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Introduction | Texts | Light Cavalry | Heavy Cavalry | Thracian Horses

Heavy Cavalry

Greek horseman with Thracian cloakLeft: Attic Black Figure Oinochoe from Vulci, Etruria, 510 B.C. Click on the written link at left to see more pictures of this vase at the Perseus site, or click on the picture for a closer view.  Early Thracian heavy cavalry probably looked like this, with the addition of Thracian boots.  The rider is armed with two javelins and wears a Thracian cloak.

Thracian kings and their bodyguard fought as javelin-armed heavy cavalry, with breastplates, helmets, and greaves.  They would charge in wedge formation.  The equipment of northern Thracian cavalry varied markedly from their southern cousins.   There were very few heavy cavalry in Thracian armies.

Xenophon Anabasis 7.4.19 (Loeb)

[7.4.19] Meanwhile, Seuthes came to their aid with seven horsemen of his front line and his Thracian trumpeter. And from the instant he learned of the trouble, through all the time that he was hurrying to the rescue, every moment his horn was kept sounding; the result was, that this also helped to inspire fear in the enemy. When he did arrive, he clasped their hands and said that he had supposed he should find many of them slain.





Early Heavy Cavalry

Greek horsemen on 6th Century vase from EturiaEarly Thracian heavy cavalry wore a Thracian form of Greek armour.  This included the Corinthian or Chalcidian helmet, and a bell cuiriass with a large gap in the chest for a highly decorated pectoral.  Greaves or boots would be worn.  They did not use shields except when dismounted, and carried javelins and a kopis.  North Thracians wore equipment similar to the Skythians, consisting of a scale armour curiass, pteruges, greaves, and helmets based on a local design.  Their cloaks and tunics would have been marked in the traditional Thracian style.

A Thracian spaceman rides off to war???!A Thracian horsman (or spaceman? Was God a Thracian??!!) depicted on the side of a 4th century BC silver helmet from Rumania. (Warry, p 58).

Greek armour was imported into Thrace at least from the sixth century; "bell" corselets have been found, apparently still in use in Thrace in the fifth century when they were obsolete in Greece itself. Corinthian, Attic, and other helmets, and greaves also crop up. These pieces seem to have been restricted to chiefs, and often only one or two pieces are found in a grave, rather than a complete panoply. The result must presumably have been that the chieftains in question appeared n a rather motley mixture of Thracian and Greek equipment. Figure 14 represents a reconstruction of what one such might have looked like. He wears normal Thracian dress and weapons, but adds to them a Corinthian helmet and a bell-corselet, both found in Thracian graves of the fifth century. The abdominal plate fastened to the lower edge of the cuirass is an oddity, because it is generally a Cretan defence, though a few are known from mainland Greek sites; the finding of one in Thrace is most surprising.

Sketch for mounted noble, by Johnny ShumateMounted Thracian, a sketch by Johnny ShumateA dismounted Thracian noble, sketched by Johnny ShumateA Thracian noble, by Duncan HeadThracian heavy cavalry.jpg (26388 bytes)

Left and above: four reconstructions of Thracian nobles by Johnny Shumate, and Duncan Head's reconstruction of a dismounted noble from Slingshot.   Right: an inaccurate picture of a Thracian noble from DBA Online

Mounted Thracian chief on a helmet from AgigholMounted Thracian chief on a helmet from Agighol, Rumania.  Page 116, Hoddinott.

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Above and Below: 
Two Letnitsa gilt silver appliques, first half of fourth century

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The Thracian hero, from a Letnitsa gilt silver appliqueLetnitsa gilt sliver applique, first half of fourth century










Thracian Hero on Letnitsa silver-gilt plaque, 4th century


Figure 15: Horseman in scale armour, from a silver-gilt plaque c. 400 - 350 BC




Figure 15: Horseman in scale armour, from a Letnitsa silver-gilt plaque c. 400 - 350 BC






4th century cavalryman on a Letnitsa plaque

Left: 5cm Silver-gilt applique from Letnitsa, mid-fourth century BC.  This applique presents another scene from the dragon-fighter myth, the hero's triumph.   After he has won the combat and consummated his marriage to the princess, the hero becomes the ruler of the kingdom.  His new status is indicated by the presence of the bow (behind his back), which in Thrace is an insignia of royalty. (page 164, "Ancient Gold")





Later Thracian Heavy Cavalry

Later heavy cavalry used Thracian helmets, probably used shields, and were supported directly by javelinmen, who ran alongside the horses, and hamstrung their opponents.  

