplite system and reuniting the Argolid city-states under Argive rule (thus restoring the legacy of Temenus). Pheidon is reputed to have defeated the Spartans (Lacedaemonians) at Hysiae in 669 BC and occupied the Thyreatus (a.k.a. Cynura), a coastal plain which ranges from the city-state of Thyrea to Cape Malea. The Thyreatus Plain was to become the focal point for Argive-Spartan conflict for the next 200 years.

Having established himself as a major power in the Greek world, Pheidon acquired noteriety by expelling the Eleans from their hereditary positions as judges of the Olympic games, sparred contantly with Cliesthenes, Tyrant of Sicyon, and is reputed to have involved the Argives successfully on the sides of the Megarans against Corinth and in support of the Aeginetans against Athens. In 640 BC, Argos supported the Messenians in their revolt against Sparta, which nearly destroyed the Lacedaemonian state.

After the death of Pheidon, the relative fortunes of Argos and Sparta began to gradually shift back toward Sparta. In 546 BC (544 BC?), the two armies faced off to fight a decisive battle for control of the Thyreatus plain. Evenly matched, the generals agreed to select three hundred champions from among their number to settle the issue. In the battle that ensued, the Spartan champions bested the Argives, but the Argive ranks would not concede the result and a general battle ensued. Here the Spartans proved their martial ascendancy, defeating the Argives who were forced to withdraw and concede control of the plain. In their shame, the Argive priests decreed that no Argive should wear his hair long until Thyreae was recovered. According to Herodotus, the Spartans henceforth mocked the Argives by wearing their hair long.

By 500 BC, Sparta had isolated Argos by securing the good will of Corinth and Megara, and making careful alliances, bringing neighboring city-states such as Mycenae, Tiryns, Sicyon, and Elis in the Argolid and others in Arcadia into the Pelopennesian League.

In 494 BC, Cleomenes I of Sparta heavily defeated the Argives at Sepeia (near Tiryns) in the Argolid. The surviving Argives took refuge in a sacred grove while negotiating with Cleomenes. A delegation of Argives was allowed to leave the grove, but broke their promises to the Spartans, prompting Cleomenes to burn it down, killing the balance of Argive fugitives sheltered there. The Spartans then marched on Argos, but a female poet named Telesilla (Fetesilla) rallied the women, children, slaves and invalids to the defense of the city. After an initial attack found the defenders resolute, the Spartans withdrew, as there was no honor in defeating women and only shame if they suffered defeat. Instead, Cleomenes offered sacrifices at the Argive temple of Hera (flogging the priest when he was refused entrance) and then explaining to the Spartan ephors that his decision not to take Argos was due to his desire to bring the city into the Peloponnesian League as an ally. Whatever Cleomenes' purpose, Argos never fully recovered from this setback. For a time, Argives cast off their oligarchic form of government in favor of an Athenian-style democracy.

In 481 BC, Argos declined to join the Hellenic League, the alliance of Greeks formed to resist the Persian invasion by Xerxes, and remained neutral in the Greek-Persian conflict.

The Argives list (I/52a) ends in 450 BC, corresponding with the end of the 1st Peloponesian War, where Phil Barker's Greeks transition from the Early to the Later Hoplite period. No Argos sublist is provided with the Later Hoplite Greeks (II/5), but an Argive army could be fielded using the "Other" sublist (II/5i).

In 459 BC (461 BC) Argos joined Megara in a treaty with Athens against Sparta. Thereafter, however, Argos accepted a 30 years peace with Sparta and remained neutral during the 1st Pelopennesian War. Following the breakdown of the peace of Nicias, Corinth and other states looking for an alternative to the Spartan Pelopennesian League and the Athenian Delian League sought to form a third league under the leadership of Argos. Declining a Spartan offer to renew their 30 year peace, Argos agreed to lead this new league, but the effort failed to obtain the support of the Boeotians, Megarians, Tegeans and other key states. Corinth abandoned the effort. Instead, Argos found itself in alliance with Mantinea and Elis.

In the second Pelopennesian War, Argos, Mantinea and Elis cast their lot with Athens in 420 BC (the Quadruple Alliance). With Athenian aid, Argos then invaded Epidaurus, a traditional enemy, in 419 BC. Epidaurus appealed to Sparta for aid, which prompted the Spartan King Agis to lead a campaign in support of their ally. A three month truce was negotiated between the Spartans and Argos, but the arrival of reinforcements from Athens, Mantinea and Elis prompted Argos to invade Spartan allies in Arcadia. In 418 BC, the Spartans and their allies defeated the Mantineans and their Argive allies at Mantinea, a victory which restored Spartan military prestige that had been damaged by their defeat at Sphacteria in 425 BC.

Following the defeat, Sparta negotiated a peace with the ascendant pro-Spartan faction in Argos, which saw Argos abandon the Quadruple Alliance in favor of alliance with Sparta. By 417 BC, the pro-Athens faction had regained control and renewed their alliance with Athens. A building program was begun to extend the city walls to the sea.

In 415 BC, Argos contributed hoplites to the Athenian expedition to Sicily. The expedition was a notable failure, and was abandoned after Syracuse received support from Sparta and its allies. In 414 BC, a Spartan army ravaged the territory of the Argives, who avoided battle. Athens sent reinforcements, however, which constituted an full breach of the Peace of Nicias and prompted a Spartan invasion of Attica. An oligarchic revolution followed in Argos.

