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PeltastsA Thracian peltast throwing a javelin

^^ "The Javelin Throwing Sequence. The missile is gripped lightly with the third and fourth fingers, while the second and third are are inserted into the loop of the thong that is bound round the shaft.  The throng adds greater leverage to the delivery, signicantly improveing the mechanical efficiency of the throw.  The twist imparted also greatly aids the accuracy of the missile.  Orpheus and two peltasts, click for a closer lookReconstruction of Thracian peltasts, by Johnny Shumate

Early Peltasts

The Dii swordsmen (machairophoroi) are mentioned in Sitlaces’ army, and as 1,300 expensive mercenaries hired by Athens. These men are always referred to as "swordsmen", or "armed with swords". When coupled with their description as being especially nasty, and their impetuous nature, the Bd (F) or Wb (F) category would seem to best describe them. "Swordsmen" does not equate with "skirmishers", especially when other Thracian infantry are usually described as spearmen, javelinmen, or peltasts. For instance, Acibiades "had …numerous Thracian javelineers and horsemen." [34]. The only other time that Thracian swordsmen are mentioned is when Croesus hired "many Thracian swordsmen" for the Lydian army. (Xenophon, Cyropaedia 6.2.10) The Thracian sword (the machaira, or kopis) often comes into special mention; it may be that the Dii were especially good at using it. For example
The Iliad: Book XIII :

"Helenus then struck Deipyrus with a great Thracian sword, hitting him on the temple in close combat and tearing the helmet from his head; the helmet fell to the ground, and one of those who were fighting on the Achaean side took charge of it as it rolled at his feet, but the eyes of Deipyrus were closed in the darkness of death."

The Peltast: Read Charles Grant's article on the history and tactics of classical peltasts.

Thracian Peltasts at Hellas.Net

Classical Thracian peltast, by Johnny Shumate Left: Reconstruction of a classical Thracian peltast by Johnny Shumate jshumat@lifeway.com

The other five best  pictures of Thracian peltasts are:

1. Reconstruction of a classical Thracian peltast by Peter Conolly, p49 Greece and Rome at War
2. Reconstruction of a classical Thracian peltast by Tony Smith, p20 The Greek Hoplite
3. Another reconstruction of a classical Thracian peltast by Matthew Balent, p100 The Compendium of Weapons, Armour and Castles4. Reconstruction of a classical Thracian peltast by Angus McBride, Plate B The Ancient Greeks (Osprey Elite)
5. Reconstruction of a classical Thracian peltast by Jeff Burn, p50 Warfare in the Classical World







Velimir Vucsic, a Croatian artist, has a fabulous colour painting of a Thracian peltast at  http://pubwww.srce.hr/husar/01-peltast2.htm







Left: Thracian peltast from  Jack Cassin-Scott, Costumes and Settings for Historical Plays, Volume 1: The Classical Period, 1979, p34

There is a colour reconstruction of a Thracian peltast in Adrian Gilbert, Going to War in Ancient Greece, Franklin Watts, London, 2000, p 15



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Left: An early Thracian peltast with characteristic hat, crescent shaped shield and high boots (from a painted Greek cup dated 550 BC) . Middle: a 5th Century Thracian with typical hat, cloak and a pair of spears (from a red-figured crater of the middle of the 5th Century).   Illustrations by Charles Grant.  From Charles Grant's article in Military Modelling.  Right: Classical Thracian peltasts, with large prominently patterned cloaks on a vase p96 from M.Opperman, Thraker

The next ten drawings are by Charles Grant, from his Slingshot article The Peltast.

Figure 8Figure 7Left: No. 8: Peltast with long thrusting spear (Württembergisches Landesmuseum, Inv No KAS 117)

pelt4_small.gif (12833 bytes)pelt6_small.gif (12966 bytes)Far Left: Thracian (?) peltast with long thrusting spear (Professor E. Paul, Archaeological Institute Leipisic, Inv. No. T 487).  Left: No. 6 - Plate 7 from JGP Best.  Thracian peltast with long thrusting spear (from ABSA (Annual of the British School of Athens), London 14, pl 14)

pelte10_small.gif (10229 bytes)pelte3_small.gif (10502 bytes)Far Left: .??... Left: (No. 3) Plate 4 from JGP Best. Thracian peltast with long thrusting spear (Archaeological Institute Heidelberg, Inv No B 51)

pelt1a1b_small.gif (18907 bytes)Far left: Greek pelatst with javelin.  Left: barbarian (Thracian?) peltast with javelin. Plates 1a and 1b from JGP Best - National Museum, Copenhagen, Dept of Orient. and Class. Art, Inv. No. 13966

