The Hellenistic Period – Weapons 400–150 BC I

This follows the great changes in Greek warfare that occurred in the fourth century under the influence of Iphicrates of Athens, Epaminondas of Thebes, and Philip II and Alexander the Great of Macedonia. These led to the hoplite and peltast being replaced by infantry wielding a two-handed pike called a sarissa, and to the greater use of heavy cavalry. The third century saw the rise and fall of the use of elephants and, to a much lesser extent, the use of chariots again. Finally, the second century marked the rise of Rome and the demise of the Greek kingdoms as an effective military force. The same period also saw the development of siege artillery (catapults), which will be touched on.

The evidence for this period is widespread across the three spheres of artistic representations, archaeological artefacts and literary evidence, but there are still major problems with interpretation. Rather than the vase painting of the Archaic and Classical periods, it is sculpture and, to a lesser extent, coinage that provide the best artistic evidence for the period. These start with Athenian funerary monuments and the Alexander Sarcophagus, and end with the great Hellenistic monuments such as the Artemision at Magnesia-on-the-Meander and the altar friezes at Pergamum.

Of the archaeological finds, pride of place must go to the ones from the royal tombs at Vergina in Macedonia; but there have also been outstanding finds of an iron muscle cuirass from Thesprotia in north-west Greece, and cataphract armour from Ai Khanum in Afghanistan.

As for literature, we have good secondary sources in Diodorus and Arrian for the earlier period, and an excellent primary source in Polybius for the later period. There are also an increasing number of useful contemporary inscriptions, like that from Amphipolis referring to military equipment under Philip V.

Another difference in this period is the geographical coverage. Apart from Greece and the islands, this chapter includes Macedonia in north Greece to a much greater extent. Philip II of Macedonia conquered the rest of Greece and then his son, Alexander the Great, conquered the Persian Empire, including Egypt, and pushed on to India. After his death, various generals – the Successors – quarrelled over the spoils. These disputes eventually settled down into new kingdoms: Macedonia itself, the Ptolemaic Empire of Egypt, the Seleucid Empire of Syria and the East, and several smaller kingdoms that came and went. The Greek states of mainland Greece obtained varying degrees of freedom, but were generally under the Macedonian yoke. This means that much of the evidence for later Greek warfare comes from Egypt, Asia Minor, the Near East and the Far East – even as far as Afghanistan. These Hellenistic kingdoms used the same troop types as one another, with minor differences. Mainland Greece tended to continue with peltast and hoplite warfare using the ordinary spear, but most changed eventually to the sarissa and Macedonian-style warfare. After Alexander they played a small part in warfare, which was dominated by the larger Hellenistic states.


We have seen how light troops called peltasts had been effective against the Spartans at Sphacteria in the Peloponnesian War. The Athenians repeated the feat in 390 when Iphicrates defeated a unit of Spartan hoplites in the field with a force of peltasts (Connolly 1998, p. 49). He later campaigned with his peltasts in Egypt and, after returning from there in 373, he apparently instituted some military reforms. We do not have a contemporary source for this fact, but only the later reports of Diodorus Siculus (Diodorus XV, 44, 2–4) and Cornelius Nepos (Life of Iphicrates XI), which are so similar that they must have copied the same earlier source. The following is Best’s translation of Diodorus (Best 1969, pp. 102 ff.):

Soldiers who used to carry the aspis (hoplite shield) and were called hoplites, now carried the pelta and were called peltasts. Their new spears were half as long again or even twice as long as before. Sword length was doubled. He introduced a new type of boot called the Iphicratid, and linen corslets replaced the bronze cuirass.

The original author of this can have known nothing of the military practices of the early fourth century as it is full of errors, leaving interpretation difficult. The first clear misconception is that hoplites became peltasts. We have seen that these two infantry types had co-existed since the Peloponnesian War. The other misconception concerns the corslet. Linen corslets had replaced bronze cuirasses for most hoplites at the end of the sixth century. By 400, if not earlier, it seems that the leather spolas was the main body armour of choice, apart from cavalry and officers who wore a bronze cuirass as well. It may be that Iphicrates had come across linen corslets on his campaign in Egypt, where the material originated, and brought back some to give body armour to peltasts for the first time, but there is no other corroborating evidence for this. Parke (1993) accepted these reforms as a bringing together of hoplites and peltasts to form one infantry type, with peltasts adopting the spear instead of javelins, and hoplites adopting the lighter shield of the peltast. Best (1969, plates 3, 4) has shown, however, that a thrusting spear was sometimes used by peltasts in the fifth century, although perhaps Iphicrates made it more common. Both Parke and Best accept the idea of hoplites discarding bronze cuirasses for linen, which we have shown to be incorrect and which is a problem in the original source. Many peltasts were mercenaries from Thrace, and Thracian hoplites did still wear bronze cuirasses throughout the fifth century (see below). It is possible, then, that Iphicrates took a force of Thracian hoplites as well as peltasts to Egypt, or perhaps he was put in charge of some on his return, and it was they who discarded bronze cuirasses for linen corslets and became peltasts. The Iphicratid boot sounds very much like the high boots often worn by peltasts as early as the fifth century, and there is no reason why it should not have been worn instead of greaves. It may have been adopted from the cavalry boot mentioned by Xenophon. The lengthening of the spear suggests a forerunner of the Macedonian sarissa, or pike, and this will be looked into when we examine infantry weapons.

The main infantry body of troops, the phalanx, continued to be made up of soldiers called hoplites throughout the rest of the fourth century, and it is uncertain whether these new peltasts existed outside one or two campaigns of Iphicrates. Some of the ideas certainly stuck, however, and we shall be examining those as they occur. The main body of this chapter concerns the armies of Macedonia and the successor Hellenistic kingdoms, which consisted of many different troop types. We will look at the infantry first.


Hoplite spears seem to have been about 7 or 8ft in length from the limited evidence we have (Anderson, in Hanson 1991, pp. 22–3), so the doubling by Iphicrates would give a length of 14 – 16ft. This approaches the length of the later Macedonian sarissas and makes the spear a two-handed weapon. Whether Iphicrates’ peltasts ever used a two-handed pike like this is doubtful. It would have removed the mobility of the soldier. It is possible that our late sources are exaggerating the lengthening of the spear and that Iphicrates did lengthen it, but not by so much. Spears up to about 13–14ft long can be managed with one hand, especially if used underarm.

In 371 BC the Thebans defeated the Spartans at the Battle of Leuctra, much to everyone’s surprise. The main reason for their victory was that they had a phalanx that was fifty men deep instead of the usual eight to twelve, and they put their crack troops, the Sacred Band, on their left wing. This put them opposite the Spartan king and his bodyguard, and the depth of the Theban phalanx simply steamrollered the Spartans. The rest of the Spartan army (made up of allies) melted away. It is possible that an additional reason for this victory was that the Thebans were using longer spears, of the Iphicratid model. It seems most likely that the hoplite phalanx charged with the spear underarm, and a longer spear would have presented more spear points to the enemy (Hanson 1989, p. 162). A possible argument against this is that in 377 the Thebans were certainly still using normal hoplite spears, as they threw some at the Spartans like javelins (Anderson, in Hanson 1991, p. 20). The main argument in favour is that Philip II of Macedonia, in north Greece, was a hostage at Thebes at the time of their victories after Leuctra, and when he returned to Macedonia he built up an army which eventually included the two-handed sarissa. It seems likely that he got the idea from the Thebans, or developed it from what they had already achieved. It is still not certain that the sarissa in Philip and Alexander the Great’s time was two-handed, but given the fact that both men used the phalanx – now generally sixteen men deep – as a holding force while attacking with cavalry, it does seem likely (Sekunda 1984, p. 27).

The length of the sarissa has caused much academic argument over the years. Theophrastus, writing in the late fourth century, mentions that the Cornelian cherry tree, whose wood was commonly used for spears, grew to a height of 12 cubits, the length of the longest Macedonian sarissa (Theophrastus 3.12.2). Polybius, writing in the second century, states that the sarissa was 14 cubits long. Ten of these cubits projected in front of the soldier, and the spears of the first five ranks projected in front of the phalanx (Polybius XVIII, 29, 2–30, 4). Twelve and 14 cubits are commonly translated as 18 and 21ft, as the cubit is to be regarded as the Attic cubit, a standard measurement. Tarn (1930, pp. 15–16) argued that the measurements were shorter Macedonian cubits, giving a Theophrastan length of only 13ft. He suggested this because the sarissa was used by cavalry under Alexander, as well as by the infantry, and 18ft would have been an impractical length. However, it is unlikely that an author like Theophrastus would use anything other than the standard Attic cubit, as he was writing for an Athenian audience. Also, it seems likely that the cavalry sarissa was a different weapon, the word sarissa simply meaning ‘a long spear’ (see below). Studies of the sarissa have also been hampered by Markle’s reconstructions (1977 and 1978) in the 1970s. Connolly (2000, pp. 105–8) has shown that the sarissa head used by Markle is in fact a heavy butt end, and that sarissas had much lighter heads to aid balance. He has also shown that the sarissa was not of uniform thickness all along its length, but tapered from butt to point, also as an aid to balance. Using these criteria, Connolly has reconstructed 12-cubit sarissas weighing only just over 4kg, about two-thirds that of Markle’s reconstruction. We still have to consider the difference between the lengths given by Theophrastus and Polybius. This seems entirely chronological, as Polybius himself says that sarissas were longer in earlier times (Polybius XVIII, 29). So we might suggest that the sarissa used by Philip and Alexander was 18ft long; in the third century it grew to perhaps 24ft, the longest manageable pike; and that by Polybius’s time in the third century, it had reduced again to 21ft. It seems likely that the earliest sarissas were of Cornelian cherrywood, which is hinted at by Theophrastus, but that later examples – too long to be easily obtained from that tree – were much more likely to be made of ash, like sixteenth- and seventeenth-century pikes. Ash has the added advantage of being a lighter wood, and so longer sarissas could be made which were no heavier than the shorter cherrywood ones (Lumpkin 1975, p. 197).

The Macedonian phalanx was organised into units of 256 men, called syntagmas or speiras (Connolly 1998, p. 76). These were generally arranged in blocks of sixteen by sixteen, although at Magnesia in 190 Antiochus III arranged his phalanx to a depth of thirty-two men. The overall size of the phalanx was also larger, as Philip II had more men at his disposal. Philip’s phalanx was usually 20,000 men, supported by 2,000–3,000 horse. Alexander would invade Persia with a phalanx of 32,000 and 5,100 horsemen. As was mentioned earlier, the points of the sarissas of the first five ranks projected in front of the phalanx. The other men held their sarissas upright to avoid spearing their own men, and this also helped to break up missile attacks. This new style of phalanx was much more unwieldy than the hoplite phalanx had been, and Connolly (2000, p. 111) has demonstrated the difficulties of manoeuvring it into position. With its sarissas lowered the phalanx was a formidable fighting machine, which held up the Persian armies with ease while Alexander won his victories with the cavalry. Later Hellenistic battles, such as Ipsus in 301 and Raphia in 217, had huge phalanxes locked in combat almost to no avail, while the battles were won and lost by cavalry encounters. The Battle of Ipsus, when Antigonus fought Seleucus and Lysimachus, featured a staggering clash of 70,000 men in each phalanx, supported by 10,000 cavalry. It was the Romans who finally showed the weakness of this type of phalanx. Because of the need for cohesion, battles tended to be fought on flat ground, where the phalanxes could manoeuvre carefully. The flexible Roman legionaries could fight anywhere and, when they drew the Macedonian phalanx onto rough ground at the Battle of Pydna in 168, they annihilated it and put an end to the Macedonian kingdom. In his campaigns in Italy in the 270s, Pyrrhus tried to add flexibility to his phalanx by inserting bodies of Italian light troops in between each phalanx block, which seems to have been fairly effective but was not copied elsewhere. At the Battle of Magnesia in 190, Antiochus III inserted elephants and their light troop guards in between phalanx blocks, but that became a disaster when the Romans attacked the elephants with archers and javelin men and panicked them. They then routed and broke up the Greek phalanx.

Apart from the phalanx, Alexander the Great also had a body of men called the hypaspists (shield-bearers). These men were often used for scouting manoeuvres and usually formed up in battle between the cavalry and the phalanx. They were apparently lightly armoured, therefore, although the name suggests they carried substantial shields. The warriors on the Alexander Sarcophagus (which dates to the late fourth century, and was the tomb for King Abdalonymus of Sidon) carry large hoplite shields of c. 85–90cm and must therefore have been using a spear rather than a sarissa. It is possible that these men are meant to be hypaspists (Sekunda 1984, pp. 28–30)

Newcastle University has a bronze spear butt in its collection, which is marked ‘MAK’, showing it was an official Macedonian issue. It must be from a spear rather than a sarissa, and may therefore be from one of those used by the hypaspists. There is also the possibility that it comes from a cavalry spear. The Macedonian army was issued with all its equipment by the state, though this is the only known marked item apart from sling bullets and ballista bolts marked with Philip’s name.


In the reforms of Iphicrates mentioned by Diodorus and Nepos, swords were also apparently doubled in length. However, there appears to be no real archaeological evidence for this, and the two types of hoplite sword – the straight sword and the recurved machaira or kopis – continued in use. By the second century the latter sword was certainly the more popular, and Polybius mentions that the Romans reinforced their shields with iron to withstand them. Most surviving machairas are 35 to 70cm long, although the example from the cuirass tomb in Thesprotia (see below) is 77cm (Choremis 1980, pp. 15–16). These longer examples are almost certainly cavalry versions, and a sword length of under 50cm for infantry seems more likely. At their widest point these blades measure about 5cm, and the bone or wood handles are usually in the form of animal heads. Examples on the Pergamum frieze have elaborate scabbards decorated with tassels (Jaeckel 1965, figs 5–7). The straight sword is also featured on the Pergamum reliefs and on the tomb paintings of Lyson and Kallikles (Hatzopoulos and Loukopoulos 1980, pp. 60–1), dating to the early second century BC. The latter have sword handles of a Celtic style, no doubt adopted following the Celtic invasions of the early third century.


The Macedonian shield has been studied at length by Liampi (1998). The adoption of the two-handed sarissa by the infantry obviously necessitated a change in the shield, as the left hand now needed to be able to protrude beyond the shield rim to grasp the sarissa. Surviving shields seem to suggest a diameter of c. 65–75cm. At the top end of this range they may have been cavalry shields, but Connolly (2000, pp. 109–10) has successfully used 63cm shields in a reconstructed phalanx, and the pictures suggest that larger shields of up to 70cm would not have been a problem. The shield seems to have had a shoulder strap, which would also have taken some of the weight of the sarissa in the lowered position, while it also enabled the shield to be carried on the back, leaving both hands free to manoeuvre the pike. A hoplite grip was still employed, with the hand also slipping through the handgrip to grasp the sarissa. This also meant that, should the sarissa be lost or broken, the grip could be used like a hoplite grip and the sword drawn, as is shown on the second-century Aemilius Paullus monument (Kahler 1965, plate 12).

Third-century depictions of this shield show it to have been very convex and there must have been quite a lot of padding behind the metallic face, which cannot all have been a wooden core. The bronze facings that survive, and the literary mentions of ‘bronze-shields’ and ‘silver-shields’, show that these shields cannot have been wicker peltast ones, as suggested by Plutarch at the Battle of Pydna. He also mentions small daggers as compared to Roman swords, and is clearly indulging in literary exaggeration. By far the commonest designs on Macedonian shields are geometric. A small shield from Olympia, and the paintings in the tomb of Lyson and Kallikles (Liampi 1998, plates 1, 3), show a large central circle and smaller circles around the edge. These were all embossed onto the bronze sheet. Occasionally the shields feature a central Macedonian star or head of a god or, on one occasion, an eagle (Liampi 1998, plates 2, 14); but what is most remarkable is the uniformity of design from 300 down until 150. The Lyson and Kallikles paintings show us that, apart from the embossing, these shields were painted as well. Sometimes different regiments, or wings of the phalanx, were distinguished by their shields. Livy describes the two halves of the Macedonian phalanx as ‘bronze-shields’ and ‘white-shields’. The phalanx of Antiochus III, the Seleucid king in the late third and early second centuries, all had bronze shields, although he had a separate guard unit called the ‘silver-shields’, a name which had been used for a corps of elite troops since Alexander the Great’s time. In 167 at the Daphne parade (Polybius XXX, 35.3), Antiochus IV showed off a phalanx of 20,000. Part of this, or possibly in addition to this, was a unit of 5,000 ‘bronze-shields’, some (5,000?) ‘silver-shields’, and perhaps some ‘gold-shields’, although there are difficulties with the text (Sekunda 1994b, pp. 14–15).

