In what I've read about classical Greece - about Persian wars, Pelaponesian wars, Battle of Leuctra, Macedonia conquest...etc. - military discussion seems to be mostly about the Phalanx with a bit about cavalry. At some point, however, chariots were a very important military advance. Why the decline (if any)? Did this decline take place elsewhere?

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    There wasn't a decline, chariots were never militarily important in Ancient Greece. As Michael mentioned in his answer, the terrain simply wasn't suitable for wheeled vehicles. Chariots were used, but their role was mainly ceremonial or for races.
    – yannis
    Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 11:53
  • @yannis but the epics depict the Mycenaeans using chariots and it's believed they were used at some point en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mycenaean_Greece#Warfare which still begs the question why the decline?
    – Hao S
    Commented Aug 10, 2019 at 22:26

2 Answers 2


You kind of answered your own question by mentioning the phalanx.

First of all, you will often read some historians saying that chariots were not used by "mountain" people or that the terrain in such-and-such country was not suitable for chariots. This is not true. Macedonia is one of the most mountainous areas in Europe and they were famous for their horses and chariots. Likewise, the idea that Greece did not use chariots is completely untrue, as anyone has read the Iliad knows.

The key factor with chariots is that they are most effective in unorganized fighting when people are spread out. What made chariots obsolete was the adoption of highly disciplined, organized, shoulder-to-shoulder fighting. If you have seen the movie "300" you may remember the scene in which Leonidas gives a lecture on how the Spartan hoplites fight in close formation and lock their shields together, so they fight as a single unit. This kind of tactic in combination with the use of the spear will defeat the use of chariots. Phalanxes are a continuation and advance on this basic tactic.

The Romans never had problems dealing with enemy chariots for exactly the same reason: they fought in highly disciplined, close formations called "centuriae" using rectangular shields that could be joined together to make a tight wall, bristling with spears. Such a formation will easily defend against a chariot.

Another factor in the decline of chariots is the decrease in the use of champions. In many cases chariots were used essentially as battle taxis. A champion would use the chariot to gallup to a place of fighting, kill everybody using a weapon supremacy, then jump in the chariot and ride to the next hotspot. This only is useful if you have champions that have some kind of superior ability and weapons. If the champion is using a bronze broadsword and the average soldiers are using clubs, like in ancient Gaul, then it makes sense. But if every soldier has a good sword, then the champion becomes less important. Thus, economics is a factor too.

  • While Homer's illiad describes the chariots as Taxi's history Professors are skeptical that was the chariots true purpose. e.g. Gregory S. Aldrete History of the Ancient World do you have any other sources that cite chariots as used for tranportation only?
    – Hao S
    Commented Mar 4, 2019 at 0:04

I would speculate that chariots weren't used as much on Greek turf due to their lack of maneuverability on hilly terrain. On the plains of Egypt they would have a deadly impact, but try to drag them though hills and orchards, let alone the mountains…

Persians did try to use cavalry, but even that proved to be ineffective, and possibly had cost them defeat at Marathon.

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    How did it cost them Marathon? The reason they lost there was precisely because the cavalry was away.
    – Jeroen K
    Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 7:37
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    @JeroenK: IIRC at Marathons Persians counted on cavalry and disembarked accordingly; Athenians lined up the Phalanx above them on the hills, where cavalry would be ineffective; after a lengthy standoff Persians gave up and started embarking to the ships, cavalry first; when only Persian infantry remained in the field Athenian stroke. If numerically superior Persians didn't invest so much in cavalry they wouldn't have to split. It's hard to tell though whether that would change the outcome, only that Persians would have a better chance.
    – Michael
    Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 18:32
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    I follow your reasoning now, but i think it's invalid. On the open fields of Persia cavalry was a great asset, as Alexander showed when conquering them. Anyway i don't think it's about not investing in your infantry (don't forget about the 10 000 Persian Anusya) but about military doctrine: the Persian infantry was not trained as a Phalanx but as archers who where capable in close combat. To summarize, the Persians did invest in their infantry, it was just not equipped to face a Greek phalanx.
    – Jeroen K
    Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 19:19

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