Soldiers Through The Ages
5th century BC
Armour would consist of greaves, a thorax and helmet. Hoplites provided their own equipment which was rarely uniform. After the 6th century the most common form of armour was the so-called tube and yoke. There is some debate over the materials used but laminated vegetable tanned leather seems to be the easiest material to use, often reinforced with bronze scales. The tube wraps around the body and is fastened under the left arm. Beneath the waist a double row of pteruges or feathers allow for ease of movement. A yoke is fixed across the back and is brought forward over the shoulders and laced down the chest. The leather could be coloured white using alum, or dyed or painted bright colours. The Corinthian helmet is perhaps one of the most successful and iconographic helmets in history. It had a long life dating from the 8th century until the late 5th century, and into the late 4th century as a badge of rank for strategoi. Few surviving helmets have points to affix a crest and they were probably used as a badge of rank,
5th century BC
Herodotus on the Scythians
5th century BC
The same dress is affected by wealthy Athenian aristocrats visible on surviving grave stele from the 440’s onwards to 317 BC when Demetrious Poliorketes who governed Athens put an end to this lavish display. Cavalry boots complete the image.
5th century BC
Scythians could use pad saddles consisting of felt, hair and leather and several examples have amazingly survived in the famous burial mounds of the Altai mountains. At their simplest they consist of two pads held in place either side of the horses spine, raising the rider above the spine and protecting the horses back. They keep horse sweat from the rider and give comfort over long distances. Both horse tack and saddles could be beautifully decorated.
Weapons could include spears or a dual purpose javelin/spear with a long iron barbed head. Swords changed through time, generally moving from antennae hilts with relatively long thin blades to a shorter weapon. The akinakes was worn strapped to the upper right leg. Bronze and iron axes could also be carried.
A short straight sword is carried inside the aspis in the left hand for instant use. Such a short sword would be ideal for close order fighting and less prone to breakage. By the late 5th century these seem to be associated with Spartans and their Lakedaimonian allies and Plutarch gives various stories relating to the shortness of the sword, but sadly nothing of them survives except a cast bronze model sword purchased in Crete in 1898.
"Thalassa, thalassa" (the sea, the sea) at the top of a great dune, when they saw the sea. "Thereupon they began running, rearguard and all, and the baggage animals and horses came galloping up. But when they had reached the summit, then indeed they fell to embracing one another – generals and officers and all – and the tears trickled down their cheeks."
The pilos is the standard helmet type and with the addition of an aspis these solders could easily become a hoplite. They could be armed with javelins or a long spear and sword. Such soldiers could be easily recruited from the poorer areas of Greece such as Aitolia, Akarnania and the areas around the Thessalian plain. Mercenaries were more likely to be equipped with matching tunics, red being not an uncommon colour, and cloaks.
The Thracians were described as wearing fox fur hats over their ears, long chitons which extended over their thighs and zeiras, the Thracian cloak, reaching down to their feet. The zeira was made of thick blanket-like material of wool and goat hair distinctively decorated, and offering some protecting against weapons.
Fur-lined, tall boots lace up the front so as to let the fur hang down as lappets. The shape of the pelte allows the warrior to throw his long javelins unobstructed, and the face of the shield is painted with a primitive good luck symbol, normally a face probably to look out for incoming missiles. This soldier wears a kausia, a traditional hat worn especially in Macedonia.
4th century BC
Cavalry also carried the kamax, literally 'reed' around 9 feet long, with a small head, large butt, and often tapered to give balance point one-third down shaft. Cavalrymen are generally shown without beards, and where bearded men are depicted we are probably looking at officers.
Early 4th century BC
In 385 BC Bardyllis extended his rule over the state of Epirus after defeating the Molossians. Thrown out of Epirus by the Spartan King Agesilaus, in 360 BC, another Illyrian attack forced the Molossian king Arymbas to evacuate his non-combatant population to Aetolia and let the Illyrians loot freely. In 359 BC Bardyllis won a decisive battle against the Macedonian king Perdiccas III in which the king himself was killed along with 4,000 of his soldiers and the Illyrians occupied the cities of upper Macedonia.
When king Philip took control of Macedonian throne in 358 BC, he reaffirmed the treaty with the Illyrians marrying the Illyrian princess Audata, probably the daughter or the niece of Bardyllis[ This gave Philip valuable time to gather his forces and to defeat the Illyrians decisively in the Erigon Valley, killing about 7,000 of them including Bardyllis himself at the age of 90 years old. By 335 BC the southern Illyrian states were all subjected by Alexander the Great. Although somewhat old fashioned in southern Greece, this chieftain wears an Illyrian Type IV helmet first made in the early 6th century. Such a helmet could have lasted into the 3rd century in Illyria. He is primarily armed with dual purpose javelins and uses a curved short sword called a sica, popular in Illyria and Thrace.
Late 4th century BC
A contingent of 2,000 Thessalian cavalry accompanied Alexander on his eastern campaign. These fought with distinction, especially the contingent from Pharsalus, in Alexander’s three major set-piece battles at the Granicus, Issus, and Gaugaumela. Some even volunteered to stay on after the League of Corinth’s forces were dismissed at Ecbatana in 330 (Curt. 6.6.35). A number of Thessalians ascended to positions of considerable influence with Alexander, and veterans returned home, well compensated for their efforts.
Sources frequently state the Thessalian cavalry were the best of Alexander’s army, generally fighting on the left of the line under Parmenion. Roughly equal to the Companions in strength, 1,800-2,000 men, it can be assumed they also were organised into eight ilai of 200 men each. The vanguard squadron was the Pharsalian ile, also Parmenion’s personal bodyguard, and perhaps double strength like the Royal Squadron. Arrian (3.11.10) calls it the “finest and most numerous squadron”. The squadrons could have been named after the principle cities in Thessaly, perhaps Larisa, Pherae, Tricca, Pharcadon, Pelinna, Olooson and Philippi/Philippopolis or ancient Gomphi. After Gordian another 200 Thessalian horse joined the army, perhaps used as replacements rather than forming a new squadron. The regiment was disbanded at Ecbatana, but 130 volunteers stayed on as a distinct unit as mercenaries serving under the former hipparch Philippus a further year before being disbanded. The Alexander sarcophagus suggests that a red short sleeved garment was worn under a long sleeved purple tunic, with a purple cloak decorated with white lower borders which would billow out when galloping to give “Thessalian wings”. This Philippus son of Menelaus was a Macedonian first attested as a hipparch of the allied cavalry at the Granicus. By Gaugamela he had been promoted to the Thessalian command.
The primary weapon is the xyston, around 3m in length. Once a general term for spear shaft but from this period seldom used except to describe the weapon of the Macedonian shock cavalry. The shaft was made of cornel wood, the cornelian cherry or cornus mas, apparently common in Macedonia. A large bronze butt spike could be used as a weapon if the xyston broke, although Alexander preferred a sword. The horse is a large animal able to barge others out of the way and the rider is equipped mentally and physically for close quarter combat.
Mid 4th century BC
Two cornel-wood javelins called palta are carried, with iron heads. One could be thrown while the other either thrown or retained for thrusting. A kopis is carried but it could be substituted for a sagaris. An akinakes hangs on the right thigh. Horses could be large by ancient standards, especially the famous Nisaean breed. Horses seem to have been supplied from central stud farms. Each cavalryman would have had a groom lead, saddle and bridle the horse as well as to help the rider to mount. Armour for the horse and man seem to have been limited to a minority.