The shields of the hypaspists shown on the Alexander Sarcophagus have very elaborate portraits of gods and goddesses painted on, and one has an apparent portrait of Alexander the Great as King of Persia (although these have all virtually completely faded away now). Although Sekunda suggests these are regimental devices, I cannot see such devices being applied to the army in general, owing to the time and expense of applying such decoration. I think they are far more likely to be elaborate pictures dreamed up by the artist of the sarcophagus (Sekunda 1984, plates F, G, H). The shield from the tomb of Philip II is a highly elaborate affair covered in gold and ivory, although the basic structure was of wood covered with leather. It tells us little about the decoration of combat shields (Vokotopoulou 1995, pp. 157–8).


The soldiers of the phalanx had a wide variety of helmets to choose from, and these same helmets were also worn by the heavy cavalry, and so they will all be discussed here following the designations and order given by Dintsis. The Boeotian helmet was mentioned in Chapter 4, and it continued to be worn throughout the period: indeed, until about 50 BC. Usually thought of as a cavalry helmet, it was possibly worn by infantry from the third century onwards. Later versions are shown on coins and sculpture with cheek pieces and horsehair crests coming from a central knob. Alexander’s companion cavalry almost certainly wore this helmet (Sekunda 1984, plates A, C, D).

The Phrygian helmet appeared from about 400 and lasted until c. 100. It is similar to the Thracian helmet, but its most conspicuous feature is a high crown very similar to a Phrygian cap. It usually has a peak, cheek pieces, and sometimes an extra brow guard. An example in the Ioannina Museum in north Greece shows tubes at the sides and at the top of the crest to hold plumes (Sekunda 1984, p. 26). Other examples from Thrace are decorated with silver appliqués (Webber 2001, pp. 11, 23, figs 2, 4). Nearly all the infantry on the Alexander Sarcophagus are wearing this type of helmet, and it also seems to have been the favoured cavalry helmet under Philip II (Sekunda 1984, plate D). It is being worn by soldiers on the Pergamum frieze, too.

The tomb of Philip II produced an iron helmet of this type, where the crest is a raised, flat piece of iron rather than the hollow crest of the bronze Phrygian helmets, and this is no doubt because of the difficulties in working in iron. The reinforcement crests on the front of these and other Hellenistic helmets seem to appear first in the third century, and Connolly (1998, p. 80) has suggested that this was a response to the Celtic invasions of that time. The Celts wielded long slashing swords, and extra reinforcement would have been a useful addition.

The Pilos helmet (Fig. 48) also continued in use until about 150. After Alexander, this helmet incorporated the wavy lower edge of the Boeotian helmet, and is called a ‘Cone’ helmet by Dintsis. There is a fine example of this type in the Ashmolean Museum. An example with a Celtic-style crest knob is shown being worn by an officer, possibly from the cavalry, on the Artemision at Magnesia-on-the-Meander dating from the early second century BC.

The Corinthian helmet, which by 400 had degenerated into a cap called by Connolly (1998, p. 110, no. 5) an Italo-Corinthian helmet, seems to have remained popular in Sicily and south Italy, but not among the Hellenistic states, although there is one example on the Pergamum frieze (Jaeckel 1965, fig. 25). Cheek pieces also appeared later with this type of helmet, and it sometimes had a fore-and-aft crest or a metal ridge in place of a crest.

The Attic helmet also continued throughout this period. It features on the Alexander Sarcophagus, and developed into Dintsis’s Pseudo-Attic helmet, which is generally called Thracian by other modern writers. A good number of examples are known from Thrace, but it does seem to be an Attic derivative and not to have derived from Thrace. This helmet has a peak and cheek pieces, and third-century and later examples have a brow protector. Instead of a crest it usually has a fore-and-aft ridge for added protection. An example from Thrace is of the usual bronze, but originally it had iron cheek pieces (Webber 2001, p. 24), and two wonderful iron specimens are known from a cuirass tomb at Prodromi in Thesprotia near Epirus (Choremis 1980, pp. 13–14). These are both very similar in design, but one has been completely sheathed in silver, and so it seems that we have here examples of a battlefield helmet and a parade helmet. They date from about 330. The warrior in this tomb was certainly an officer and probably a cavalryman, but Thracian helmets are also seen being worn by infantry soldiers on the tomb of Antiochus II, dating to 246 (Head 1981, figs 8–10).

A final item of headgear that warrants a brief mention is the kausia. This is a traditional Macedonian hat rather like a beret. It features on the Alexander mosaic at Pompeii, being worn by a light infantryman who may be a hypaspist (Sekunda 1984, p. 30). A kausia is also pictured on the victory frieze at Pergamum, but I think it unlikely that it was used as a regular item of protective headgear for the phalanx, since we have so many references to the use of helmets. It was possibly worn off duty, like an army forage cap, and was clearly a very popular item. Kings of the Greek Kingdom of Bactria, in what are modern-day Pakistan and Afghanistan, are often shown wearing the kausia on coins as late as 100 BC.

Helmets were also frequently painted, and the tomb of Lyson and Kallikles is our best evidence for this. One helmet is coloured red with a black peak, yellow cheek pieces and crest, whereas the other is yellow with a black and a red stripe, silver peak and cheek pieces and a large orange plume. I would suggest that the yellow paint on these helmet pictures shows the original bronze, with the rest being painted additions on the helmets.

We have already mentioned the use of iron helmets, of which that from the tomb of Philip II is the earliest known. The expense of these meant that they were unlikely to have been used for the general rank and file, but could have been purchased by wealthy officers, perhaps especially among the cavalry. They would certainly have been stronger helmets, if rather heavier than bronze. The Roman army did not equip their legionaries with iron helmets until the time of Marius or Caesar (first century BC), and it is unlikely that any of the Hellenistic kingdoms could have been more generous. There are ambiguities with a couple of sculptures, which use blue paint. The soldiers on the Alexander Sarcophagus have blue helmets, which Sekunda (1984, plates F, G) interprets as having been painted blue, but there is a slim chance that they are meant to be iron helmets. There is also a third-century grave stele from Ptolemaic Egypt showing an officer with a helmet and a muscle cuirass both painted blue, which Head (1981, p. 24) has interpreted as representing iron. The fact that we are dealing with an officer here, both items are painted blue, and we are fifty or so years later in date, all make this a far more likely candidate for the use of iron armour.


As with helmets, the body armour in use at this period was not generally specific to either infantry or cavalry, so both cuirasses and corslets will be discussed here. While most scholars agree that Alexander’s Companion cavalry and later Hellenistic cavalry wore cuirasses, there remains some doubt as to what was worn by the infantry, and whether that changed over time.

We will look at metal cuirasses first. Macedonia and Thrace were somewhat backward compared to southern Greece in the Classical period, but in the later sixth century they adopted bronze armour in the form of the bell cuirass and the Illyrian and Corinthian helmets, just as these forms were dying out in the south. Because Thracians often buried their warriors with their armour, we have a series of nine cuirasses from c. 500 to c. 350 that throw light on the metal working of northern Greece of the fifth and fourth centuries (Ognenova 1961, passim). The bell cuirasses of the early fifth century have simple lines with wide bottom flanges and a minimum of anatomical decoration, but it is the cuirasses of the later fifth and early fourth centuries that are most interesting. The cuirass from Dalboki, now in the Ashmolean Museum, has been dated to the early fifth century by Vickers (2002, p. 62), although the tomb it comes from is clearly after 430. Ognenova dates the cuirass to c. 400 and the similar ‘Basova Mogila’ cuirass to c. 380, and this seems more likely to me. Unlike the earlier Thracian cuirasses, these have no high collar but a large semi-circular neck opening instead, and also much larger armholes. The edges are also not rolled over bronze wire, but consist of a flattened border over 1cm wide, marked every 2–3cm by an iron nail. At first sight it seems that these borders may have been for the folding over of a linen or leather lining, but the wide neck hole seems very vulnerable and Ognenova (1961, pp. 528, 533; see also Webber 2001, plate E) suggests this was covered by an iron pectoral. Ognenova herself points out, however, that iron pectorals are sometimes found without a bronze cuirass, and vice versa. The example from Dalboki had a gold pectoral with traces of iron on the back, so this may have been an example of the pectoral as iron armour. Traces of iron at the neck and armholes of the Dalboki cuirass, and especially on the ‘Basova Mogila’ cuirass, do not appear to be from pectorals, however. They seem to me to suggest that these bell cuirasses were half bronze and half iron. The bronze survives better and we are missing an iron collar, iron-reinforced armholes and an iron flange at the bottom. This is reminiscent of the bronze Thracian helmet with iron cheek pieces mentioned above, and shows that Thracians were working in iron fifty years before the first pieces of armour completely made of iron appeared. However, it is important to note that this evidence exists mainly because of Thracian burial customs. It seems highly likely that other areas in Greece experimented with bronze and iron cuirasses, and helmets in the later fourth century, but there just isn’t the evidence because such pieces were hardly ever buried. If they were offered at sanctuaries they would have rusted away before disposal, and sanctuary offerings were severely on the decline by then. The three Greek iron helmets and two iron cuirasses we have come from two tombs: that of Philip II and the cuirass tomb from Prodromi in Thesprotia.



The Hellenistic Period – Weapons 400–150 BC II


The muscle cuirass continued to be used as the most elaborate piece of body armour available to wealthier officers. It was presumably this type of cuirass that Epaminondas was wearing when he was injured ‘through the breastplate’ at Mantinea in 362 (Diodorus XV, 87.1). On the Nereid monument from Lycia, which dates to about 400 and is now in the British Museum, over 80 per cent of the soldiers are wearing simple material corslets, with only officers in muscle cuirasses. These cuirasses have the abdominal dip of the earlier cuirasses and are now depicted with anatomically correct pectoral muscles, rather than the spiral designs seen in the previous century. These Lycian models also appear without pteruges or shoulder flaps and must have had a fitted padded lining.

In the later fourth century there was an increase in the depiction of the muscle cuirass on the funerary monuments of Athens, which is thought to have been caused by the muscle cuirass having been reintroduced after a period when not much armour was worn. Sekunda suggested this might have been as a result of the defeat of Chaeronea in 338, when Athens and Thebes and their allies lost to the Macedonians, who were using the new sarissa-armed phalanx and heavy cavalry. However, several of the monuments can now be dated to before this. Sekunda (2000, p. 62 and plate J) still sees this as a general rearmament, and suggests that whole armies of Athenian hoplites and indeed Macedonian pikemen were equipped with the muscle cuirass. I think this is highly unlikely. We have seen that this form of cuirass was an expensive item and that at this time arms and armour were provided by the state. I do not see how either Athens or indeed Philip II of Macedon could have afforded large numbers of this form of cuirass for the ordinary soldier. This state funding, for Athens, probably began after Chaeronea and we know it consisted of just a shield, cloak and spear (Sekunda 1986, p. 57). The few stelai we have that feature this cuirass can easily be accounted for by officers, who could personally afford the cuirass (and indeed the grave stele).

These mid- to late-fourth-century cuirasses had separate shoulder pieces giving a double thickness of bronze (or iron) at this point, which now became a standard feature of the muscle cuirass. They were obviously copied from linen and leather shoulder-piece corslets. An example of a bronze-plated iron cuirass of this type was found in Tomb II at Amathus in Cyprus, but may be of Roman date (Gjerstad et al. 1935, vol. II, p. 14, no. 77). The British Museum has a pair of bronze shoulder guards, from Siris in Italy, which are very elaborately decorated. They are probably from the fourth century and so Greek rather than Roman. The only complete surviving muscle cuirass of this type from this period was found in 1978 at Prodromi, near Thesprotia in southern Epirus. The two iron helmets found in this tomb have already been mentioned, and the cuirass is also of iron, dating from about 330. The contemporary iron cuirass from the tomb of Philip II, which is discussed below, is made up of fairly manageable flat plates except at the shoulders, and it is this Prodromi cuirass which shows the real skill in iron working that the Greeks were now attaining. Iron is much harder to work than bronze, but it is a much stronger defence. The drawback is that it is also much heavier, especially because it was hard to work into thin sheets. No width measurements are given for the Prodromi cuirass in its original publication (Choremis 1980, pp. 10–12), but the cuirass of Philip II is 5mm thick compared to the usual 1–2mm for bronze cuirasses.

The Prodromi cuirass clearly reached down at the front to protect the belly, although some of it has broken away here. The edges at the neck and armholes are rolled over for added strength and the cuirass is hinged on the right side and at the shoulders. Straps passing through gold loops fastened the left side. The nipples are marked out in gold and next to these are gold rosettes with loops. Gold lion heads and loops on the shoulder flaps show that this is where the shoulder flaps were fastened down; the lion heads are identical to those on Philip II’s cuirass. The cuirass is very wide in the hips to allow the wearer to ride a horse, and the length of his machaira, 78cm, shows that this man was a cavalry officer. Another proof for this was the absence of greaves from the tomb, although they were not always a prerequisite for infantry at this time, as we have seen. It is an unusual, isolated tomb and Choremis, the excavator, has suggested it was possibly a battlefield burial.

Nothing remained of the pteruges in the Prodromi tomb, and we must return to the Athenian funerary monuments such as the tomb of Aristonautes (Snodgrass 1967, plate 56) and another well-known example from Eleusis (Sekunda 2000, p. 62). Both these monuments show three sets of pteruges protruding from the bottom of the cuirass, rather than the two sets that are more usual in fifth-century depictions. These fourth-century pteruges are also much shorter than earlier ones, barely covering the groin, let alone the thighs. Later illustrations, such as those on the Alexander Sarcophagus and the Alexander mosaic, show two sets of pteruges, one short and one long, frequently with pteruges at the armholes as well. These are material corslets, probably made in one piece, although they are perhaps evidence for a separate arming tunic that could be worn under a cuirass, like Xenophon’s spolas. Russell Robinson (1975, p. 148) illustrates a similar doublet, with one set of short and one set of long pteruges. As he explains, the upper short set of pteruges would have had to be carefully cut if they were to follow the curving, lower abdominal dip of a muscle cuirass, and this might have been a later Roman development. The fourth-century Athenian representations have no pteruges at the armholes, which seems to suggest that the three short rows of pteruges were attached directly to the cuirass or, to be more exact, to its lining. In this case one might have thought that two rows would have been sufficient, one covering the gaps in the other. The lower two rows seem to conform to this pattern but the upper row is generally much shorter, and I would suggest that only this row was attached to the cuirass. The lower two rows are more likely to have been part of an arming tunic, to help cushion the weight of the cuirass, rather than having the cuirass itself padded. Evidence for this (apart from Xenophon and his spolas) comes from the Amphipolis inscription dating from the time of Philip V, c. 200. This has a list of fines for soldiers and officers who needed replacement equipment, which is further evidence for the supply of equipment by the state. Here, ordinary soldiers were issued with a kotthubos for body armour, while officers received a cuirass or ‘half-cuirass’ as well as a kotthubos, suggesting that the two could be worn together. This suggests that the kotthubos was some sort of leather armour like the spolas, over which a metal cuirass could be worn.

There is little pictorial evidence for the use of the muscle cuirass under Philip II and Alexander. One is being worn by a warrior on the Alexander Sarcophagus, but Sekunda (1984, p. 33 and plate H) has shown that he is an allied Greek, not a Macedonian. It is an interesting example, since it has no pteruges and no shoulder guards and so is somewhat old-fashioned. Maybe the sculptor was using an old prop. It seems likely, however, that some of Philip II and Alexander’s soldiers did wear the muscle cuirass, especially the Companion cavalry. The muscle cuirass persisted in art through the third and second centuries and it is clear that wealthier Greeks and Macedonians continued to wear it. The victory frieze at Pergamum, which is now generally dated to c. 170 and celebrates the victory of Eumenes and the Romans over Antiochus III at Magnesia in 190, illustrates captured Seleucid and Galatian armour, and the scenes include three muscle cuirasses. Two are similar to the Prodromi cuirass apart from the shoulders. Instead of being tied down to the chest, the shoulder flaps have a central hole which passes over a stud or loop on the chest through which a securing thong is tied (Jaeckel 1965, pp. 103–4). Both cuirasses have two rows of pteruges at the waist, but only one has shoulder flaps. These are bordered and tasselled, and seem to be made of leather covered with fabric. The third muscle cuirass is shown without pteruges, which may be further evidence for their having been attached to a separate jerkin at this time: or perhaps we are again dealing with an old-fashioned cuirass, since it has no shoulder flaps. A Macedonian officer on the Aemilius Paullus monument also wears a muscle cuirass (Kahler 1965, plate 12), and there are at least four shown on the Artemision at Magnesia. This dates from after 150, and is a little confusing in that all the soldiers, not just those in muscle cuirasses, seem to be wearing officers’ sashes around the waist. Although these soldiers are shown on foot, one at least is clearly wearing boots and may therefore be a cavalry officer (Yaylali 1976, p. 106 and fig. 26.1).

