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The  Threskourion

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Thracian officerClick on Mercenaries to view source texts about Thracians serving as mercenaries or allies in other armies.

Right: a Thracian officer, from DBA Online


(from  Ian Cheshire, The Thracians: Auxiliaries of the Hellenistic World )

"The Thracians had been the originators of the peltast style of fighting which the Greeks had adopted, and their infantry still relied heavily on javelin fire. Thracian auxiliaries in Macedonian and Roman armies were often used for raids and skirmishes. In pitched battles, however, Thracians who attempted to skirmish would now often find themselves ridden down by enemy cavalry, and against Romans and Macedonians Thracians often found that after an initially successful exchange of missiles they would be forced to fight hand to hand and soundly beaten by their heavier armed opponents. On their own heavily wooded and hilly home ground they relied on ambushes with some success, seizing commanding hilltop positions and delivering surprise attacks from the cover of forests. One Thracian army awaited Alexander the Great atop a hill behind a barricade of wagons, which they then rolled down on the Macedonian infantry.

Thracian infantry was well suited to the hilly and wooded terrain where they mainly lived. It was ideal for skirmishing, but was not sufficiently adept in a stand­up melee. Seuthes hired the hoplites of the 'Ten Thousand' to repair this deficiency and the combination of hoplites and Thracians seemed highly successful.(2) Alexander's battle with the Triballians in 335 B. C. also shows this. 'The Thracians held their own while the fighting was at long range; but once they had felt the weight and drive of the Macedonian infantry in close order, and the cavalry, instead of shooting at them, had begun actually to ride them down in a fierce assault all over the field, they broke and ran. (4)

The majority of Thracian infantry were peltasts. Early peltasts wore little or no armour, and their only protection was a small shield, the pelta, either round or crescent­shaped. They were armed only with javelins or spears plus a side arm of either a sword or dagger. Javelins were used throughout this period, but spearmen are last reported by Plutarch in 322 B.C.(5)

By 200 B.C. the peltast's equipment had changed for the better. Protection was now available in the form of metal helmets and greaves, plus possibly a non­metallic corselet. The pelta had now been replaced by the much larger thureos, possibly copied from the Celts during the Galatian invasion of Greece in 279 B.C. Weaponry had also improved. Swords and javelins were still carried by Thracian peltasts, but they now also carried the rhomphaia as a close quarter weapon. This latter is best described as a battlescythe, wielded two­handed. When this weapon was used in later years by the Bastarnae and Dacians, opposing Roman legionaries wore extra arm and leg armour due to the mutilation it was able to cause. Plutarch describes those Thracians fighting at Pydna as 'brandishing straight rhomphaia, heavy with iron, on their right shoulders'.(9) No doubt many variations of weaponry and protection were still in evidence, and rhompaia with curved blades must have existed.

Lighter infantry also existed, and the Thracians had access to javelinmen, archers and slingers (in that order of availability). Protection would be little or none, apart from the occasional looted helmet. Shields would be available to some javelinmen and slingers, but this was only the small pelta. Some light infantry would carry a dagger or sword as a side arm. As such these light infantry were purely for skirmishing and were unable to take part in a stand­up melee, although javelinmen sometimes charged in support of cavalry, aiming to hamstring the opponents' horses. " (Ian Cheshire)


Introduction | Archers | Cavalry | Peltasts | Slingers  | Javelinmen | Mercenaries


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

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