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A Thracian archer, by Daniella CarlssonArchers

Thracian archers formed a relatively small component of Thracian armies, and would be totally lacking from many.  It is possible that certain tribes or regions specialised in archery, and that armies without these tribes did not use the weapon.  Many descriptions of Thracian armies do not mention archers.  The archers probably remained unchanged, as the poorer people in the army are less likely to have adopted Greek dress.  They would be armed with bows and completely unarmoured (though Archibald, p199 interprets the archers on the Lovech belt as wearing Oriental conical helmets).  They would have worn the traditional Thracian costume, though the vase painting below shows that their outfits were simpler than the peltasts or cavalry, as they did not wear the zeira, only  a patterned tunic, and went bare foot.

Left: a Thracian archer, by Daniella Carlsson.

Peltasts (A,D), archer (B) and cavalryman (C)Figure 1: Peltasts (A.D), archer (B) and cavalryman (C) from an Attic amphora, c.540 BC shown below (Best)

Figure 9: Archer from a silver-gilt belt plaque, 5th or 4th centuryFigure 9: Archer from the Lovets silver-gilt belt plaque, 5th or 4th century (see below)

Figure 10: Arrowhead of Olynthus type G, possibly Thracian. Bronze, socketed, three-edged
Figure 10: Arrowhead of Olynthus type G, possibly Thracian. Bronze, socketed, three-edged


Thracian archer, peltast, and cavalryman An archer, peltasts, and cavalryman from an Attic amphora, c.540 BC ( plate 2 from Best)

(from CVA. Munich 1; 3 H, pl 9,3).






Thracian archer, figure 67 from p 126, Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars67. THRACIAN ARCHER

"This figure is from a probably 4th-century silver belt-plaque. He has the traditional beard, fox-skin cap (alopekis) and pattern-edged tunic. The quiver hanging from his waistbelt is taken from a 6th-century vase-painting of a similar kneeling archer; the dagger is conjectural. Small bronze socketed arrowheads with three barbs, found at Olynthos and elsewhere, may be Thracian. "  Text and image from Armies and Enemies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars, by Duncan Head.


http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/image?lookup=1992.11.0057 - Thracian archer vase picture

http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/image?lookup=1992.11.0057&type=vase Thracian archer arming

The Lovets  belt, showing a boar hunt by archers and heavy cavalry

Above: Part of a 5th-6th Century gilt silver belt from the village of Lovets, Stara Zagora district, showing a royal wild boar hunt by heavy cavalry and archers

I know of only three references to Thracian archers­ one from Polyaenus,  one from Euripides, and one from Plutarch's Life of Alcibiades: "Alcibiades... told his friends ...he would within a few days have forced the Lacaedamonians [near Aegospotami], either to have fought the Athenians at sea or to have deserted their ships... the thing was probable, for that he might have brought down by land great numbers of the Thracian cavalry and archers, to assault and disorder them in their camp."

Note that the Perseus project translation of this same passage doesn't mention archers at all - it reads "....but others thought it likely, since he had merely to bring up his numerous Thracian javelineers and horsemen to assault by land and confound the enemy's camp"

Polyaenus (III.9.62) tells how Iphicrates, campaigning in Thrace, was harassed by Odrysian archers and slingers; he discouraged them by placing bound Odrysian prisoners in his front ranks, which persuaded their compatriots to cease fire!   

In regard to the Thracian DBM list, Duncan Head says..

"I’d like to keep the archers as compulsory. The passage in the tragedy Rhesos suggests they were part of a typical Thracian army, and they’re not that uncommon in art. "

In this passage, (Rhesus 310)  Rhesus is mounted on a splendid chariot.  Perhaps if Thracian archers are compulsory, the chariot should be also? I also don't agree that pictures of Thracian archers aren't also rare (I know of only four), and there isn't any mention of them in Sitalces' huge army (Thucydides 2, 95).

Euripides Rhesus 310


[300] And when I had heard all I wished to learn, I stood still; and I see Rhesus mounted like a god upon his Thracian chariot. Of gold was the yoke that linked the necks of his horses brighter than the snow; [305] and on his shoulders flashed his shield with figures welded in gold; while a gorgon of bronze like that on the aegis of the goddess was bound upon the front of his horses, ringing out its note of fear with many a bell. The number of his army you could not reckon [310] to an exact sum, for it was beyond one’s comprehension; many knights, many ranks of targeteers, many archers, a great crowd of light-armed troops, arrayed in Thracian garb, to bear them company. Such the man who comes to Troy’s assistance, [315] whom the son of Peleus will never escape, either if he tries to escape or if he meets him spear to spear.

Homer, Illiad, Chapter 2

Pryaechmes led Paeonians, armed with the bow, from far Amydon by Axius' broad-flowing stream, Axius, fairest of waters that move on the earth.

garcher.jpg (17679 bytes)A Greek archer from a vase in the British Museum (author's photo).  He is shooting at Amazons, and has a composite bow, so maybe he is not so Greek.  Anyway, is that a Pilos helmet or a hat?   His tunic is rather colourful.

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This page last updated on Monday, 07 January 2002 by Christopher Webber thracian@pnc.com.au

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