These muscle cuirasses all have clean, unadorned lines (apart from the Siris shoulder flaps), but later Roman muscle cuirasses are often highly embossed. Indeed, some of the relief work is so high that it seems to consist of separate pieces of bronze sculpture, soldered onto the body and shoulder flaps of the cuirass (Russell Robinson 1975, pp. 149–52). This work was probably still further enhanced by painting. The Siris bronzes and a cuirassed statue from Pergamum (Journal of Hellenic Studies, 1985, pp. 77–8) suggest that these elaborate embossings may have begun in the Hellenistic period, but most of our evidence is Roman.


The cuirass from the royal tomb at Vergina, which is almost certainly that of Philip II, merits a section on its own, because it is an iron cuirass but in the shape of a material shoulder-piece corslet. It has not been fully published yet, but has been well illustrated in several books (Andronikos 1977, pp. 26–7; Hatzopoulos and Loukopoulos 1980, p. 225, plate 127; Vokotopoulou 1995, pp. 156–7; Connolly 1998, p. 58). It is made of plates of iron, four forming the body, and two hinged, curved plates coming over the shoulders from the backplate, which itself curves outwards to allow space for the broadening upper back. The iron is 5mm thick, a good deal thicker than was usual for bronze cuirasses, and would have given a good deal of protection, perhaps even being catapult-proof (Plutarch, Life of Demetrius 21). The cuirass is decorated with gold bands around the borders of each piece, and a wide gold band around the body of the cuirass. Decorative gold panels are attached to each side, and there are six gold lion heads on the front of the cuirass. The middle pair and the top two, which are on the shoulder guards, hold gold rings in their mouths, through which straps fastened down the shoulder flaps. The pteruges no longer survive, but they were covered with gold strips which do, showing that there were originally fifty-six of them in two rows. Remains of cloth were found on the inside of the cuirass, which came from the padding or an arming jack, but more interesting was the fact that remains of material were found on the outside of the cuirass, adhering to the iron. It is clear that the outside of the iron was covered with decorative cloth, making it difficult to distinguish this cuirass from the linen and leather corslets also in use at this time.

This suddenly opens up the possibilities mentioned in the last chapter: that artistic depictions of shoulder-piece corslets may show iron or bronze cuirasses covered with cloth, rather than the material corslets most people accept them for. Sekunda advanced this thesis in Greek Hoplite (2000), but there really is no evidence in the form of other surviving metal plates. I think, given the evidence of the Philip II cuirass, that we must accept that such cuirasses may have existed in the Hellenistic period – unless the Philip II cuirass really is a ‘one-off’; but I don’t think we can backdate the idea to the fifth century.


Information regarding material corslets comes mainly from sculptures, in which cuirasses of a shoulder-piece variety are often shown being worn. These were always generally assumed to be linen, or more likely leather, just like those of the fifth century, but the cuirass of Philip II shows us that some examples may be metal.

For the end of the fourth century the main source is the Alexander Sarcophagus, which shows several infantry soldiers and one cavalryman. The flexible positions of the infantry show that the shoulder-piece corslets they are wearing are surely leather. These corslets have two sets of pteruges, one perhaps attached to the corslet, the other a separate skirt, and were originally coloured purple and gold – although to what extent these reflect actual uniforms is uncertain (Sekunda 1984, plates E, F, G). In contrast, the cuirass of the cavalryman is plain white so may be linen, but could also be a material-covered metal cuirass (Schefold 1968, plate 51). Before the Battle of Chaeronea Philip II equipped both infantry and cavalry with cuirasses, but of what sort is unknown. The cavalry were the main strike force of the army and were more likely to be issued with metal cuirasses, especially as they would be less of an encumbrance for horsemen. When Alexander the Great and his army reached India, the phalanx corslets had worn out and 25,000 new sets were issued. The old corslets were burned (Sekunda 1984, p. 27). All these facts – that the corslets had worn out, that Alexander could get hold of 25,000 replacement sets almost immediately, and that the old sets were burnt – strongly suggest that the original infantry corslets were leather ones.

Further evidence for the use of material-and-metal corslets and metal cuirasses comes from an inscription from Amphipolis dating from the period of Philip V at the end of the third century (Feyel 1935, passim). This inscription concerns military regulations for the Macedonian garrison at Amphipolis and includes a list of fines for lost equipment. Soldiers were fined three obols for the loss of a sarissa or sword, one drachma for the loss of a shield, and two obols for the loss of greaves, a helmet or a kotthubos. Officers were fined double the amount for these items, either because they were supposed to be more careful or because their equipment was of better quality. Also, officers were fined one drachma for a half-cuirass and two drachmas for a cuirass.

This leads one to the assumption that only officers wore cuirasses; but what then are ordinary soldiers wearing when they are pictured in shoulder-piece corslets on various monuments? We must assume that it is the kotthubos. This word was interpreted by Feyel as being a set of pteruges, and it is true that the officers had them in addition to the cuirass (or half-cuirass), but the word equates with kossimbos, a shepherd’s leather coat, and could have meant a leather shoulder-piece corslet and pteruges. This could still have been worn by officers, as well as the cuirass, since it would have acted as an arming jack, and it equates much better with the sculptural representations that we have.

The cuirass mentioned in the Amphipolis inscription is generally assumed to be the muscle cuirass, with the half-cuirass being perhaps a breastplate only, which is certainly feasible. The number of officers to be so equipped is unclear but, if we count officers as file leaders and above, then we are looking at about 1,000 cuirasses and half-cuirasses for a phalanx of 16,000 such as Philip V had at the Battle of Cynoscephelae. I still think 1,000 is too great a number of muscle cuirasses to be state supplied and that we must be looking at a simpler type of cuirass. The alternative, of course, is provided by the cuirass of Philip II. A cuirass like that, made up of simple plates covered with material, could be supplied by the state in quantity. The designations of cuirass and half-cuirass may refer to the amount of each cuirass reinforced with metal. The cuirass worn by Alexander on the Alexander mosaic appears to show an iron plate on the upper part of the body, with the lower part protected by scales. Varieties such as these could easily have been known as half-cuirasses. The Artemision at Magnesia shows men in what are clearly material cuirasses, and some officers in muscle cuirasses; but it also shows some officers (with officer’s sashes) who wear shoulder-piece cuirasses, which are clearly made of metal. They have large armholes and the figures are shown in stiffer positions. Similarly, several of the shoulder-piece corslets on the Pergamum friezes could be metal-plated cuirasses. These are all depicted with officer’s sashes attached. Such adjustable corslets remind us of the fifth-century composite corslets, with their mixture of material and metal defences. Removing all the detailed work of the muscle cuirass meant that simple metal cuirasses, covered with material, could be afforded by many more soldiers – although I am personally tempted to connect such a corslet to the ‘half-cuirass’ of the Amphipolis inscription, and see its use restricted to cavalry and officers. I am sure that phalanx troops, and perhaps the hypaspists, only wore the leather shoulder-piece corslet for body armour.


The popularity of greaves continued to decline under Philip II and Alexander, when the introduction of state-supplied equipment seems to have taken its toll on this optional item. The tomb of Philip II contained three pairs of bronze greaves, and a further pair of gilded bronze greaves was placed in the antechamber; but the Athenian funerary stelai of the same period, which show muscle cuirasses, show no greaves. Two of the soldiers on the Alexander Sarcophagus are wearing greaves and both originally had feathers in their helmets, indicating that they were officers. Sekunda (1984, pp. 38–9) suggests that the soldier in bronze greaves is a half-file leader, whereas the other, who wears silvered greaves (possibly iron), is of a higher rank. These greaves, like those from Philip II’s tomb, show little anatomical detailing and are purely functional. Those on the Alexander Sarcophagus have a red lining and a red strap going right around the greave just below the knee, to help secure the greave to the leg. This evidence seems to suggest that only officers wore greaves; but the Amphipolis inscription of the late third century mentions fines for soldiers for lost greaves, showing that the phalanx of Philip V was equipped with greaves, though not necessarily in its entirety. A collection of lead tokens from Athens, which seem to be concerned with the state supply of equipment, suggest that Athens also supplied greaves to her heavy infantry (Kroll 1977, passim). The soldiers shown on the tomb of Antiochus II (third century) are not wearing greaves, and neither are the soldiers on the Artemision at Magnesia. Some 15 per cent of the soldiers on this latter monument are wearing high boots, but it is likely that they are dismounted cavalry. The frieze at Pergamum dating from the early second century shows just one pair of greaves which have two straps, one below the knee and one near the ankle (Jaeckel 1965, fig. 40). With the possible exception of the Macedonian phalanx of Philip V (and the new Achaean, sarissa-armed phalanx of c. 200), the evidence does seem to show that greaves were restricted to officers throughout the Hellenistic period. Since armour was then provided by the state, greaves were seen perhaps as too expensive a luxury for everyone to have. There is no certain evidence for greaves ever having been worn by the cavalry, who wore the high boot as recommended by Xenophon.


Nearly all the light infantry who fought for the Hellenistic kingdoms were mercenaries, although under Alexander some may have been allied contingents, like his Cretan archers. At Raphia 5,000 Greeks fought for Antiochus III and they were probably peltasts, since they fought with the other light troops. After the Celtic invasion of Greece and the subsequent removal of some Celts (the Galatians) to Asia Minor in the 270s, Greek light troops seem to have stopped using the pelta, and adopted instead the large, oval Celtic shield with a central spine. This shield was called in Greek the thureos, and so the soldiers are often called thureophoroi. Mercenary Greeks armed with this shield, and javelins or spears, also fought at Magnesia in 190. Some parts of Greece, especially in the North Peloponnese, had never adopted hoplite warfare because of the terrain; they always fought as peltasts and, later, as thureophoroi. Plutarch tells us that the Achaeans fought like this until shortly before 200, when they decided to adopt the sarissa, helmets, greaves, the Macedonian shield and Macedonian tactics (Plutarch, Philopoemen 9.1–5).

We are fortunate to have a surviving thureos from late second-century Egypt. Although both Connolly (1998, p. 131) and Sekunda (2001, pp. 81–2) suggest that this shield is Roman, and the excavator thought it was Celtic (belonging to a Celtic mercenary), there really is no problem, since both Roman shield and thureos were derived from the Celtic long shield. The Egyptian example cannot be Roman, as Romans did not reach Egypt for another 100 years. Sekunda’s explanation is that late Ptolemaic (and Seleucid) armies adopted Roman equipment. This will be discussed later. The thureos from Egypt is about halfway between a rectangle and an oval, and is 128cm high and 63.5cm wide with a slight concavity. It is made up of three layers of wooden laths each 2–3mm thick, constructed in a form similar to plywood for extra strength. It has a central handgrip, protected by a boss with a long vertical spine, and the outside was originally covered with felt. It would have given much greater protection to light troops than the smaller pelta did, especially now that missile weapons were far more common on the battlefield. There is little evidence about whether these thureophoroi wore helmets or not. It is probably a case of yes, if they bought them themselves or picked them up after a battle. They were probably not issued with them. They certainly seem to have worn no other body armour.

Northern Greece also provided javelineers and slingers called Agrianians (Polybius V, 79, 6). These men may have continued to use the small pelta shield, and there is an example from Olympia of a small ‘Macedonian’ shield, only 33.8cm in diameter, which could have been used by such troops (Liampi 1998, p. 51, plate 1.1). At the Battle of Raphia in 217 Antiochus III had 5,000 light troops, 2,000 Agrianian and Persian archers and slingers, and 2,000 Thracians. Thracians armed with the rhomphaia, a large, single-edged cutting weapon (Webber 2001, p. 39), were used by Perseus at the Battle of Pydna in 168 (Plutarch, Aemilius Paullus XVIII, 3) and a novel weapon, also used in this war by Perseus, was the cestrus. This was rather like a catapult bolt, or large arrow, but was fired from a special type of sling (Polybius XXVII, 1; Livy XLII, 65, 9).

As mentioned above, Agrianian archers featured at the Battle of Raphia in 217, but most archers continued to be supplied by Crete. Both Cretans and Neo-Cretans fought at Raphia. Neo-Cretans were probably ‘newly armed’ Cretans, rather than ‘newly recruited’ or ‘newly arrived’ (Griffith 1935, p. 144), and so it may have been at this time, rather than under Alexander, that Cretan archers were armed with a small shield and sword for close combat (Sekunda 1984, pp. 35–6). Antiochus III also had 2,500 Mysian archers at Raphia, and in general the Seleucids had much greater access to native missile and other light troops from their cosmopolitan empire.


Cavalry played a much more important part in Greek warfare in the fourth century and later. Philip II and Alexander the Great used large squadrons of heavy cavalry to break the enemy line while the phalanx held them up. In the later Hellenistic kingdoms the infantry had more of a role in both Macedonia and Ptolemaic Egypt. This was because Macedonia had not the funds any more to equip a large force, whereas Egypt did not have the breeding grounds. Only in the Seleucid Empire, and later the empire of Pergamum, did cavalry form a high percentage of the army as a whole.

Nearly all this cavalry fought with the spear, but there was a unit of cavalry under Alexander called sarissophoroi, who obviously used the sarissa as an offensive weapon. This cannot possibly have been the infantry sarissa of 18ft in length, because that would have required two hands to wield it, which was not an option in a period before decent saddles had been devised. Connolly (2000, pp. 107–9) has reconstructed a cavalry sarissa 16ft long, weighing just over 3.5kg, which in trials was successfully used both underarm and overarm with one hand. There are no later mentions of sarissophoroi, and it is likely that all later Hellenistic cavalry used the xyston, a spear about 9ft long. As a sidearm, the cavalryman used the single-edged, recurved sword, the machaira or kopis. This was recommended by Xenophon for cavalry use, and several surviving examples – generally the longer ones – have horse-head handles implying cavalry use. Cleitus cut off the arm of Spithridates the Persian at the Battle of the Granicus with his machaira, during a cavalry engagement (Arrian 1.15.8), and all the wounds received by Alexander in cavalry fights were caused by swords. It seems likely that the cavalry spear often broke following the initial charge, and so the sword was certainly a vital second weapon to have.


Cavalry played a much more important part in Greek warfare after 400. We have already noted the amount of armour recommended by Xenophon for cavalry use, and heavily armoured cavalry became the new force in warfare, in addition to the light cavalry that was still used. Philip II of Macedon had a force of 3,000 Macedonian and allied Thessalian cavalry when he conquered the rest of Greece, and Alexander took 5,100 horse to conquer Persia. The early battles of the Successors in the late fourth century feature anything from 6,000 to 11,000 cavalry per side. While 5,000–6,000 is the norm through most of the third century (at least where we have any information about numbers), Antiochus III was able to raise a large force of over 12,000 for the Battle of Magnesia in 190. Much of this was due to the consolidating campaigns Antiochus had carried out in the east of his empire. These enabled him to field 1,200 Dahae mounted archers and other native troops, as well as to afford Galatian mercenaries and call in other allies. While light cavalry was used for scouting and skirmishing, the armoured cavalry was used for attack, especially on the flank of the opposing phalanx. The men of this heavy cavalry wore helmets and cuirasses, and used the spear.

It is almost certain that the cavalrymen of Alexander did not carry shields, despite occasional references to them by later authors who are confusing them with later Hellenistic cavalry (Plutarch, Alexander of Macedon XVI, 4). Cavalry shields are not shown on the Alexander mosaic or on the Alexander Sarcophagus, as the rider needed his left hand to hold the reins and also to help him to stay on the horse – not easy with a primitive saddle and no stirrups. Cavalry shields first appeared with the arrival of the Celts in Greece and Asia Minor in 275. Celtic horsemen carried their round shields with a central handgrip, and must have controlled their horses entirely by leg movements. They could have taught Greek cavalrymen to do the same, and they probably also introduced the much more effective Celtic saddle, which had pommels at the four corners to help keep the rider on his mount (Connolly 1998, p. 236). Greek cavalry then adopted the round Celtic shield, but seem to have added a Greek grip with a central armband and a handle at the rim, and made the shield slightly concave rather than flat (Jaeckel 1965, figs 44–7). One example on the Pergamum frieze has the barleycorn boss, like the thureos from Egypt; this may have been a Celtic (Galatian) shield, since this monument shows arms of Antiochus III’s Galatian allies as well as Greek equipment. A Macedonian cavalryman on the Aemilius Paullus monument also has this type of shield boss, however, and so it is clear that the Greeks used Celtic shields, as well as those of their own design (Coussin 1932, plate 40; Liampi 1998, fig. 11.3).

Macedonian cavalry-shield designs were similar to the infantry, consisting of geometric circle and half-circle patterns (Head 1982, p. 113). These feature on both the Pergamum frieze and the Aemilius Paullus monument, and appear to be about 70 to 75cm in diameter (Liampi 1998, pp. 53–6 and fig. 11.1).