In 395 BC, a new Quadruple Alliance was formed between Athens, Corinth, Boeotia (Thebes) and Argos. Spartan and its allies responded militarily, inflicting defeats on the alliance at Nemea and Coroneia. Corinth and the alliance survived these defeats. Subsequently Corinth and Argos formed a "federal" union first by recognizing joint citizenship and later full integration accomplished by placement of a Argive garrison in Corinth in 389 BC. In 387 BC, however, following the King's Peace (Peace of Antalcidas), which ended Sparta's war with Persia, Sparta threatened Corinth, prompting it to expel its Argive garrison and return to the Peloponnesian League.

In 368 BC, the Spartan King Archidamnus lead an army into Arcadia to support states antagonistic to Thebes. As he withdrew into Laconia, an army of Arcadians and Argives pursued and were brought to battle, suffering heavy losses in what was known in Sparta as the "Tearless Battle." Thereafter, Argos sided with Thebes in its struggle with Sparta. In 362 BC, Argive forces joined with the Theban general Epaminondas in a campaign against Sparta culminating in a drawn battle at Mantinea where Epaminondas was killed.

In 343/342 BC, Philip of Macedon intervened in Pelopennesian politics, giving aid to Argos and Messene against Sparta. After Philip occupied Epirus and then annexed Greek cities in the district of Cassopia, Argos and other Greek states became fearful of Macedonian intentions and made alliance with Athens. In the Lamian War (323-322 BC) Argos sided with the Greeks against Antipater but suffered sack at the hands of other successors in 317 BC and 303 BC.

The Later Hoplite Greek army list ends in 275 AD, although the history of Argos continues on into the Hellenistic Age. In 272 BC, the Pyrrhus of Epirus was killed by a roof slate thrown while he road through the streets in an effort to restore an Argive king who had been deposed by a democratic mob. In 229 BC, Argos joined the Achaean League, only to be occupied by Sparta briefly in 225 BC and again in 196 BC. In 146 BC Argos became part of the Roman province of Achaea and flourished as a center of arts and trade during the Roman period.

Army Composition

The Argive army is surpassingly simple, comprised of only hoplites (spear) and skirmishers (psiloi). Argive hoplites would be armed and equipped like other classical Greek hoplites, with a linen cuirass, a Corinthinian-style helmet, a round (hoplon) shield, a thrusting spear and sword. Wealthier citizen-soldiers might bear bronze greaves (on one or both legs) or even a bronze cuirass. Skirmishers would be poorer citizens armed with bows, slings or javelins.

Painting Tips

The basic Argive hoplite was no different than hoplites of other Greek states in this early period. One distinguishing characteristic that figure converters can have fun with is depicting Argives with shaved heads or short hair after their defeat by the Spartans in 546 AD.

Another distintive feature may be fairly uniform use of white shields, possibly with a hydra (water-snake) symbol, which is associated with the Argos after Herakles killed a water-snake at Lerna. The white shields reference comes from Aeschylus, "The Seven against Thebes," line 89 ("the army of white shields, with weapons trim, charges against our city") and from Sophocles' "Antigone," line 106 ("the enemy out of Argos, the white shield, the man of bronze"). Osprey's The Ancient Greeks by Nic Secunda relies on these sources in depicting an Argive hoplite of the early 5th century with white shield. Similiarly, Duncan Head notes in his Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars that "White painted shields were traditional at Argos, and common elsewhere" (page 97).

Here are two illustrations of what such an Argive shield might have looked like:

Argive Shield #1Argive Shield #2

Bill Sumruld offers the following tips on painting hoplite linen curiasses: "Linen curaisses were generally white; as white as the newness of the campaign and wealth could make them. They were often decorated with red or black, sometimes as a piping or sometimes as the basic color of the shoulder yoke or lapets. Pteurges were often also white with some colored striping near the ends and also sometimes edged with a contrasting piping, again depending on wealth. Whiteness was likely for the Spartans, piping is not. Some illustrators use the black decorations as in John Warry's picture book version.

Allies and Enemies

The enemies of Argos include the later Dark Age/Geometric Greeks (I/30c), representing opponents during King Pheidon's early campaigns, as well as Sparta (I/52b) and Athens (I/52ef). Argos may call upon any other Early Hoplite Greek list as an ally in Big Battle games.

BUAs and Camps

With moderately high aggression, Argos will split time between the roles of attacker and defender. As defender in arable terrain, an Argive army will require a BUA, which is well-represented by the walls of the city of Argos itself, or perhaps by a representation of the temple of Hera. In the field, an attacking Argive army would maintain a typical Greek camp comprised of tents and baggage accumulated on high ground or otherwise defensible terrain.


The Argives, like other Early Greek Hoplite armies, must rely primarily on their heavy infantry to win. Lacking cavalry to provide mobility and with minimal light troops, the Argive general must be creative in use of formations and/or enjoy the favor of the dice gods to secure advantage. Against a Spartan army with maximum spear, the Argive actually has an advantage in bad going troops, which creates opportunities for use of terrain in the battle plan. Against armies with cavalry, Argive psiloi can be used to support the front rank spear.

General Resources

The following Osprey titles, available from the De Bellis Bookstore provide useful general references for the Greek Hoplite period (although not specific to Argos):

Also of generic interest is Michael Amt's Greek Hoplite page.

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My thanks to Bill Sumruld and others for their contributions to this essay. Comments, questions or suggested additions to this page can be sent to Chris Brantley, IamFanaticus@gmail.com.

Last Updated: June 20, 2001