Follow Up Lesson Ideas for Teachers - Greek Warfare

There are lots of activities you can use both to reinforce what the children learned in the Greek Warfare workshop,

and to enrich and deepen their learning of this topic. Some of these activities link to other subjects as well as history, such as literacy, DT, and citizenship.


Hoplite Arms and Tactics


1. Displaying the helmets and shields: Greek warriors would usually keep their arms on display in one room. Children could construct a free standing frame or use hooks on the wall to hang their helmets and shields on. They could also make the rest of the gear (see later) to go with it. Another option is to imagine the arms have been captured in a battle. In this case the helmets and shields would be hung as trophies, perhaps in the home but often in or at the front of a temple. In fact there are still holes at the front of the Parthenon where Alexander the Great hung some of his own trophies.


This photo shows one school's display in their hall.


2. Making more gear: you could try getting the children to make other items in a hoplite's gear.

The design of all these items you can see on this web site.

Take a good look at these photos before trying to make any of your own hoplite gear.


Spears - a broom handle with a spear shape at the end, glued or taped on. I made my spear blades from plastic (polypropylene), but you could use any fairly stiff material that can be cut to shape, such as card. Get children to copy the shape of the blade and cut it out. Then paint it silver (or use shiny silver card). You could even try making the lizarder, although this will probably get broken or bent when the spear is standing upright.


Cuirass - the body armour can be made from fairly stiff card, but you need a large piece, preferably white. Look at this page for one expert's view on the design, and what they were made of:

You will need some way of fastening the armour together (pulling the flaps at the top forwards over the shoulders, and fixing them and the sides together). The Greeks used cords which were tied together, at the sternum for the shoulder flaps and at the side for the torso. I suggest getting an artistic TA to draw out the pattern for the cuirass as if making a dress, and try it - then if it works you can do a few which children can make. You could even make the bronze scales from small circles of gold card glued on.


Greaves - pieces of strong, flexible card can be used. The shape will be similar to modern shin guards, but larger as they need to protect the knees too. The shape will need to bulge out at the calves, where the greaves wrap round to protect the leg. You also need straps or cords to tie them on the leg. Again I suggest experimenting to work out the ideal shape and size. They can be painted bronze (or gold, which is close to ancient bronze; or even better covered in shiny gold card).


Sword - cut out a piece of stiff card to the right overall shape of the blade and handle. Then wrap and glue cloth, or wrap masking tape, around the handle. Then paint the blade silver - or glue on shiny silver card cut to the right shape.


3. Assembly presentation: Get the class to put on a show for the rest of the school. A few children can explain all the items, and how the ranks, files and phalanx were formed, while the rest perform the actions just as we did in the workshop. This will be even more effective if the class has made some extra gear, such as spears, cuirasses and greaves.


4. Drill: Divide the class into two troops (of equal ability and maturity). Pick a commander for each troop to try to train them in a well-disciplined drill. The purpose of this is not only for children to get more experience of what it would be like to be a hoplite in phalanx formation, but for the 'commanders' to see for themselves how difficult it is to keep children/soldiers under control. This may even give them some empathy for the job of a teacher!


Go over the structure of a phalanx first, and how it is formed, as they learned in the workshop. Also remind them of the way to march (spear leaning against the right shoulder; you will need some sticks to act as spears) and approach the battle line. Go to the playground or field, and get the commanders to try to drill their troops - get them to go through the main steps a couple of times, maybe giving them 15-20 minutes. Then there will be a competition to see which troop can march, run, and form phalanx in the neatest and quickest manner. You can be the judge.


Go back to class and have a discussion about the experience. What did it teach the children about what it was like to be a hoplite? To be a commander? What made a good hoplite, and a good commander? Does anyone think they could have done a better job as a commander? Why? Perhaps you could let them try again.


5. Research: get children to pick an item of hoplite gear and research it. They can use my website, other sites, or books. They can write a few paragraphs about the item and this can be displayed with the helmets and shields. They can give a presentation to the class about their item, perhaps wearing it/showing how it was used. They can also research hoplite fighting methods on this website and write or give a demonstration about that.


6. Designing hoplite arms. Can the children think of any way to improve on a hoplite's weapons or armour (given the technology of the time, so no guns or bombs, or materials they did not have such as aluminium or plastics)? If they were a clever Greek arms designer, what would their next innovation be, to improve their city's army? Each child should make a drawing, write down why this is an improvement (how it increases the hoplites chances to hurt/kill an enemy, or avoid being hurt), and write or do actions to show how the new idea works and is better. Get other children to ask the designer questions, e.g. what would this be made of, would it be expensive/time consuming/difficult to make?


If you think it feasible the children could make models of these innovations, and perhaps even try them out.


7. Compare with other arms. Get children to research (or show them yourself) earlier types of weapons and armour and discuss if and how hoplites arms were an improvement. You could also look at a Roman soldier's gear and discuss why these changes might have been made (this partly relates to tactics - see later). The Romans eventually managed to defeat Greek armies and conquer Greece, in 146BC. Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, also conquered Greece in 338BC, and you could look at his soldier's arms and tactics (they had much longer spears for one thing).


8. Designing tactics. Go over the structure of a phalanx (tightly packed ranks and files, shields in rows overlapping, spears forwards, the spears of the first few ranks sticking out). Discuss why it was so effective. Did it have any weaknesses? How could you fix any weaknesses? As a general, what would you do to make sure you won every battle?