The various helmets available to the cavalry have been mentioned in the infantry section. No helmets seem to have been specific for one branch or the other, but the monuments we have been discussing seem to suggest that Hellenistic cavalry preferred open-faced helmets like the Boeotian and Cone helmets. Similarly, all the body-armour types have been mentioned in the section dealing with infantry. The information put forward there, and the use to which heavy cavalry was put, strongly suggest that they were armoured with metal breastplates. Cavalrymen were generally drawn from the wealthier aristocracy (men who could ride!) and so were able to provide themselves with equipment to supplement any provided by the state. It is significant that the latest muscle cuirasses from south Italy, and the example from Prodromi, are all made so that the wearer could ride a horse – either by being made with a wide flange at the bottom or by being short and ending at the waist (Connolly 1998, p. 56).

Apart from the muscle cuirass, shoulder-piece corslets made of metal – like that from the tomb of Philip II – also seem to have been worn, most notably by Alexander on the Alexander mosaic. However, it is also true that some of Alexander’s cavalry made do with linen corslets, as he did himself at the Battle of Gaugamela, although this was a Persian corslet and was perhaps worn for that reason. As noted above, greaves seem never to have been worn by cavalry. They would have interfered too much with the horseman’s grip, especially once the shield had been adopted. Other pieces of body armour seem to have been used only by cataphract cavalry and perhaps chariot drivers, and will be discussed below; the only notable exception is a throat guard that Alexander also wore at Gaugamela.

The Hellenistic Period – Weapons 400–150 BC III


Light cavalry of the Hellenistic period were generally mercenaries, called Tarentines. Although originally from Taras in south Italy, the name came to mean just a type of light cavalry armed with javelins and a small shield (Head 1982, pp. 115–16). The small shield of Macedonian style from Olympia, mentioned in connection with Cretan archers, could equally have been used by a Tarentine cavalryman. It is a moot point as to whether they wore helmets. We might presume that those who could buy their own helmet would have done so, but that they were not essential. Apart from battles, these soldiers were used chiefly for scouting by all the Hellenistic kingdoms and many Greek states.

A final type of cavalryman, who appears to have been used only by the Seleucid and Bactrian kingdoms, is the cataphract. This was a very heavily armoured cavalryman, who was covered from head to foot with armour, and who rode a horse that was also armoured. They were probably developed by the Parthians, and adopted by the Seleucids and Bactrians, the Greek kingdoms to their west and east in the later third century. Antiochus III had none at the Battle of Raphia in 217, but he did have 6,000 at the Battle of Magnesia in 190. He probably first recruited them following his travels through the eastern provinces in the late third century. There are no clear illustrations of cataphracts from this period, but there are illustrations of their armour on the Pergamum friezes, and an important find of actual armour has been made in Afghanistan (Bernard et al. 1980, passim).

The cuirass for the cataphract could have been of any of the metal types we have already looked at, no doubt fitted with pteruges, but the example from Ai Khanum in Afghanistan, which dates to the second century, is most unusual in that it is made of iron scales. The surviving shoulder piece is made of iron lamellar strips and came down onto the chest with a stud attachment, just like earlier shoulder-piece corslets and the Prodromi cuirass, to be secured with a thong. Various pieces of leather, linen and felt seem to have formed a separate arming jack, and were not directly attached to the cuirass as has been surmised for other metal cuirasses (Bernard et al. 1980, p. 61).

As for helmets, it seems that cataphracts wore a masked helmet which completely encased the head. An example is shown on the Pergamum frieze, and a possible Hellenistic example is in Belgrade’s Archaeological Museum (Russell Robinson 1975, pp. 107, 112). Such helmets were also apparently worn by chariot drivers (Sekunda 1994b, plates 4–5). Whoever wore them, they must have restricted vision dreadfully.

For arm and leg protection, tubular laminated guards were worn. These arm guards are depicted on the Pergamum friezes, and the Ai Khanum find has produced a leg guard made of iron. This guard was for a left leg, with the strips of iron overlapping upwards for greater flexibility like later Roman guards (Russell Robinson 1975, plates 502–4). The topmost part of the thigh was protected by a semi-circular plate, and there was a further plate covering the foot. Earlier arm and leg guards could well have been made of bronze. A small statuette from Syria also exists, which seems to show both arm and leg guards of this style (Sekunda 1994b, figs 32–3).

The Pergamum reliefs also show horse armour in the form of a chamfron (face guard) and plastron (chest guard) and these too are likely to have been for cataphracts, or perhaps for scythed chariots (Sekunda 1994b, fig. 54, plates 4–5). A further piece of armour from Ai Khanum, made up of very thin iron lamellae in a rough square shape, appears to be a horse plastron, although the excavator thought it might be a parameridion or thigh guard (Bernard et al. 1980, p. 61). Given the fact that the rider’s legs were already protected by the tubular leg guards and possibly pteruges, I think a plastron is more likely. It is highly unlikely that cataphracts used a shield as well as all this armour, and most probably they were armed with a spear for frontal assault. The Battle of Magnesia saw the cavalry and cataphracts of Antiochus III’s right wing break through the Roman line and pursue the fugitives to the camp. They were unable to return in time to salvage the collapse of the infantry phalanx, and one reason must surely have been that the cataphract horses would have been exhausted after one charge. The weight of armour, especially if much of it was in iron (not necessarily the case until well after Magnesia), would have protected rider and horse from missiles, and made them a formidable strike force, but must also have exhausted the cataphracts very quickly. The timing of their charge needed to be exact, as they probably could not have been manoeuvred again for any further action.


The chariot had gone out of use among the Greeks when horses had been bred that were big enough and strong enough to be ridden as cavalry. The same had happened in Persia, where chariots no doubt continued in use for ceremonial purposes; but, sometime before 400, the chariot made a comeback as a weapon of war. This new chariot was very different from those of former times. It was a four-horse chariot, whose horses and drivers were heavily armoured. The chariot itself was covered with scythes, and was designed to smash through enemy formations. Scythes projected in front of the chariot from the yoke poles, and also sideways from the yoke, one pointing horizontally, the other downwards. Two more scythes were attached to the axle, again horizontally, and pointing downwards. This latter probably revolved with the wheel to catch both ‘duckers’ and ‘jumpers’ (Livy XXXVII, 41). Persian chariots mentioned by Xenophon in his Anabasis had scythes projecting from under the box of the chariot, but these are not mentioned by Livy describing the Seleucid version and may have been dropped by then. It seems likely that they would have often got caught in the ground if the surface was at all uneven, and that may have been the main reason why Darius III had to level the ground for his chariots before the Battle of Gaugamela. It seems that the horses and drivers of these chariots were armed in much the same way as cataphracts.

Scythed chariots have usually been dismissed as a gimmick that did not work. Livy (XXXVII, 41) describes them at the Battle of Magnesia as ‘farcical’, but they remained in use by Persian and Seleucid armies for over 200 years. Their first known appearance at Cunaxa in 400 failed against disciplined Greek hoplites, who moved aside to let them pass, but in 395 at Dascyleum they scored a victory against hoplites who were panicked by the sight of them. Alexander the Great managed to break up the Persian chariot attack at Gaugamela with light troops, and this became the standard defence. Molon, a Seleucid rebel, used them against Antiochus III in 220, but Antiochus himself never used them against other Greek armies because he thought they could be easily countered. Against Rome at the Battle of Magnesia he thought the element of surprise would count in his favour, but Eumenes, King of Pergamum, was on the Roman side and told them how to deal with the chariots. They were again broken up using light troops. At the Daphne parade in 166, Antiochus IV had 100 six-horse scythed chariots and only 40 four-horse versions, so it is possible he was trying to make them more effective by increasing their size. It is difficult to be sure because this was a parade and not a battle (Sekunda 1994b, p. 26). Chariots continued to be used by the Seleucids until after 150, but are unlikely to have lasted into the first century BC, when the Seleucid Empire had been reduced to a Syrian rump. There is no evidence for scythe-chariot use by other Greek states. Livy (XXXVII, 41) states that Eumenes of Pergamum knew about how they worked in war, but does not suggest that he actually had any himself. There is a slight possibility that they were used by the Bactrian kingdoms in the east, but the terrain there is not really suitable for chariotry.


Elephants were used by the Indian army of Porus, which fought Alexander the Great in 326. Although Alexander was victorious, the elephants had caused heavy casualties among his men. It was rumours of larger elephant armies in India that caused the army’s revolt soon after. Alexander saw the advantages of the elephant, and began to recruit an elephant corps into the Macedonian army. Originally the elephant itself was the weapon, and it was made as imposing as possible. The elephants of Eumenes and Antiochus III had purple trappings, and Antiochus decorated his elephants with gold and silver and awarded them medals for bravery (Scullard 1974, pp. 238–9). If elephants were wounded they had an unfortunate tendency to run amok so, as well as the driver, a soldier or two was mounted astride the elephant’s back, armed with missiles to help protect it.

Later on, elephants were issued with armour, consisting of head pieces like horse chamfrons and leg armour similar to that worn by cataphract troops, although perhaps leather rather than metallic (Sekunda 1994b, plate 7). Livy (XXXVII, 40, 4) mentions headpieces with crests on them. Scale body armour for elephants was also used and features on a damaged statuette of uncertain provenance (Sekunda 1994b, figs 52–3). For offensive purposes the elephants’ tusks could be sheathed in iron (Arrian, Punica IX, 581–3).

As well as breaking up elephant charges with light troops and missile weapons, elephants could be disrupted by weapons placed in front of them. The elephants of Polyperchon (regent in Macedonia after the death of Antipater in 319) were once disrupted with planks lying on the ground, with nails pushed through them from underneath (Scullard 1974, p. 248). Ptolemy improved on this at the Battle of Gaza in 312 by attaching a series of caltrops (sets of spikes) to chains. These could then be quickly moved to where an elephant attack might come.

The best tactic was to make sure you had more and bigger elephants than the enemy. At Magnesia in 190 the Romans had sixteen elephants, but did not bother to use them as Antiochus III had fifty-four. Ptolemy’s elephants at Raphia in 217 were defeated because he had only 75 to Antiochus’s 102, although Ptolemy won the battle in the end. Ptolemy’s elephants were also defeated because they were African bush elephants, which are much smaller than the Indian elephants used by Antiochus. (Connolly 1998, p. 75). After Raphia, Ptolemy captured some Indian elephants, which he used in his army, and in 145 Demetrius II of Syria captured some African elephants from Egypt, which he also used in his army. Generally, however, early Hellenistic kingdoms – including Pyrrhus of Epirus – used the Indian elephant; only the Ptolemies of Egypt, cut off from supply by the Seleucid Empire, were forced to rely on smaller African elephants.

The idea of defensive troops sitting on elephants’ backs was enhanced in the early third century by placing small wooden towers on the animals’ backs. These enabled more men to be carried, and gave those men greater protection. As well as elephant defence, these men now became part of the offensive capability of the elephant. The mahout, or elephant driver, still had to sit outside the tower, astride the elephant’s neck. The earliest representations of towers are both from about 275. A plate from south Italy shows an Indian elephant with a tower containing two soldiers and may represent one of Pyrrhus’s elephants (Connolly 1998, p. 75, fig. 2). A statue of similar date shows an elephant attacking a Celt, and has been dated to the ‘elephant victory’ of the Seleucids against invading Celts in 273. The towers may well have been first used by Pyrrhus at the Battle of Heraclea in 280, but were soon adopted by other Hellenistic kingdoms (Scullard 1974, p. 104).

There are two basic types of tower: the original large tower for the Indian elephant, and a smaller type devised by Ptolemy IV for his African elephants. The Indian-elephant tower, as used by Antiochus III at Raphia in 217 and Magnesia in 190, is as wide as it is high and has three merlons per side in the crenellations. The early plate, sculpture, and an elephant medallion in the Hermitage all show this (Connolly 1998, p. 75, fig. 3). The African-elephant tower has a much smaller base to enable it to sit on the smaller elephant, but is twice as high as it is wide, to make up for the lesser height of the elephant, and it has only two merlons per side (Connolly 1998, p. 75, fig. 1). Livy (XXXVII, 40, 4) states that the elephants at Magnesia had four men in each tower and this is supported by the ‘elephant victory’ statuette, which has two shields attached to each side of the tower. Four armed men in a wooden tower is certainly possible, but was probably the maximum allowed. The statuette of the African elephant shown by Connolly has only one shield each side and suggests a crew of only two.

Ptolemy’s elephant crew at Raphia were armed with sarissas to poke at the opposition, but Antiochus III’s elephant crew probably had two sarissa men and two archers or javelineers. Large amounts of missile weapons could certainly be stored in the tower (Scullard 1974, p. 240). Fear was the elephants’ strongest weapon, but they did have other uses. Perdiccas used his elephants to assault the Camel fort of Ptolemy where they tore up palisades and threw down parapets (Diodorus, XVIII, 34, 2), but they were ineffective against stonework. Horses could not stand the sight or smell of elephants unless they were specially trained. After Demetrius the Besieger had been victorious with his cavalry on the right wing at the Battle of Ipsus in 301, he found himself cut off by Seleucus’s screen of elephants and unable to return to the battle (Diodorus XX, 113–XXI, 2). At the Battle of Magnesia, Antiochus had his horses trained to work with elephants, and each cavalry wing was supported by sixteen of them. To try and prevent light troops from getting close to an elephant and hamstringing it, each elephant was provided with a guard of forty to fifty men, usually archers or slingers (Polybius XVI, 18, 7). Also at Magnesia pairs of elephants and their guards were stationed in between blocks of the pike phalanx, to try and add some flexibility to this formation and to protect the flanks.

After Magnesia, Antiochus III was required to have all his elephants destroyed, but at the Daphne parade in 166 Antiochus IV still had thirty-six elephants equipped for war, as well as a four-elephant chariot and a two-elephant chariot – these last two items surely for parade purposes only (Sekunda 1994a, p. 27). Whether the Romans had not got around to making sure the elephants were destroyed, or whether Antiochus IV had been able to obtain more from Demetrius of Bactria, is uncertain. In 162 Gnaeus Octavius was sent out by Rome and he did destroy the elephants, although it cost him his life at the hands of an outraged elephant lover (Green 1990, p. 437). Further elephants do continue to appear in the sources, although some sources are unreliable. It seems unlikely that either the Seleucid or Ptolemaic Empires used them after c. 140. By then Parthia had blocked off supplies from India, and the African bush elephant was on its way to extinction. Pyrrhus of Epirus had famously used elephants against the Romans in the 270s, but there is no evidence for Epirote use after this time, and none for their use by Macedonia, Pergamum or any of the southern Greek states. It is almost certain that the Greek states of Bactria and India used them throughout their period of existence (down to perhaps AD 10), but their coins show only elephants, elephant heads and elephant scalps on helmets. They do not show elephants with towers or soldiers, which would prove the case.

As has been said earlier, surprise and the fear they caused were the greatest weapons of the elephant. These were the main factors in the elephant victories of the early third century. But when soldiers knew how to deal with them, they were easily managed and became an expensive liability. Once enraged or wounded, they were just as likely to inflict heavy casualties upon their own side as on the enemy. Neither the Romans nor indeed the Parthians ever really bothered with them.


Nearly all of our evidence for Hellenistic artillery – that is, bolt-throwers and stone-throwers – is literary. We have surviving Hellenistic manuals and descriptions in Arrian, Polybius, Livy, etc., of the equipment in action at the various sieges. Parts of some catapults have been found, mostly dating to the Roman period, and these also help with reconstructions. The main archaeological finds are the projectiles. At Rhodes and in other places, round boulders of specific weights, fired from catapults, have been found, and catapult bolts inscribed with Philip II’s name are also known (Connolly 1998, pp. 282–3).

According to Diodorus, the catapult was invented in 399 for Dionysius I of Syracuse (Campbell 2003, p. 3). Unfortunately, we don’t know quite what this machine was. The forerunner of the earliest catapult was the gastraphetes or ‘belly-bow’ devised by Ctesibius, probably towards the end of the fifth century. This was a large, composite bow mounted sideways on a stock, rather like a large crossbow. The arrow or bolt rested on a slider, which moved up and down the stock. The slider was pushed forward until a catch on it was fastened onto the bow string. The end of the slider was then rested on the ground, and the operator pushed with his stomach into the crescent-shaped end of the stock, using his weight to force the slider back, thus drawing the bow. An arrow could then be fitted and the catch released to fire it. It was a very slow and cumbersome effort.

The machines probably presented to Dionysius were similar but mounted in a base, with the slider being drawn back by a winch system. Biton describes four of these machines in his treatise, the first two designed by Zopyrus. The first, still called a gastraphetes, had a 9ft-long bow, and fired two 6ft bolts simultaneously. The second was a smaller version for easy transport to sieges and was called the mountain gastraphetes. The third machine was a stone-thrower, designed by Charon of Magnesia, which could fire a 5lb stone. The last, by Isidorus of Thessalonika, could fire a 40lb stone, using a 15ft bow. These stone-throwers had a sling fitted with a pouch, instead of the normal bowstring. All four machines were mounted on the base by a universal joint, which allowed the machine to be traversed, depressed and elevated with relative ease by one man.