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Left: 2= Plate 3 from JGP Best.  Thracian peltast with long thrusting spear.   (Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, David M. Robinson Bequest, Acc. No. 1959.219)

For some really good colour illustrations of early Thracian peltasts, see D. Nasmyth, Who Was Alexander the Great?, p28, p29, p 41 and p24


Later Peltasts

Thracian peltast with rhomphaia and Kyustendil shield, by Daniella CarlssonLeft: a later Thracian peltast - a reconstruction by Daniella Carlsson using the Kyustendil shield, Livy's descripiton, and a rhomphaia from the Helsinki exhibition.

Peter Connolly portrays Thracian peltasts clad in traditional garb encountering velites at the battle of Cynocephalae.  He obviously doesn't believe that there was any change in peltast appearance or equipment over 300 years!  This is entirely possible, especially where culturally conservative hill tribes are concerned.   There were many differences in costume over relatively short distances in the Balkans until the late nineteenth century - people in the are tended to retain even small ethnological differences.

However, the Kazanluk paintings, other archaeological evidence, and literary references suggest that some Thracian peltasts did change their appearance and equipment radically some time in the fourth century.   This included discarding the traditional Thracian dress, the replacement of the pelta with the thureos, and the use of the rhomphaia as the primary weapon.  Helmets and greaves may now also have been worn, creating what some call the "heavy" peltast.  There are no more references to Thracians with long spears after the fourth century, but javelin-armed peltasts probably persisted, and javelins may have been used with rhomphaias (assuming the practical problems of holding spear, rhomphaia, and shield whille running could be overcome!).

Iphicrates campaigned in Thrace before introducing his peltast/hoplite reforms, and it has been suggested that he got the ideas for his reforms from Thracian tribesmen.   This would mean that the later Thracian peltast could have a light round or oval wicker shiled, a long sword, a helmet, a three or four metre long spear, and light boots.   Javelins are not mentioned, but a peltast would no be able to skirmish without them, so they are assumed to be used, also.  Not much reliance can be placed on this hypothesis, however, as some authors suggest that Iphicrates never introduced the reforms, and that if he did, all that is being described is the later hoplite panoply (only the linen curiass is missing)!

The change to the heavier peltast was probably a response to the increasing number of mercenaries in Greek/Macedonian armies - "mercenary" was synonymous with "peltast".  Although most mercenaries were, by definition, poor, some of these peltasts would have made money out of their profession, and sought to improve their equipment.  At the same time, Greek and Macedonian armies were getting more complex, and the need grew for a troop-type that could link the phalanx with cavalry and other faster-moving troops.  The skirmishing role of the peltast became less important than their ability to take and hold difficult terrain, and guard flanks (usually the left flank).  Greek peltasts took to using the heavier thureos shield and possibly wearing mail shirts.  It is hardly surprising, then, that Thracian peltasts should take to using a deadly hand-to-hand weapon like the rhomphaia, carrying a heavier shield, and wearing some armour.

An innacurate reconstruction of an Hellenistic Thracian peltast can be seen in Phil Barker's Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars, 1st Edition.

This was fixed in the 2nd Edition, Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars, pp 124-129, figures 65-66

Reconstruction of the infantry equipment shown at KazanlukLeft: a Kazanluk Thracian peltast, by Duncan Head.  Peter Connolly has painted an interesting reconstruction of Thracian peltasts with rhomphaias at the battle of Hydaspes.





You can see a Dii peltast, and a mercenary peltast, in Warry.



Left: A later Thracian with helmet, "thureos'', greaves and "machaira" - a reconstruction from literary and archeological sources by Charles Grant.

A later Thracian peltast.A later Thracian peltast, by Johnny ShumateFar right: a Thracian peltast with a rhomphaia, by Johnny Shumate.










Reconstruction by Johnny ShumateReconstruction by Johnny Shumate











Above: reconstructions of peltasts shown in scenes from the 3rd century BC Kazanluk tomb, by Johnny Shumate

Click for a closer look Click for a closer look

Above: these pots are from the Archaeological Museum in Berlin (left) and the British Museum (Right). Click for a closer look. (author's photographs)

Below: Box art from Hät Industrie - with a really bad rhomphaia reconstruction!

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Right: this picture is from DBA Online

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

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