Can the children come up with any other arrangement of their troops and weapons? Try it out in re-enactment: compare it with the phalanx and discuss which is more effective.

Look at the Roman version of a phalanx. Discuss how and why it was different. Romans used different shields - what difference would this make in battle? Discuss the testudo (tortoise) formation. How was this effective? Could a hoplite army do this? Are there any benefits to the round shield? (No corners to snag). What about the Roman pilum - this was often thrown and then the Roman soldier drew his sword. How does this compare to the hoplites' use of a long spear with short sword as back up?


9. Research/design machinery of war. Get children to read about siege weapons and tactics, and warships as used by ancient Greeks (siege weapons were developed more in the time of Alexander, but warships were used for example at the battle of Salamis, 480BC). They can draw pictures and write a little about the object and how it was used.

As an extension they could design their own form of artillery or siege tactic (how to attack or break into a walled town), draw it, and explain how it works. (of course they can only use technology available at the time). If they are really clever they could try to make a model of their item - either the real Greek item or their own idea.


The Battle of Marathon


1. Write an account of the battle - go over in class what happened at Marathon. Why did the Persians attack, and why did the Athenians decide to fight? What was the battlefield like? (Show a map - see my website). What was Miltiades' strategy? What were the stages of the battle? Why did the Greeks win? Discuss the strategy and the weapons, armour, phalanx formation, numbers of soldiers, and motivations of the two armies. How would the Greeks have felt before the battle? After?

On the board, plan out with bubble captions, arrows, etc. the sequence of events. Now write an account of the whole event. If that is too much, give each child/group a section to write about, then piece them together as one long story.


2. Cartoon strip of the battle. This is a very common activity in primary schools. Instead of a written account, children can draw a series of cartoons with captions to show the main stages of the battle. Another common activity is to write a newspaper article about the battle (or events leading up to it). The story of Philippides - his run to Sparta - might be a good story to include here.


3. Write an alternate history. Write (discuss in class first) a short story telling what would have happened if certain decisions had been different. What if the Athenians had not voted to march to Marathon, but had stayed in Athens, perhaps on the Acropolis? What if Miltiades had not come up with the plan of thinning his ranks in the middle of the

army? Can anyone think of another strategy the Athenians could have thought up? What would have happened?


4. Democratic Debate. Hold an assembly debate about a question related to the battle of Marathon.

For example: (a) it is a few years after the battle and now the Persians are returning with a much bigger army. Again there is a chance to give in. Debate and vote on what to do.

(b) Miltiades has asked to have a statue built to him to honour him as the victor of Marathon (this actually happened). How do the hoplites or other generals who fought at Marathon feel about this? Debate whether Miltiades deserves this honour or whether he is getting too big for his boots. (The Athenians were very afraid of losing their democracy, of someone becoming too powerful and popular and then taking over as king). Get someone to role play Miltiades, and his supporters, as well as his enemies (his worst enemy was a man called Xanthippos).


5. Discuss/debate Democracy. Compare the system of democracy with monarchy. What is the difference? Most societies have been ruled by a king or aristocracy. Why did democracy develop? What are the advantages or disadvantages? Is democracy always the best thing?


Would it be good for a school to be run democratically? Should the children have a vote on everything? Or should the teachers always have a vote? (as opposed to the head teacher having final say in many matters). Some children should argue for and some against the ideas of children or all teachers having power to run a school.


What about in an army? Should soldiers have the freedom to disobey commands if they disagree with them? Should generals allow soldiers to vote e.g. on whether to fight a particular battle, or what strategy should be?


6. Make a model of the battlefield. The class can make a 3D model of the Marathon plain, including the surrounding hills, the sea, marsh, woods, Persian ships, the two campsites, etc. They can then plot out the movements of the two armies, leading up to, during and after the battle. You can make small pieces of card of two different colours to represent sections of the army (as in the workshop).


7. Commemorations. After the battle of Marathon there was much celebrating and many commemorations, in the form of the burial mound, a trophy column at the turning point of the battle, songs, speeches, poems, paintings, religious ceremonies (such as the sacrifice of 500 goats to Artemis), new temples and shrines, and so on.


Discuss how and why we commemorate battles, and those who fall in them. Look at modern ceremonies and memorials (e.g. the Cenotaph, the 2 minutes' silence on November 11th, wearing poppies). How should we treat war veterans? What about veterans of unpopular wars, like Iraq? (you could mention Vietnam too).


Children could design their own commemoration for the Athenians (or Persians) who fell at Marathon (or a modern battle/conflict, e.g. Afghanistan). This could be a stone memorial of some sort, a religious ceremony (thanksgiving/sacrifice to the gods - which gods?), a painting/drawing, a poem, or a speech (a eulogy). You could look at historical or modern examples of all of these (The Gettysburg address is famous and quite short). What is the best way to design such things? What is their purpose - in terms of the feelings they should evoke, and the benefits to a society, to the army/soldiers, and perhaps to the political leaders (e.g. of making sure the citizens support the continuing war).


The artwork or speeches/poems could be presented to the rest of the class or to an assembly.


8. Literature: my novel, Marathon, tells the whole story of the battle from the point of view of two boys and their fathers. It is suitable for Y5 and 6 and good readers in Y4. You can purchase it on this website here.