These bow catapults, or ballistas, developed during the first half of the fourth century into the torsion catapult. In this design the bow was replaced by two wooden frames on either side of the stock, each containing twisted bundles of hair or sinew. A wooden arm was inserted into each bundle, and these formed the arms of the bow. After a few shots the elasticity of the bundles slackened, and iron levers were inserted top and bottom in order to retighten them (Marsden 1969, p. 81). It seems that machines of this type, capable of throwing stones, were not developed until the time of Alexander the Great. The last development seems to have been the use of curved arms for extra springiness. The first evidence for this is on the Pergamum frieze, so an introduction date of c. 200 seems likely. The earlier bow catapults continued to be used down until about 240.

The range of bolt-throwing catapults was about 500 yards, with the bolts being 2–5ft long, but they were really accurate only up to about 100 yards. Stone-throwers had a range of about 300 yards – perhaps only 200 yards for the largest – and came in a variety of sizes. The most popular engines seem to have been ten minas (4.4kg), thirty minas (13.1kg) and one talent (26.2kg) machines, these weights being the weight of the projectiles. Stones larger than that have occasionally been found, but they were probably for lifting and dropping by cranes, as Archimedes did at Syracuse in 212 (Polybius VIII, 5). Further developments, mentioned in the treatises we have, never seem to have got off the drawing board. Ctesibius mentioned a catapult with bronze springs, which did not slacken like the sinew or hair in the torsion catapults, but they seem to have proved to be too expensive to manufacture. He also designed a catapult operated by compressed-air-powered springs. This was fine on the drawing board, but could not be accurately manufactured with the techniques available at the time. The final invention in this field was a repeating catapult designed by Demetrius of Alexandria, but this machine was a failure because it was too accurate; all the bolts hit the same target and did not disperse. Its range was also somewhat limited.

Although these machines were designed principally for attack and defence during sieges, they were occasionally deployed on the battlefield. At Mantinea in 207 Machanidas the Spartan stationed catapults, probably bolt-shooters, all along his line in an experiment to counter greater Achaean numbers. Philopoemen and the Achaeans charged the catapults as soon as they saw them and, since they were difficult to move, they were almost immediately destroyed or overrun and played no further part in the battle. In 198 and 191 Philip V and Antiochus III, respectively, used catapults in defensive positions against the Romans at the Aous Gorge and at Thermopylae. In both cases, the Romans found it hard to approach these defences from the front, but they were easily outflanked and captured. These would have been expensive losses, since the price for these machines appears to have been about 500–2,500 drachmas each (Philon 62, 15). For the most part the machines were installed in fortifications for defensive purposes, and could also be used in attack against such fortifications. The best-known Greek attack was that by Demetrius the Besieger against Rhodes in 305–4, at which he used a huge tower filled with catapults and ballistas of all sizes (Connolly 1998, pp. 281–5). The best-known defence was that of Archimedes at Syracuse in 213. Apart from a vast array of bolt-throwers and stone-throwers, Archimedes also had cranes which dropped huge boulders on the attacking Romans, and giant grappling hooks which pulled Roman ships out of the water and then dropped them (Connolly 1998, p. 294).


The Hellenistic warfare we have been describing in this chapter, principally the pike phalanx and the heavy cavalry, was an effective form of warfare that lasted successfully until 168. In that year, the Romans annihilated the army of Perseus, King of Macedon, at the Battle of Pydna. The legionary army proved itself more effective on the day, and this has led Sekunda (1994b, 1995, 2001) to suggest that the remaining Ptolemaic and Seleucid kingdoms in Egypt and Syria remodelled their armies on Roman lines. The evidence for this is actually slim.

A stele from Hermopolis describes new ranks and names for formations, which Sekunda (2001, p. 21) argues is the adoption of the Roman maniple or double century, but the top and bottom of the stele are broken and we do not know what sort of soldiers these are. The semeia which is mentioned could simply be a new word adopted for the syntagma or speira, words previously used to describe a phalanx block of 256 men. The later tacticians like Asclepiodotus and Aeneas use the word semeia, but they are still describing a Hellenistic pike phalanx. The use of the word semeia does suggest, however, the use of standards, so it may be that military standards were introduced into the Ptolemaic army at this time.

Further evidence for this ‘reform’ is provided by the Kasr-el-Harit shield and various stelai from Sidon. The Egyptian shield has already been mentioned by me as a descendant of the Greek thureos, and the soldiers depicted on the stelai are also mercenary thureophoroi, who have no relation to the regular Hellenistic phalanx (Sekunda 2001, pp. 65, 80).

The evidence for the Seleucid Kingdom is almost entirely contained in a sentence of Polybius (XXX, 25, 3), where he is describing the Daphne parade of 166. Here he says that there were 5,000 men equipped in the Roman manner with chain mail. These marched separately from the 20,000 men of the phalanx, and were clearly a different unit. Some commentators have suggested these men were just a bit of a gimmick, like the elephant chariots that also featured in the parade, but Sekunda is surely right when he states that they were a genuine military component. They were not armed as Roman legionaries, however. Apart from the chain mail, there was nothing to suggest that these men used the Roman pilum or shield, or fought in maniples. A unit of 5,000 men could easily be part of the phalanx, but the fact that they were placed at the front of the parade with other obviously mercenary troops – Mysians, Thracians and Galatians – suggests that these men were mercenary thureophoroi, armed with the thureos shield and spears.

A final pointer which seems to confirm that the Seleucid and Ptolemaic kingdoms did not reform along Roman lines was that the Macedonian-style pike phalanx continued to be used, both in the later campaigns by the Seleucids against the Jews and in Mithridates of Pontus’s campaigns against Rome. Mithridates did arm half his army in Roman fashion, but he also seems to have been the last man to employ the Hellenistic pike phalanx.


Further mention should be made of chain mail as a form of body armour, as it was clearly used by some soldiers in the Seleucid Kingdom. Apart from the Daphne parade mentioned above, some or all of the Seleucid phalanx was armoured with chain mail at the Battle of Beth-Zacharia in 162 (Maccabees I, 6.35). Appian (Syrian Wars 30–6) also suggests that cataphracts may have worn chain mail at Magnesia in 190, but he seems to confuse Celtic cavalry with cataphracts, so this idea is perhaps best ignored.) One of the stelai from Sidon mentioned above also has a soldier in chain mail, which may indicate use by the Ptolemaic Kingdom as well (Sekunda 2001, front cover, p. 69).

Chain mail was a Celtic invention of about 300, consisting of rows of interlocking iron rings, each ring passing through two above it and two below it to give a strong but flexible defence. Rows of punched rings usually alternated with rows of butted or riveted rings (Connolly 1998, p. 124), the latter being stronger. Each ring is usually 8–9mm in diameter. The shape of the later mail cuirasses adopted by both Romans and, presumably, Greeks was similar to the shoulder-piece corslet, with two shoulder flaps coming over the shoulders and being fastened down onto the chest. Chain mail corslets appear on the Pergamum frieze, where they probably represent armour captured from the Galatians. The date of c. 170 for this monument shows that this would have been the type of cuirass adopted by the Seleucids in the 160s. Wealthier Roman soldiers wore this form of cuirass, and it seems likely that all legionaries were issued with chain mail in c. 123, after Rome had inherited the wealth of the new province of Asia. It would have been very expensive for Antiochus IV to equip 5,000 soldiers in chain mail for the Daphne parade, which is one reason why Polybius remarks upon it.

Chain mail is an excellent defence, combining the flexibility of leather with the resilience of iron plate, and it lasted as a defence until the Middle Ages. It was even revived as a defensive material for tank crew in the First World War. It would have been quite heavy to wear a knee-length corslet of mail, but the defensive capabilities were excellent. Pointed weapons would be caught in a ring and held, while edged weapons also would not have much penetrative power, especially as the mail would have been worn over a leather jack. As far as the Greeks go, however, it was the last innovation before impotence led to a gradual absorption into the Roman Empire. Macedonia and Greece were annexed in 148, Seleucid Syria in 64 – although it had ceased to be any sort of power since the 120s – and Egypt in 30, although it too had existed since 168 only by the will of Rome.


Ardennes Offensive

Note 1: Each mechanized or motorized division had a Bridging Equipment B unit of some model. Each infantry type regiment contained one combat engineer company.

Note 2: Total of fourteen Equipment B types and eight Equipment J types within Army Group B.

Note 3: Engineer troops not within the engineer battalions were not from the Engineer Corps but were troops of the same branch their unit supported but were trained in some engineer support tasks.

Sources: Hasso von Manteuffel, “Fifth Panzer Army (Ardennes Offensive)” (Historical Division, Headquarters, US Army Europe, Foreign Military Studies Branch, MS B-151 a, 1953), 6-7; and Trevor Dupuy, Hitler’s Last Gamble (New York: Harpers Publishing, 1994),421.

General Manteuffel insisted on a several areas before the offensive started. He demanded sufficient stocks of fuel and ammunition, sufficient air support to support the ground forces, complete reorganization of Panzer divisions and artillery units, and auxiliary traffic control to supplement the engineers that would be required for bridging tasks. The Panzer divisions had approximately sixty to seventy tanks each including assault guns. The Panzer Lehr Division added another 100 tanks and assault guns. General Manteuffel, probably the most capable commander left in the West, directed specific movement orders to his subordinate commanders. He directed that no passing would occur on the roads and that motorized units were to select only the most capable “Eifel” vehicles in the area-even if from civilians. He used his military police to direct traffic on the roads. Fifth Army only received one and a half units of fuel. The rest was to be brought up during the offensive. As a result, General Manteuffel realized they would be unable to bring forward the artillery and rocket projectors after the offensive started.

The following bridging assets were available to Fifth Panzer Army: LXVI Corps had two columns, LVIII Panzer Corps has one and a half pontoon columns, and XLVII Panzer Corps had one engineer and one pontoon column. Additionally, 2nd Panzer Division and the Panzer Training Division had an additional motor vehicle column each. Sufficient lumber for construction of bridges was made available to avoid use of the bridging equipment units at the Clerf Rivers crossings. Engineer units were directed to save the use of their equipment for crossings over the Ourthe River and, most important, over the Meuse River. The transportation of the lumber for the emergency bridges caused difficulties because of a lack of spare trucks. A solution was found by unloading bridge columns and hauling the lumber to the sites where emergency bridges would be built after the assault. Then the bridging equipment would be uploaded and prepared for the assault.

Fifth Army also relied heavily upon the Organization Todt (OT) to move equipment up to the initial battle positions. This allowed the assault vehicles to save fuel for use in the offensive. The OT pulled vehicles to positions, recovered stuck vehicles, moved up bridging equipment, pulled equipment up hills and generally assisted in movement from the autobahn.


All Divisional engineer units had light or medium bridging columns for constructing temporary bridges. GHQ units were equipped to put up semi-permanent bridges.

In service at the beginning of the war was a miscellany of fairly old equipment such as the Bruckengerat C, a small wooden pontoon bridge with built-up superstructure that could be used in a variety of roles, with a maximum weight of just over five tonnes. For most of the war, however, there were two standard bridging equipment in use by the Divisions, the Bruckengerat K and the Bruckengerat B, the bridging columns being identified by the appropriate initial letter.

The Bruckengerat K was the standard bridge of the armoured engineers. It was a box or bow girder bridge mounted on three-compartment pontoons and able to be laid in sections two, three or four girders wide. The official maximum rating was 16 tonnes load.

K pontoon and trestle equipment (Bruckengerat K).—This is the standard bridge carried by engineers in the Panzer division. The pontoons are of a three-section type and the superstructure is similar to the U. S. small box-girder bridge. Bridges of two, three, and four girders can be built, the full girder length of 64 feet being normally used. The track load-carrying capacity and corresponding spans are probably equal to or greater than, the following:

4-girder, 48-foot span_____________________ 25 tons.

4-girder, 64-foot span_____________________ 21 tons.

2-girder, 32-foot span_____________________ 21 tons.

2-girder, 64-foot span______________________ 10 tons.

The Bruckengerat B was a normal pattern of pontoon bridge using a flat-bed superstructure on undecked steel pontoons and having a maximum load in excess of 20 tonnes in most of its forms. It was normally issued to Infantry and Panzer Grenadier Divisions but was sometimes allocated to armoured Divisions in addition to Bruckengerat K for special tasks. A third, lighter pattern, Bruckengerat D, was used by some mechanised infantry pioneer platoons in the divisional infantry Regiments. It was a pontoon and girder bridge with a maximum load of 9 tonnes. In addition, all engineer units were trained to build improvised light bridges and carried a supply of wood, etc for this purpose.

GHQ bridging units, normally allocated to Armies, had heavy structures normally with massive decked pontoons supporting wide, built-up spans. A variety was in use, the most common being the ex-Czech Herbert bridge and the Bruckengerat S; both these had a distributed loading (tracked vehicles) of over 24 tonnes. The Germans used a ‘Herbert’ bridge (taken from the Czechoslovakian Army) which would support 35 tons. The description of the bridge is a little confusing. It implies if the freeboard is 12″, it will support 60 tons. The problem is the bridge takes so long to build; it cannot be used in assault actions.

Usage in Wargames

One rather complex approach is to use the formula that it takes 30 minutes for an armored battalion to pass a given point. If the bridge (16-Ton bridge supports 20 Ton Panzer IIIs and IVs) was fairly small (50-75 meters) it is possible that the tanks might make it over at half speed. Maybe one hour for the battalion. This approach is very rough.

Seven German bridge companies built a 375 meter 16-Ton bridge in 16 hours. It is problematic whether or not you can assume that a 185 meter bridge could be built in half the time.

Schiffer Military History titled BRIDGEBUILDING EQUIPMENT OF THE WEHRMACHT 19-9-1945 by Horst Beiersdorf

Military Bridging Equipment


Whole pontoons carried on Pontoon Wagon Pf. 8 and Pontoon Wagon Pf. 9, horse drawn, makeshift motorized, or motorized.

With the equipment of a bridge column, rowed ferries could be built of:

2 pontoons with 5 planks and simple attachments with load limit of 3 tons

2 pontoons with double attachments with load limit of 4 tons

3 pontoons with 9 planks and double attachments with load limit of 7 tons

There were 26 pontoons to a bridge column and each was 8 meters long, 1.5 meters wide and 0.85 meters tall.

There was a trestle device with 8 wood spars each 4.11 meters long, 0.1 meters wide and 0.32 meters tall. 16 trestle legs were required, also wood, 4.5 meters long and 10 to 15cm thick

There were 8 shore planks of wood 4.1 meters long and 56 crash planks 4.75 meters long. These linked the shore planks with the trestle spars

There were 140 spike planks that were 6.1 meters long and 0.1 meters wide and 0.15 meters tall. They were laid from pontoon to pontoon.

Finally there were 630 planks, made of wood, ythat were 3.75 meters long, 0.26 meters wide and 0.035 meters thick that made the roadway over the pontoon bridge.


Half pontoons carried by Trestle Wagon Pf. 10, Pontoon Wagon Pf. 11 and Ramp Wagon Pf. 12, motorized and horse drawn was possible.

The bridges consisted of a fixed and a floating part; supports in the fixed part are trestles, in the floating part half or whole pontoons, depending on the type of bridge: ramp parts or crossing parts linked the fixed and floating parts of the bridge. Bridges that are built only on fixed supports are called trestle bridges.

With the equipment of a Bridge Column B, the following can be built:

8 ton bridges to a length of 83 meters

16 ton bridges to a length of 54 meters

Possible bridge widths are:

Trestle and pontoon stretches to 3.14 meters

Ramp parts to 3.14 meters

8 ton bridges were built on half-pontoons

Trestle and pontoon stretches had 8 stretch carriers, 2 rack carriers, 2 under pieces and a simple covering

Trestle stretches had 12 stretch carriers, 2 rack carriers and 2 under pieces

Pontoon stretches had 124 stretch carriers, 4 rack carriers and 3 under pieces

From Bridge material B the following ferries could be built:

4 ton ferries

8 ton double ferries

8 ton simple ferries

16 ton ferries

These ferries could be:

Motor ferries special boats carries were available

Rowed ferries

Trail or cable ferries

The equipment of a Bridge Column B consisted of:

16 half-pontoons

8 trestles

2 ramps

8 shore-planks

8 crossing rails-16 ton

2 motorboats


Allowed bridges and ferries to be built up to loads of 4 tons. The following could be built:

Landing stages on small float sacks

Landing stages on half-pontoons up to 70 meters

Bridges on whole pontoons up to 140 meters

2 ton ferries

4 ton ferries

single special ferries

double special ferries

4 ton bridges

special bridges of 84 meters with 42 meters of it floating

  • K n.A. material

Consisted of ready-made box carrier device for heavy loads up to 16 tons and tracked vehicles to 20 tons.