Horseman, possibly Seuthes III, and foot soldiers, from the Kazanluk tombHorseman, possibly Seuthes 111, and foot soldier, from the west wall of the Kazanluk. passage. Zhivkova, pl. 17.

Two Thracian warriors from the corridor of the Kazanluk tomb








Figure 6: Horseman and footsoldier from the eastern frieze in the Kazanluk passage, ear/y 3rd centuryFigure 6: Horseman and footsoldier from the eastern frieze in the Kazanluk passage, ear/y 3rd century (Zhivkova)

1st century BC Thracian horsemanLeft: Horseman on 1st century BC gilt silver bowl from Yakimovo (north-western Bulgaria, probably Triballi territory).  He has a straight long sword,   and a large circular shield.  he wears trousers and a chlamys and is clean-shaven, with short hair.  The stallion is saddled and harnessed, with a striated mane and plaited tail.



The Getic king from the Sveshtari tombLeft: The Getic king from the 3rd century Sveshtari tomb

See Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars - Fig. 71, and for a Getic noble, Fig 72













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Left: Tetradrachm of Saratokos, second half of 5th century BC, from Problems in History, 1997 3/4, p83


ллFigure 19: Possible appearance of a Thracian heavy cavairyman, late 5th or 4th century plus the Aghighiol greave and helmet, and the saddlecloth taken from the Kazanluk paintings.

4th century cavalryman on a gold ring from BulgariaGold ring from Bulgaria, first halfof 4th century BC


Fourth century horseman on a gold ring from GlogeneGold ring from the village of Glogene, Lovech district, first half of 4th century BC. A bearded horseman with rhyton - symbol of royal power




2nd century horseman (192 kb))Left: Phalera (cheekpiece) Silver gilt, diam. 15.8cm, from Galiche, Montana district, 2nd Century BC shows a horseman wearing a long cloak and several torques on the neck. Gold torques were found elsewhere with a rhomphaia blade, greaves, and Thracian helmet, suggesting that they were worn by the later Thracians.


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Above and below:  Patraus,Paeonian King, 335-315 B.C.
Above: AR Tetradrachm. Laureate hd. of Apollo r. Rv. Warrior on horseback spearing fallen enemy. SNG COP 1390var. 12.63g


Thracian cavalry in the service of Rome and the Roman client kingdoms of Thrace.

A Thracian horseman from PernikThracian horseman in the Pernik Museum










Left and right:  Thracian horseman votive offerings from a shrine near Pernik, now in the Pernik Museum, photographed with permission by Christopher Webber

Thracian Roman tombstone from Wroxeter, near ShrewsburyLeft: a tombstone of an auxiliary Thracian cavalryman from the Roman town of Wroxeter, near Shrewsbry, now in Shrewsbury's Rowley House museum (author's photo).  This cavalryman died very early in the occupation of Britain, and could have served in the army of the Thracian client kingdom.














Thracian auxiliary cavalryman in Roman service

Above: The tombstone of a Thracian auxiliary cavalryman in Gloucester city museum (author's photograph).   Click for a closer look.

He wears a helmet and carries a shield, spear, and long sword.  The details of his clothes and armour were probably painted on, but have now disappeared.

The inscription reads: Rufus Sita, cavalryman of the 6th cohort of Thracians.  40 years old and 22 years of military service.  His heirs erected this stone in accordance with his will.  Here he lies.

At the top of the stone is a sphinx, the guardian of the dead, and two lions, representing death's jaws.  The painting behind the tombstone is of Gloucester, which was a legionary fortress during the Roman era.  Rufus Sita's official web site is at: http://www.mylife.gloucester.gov.uk/rufus.htm

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This page last updated on Wednesday, 23 January 2002 by Christopher Webber thracian@pnc.com.au

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