He owes his fame as much to the improvements he made in the equipment of the peltasts or light-armed mercenaries (named for their small pelte shield) as to his military successes. Historians have debated about just what kind of "peltasts" were affected by his reforms; one of the most popular positions is that he improved the performance of the Greek skirmishers so that they would be able to engage in prolonged hand-to-hand fighting as part of the main battle line, while another strong opinion posits that he worked his changes upon the mercenary hoplites that were an important factor in late 5th and early 4th century B.C. Greek land warfare.
A third possibility is that his reforms were limited to hoplites serving as marines on board ships of the Athenian navy.
His "Iphicratean reforms" consisted of increasing the length of their spears and swords, substituting linen cuirasses in place of heavier bronze armor, and introducing new footwear (later called iphicratids) that was easier to don and remove than previous models. In addition, he replaced the heavy hoplon/aspis with a lighter pelte that could be strapped to the forearm, freeing the left hand to help hold the lengthened spears. By these changes he greatly increased the rapidity of their movements. He also paid special attention to discipline, drill and maneuvers; the longer weapons, combined with the lighter armor and shield, forced his troops to take a more aggressive approach in tactical situations. With his peltasts Iphicrates dealt the Spartans a heavy blow in 392 BC-390 BC by almost annihilating a mora (a battalion of about 600 men) of their famous hoplites. The Iphicratean reforms are considered to have been one of the leading influences on Philip II of Macedon, when he created the pike-armed (sarissa) Macedonian phalanx. His son, Alexander the Great, employed this new infantry formation in his many conquests.
Following up success, he took city after city for the Athenians; but in consequence of a quarrel with the Argives he was transferred from Corinth to the Hellespont, where he was equally successful. After the peace of Antalcidas (387 BC) he assisted Seuthes, king of Thracian Odrysae, to recover his kingdom, and fought against Cotys, with whom, however, he subsequently concluded an alliance. In about 378 BC, he was sent with a force of mercenaries to assist the Persians to reconquer Egypt, but a dispute with Pharnabazus led to the failure of the expedition. On his return to Athens he commanded an expedition in 373 BC for the relief of Corcyra, which was besieged by the Lacedaemonians.
After the peace of 371 BC, Iphicrates returned to Thrace and somewhat tarnished his fame by siding with his father-in-law Cotys in a war against Athens for the possession of the entire Thracian Chersonese. Iphicrates, however, refused to besiege the Athenian strongholds and fled to Antissa. The Athenians soon pardoned him and gave him a joint command in the Social War against some of their allies from the second Athenian Empire. He and two of his colleagues were impeached by Chares, the fourth commander, because they had refused to give battle during a violent storm.
Iphicrates was acquitted but sentenced to pay a heavy fine. Afterwards, he remained at Athens until his death in about 353 BC (although according to some he retired to Thrace).
- Ueda-Sarson, Luke, The Evolution of Hellenistic Infantry, Part 1: The Reforms of Iphikrates
- Mattew, C. (2015) An Invincible Beast: Understanding the Hellenistic Pike Phalanx in Action, Pen and Sword. p. 119
- Demosthenes, Against Aristocrates
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Iphicrates". Encyclopædia Britannica. 14 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 737–738.