With a half-platoon material one could build:

1 bridge of 16 ton load limit with 19.2 meter support width or

1 bridge of 16 ton load limit with 14.4 meter support width or

1 bridge of 16 ton load limit with 9.6 meter support width or

With a full-platoon material one could build :

1 bridge of 16 ton load limit on floating intermediate supports with

38.4 meter length or

33.6 meter length or

28.8 meter length or

24 meter length or

with the materials of a full column then one could build

1 bridge of 16 ton load limit on floating intermediate supports including a double block of 78.8 meters in length


Bridging material for reconnaissance units that could be carried in trucks


Bridging devices for mountains


Heavy self-carrying bridges with pontoon support that was taken over from the Austrian and Czech Armies.


Device for heaviest loads with pontoon support


light dismantlable bridges, self-carrying, loaded on trucks


heavy ships’ bridge


Czech bridge device. Whole pontoons, carried on trestle or pontoon wagons, horse drawn or motorized.

  • Bässler Bridge

Bridge material with swinging trestle as fixed support, loaded on trucks.

Some TOE info:

KStN. 733 Br.Kol. B(mot.) dated 1.10.1937

Stab with

1x le.PKW with 1 officer and 1 enlisted man

3x motorcycles with 1 NCO and 2 enlisted men

1.Platoon (Pontoon) with

1x with 1 officer and 1 enlisted man

1x motorcycle with 1 enlisted man

8x with 2 NCOs and 16 enlisted men

8x Pf.11 trailer

4x SdKfz 6 m.Zg.Kw. with 1 NCO and 9 enlisted men

4x Pf. 10 trailer

1x with 3 enlisted men

1x SdAh. 13 trailer with 1 boat

2.Platoon (Pontoon) with

1x le.PKW with 1 NCO and 1 enlisted man

1x motorcycle with 1 enlisted man

8x with 2 NCOs and 16 enlisted men

8x Pf.11 trailer

4x SdKfz 6 m.Zg.Kw. with 1 NCO and 9 enlisted men

4x Pf. 10 trailer

1x with 3 enlisted men

1x SdAh. 13 trailer with 1 boat

Ergänzungs Platoon with

2x motorcycle with side car with 2 NCO and 2 enlisted man

1x le.LKW with kitchen and 3 enlisted men

1x with fuel drums and 3 enlisted men

2x with 2 NCO and 7 enlisted men

2x Pf. 12 trailer

1x with 4 enlisted men

1x SdAh 15 trailer(ferry cable)

Train Section with

1x le.LKW with 1 NCO and 2 enlisted men

The bridging equipment carried was:

16 half-pontoons

8 trestles

2 ramps

8 shore planks

8 crossing rails-16 tons

2 motorboats

1 ferry cable on a spool

If the trailers were horse drawn then each double axle wagon required 6 horses

KStN. 737 Br.Kol. K(mot.) dated 1.10.1937

Stab with

1x with 1 officer, 1 NCO and 1 enlisted man

3x motorcycles with 1 NCO and 2 enlisted men

1.Platoon (Pontoon) with

1x with 1 officer and 1 enlisted man

1x motorcycle with 1 enlisted man

12x with 3 NCOs and 26 enlisted men

2.Platoon (Pontoon) with

1x with 1 officer and 1 enlisted man

1x motorcycle with 1 enlisted man

12x with 3 NCOs and 26 enlisted men

Ergänzungs Platoon with

2x motorcycle with side car with 2 NCO

1x le.LKW with kitchen and 2 enlisted men

1x le.LKW with 3 enlisted men

1x m.LKW with 3 enlisted men

Train Section with

1x le.LKW with 2 enlisted men

KStN. 734 Br.Kol. C(mot.) no date

Stab with

1x le.PKW with 1 officer, 1 NCO and 1 enlisted man

2x motorcycles with 2 enlisted men

1.Platoon (Pontoon) with

1x motorcycle with sidecar with 1 NCO and 1 enlisted man

3x with 1 NCO and 6 enlisted men

3x Pf.15 trailer

3x SdKfz 6 m.Zg.Kw. with 9 enlisted men

3x Pf. 14 trailer

2.Platoon (Pontoon) with

1x motorcycle with sidecar with 1 NCO and 1 enlisted man

3x with 1 NCO and 6 enlisted men

3x Pf.15 trailer

3x SdKfz 6 m.Zg.Kw. with 9 enlisted men

3x Pf. 14 trailer

Ergänzungs Platoon with

2x motorcycle with side car with 1 NCO and 1 enlisted man

1x le.LKW with kitchen and 4 enlisted men

1x le..LKW with 1 NCO and 3 enlisted men

Train Section with

1x le.LKW with 2 enlisted men



Louis XIV: The French Army I

The Marquis de Louvois, Né François Le Tellier (1641-1691) is not only one of the most important figures in French military history, but also in that of Western Europe; in addition to forging the weapon which enabled Louis XIV to carry out his policy of calculated aggression, he created the type of army whose tactical and administrative methods remained virtually unchanged until the coming of the mechanical age. He found himself confronted with a feudal army and transformed it into a modem one.

When Louis XIV took over the reins of government in 1661 it was merely a polite fiction to speak of the land forces as “the King’s army”; they were nothing of the sort. It was an army in which the King was, at best, one of the principal shareholders, and in the control of which the traditional status of the Crown gave him a casting vote. But as the majority of the regiments were not his property, his control was by no means absolute, and that of his War Secretary was practically non-existent. The armies which under Louis XIII and Mazarin had fought Spain, were a hard-bitten, hard-fighting, undisciplined, ill-fed, badly paid rabble, held together by the prestige of famous generals and colonels, living by loot and extortion, things of horror and terror to the civilian population, friend and foe alike. Such discipline as existed was maintained by sudden wholesale hangings, alternating with long periods of absolute licence in which even officers’ persons and property were not secure against the attacks of their own men. The officers, generally speaking, were as insubordinate as the troops, and once an army had been got together and sent to the front, the control of the central government often practically ceased to operate; indeed the government’s most obvious and urgent care was to get the army out of the metropolitan provinces with all possible speed, before their presence raised a revolt.

Hand in hand with indiscipline went corruption; it was the golden age for the military peculator, and there were few officers who did not see in a campaign a heaven-sent opportunity to reimburse themselves for their considerable capital outlay. Nor was there any efficient method of checking and punishing the officer’s dishonesty, for he was not in our sense of the word a King’s officer at all; he was an investor, who had bought a regiment or company as another man might buy a farm or a block of Paris municipal bonds; and ratification of purchase, and the subsequent grant of a commission lay not in the hands of the King but in those of two military viziers, the Colonel-General of Cavalry and the Colonel-General of Infantry, both of whom, by the way, had as likely as not bought their posts, and were now recouping themselves by collecting a brokerage on the purchase and sale of commissions. Like stock exchange values, the prices of commissions fluctuated considerably; only a very few corps d’élite were maintained in peacetime; so when peace was in the air, the price of all commissions fell heavily, while the market value of those in the new regiments fell to nothing. For the state admitted no obligation to recompense the holders of commissions in disbanded regiments; as on the stock exchange, the rule was caveat emptor. It would have been odd in the circumstances if every officer had not joined his unit determined to make hay whilst the sun shone; for his expenses were high, and the legitimate return on his investment low. For instance, in 1689 companies in the French guards were selling at rather over 3,000 louis d’or; it is true that a guards captain held the honorary rank of colonel in the army, and his pay seems to have been 12 louis d’or odd a month, as against some 4 louis d’or in the line infantry. And there was the further advantage that when army funds ran out, as they had a habit of doing in that unorganized age, it was the guards who got any money that was going, while the line was left to live as best it could; or in other words at the expense of the district in which they were quartered. But even when we take into consideration the relative security of tenure of the guards officer, a return of under five per cent on a highly speculative investment is a poor one.

Still, it was not pay but peculation that formed the bulk of an officer’s income, and his opportunities for making a little on the side, as the Americans say, were many. To begin with, it must be understood that the state did no recruiting; that was the business of the captain. The state paid the soldier’s pay, more or less irregularly, into the hands of the captain, who, in return for a recognized percentage of the sum received, and his recruiting grant, undertook to enlist, equip, clothe and feed say a hundred men. But though he received a fixed rate of pay per man, he in fact made the most advantageous bargain he could with his recruits, and when he had enlisted a hundred of them, marched his company to the assembly quarter to be inspected by the commissioner of war. For each recruit on parade he received about 2 louis d’or in the infantry, and nearly 10 louis d’or in the cavalry; and there appears to have been no check that the company which joined the regiment was of the same strength as that which had appeared on the muster parade. An arrangement better calculated to promote fraud could hardly be devised, and most officers took full advantage of it; as late as 1668 Luxembourg reports that if swindles were perpetrated by a few officers, he could take disciplinary action against them, but that he has in fact hardly one honest officer serving under him. And Rochefort, in the same year, ends a report on the same subject with the airy consolation that it is an evil which time alone can cure.

An obvious fraud was that the company commander could and did retain more than his legal percentage of the pay, and, in extreme cases, pocketed the lot. But this rather elementary swindle had the inconvenient result that the company usually deserted en masse, and even a seventeenth-century colonel was apt to object to a company whose captain was its only member. So the more intelligent contented themselves with the profit to be made out of passe volants. Under this system, the captain who was receiving pay for a hundred men, would in fact pay and maintain perhaps sixty, annexing the money of the imaginary forty. Inspections were few and far between, commissioners of war were conveniently blind, and their visits well-advertised beforehand; on the day of the muster a collection of valets, grooms, and beggars would be issued with musket and bandolier, and would shuffle along behind the real soldiers. The commissioner would sign the muster roll, the stage soldiers would be dismissed with a pourboire, and the captain could put the whole matter out of his mind for another twelve months. If word came down that the commissioner was of a tiresomely observant and inquisitive disposition, it was merely necessary to give what Pooh-Bah calls a touch of artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative by borrowing forty real soldiers from the nearest regiment; for as there were no uniforms, there was nothing to expose the deception which was being practised, especially as all the men on parade were obviously soldiers. The fraud was not, one must admit, peculiar to the French service; Montecuculi, the Austrian commander, in his memoirs, complains bitterly of it, and advises that the captain who employs passe volants be “chastiz’d with the utmost rigour”: but he is silent as to the means to be employed.

There is some excuse for the juniors in that the examples set in the most exalted circles were not calculated to promote professional integrity; in 1641 that curious ruling prince, Charles IV de Lorraine, found himself short of cavalry horses, and without means of buying any. Nothing daunted, he raised the cry of the Church in danger, convened his clergy, and made them an eloquent address in the principal church of his capital. While he was so doing, his troopers stole all the horses of the assembled ecclesiastics. Again, the raising of contributions in enemy territory was a legal and normal method of subsisting an army in wartime; but it was notorious that many generals remitted to the War Office much smaller sums than they had extorted from the occupied area. And, of course, where the general was known to be feathering his nest, naturally each collecting officer did likewise.

The military aspect of the passe volant abuse was an even more serious matter than the financial, for it meant that a commander took the field in complete ignorance of the effective strength of his army. To be sure, he had the daily strength returns; but what percentage of the men inscribed thereon really existed? Was his army ten, twenty, or even forty per cent below its nominal strength? It follows from this state of affairs that we must be very cautious in accepting battle casualty figures in the earlier part of the century; for the captain whose company had a nominal strength of a hundred and an effective strength of seventy would undoubtedly, if he could manage to get his men under fire at all, report that he had lost thirty men in action when perhaps he had had no losses at all.

Sometimes the ingenious company commander would turn his attention from his men to their equipment; two company commanders would decide that in peacetime, with a little management, one set of muskets and bandoliers would suffice for both companies. They would then sell one set for their common profit, lending each other what was necessary for muster days. Then too, some little assistance could be got from the use of the soldiers’ rations in garrisons where these were provided by the King and not the company commander; a pack of hounds, for instance, was found to thrive on soldiers’ biscuit. And, of course, the immediate consequences of such a theft was a further outbreak of the chronic evils of desertion and looting. In the cavalry, the wide-awake officer found that there were pickings to be made out of the forage ration; it was a simple matter to loot corn for the horses from the countryside, and sell the King’s corn to the commissary, who in turn sold it to the army bread contractor. Well may a contemporary complain that the ill-conduct of the officers “frequently produces very fatal inconveniences.”

This glimpse of the old-style army will give us some idea of the colossal problem which confronted Louvois in 1665, when at the age of twenty-four he threw himself into the work of reforming the service. To the task he brought an energy, a clear-sightedness, and a brutality which was to make him the most feared and hated man in France, but, on the whole, the greatest administrator of the reign, not even excepting Colbert. For he had behind him the enthusiastic backing of Louis XIV, upon which his rival could never absolutely depend.

Louvois was not the man to batter his head against a brick wall: he had a clear perception of the possible and the impossible, and he wasted no time in attempting to abolish the sale of commissions. But he determined that the King should in future have some say in the conditions of purchase and the qualifications of the purchaser.

At the very outset he was cheered by an unexpected piece of good fortune: the Duc d’Epemon, Colonel-General of the Infantry, died in 1661, and Louis himself assumed the vacant post of colonel-general. Henceforth, every infantry officer thus held his commission direct from the King, and that document was countersigned by the Secretary of War. To be sure, the Colonel-General of Cavalry and the Grand Master of the Artillery still remained in office, but their positions had been fatally weakened by the disappearance of their colleague, and Louvois, sapping and mining with unwearied patience, lived, to see their functions become purely decorative. Though, this being the ancien régime, they of course never lost the salaries paid them for the duties they had ceased to perform. Louis XIV took his colonel-general’s functions seriously, and indeed, as was his wont, rather lost sight of the wood for the trees. The officer’s confidential report may be said to have come into existence with his assurance to Coligny in 1664 that no one shall be informed of the tenor of Coligny’s remarks on the officers under his command: and by 1673 such reports are common, and have about them a very modern ring. “D’Espagne,” writes Luxembourg in that year, “is a brave man, and admirably fitted for a subordinate position; but he has not the qualifications to fit him for an independent command.” This is very well, but we must feel that the King is usurping the functions of his subordinate commanders when in 1676 he not only selects the town major of Aire, but winds up by saying, “for the minor appointments I wish to have men from the Guards: but I have not yet chosen them.”

Having, through the King, secured control of the infantry officers, Louvois’ next care was to attack the passe volant evil, and simultaneously with it, the general financial laxity which pervaded the whole army. Purchase of commissions in the Gardes du Corps he did succeed in suppressing, but that very minor reform of a fundamentally vicious system was all that he attempted directly. Indirectly, he tried to combat the evil by ensuring that, all other things being equal, the purchase of regiments and companies should be reserved for wealthy men who would have little temptation to indulge in petty larceny, while at the same time opening a new ladder of promotion to the keen but needy officer. The army, as he found it, knew no other ranks than ensign or comet, lieutenant, captain, colonel, and general, all of which, up to and including a colonel, were venal posts. In modern language Louvois did not introduce any new ranks, but instituted two important and unpurchaseable appointments, those of lieutenant-colonel and major, filled by merit alone, and qualifying the holder for promotion to die rank of general officer. It was, and was intended to be, a severe blow to the members of the old regimental hierarchy; the lieutenant-colonel, technically the colonel’s deputy, tended more and more as time went on to exclude the colonel from any detailed control of the regiment, and to place him in something like the position now occupied by the colonel of a regiment in our present-day army. The major held no command, but was responsible for the supervision of the officers, discipline, training, and administration; he was, as we should say, adjutant and quartermaster combined, and was assisted by one or more subalterns called aide-majors. In 1667 and 1668 came a further innovation, the introduction of brigadiers, whose functions then were the same as today; but to become a brigadier it was not necessary to have been a colonel, and a colonel who became a brigadier did not relinquish the command of his regiment.

With the introduction of brigadiers, the two ladders to the top of the tree are now complete: ensign, lieutenant, captain, colonel, brigadier, for the wealthy man; ensign or the ranks, aide-major, major, lieutenant-colonel, brigadier, for the needy. For it is a great mistake to imagine that the officer of the second half of the seventeenth century was invariably a noble who had entered direct by purchase; Maréchal de Catinat was not noble, and Maréchal Fabert was a ranker, to name only two exceptions.

In 1674 one Sergeant Lafleur of the Regiment de Dampierre, is mentioned for distinguished service in Holland; whereupon Louis XIV writes to his general, “His Majesty desires that Lafleur be promoted lieutenant in the Regiment de Dampierre when there is a vacancy, and that in the meantime he be given a gratuity of five hundred livres.” When St. Simon is serving in the Royal Roussillon Regiment in 1693, he mentions Boissieux, comet of his troop, who “had started life as a swineherd, and had raised himself by sheer merit; though old, he had never learned to read or write. He was one of the best scouts in the army….We all liked and respected him, as did our Generals.” I quote the case, not as being in any way exceptional, but because St. Simon is the speaker; had the case been exceptional, the waspish little duke would have spoken very differently about the obligation to treat such a man as a brother officer. As a matter of fact, the number of rankers one meets with in Louis XIV’s armies is remarkable, and it would not surprise me to hear that the class was commoner in the French service in 1690 than the British in 1890. And promotion by the poor man’s road was very far from being a War Office dead letter, one of the King’s pious hopes; when in 1684 Louis created twenty-seven new infantry regiments, there was not one of the new colonels who had not been either a major or a lieutenant-colonel.

But it is time to turn to Louvois’ struggles with the passe volant, a struggle in which he was ultimately successful, because, unlike so many of his fellow bureaucrats, he did not content himself with issuing orders, but proceeded to enforce them. His first step was to cut off the supply of soldier impersonators; in 1663 a detected passe volant was flogged: in 1665 flogged and branded: and in 1667 the crime was made a capital one. Next it was the turn of the officer. Any soldier denouncing his captain for using passe volants is to be given his discharge and a gratuity of three hundred livres, provided by the stopping of that sum from the captain’s pay: and in addition, the offending officer is to undergo at least a month’s imprisonment. Next the heavy hand descends on the dishonest commissioner of war; in 1671 Louvois catches Commissioner Aubert at Dunkirk drawing a salary from the garrison for giving officers notice of his muster days—and Dunkirk knew Commissioner Aubert no longer. Belleisle was a distant garrison where a man might reasonably have hoped to live out his days as in the good old pre-Louvois times: but the rage for innovation does not spare even Belleisle. There the governor, instead of discharging a sergeant who has denounced a passe volant, has put him in arrest, and the news reaches the War Office. A month’s forfeiture of pay for the governor, three months’ for the town major, and cashiering for the captain says Louvois; adding that this is only an instalment of what the three may expect if the delator has any complaints to make about his treatment. And let them beware of showing any resentment against the commissioner who has reported the case. Here, by the way, we may correct a common impression that Louvois put the French army into uniform with the double object of checking desertion and destroying the passe volant Actually, Louvois rather disapproved of the idea, and so far from uniforms being “introduced,” they came into use at the whim of individual colonels, except in the case of the Maison du Roi, which had been clothed uniformly since 1664. It was not until 1682 that uniform was made compulsory, and even then, it was for officers only.

Whilst still keeping a vigilant eye on the administrative side of the service, Louvois now turned his attention to the hitherto almost totally neglected matter of training, particularly officers’ training. The officer, not only undisciplined but ignorant, did not take kindly to Louvois’ effort to improve the standard of his professional competence, but the young War Minister was both swift and merciless in his dealings with those who opposed him. Incompetents learned to their horror that their continued employment was conditional on the efficiency of their units; useless colonels and captains were tormented into selling out, and rebellious Marshals of France were sent to their estates to meditate on the unwisdom of trying to stem the tide of reform. Martinet and Fourilles, two of Louvois’ discoveries, were made, the one Inspector of Infantry, the other of Cavalry, and we may guess at the nature of their performance from the name which Martinet has bequeathed to our own military vocabulary; we have no difficulty in believing that he was “a man of rare merit and firmness.”

The inefficiency and insouciance of the officer of the earlier part of the century was largely due to the precarious tenure of his employment, and it seems to have been Louis XIV himself who, in seeking for a palliative to the situation, hit upon an elementary version of the modern army’s reserve system. Speaking of the demobilization of 1659, he says of the disbanded officers:

“Some of them had no means of subsistence but their profession, and I pitied their case…I put a number of them into the Musketeers, and formed the Dauphin’s Light Horse to absorb others, giving them in addition to their pay, pensions calculated on their past service…thereby having the means available to mobilize new units in next to no time.”

Louis XIV: The French Army II

It was the existence of this reserve of ex-officers which enabled France to mobilize so swiftly in 1666, and when peace came in 1668, the officers alleged to have been demobilized were in fact secretly absorbed into the permanent formations.

But it was on the young entry into the officers’ corps that Louvois pinned his faith, and with them he spared no pains. In 1682 the old casual system of attaching a youngster to a regiment to pick up what he could (usually bad habits) whilst the family lawyer haggled over a company for him, was abolished and its place taken by a modem system of military education. Nine cadet companies were formed in frontier towns, commanded by the governors of the places, each with an instructional stag for the benefit of the cadets. The idea being a complete novelty, the companies naturally suffered from teething troubles, but within a very short time they were already proving their worth. By June 1683 Louis admits that not even his Musketeers make a better show on parade than the Besançon company, and a year later the Cambrai company had already passed out some four hundred satisfactory young officers. The instruction given seems to have been good, and the syllabus extensive; drill, the manual, and musketry were the most important subjects, but in addition the cadets were taught dancing, fencing, riding, geography, and the principles of mathematics. But instruction in the latter subject seems to have left much to be desired, for Louvois complains in 1685 that he has examined four Longwy cadets and found them ignorant of the first rules of the subject.

Having set on foot a training scheme for the officers, Louvois turned his attention to the problem of the men: and here too he found an ample field for the exercise of his abilities. The first thing to be done was to improve the quality of the recruit, and it is interesting to notice that Louvois at Versailles and Montecuculi at Vienna hold the same view. Both insist that the time is gone by when a satisfactory army can be manufactured out of the dregs of the people, and both are anxious to secure a better stamp of recruit. Louvois tackled the problem by tightening up the recruiting regulations, giving increased powers to the army Intendants, and improving the private soldier’s opportunities and status. Recruits were enlisted on a written attestation, and for a fixed period of four years’ service: they must be physically fit, either bachelors or widowers, and under forty years of age: if intended for the Maison du Roi, the man must be a Roman Catholic, over twenty-eight, and, if possible, a gentleman. If he is a gentleman he must have a minimum of two years’ service in some other corps, and if not a gentleman, a minimum of four years.

But in spite of Louvois’ exertions in this field, the quality of the recruits yielded by the overstrained economy of the country remained a constant preoccupation. As early as 1673 Louis XIV remarks that whilst he had plenty of men, they “were not of the quality needed for the capture of fortresses.” In 1676. Luxembourg complains that his recruits are “deplorable; a good half of them mere children, whom I shall have to send back to France.”

In 1683 the War Minister has to issue orders that soldiers must not be discharged because they are an inch or two under the average height of their comrades; the line infantry must not be measured with a tape as is done in the guards, he says. In 1689 Vauban urges a defensive campaign on the ground that the infantry is very different in quality from what it was in the last war, and almost at the same moment Duras writes from another front to complain about the quality of the cavalry. By 1690 the kidnapping of recruits in Paris had reached such proportions that the Lieutenant of Police is instructed to proceed against kidnappers with the utmost rigour. By 1703 Louis has found it necessary to offer five years’ total exemption from direct taxation to any man who will enlist on a three years’ engagement. The plain fact was that France, as then organized, simply had not got the manpower available to carry out the grandiose policy of Louis XIV.

Louvois was more successful in dealing with the abuse of direct peculation than he was in solving the recruiting problem. Under his reformed system the captain still received and issued the men’s pay as heretofore, but his pay roll was audited by the army Intendant: and if his accounts did not balance, he could think himself lucky if he escaped with a sentence to make good the deficiency by stoppages from his pay. At about the same time Louvois made a real effort to improve the status of the common man; the infantry sergeant and his cavalry equivalent, the maréchal de logis were given the rank of under-officers, thus exempting them from all punishment other than that inflicted by court martial, and a system of awards for gallantry and good service was instituted. The day of decorations, even for officers, is still far distant, but Louvois provided the perhaps more powerful incentive of financial easement; exemption from the most galling direct tax, the Taille, was awarded for periods ranging from six months to total exemption for life to those soldiers who had distinguished themselves.

In 1670 a uniform scale of pay was laid down for each arm of the service: and not only laid down, but actually paid, which did something to reduce the enormous amount of desertion which was ordinary in the armies of the period. And even Louvois did not succeed in stamping it out; in 1077 there were forty-two cavalry deserters in one day from Luxembourg’s army, and in a fortnight of the same year the Regiment Dauphin lost fifty men. In the following year the crack Regiment de Champagne had sixty-five deserters in ten days. As late as 1694 the evil was still widespread, and Louis XIV, in writing to one of his generals, says that the first step towards curing desertion is to see that the behaviour of the captains gives the men no excuse for deserting. But though desertion continued, and indiscipline was scotched rather than killed, Louvois undoubtedly raised the status of the rank and file, with beneficial effects on the efficiency of the army.

Nor were the King and his ministers without some sense of responsibility for the welfare of the men who paid so heavily for the advancement of Louis’ glory and Louvois’ reputation. In 1666 we find the King writing with his usual good sense on the subject of soldier’s allowances when in billets, and in the same year he orders extra pay for troops serving in plague areas. In 1664 Beaufort, commanding in Algeria, is instructed to “take the greatest care of the sick and wounded. Tell them how I feel for them in their sufferings, and assure them that their wounds will always be a powerful recommendation to my favour.”

And again to Beaufort in the same year: “I want to know if Captain Laurier leaves a wife and children, so that I may do something for them, being anxious that people shall see that those who die in my service continue to live in my memory.”

Nor did he overlook the then generally ignored problem of those discharged as unfit for further service; in 1672 the Order of St. Lazarus and Mount Carmel was reendowed and revivified for the benefit of indigent ex-officers, while in 1674 the Hôtel des Invalides was opened for ex-soldiers. Not that this was the first provision made for this class; the wounded soldier, called a donné, had, up to this, been billeted on a monastery, a system which was not without its inconveniences. The conversation and habits of the retired warrior had not tended to the edification of the younger brethren, and we may suspect that the cellarer found himself forced to write off a good deal of his stock to leakage. The religious orders gladly purchased exemption from the requirement to lodge destitute soldiers with an annual subscription to the new foundation of the Invalides. A beginning was also made in giving preferential treatment to the fit ex-service man by allowing this class a monopoly of the sedan-chair traffic in the royal palaces.

At the same time a vigorous and much needed effort was made to reform the field hospital services; and for the moment at any rate, with such success that in 1673 a wounded officer writes from Holland, “I could not be better off (than in this hospital) if I was in my mother’s house…and the same is true of the men” A very different state of affairs from that existing in the 1667 campaign when the men preferred to die in billets rather than be admitted to the hospital. But the radical unsoundness of the hospital organization engendered constant abuses, which could be checked, but not eradicated; for the hospitals were let out to contractors at a fixed rate per patient, and a dishonest contractor had therefore every inducement to spend as little as possible on the unfortunates in his charge. But with Louvois as Secretary of War, he did so at considerable risk; in 1683 the Secretary detects frauds being perpetrated by the hospital contractor of Alsace, and gives judgment in a letter to the Intendant. The offending contractor is to be led by the common hangman through every hospital ward in the province, wearing sandwich boards with the legend fripon public, after which he is to be banished for life.

If Louvois did not entirely succeed in his struggle to stamp out indiscipline, he at any rate never relaxed his efforts to do so; but circumstances, the whole tone of society, were against him. And, oddly enough, it was Louvois who was responsible for much of the indiscipline against which he himself strove. With a naïveté remarkable in so able a man, he imagined that it was feasible to incite French armies to commit murder, rape, robbery, and arson for so long as it suited his strategical objective, and that then, on the word “halt,” the troops would once more become models of soldierly discipline. It is some little consolation for the atrocities committed by Louvois’ orders in Holland in 1672 and in Germany in 1689 to know that the damage thereby done to French morale was a major factor in bringing about the ultimate ruin of his master’s plans.

When Louvois began to look into the question of regimental training, he found that it was not so much a reform that he had to make as a beginning. The first shock came when the commander of the Hungarian Expeditionary Force reported in 1664 that one of his chief difficulties was that many of his so-called trained soldiers had never fired a musket, and did not even know the theory of that cumbersome weapon. Musketry drill, and even musketry camps, made their appearance soon after this startling disclosure, and a rigorous inquisition into the state of the muskets of all regiments was made; those which did not conform to standard weight and measurement being withdrawn and replaced at the captain’s expense. Here, for once, Louvois shows himself a reactionary; the fusil, a more modern weapon, had already made its appearance when the French army was being rearmed with the musket. But Louvois would have nothing to do with the fusil; the musket was the traditional weapon of the French infantry, and to change, said Louvois, was to disarm: an argument with which we are not unfamiliar, even today. It was not until 1670 that he consented to the experimental introduction of four fusiliers into each infantry company. He was equally conservative over the pike, with which about a third of each company was armed until 1703, in spite of frequent reports that whenever the enemy infantry was routed in battle, the first thing the Frenchman did was to throw away his pike or musket and pick up an abandoned fusil. The obstinate retention of the pike is the more inexplicable, seeing that in 1687 Vauban had invented the bayonet, which gave the infantryman a musket and pike in one. Apropos of muskets, let us note a point arising out of the correspondence, which shows Louvois’ amazing capacity for entering into detail without, like Louis XIV, losing sight of major issues. In 1683 he circularizes inspectors of infantry on the advantage of having a leather pad sewn on to the left shoulder of the tunic to take the friction of the musket when on the march.

As late as 1688 the relative weakness of French fire power was still causing Louvois anxiety; in that year officers are ordered to provide themselves with muskets, to practise on the range, and to introduce company pool shooting-competitions. And in 1692 Louis is enquiring into the report that at Steenkirke the whole of the French fire power was produced by the fusiliers alone.

Cavalry was still, and for many years to come, considered to be the arm which won battles; the rôle of the infantry being to soften up the enemy line in preparation for the cavalry charge. Consequently, cavalry training was better understood and better carried out than that of the infantry. Cavalry camps were held annually, where new tactics and weapons were tried out, and one result was that in 1679 the sabre replaced the sword as the standard cavalry weapon. In the same year cavalry fire power had its modest beginnings in the addition of two carbineers to each squadron.

In dealing with problems of administration Louvois was as indefatigable and as fertile in expedients as in those of discipline and training: and if the administrative side of Louis XIV’s armies strikes us as amateurish, it is largely because we contrast it with the administration of today, instead of with that of Louis’ opponents. Louvois’ major contribution to the problem of field maintenance was the introduction of the magazine: one of those ideas which is so obvious, once someone else has thought of it. The magazine conferred a strategic power on Louis XIV’s armies which took Europe off its guard; hitherto it had been accepted as a law of nature that cavalry could not take the field until the spring herbage was sufficiently grown to supply it with forage. Now, thanks to magazines, French cavalry could both march and manoeuvre in any month of the year; and further, the existence of magazines helped to offset the French cavalry’s notorious extravagance in the matter of forage consumption. Certainly from 1693 on-wards there were authorized scales of forage issue, but an attention to such details was a clerkly activity unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.

And the same attitude was taken towards the feeding of the troops. The staple ration of the French soldier was bread, and on the march, biscuit, the latter baked hard, with a hole in the middle, so that the ration could be strung on the bandolier. Of these biscuits, a soldier could carry enough for six days. But it never seems to have occurred to the officers to check consumption; at the first night’s halt the men would barter their biscuit for wine, with the result that a formation badly wanted at the front would be found immobile and three days’ march from its destination, having ran out of rations. One French general suggests as a remedy that the men should be given an allowance in cash instead of the biscuit ration; but it would seem unlikely that the French, or any other soldier of the period, would have wasted the money on bread. The Austrian Montecuculi is a strong advocate of the system of supply by contract; which suggests that either Montecuculi was very lucky in his contractors, or else took very little interest in his supply problems. If the regimental officer was careless about the conservation of rations, he could point to an equal and more criminal carelessness on the part of his superiors. When Boufflers defended Lille in 1708, he had to surrender for lack of provisions; but the shortage was caused by the issue of rations throughout the siege for the same number of men as on its opening day, no regard being paid to the very heavy casualties sustained by the defence. Indiscipline as well as negligence played its part in complicating the work of the French supply service; in 1673 the whole of Luxembourg’s army was put under stoppages of pay as a punishment for looting their own magazines. And where the troops did not loot, there was the ever present difficulty of the dishonest contractor; Berwick, commanding on the Spanish front in 1704, complains that his bread comes up bad, by reason of the contractor only half-baking it so as to make it weigh more.

Ration scales varied considerably according to the troop’s tasks and the resources of the terrain; the army in Lorraine in 1670 had an issue of fresh meat daily, Fridays excepted, but the general is told to make it clear to the men that meat is an extra to which they have no right, and which is given them by the King, and not by their captain. Again, in 1677, on the Rhine, the order is that each infantryman is to have one-third of a pound of meat daily, and each cavalryman a quarter: but while the infantry get a free issue, the value of the cavalryman’s ration is to be stopped from his pay. And the issue of meat is to cease as soon as there is an abundance of peas and beans. In 1690 the authorized meat issue is three pounds a week, free to the infantry, and at a reduced rate to the cavalry, while the Maison du Roi pay full contract price. Louis XIV is himself credited with one contribution towards solving the problem of rations in the field, that of introducing the portable oven, which in one day’s halt could bake enough bread for the next six days. I am inclined to suspect that this is truly his own idea; it is just the sort of administrative detail at which the King, nothing of a general, but an excellent junior staff officer, excelled.

Wherever we turn, we find the generals hampered by having to rely on the contract system for the performance of duties which are now regarded as an integral part of the functions of an army; even the artillery was, until 1672, a civilian commercial enterprise, in which the contractor hired soldiers to mount his batteries, and was paid so much for each gun brought into action, a system only one degree less bad than that obtaining in the contemporary Spanish army, where the contractor was paid for every time he moved a gun. The result naturally being that Spanish artillery was constantly on the move, and hardly ever in action. The supply and transportation of rations was organized also on a contractual basis, with results which were sometimes disastrous. In 1675 Maréchal de Créqui was beaten at Consaarbruck without having succeeded in bringing a single gun into action; the post mortem revealed the fact that the artillery contractor, expecting a quiet day, had lent his horses to the commissariat to bring in a convoy. And where were the commissariat contractor’s own horses? We are not told, but I have a strong suspicion that they were out on hire to the neighbouring farmers. The whole system cried out, not for more detailed supervision from Versailles, but for the appointment of a general officer charged solely with the duties of administration in the field: and this solution seems to have occurred to no one. Each army had indeed its military Intendant, but that official was as overworked as his Home Office confrère, and was operating in a milieu unsuited to the technique of the civilian administrator. And the general, so far from regarding him as a member of his staff, usually was at daggers drawn with him, regarding the Intendant, not without reason, as a spy. In 1678 the War Minister writes to the Intendant of the army in Roussillon, “Your first duty is to let me know everything that is said, projected, and done in the army.”

At best, the general saw in the Intendant a superior sort of clerk, detailed to act as his man of business, whilst to Louvois and his successors, the Intendant was the channel through which they exercised control over the general; the situation was rich in opportunities for friction, and friction there was. Nor were the soldiers entirely to blame. In 1665 Louvois has to write to an Intendant thus: “A War Commissioner has no right to pretend to any command over troops, nor over the inhabitants of the district in which the army is operating…and if you do so, I shall be unable to uphold you.”

In 1669 the boot is on the other foot, and it is the Intendant who is energetically supported in his complaint that he has received nothing but paroles assez fâcheuses from an officer whose men’s weapons are in a bad state. Dozens of other examples could be quoted to show the difficulties of the precarious equilibrium which Louvois managed to impose on those uneasy bedfellows, the general and the Intendant.

In the sphere of higher tactics there was a latent weakness in the new model French army, which does not reveal its full danger until the second half of the personal reign. Remote and overcentralized control was the evil, and it had its birth not only in Louvois’ love of power, but in the history and character of the King himself. Two factors combined to imbue Louis XIV with the fatal notion that he could control battles and manoeuvres from his room at Versailles; firstly, his boyhood and youth had taught him the national danger, and what he felt even more deeply, the personal humiliation, which could be inflicted by semi-independent and potentially rebellious generals. If he could not reduce his commanders-in-chief to impotence as he had done his nobles, he could at least make sure that they should be ever conscious of the hand of the master. Secondly, Louis, like so many men, fancied his skill in the one sphere in which he was palpably at his worst, namely, that of a military commander; and, having a fine natural vanity, his easy successes when in command had convinced him that nothing was so easy as to be a successful soldier. Moreover, his generals, one of whose chief preoccupations was to keep the King away from the front, were constant in their flattering assurances to His Majesty that he could exercise the supreme command as easily from the palace as from his tent in the field. The soldiers thus kept the King at home in many campaigns, but at a heavy price; Louis took their flattery seriously; control from Versailles became ever stricter and more detailed until in Louis XIV’s last war, it was practically unknown for a general in the field to threaten an enemy place or even strike camp without sending off a courier to the King for his instructions. And by the time orders arrived, a change in the situation had rendered their execution impracticable. The performances of the French higher command in the 1701-12 war is a sufficient comment on the working of the theory of remote control.

But when all has been said, the reform, or rather the recreation, of the French army remains one of the most remarkable achievements of seventeenth-century France; the work of the pioneer is by its very nature imperfect, and those who look back on it tend to criticize what was left undone rather than to appreciate what was accomplished. And the accomplishment of the army created by Louvois was that it kept Louis XIV’s crown on his head in his last disastrous war, and quite possibly prevented the fall of the monarchy.


Ptolemaic Empire: The Third Syrian War (246-241), the empire in its greatest extent

Antiochus I died in 262 BC, leaving the kingdom to his drunkard son Antiochus II. We know very little about Antiochus II or the major battle he fought in 246 BC, except that he lost Syria and his entire corps of Asian war elephants to Ptolemy III Euergetes of Egypt. The only source extant is a basalt monument installed by Euergetes along the coast of Eritrea. Som e details are intriguing:

The great king Ptolemy… set out on a campaign into Asia with military and cavalry forces and a naval armament and elephants both Troglodyte [Sudanese] and Ethiopie which his father and he himself first captured by hunting from these places, and, bringing them to Egypt, trained them in military use.

Ptolemy III hired Ethiopian and Sudanese mahouts to train and control the African Forest elephants caught along the Nile River. Unfortunately, we have no accounts of the battle and do not know how the elephant forces were deployed or fared in the battle. Ptolemy did “capture” and not destroy the enemy elephant corps, which shows the value commanders placed on the beasts.


The army of Ptolemy I was recruited from Greek and Macedonian soldiers who had served with him under Alexander the Great. Following the failed invasion of Egypt by Perdikkas (321 BC), many of the Macedonian troops stayed and enlisted in Ptolemy’s army. In a similar way, he gained many deserters following the attempted invasion of Antigonos Monophthalmos (306 BC). These troops were settled as cleruchs, notably in the Fayum region. This early Ptolemaic army was essentially Greek with some mercenary troops such as Gauls and Thracians. In organization, it was modeled on the Macedonian army in which the phalanx was the main heavy infantry fighting body, with light infantry (peltasts), cavalry, and the addition (copying the Seleukids) of elephants. The 20 years of peace at the end of the reign of Ptolemy III meant that the army lacked training and experience. According to Polybios, Egypt was no longer able to defend herself. Ptolemy IV therefore recruited Egyptians (machimoi) into the army. The victory of this new force at Raphia (217 BC) actually prompted civil war.

The later Ptolemaic army was increasingly influenced by Roman organization. It employed Egyptians as well as Greek settlers and mercenaries, notably Jews. The new structure was based upon the semeia (perhaps derived from the Egyptian demotic word seten) with probably six per regiment; each semeia was divided into two centuries commanded by hekatontarchoi and two pentekontarchia with a herald/trumpeter and standard-bearer (semeiophoros). The cavalry was divided into hipparchies of at least two squadrons (ilai), each ile being at least 250. Ten hipparchies are attested.

Ptolemeic Heavy Infantry

The seeds of the subsequent clash with the Seleukid empire had already been sown in the aftermath of the Second Syrian War when Antiochos II had married a daughter of Ptolemy II called Berenike. Antiochos II died under suspicious circumstances in 246 at the residence of his former wife Laodike in Ephesos, only a few months after the accession of Ptolemy III. Also with Laodike were her two sons from the marriage with Antiochos II, Seleukos and Antiochos. The former queen maintained that on his deathbed the king had named one of her sons, Seleukos II (246-226/5), as his successor and thus had passed over his young son from his union with Berenike. Berenike, who was living in Antioch, refused to go along with this and thus proclaimed her own son as king (his name remains unknown) and appealed to Ptolemy III for help. This situation led to the outbreak of another war, the Third Syrian War, also known as the Laodicean War. Seleukos II was only recognized in large parts of Seleukid Asia Minor and even there not entirely. The procurator of Ephesos, Sophron, decided in favour of Berenike’s son and probably fled to Ptolemy III who took up the challenge.

The most important source for the initial phase of the war is a report obviously published by the Ptolemaic king himself (papytus from Gurob). To begin with, Berenike ordered a naval expedition to Cilicia. With the help of the citizens of Cilician Soloi, the expeditionary force succeeded in taking the city as well as its citadel. The Seleukid governor of Cilicia, Aribazos, would no doubt have wanted to bring the local treasure, worth 1,500 talents, to Laodike in Ephesos and so it was seized and transported to Seleukeia. Aribazos was murdered in the Tauros by local inhabitants while attempting to flee and his head was sent to Antioch. The heart of the Seleukid empire around Seleukeia and Antioch remained firmly in the hands of Berenike.

In addition to this, in his report Ptolemy III gave news of his own expedition to Seleukeia with a small fleet. There he was enthusiastically received by ‘the priests, the city-magistrates, the remaining citizens as well as officers and soldiers, who had garlanded with wreaths the streets leading to the harbour’. Even the Seleukid satraps and strategoi are said to have paid their respects to the king; perhaps Berenike herself had hastily summoned them there. The reception in Antiocheia that followed was even more enthusiastic much to the surprise of the king; the satraps and other functionaries were again at hand. In the evening he betook himself to his ‘sister’ and arranged various matters in the palace. The literary tradition unanimously asserts, however, that Berenike and her son had already been murdered by Laodike’s thugs before the arrival of the Ptolemaic king. It is possible that Ptolemy III first learned of their murder when he entered his sister’s chamber, kept quiet about it for a while and took up official duties in the name of Berenike and the boy (as per Polyaen. VIII. 50)

Having begun a huge campaign, Ptolemy suddenly found himself faced with an entirely new situation once he arrived in Antioch. Despite the sympathy shown to him by many, even if it was orchestrated by supporters of Berenike, the new situation brought on by the death of his sister still meant that he would have to go home empty-handed. But he refused to do this. Instead, he led a campaign through Syria, which the sources claim was the most successful one in Ptolemaic history, and reached Mesopotamia without fighting a single battle. The Adulis inscription describes the trail of conquest of the ‘Great King Ptolemy’ as a pharaonic enterprise in the manner of the eighteenth dynasty and thus alleges that he subjugated the Seleukid empire as far as Baktria; Polyaenus (VIII. 50) declares that his empire extended as far as India. To be sure, Ptolemy may have received the homage of the satraps (or their envoys) already in Seleukeia or Antioch (cf. the account of the Gurob papyrus) or, later on in Babylon, and this could have been interpreted in the tradition as tantamount to the establishment of a Ptolemaic hegemony.

It is quite certain that Ptolemy III broke off the campaign in Mesopotamia as early as the first half of 245, set up another governor (strategos) for the region ‘on the other side’ of the Euphrates as well as one to administer the newly acquired territory of Cilicia and finally returned home with an enormous quantity of spoils. As part of a propaganda campaign meant to portray him as a victorious pharaoh in full enjoyment of religious legitimacy, he took on the cult title of Euergetes (‘benefactor’). The royal couple appeared as the ‘Theoi Euergetai’ from 243.

Ptolemy III was in sore need of a title of ideological significance such as ‘benefactor’, since his sudden return to Egypt had been occasioned by an uprising of the local Egyptians, the first of its kind in Ptolemaic history (Just. XXVII. 1.9; Porph: FGrHist. 260F 43). During the Second Syrian War, Philadelphos had already been forced to increase pressure on the Egyptian populace to put at the state’s disposal as much of the land’s resources as possible. During the first years of Euergetes’ reign, social equilibrium was seriously threatened because of the injustices that the economic and administrative system visited upon Egyptian workers and farmers. The uprising, triggered by the demands of his campaign and encouraged by the king’s absence, was quickly put down by the pharaoh and this in spite of the additional problems caused by inadequate flooding of the Nile in 245. As a special recourse, grain had to be imported to Egypt ‘from Syria, Phoenicia, Cyprus and many other lands at great cost’.

Apart from the situation in Egypt, Ptolemy III must have soon realized that a Ptolemaic government in eastern Syria, let alone in Mesopotamia, could only be of an ephemeral nature. Indeed, Seleukos II quickly went on the counter-offensive and was recognized as ruler in Babylon by July of 245. The news of the death of Berenike’s son probably also influenced a change of opinion in favour of the legitimate Seleukid; Ptolemy III could now have even fewer hopes of being successful against the opposition of the local rulers. In view of this, the triumphant campaign to Mesopotamia was without any long-term results and thus would be more accurately described as an exercise in plundering and pillaging. Toward the end of the war (242/1) there was some fighting near Damascus, the outcome of which is unclear (Porph: FGrHist. 260F 32.8). It is even said that Seleukos II attempted an attack on Egypt (Just. XXVII. 2.5).

In terms of his designs to create an eastern Mediterranean hegemony, the Seleukid territories on the Anatolian coast and in Thrace will have been more important to Ptolemy than the eastern campaign. The Ptolemaic fleets achieved lasting victories on these coasts, even though they obviously suffered a serious set-back at the hands of the Macedonian king who was reacting to what he saw as disturbing developments in the area.

The Adulis inscription, a work of propaganda given to some exaggeration, lists Cilicia, Pamphylia, Ionia, the Hellespont and Thrace (cf. Plb. V. 24.7- 8) as having been acquired and even more specifically as having been won back during the Third Syrian War. The epigraphic evidence tells us two very important things about this event: (1) it is evident that the south Thracian cities of Ainos and Maroneia, if not others, were under Ptolemaic rule as of 243, and furthermore in Ainos, a ‘priest of the king’ is attested; (2) a certain Ptolemy Andromachos (or so-called son of Andromachos) conquered various places in Thrace, among which Ainos is explicitly mentioned. It appears reasonable then to place the activities of this Ptolemy in the early stages of the Third Syrian War. He actually was the son of Philadelphos and was probably an illegitimate offspring born to one of the king’s mistresses, although he may have been raised under the assumed name of ‘son of Andromachos’. He is, at any rate, clearly the same person who was the priest of Alexander in 251150.

Ptolemy Andromachos, we may assume, was able to procure the city of Ephesos for the Ptolemaic empire already in 246 and this without too much of a struggle owing to the desertion of the Seleukid commander. He then set up a substantial garrison there for which there is still testimony at the time of the reign of the fourth Ptolemy (Plb. V. 35.1l). Ephesos remained a cornerstone of the Ptolemaic hegemony in the Aegean until 197.

This extremely successful Ptolemy, nonetheless, lost a significant naval battle against Antigonos Gonatas at Andros. Some time thereafter he was killed by his own Thracian soldiers (Athen. XIII. 593 a_b).

In 241, a peace was agreed upon which was very favourable for the Ptolemies (Just. XXVII. 2.9). The Seleukid empire had been shaken by some serious upheavals. Soon after the mid-third century, the satraps of Baktria and Parthia had become practically independent. A Greek-Baktrian kingdom arose in Baktria; the former satrap bore the title of king as of 239/8. The Parnians who had invaded Parthia took power there under a new name, the Parthians. The Ptolemaic empire emerged from the Third Syrian War as the most powerful Hellenistic state without much effort because of the weaknesses of the Seleukid empire. With the exception of Pamphylia, which in Euergetes’ reign was lost once again, the empire remained basically the same until the end of the third century. Epigraphic, papyrological and literary sources for Ptolemaic domination or influence in Cilicia, Lycia, Caria, Ionia, in the Dardanelles and Thracia are widely scattered in chronological terms. One of the most significant territories acquired in the Third Syrian War is the Ptolemaic enclave surrounding Seleukia in Pieria (northern Syria) (Plb. V. 58.10). Seleukia was one of Seleukos I’s residential cities (until 281) and next to Laodikeia the most important harbour-city of the Seleukids. Analogous to Alexandria, Seleukia was the Seleukid gateway to the Mediterranean, a final stop for distant trade routes, an excellent fortress and naval base, in whose shipyards ships would now be constructed for the Ptolemies. By taking over the city with its convenient connections by sea to the newly conquered territories of Cilicia and Pamphylia, as well as to Ptolemaic Cyprus and Coele Syria, Ptolemy III hit a vital nerve in the Seleukid empire. Ptolemy Ill’s empire now encompassed, with only a few gaps, the whole of the eastern Mediterranean basin from the eastern part of the Greater Syrte in Libya up to Thrace where it directly bordered on Macedonia (cf. Plb. V. 34). In poetic accounts as brief as they are to the point, Callimachus and after him Catullus both describe the ‘conquest of Asia’ as well as its annexation to the Egyptian empire.