Thorakitai

Last updated
Fresco of an ancient Macedonian soldier (thorakitai) wearing chainmail armor and bearing a thureos shield Thueros affresco.jpg
Fresco of an ancient Macedonian soldier (thorakitai) wearing chainmail armor and bearing a thureos shield

The thorakitai (Greek : θωρακίται, singular: θωρακίτης, thorakites) were a type of soldier in Hellenistic armies similar to the thureophoroi . The literal translation of the term is "cuirassiers", which suggests that they may have worn a short Celtic mail shirt or possibly a linothorax . [1]

Greek language language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

Celts ethnolinguistic group of tribal societies in Iron Age and Medieval Europe

The Celts are an Indo-European ethnolinguistic group of Europe identified by their use of Celtic languages and cultural similarities. The history of pre-Celtic Europe and the exact relationship between ethnic, linguistic and cultural factors in the Celtic world remains uncertain and controversial. The exact geographic spread of the ancient Celts is disputed; in particular, the ways in which the Iron Age inhabitants of Great Britain and Ireland should be regarded as Celts have become a subject of controversy. According to one theory, the common root of the Celtic languages, the Proto-Celtic language, arose in the Late Bronze Age Urnfield culture of Central Europe, which flourished from around 1200 BC.

Contents

Role

Thorakitai were used in armies of the Hellenistic period in a variety of tactical situations. They were a type of armoured but mobile infantry who did not require a rigid formation to be effective in combat. From their name we can deduce that most wore armor and helmet. They bore a thureos , an oval shield, and were armed with sword, javelins and spear, which were used according to their tactical use. It seems that the thorakitai were heavily armored thureophoroi, able to bear spears and do battle in a phalanx as well as engage in irregular warfare in situations when such an action was required for tactical reasons, like to exploit or challenge rough terrain.

Hellenistic period Period of ancient Greek and Mediterranean history

The Hellenistic period covers the period of Mediterranean history between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the emergence of the Roman Empire as signified by the Battle of Actium in 31 BC and the subsequent conquest of Ptolemaic Egypt the following year. The Ancient Greek word Hellas is the original word for Greece, from which the word Hellenistic was derived.

Phalanx military formation in ancient Greece

The phalanx was a rectangular mass military formation, usually composed entirely of heavy infantry armed with spears, pikes, sarissas, or similar pole weapons. The term is particularly used to describe the use of this formation in Ancient Greek warfare, although the ancient Greek writers used it to also describe any massed infantry formation, regardless of its equipment. Arrian uses the term in his Array against the Alans when he refers to his legions. In Greek texts, the phalanx may be deployed for battle, on the march, or even camped, thus describing the mass of infantry or cavalry that would deploy in line during battle. They marched forward as one entity.

History

The thorakitai are mentioned in the army of the Achaean League [2] [3] and in the Seleucid army. [4] [5] The Seleucid thorakitai were used in the storming of the Elburz Range in 210 BC under Antiochus III. They were used with the lighter troops to climb the cliffs and fight hand to hand with the enemy who might have not been dislodged by the lighter troops in the assault. [6] There is a tomb illustration from Sidon showing what could well be a thorakites. The fragmentary inscription indicates that he was an Anatolian.

Achaean League Hellenistic-era confederation of Greek city states

The Achaean League was a Hellenistic-era confederation of Greek city states on the northern and central Peloponnese. The league was named after the region of Achaea in the northwestern Peloponnese, which formed its original core. The first league was formed in the fifth century BC. The second Achaean League was established in 280 BC. As a rival of Antigonid Macedon and an ally of Rome, the league played a major role in the expansion of the Roman Republic into Greece. This process eventually led to the League's conquest and dissolution by the Romans in 146 BC.

The Seleucid army was the army of the Seleucid Empire, one of the numerous Hellenistic states that emerged after the death of Alexander the Great.

Sidon City in South Governorate, Lebanon

Sidon, known locally as Sayda, is the third-largest city in Lebanon. It is located in the South Governorate, of which it is the capital, on the Mediterranean coast. Tyre to the south and Lebanese capital Beirut to the north are both about 40 kilometres away. Sidon has a population of about 80,000 within city limits, while its metropolitan area has more than a quarter-million inhabitants.

Related Research Articles

Seleucid Empire former country

The Seleucid Empire was a Hellenistic state ruled by the Seleucid dynasty which existed from 312 BC to 63 BC; Seleucus I Nicator founded it following the division of the Macedonian Empire vastly expanded by Alexander the Great. Seleucus received Babylonia and from there expanded his dominions to include much of Alexander's near-eastern territories. At the height of its power, the Empire included central Anatolia, Persia, the Levant, Mesopotamia, and what is now Kuwait, Afghanistan, and parts of Pakistan and Turkmenistan.

Shield item of armour carried to intercept attacks or projectiles

A shield is a piece of personal armour held in the hand or mounted on the wrist or forearm. Shields are used to intercept specific attacks, whether from close-ranged weaponry or projectiles such as arrows, by means of active blocks, as well as to provide passive protection by closing one or more lines of engagement during combat.

Antiochus III the Great Seleucid ruler

Antiochus III the Great was a Hellenistic Greek king and the 6th ruler of the Seleucid Empire. He ruled over the region of Syria and large parts of the rest of western Asia towards the end of the 3rd century BC. Rising to the throne at the age of eighteen in 222 BC, his early campaigns against the Ptolemaic Kingdom were unsuccessful, but in the following years Antiochus gained several military victories and substantially expanded the empire's territory. His traditional designation, the Great, reflects an epithet he assumed. He also assumed the title Basileus Megas, the traditional title of the Persian kings. A militarily active ruler, Antiochus restored much of the territory of the Seleucid Empire, before suffering a serious setback, towards the end of his reign, in his war against Rome.

Cataphract Heavily-armored, mounted warrior

A cataphract was a form of armored heavy cavalry used in ancient warfare by a number of peoples in Europe, East Asia, Middle East and North Africa.

Attalid dynasty dynasty

The Attalid dynasty was a Hellenistic dynasty that ruled the city of Pergamon in Asia Minor after the death of Lysimachus, a general of Alexander the Great.

Peltast

A peltast was a type of light infantry, originating in Thrace and Paeonia, who often served as skirmishers in Hellenic and Hellenistic armies. In the Medieval period the same term was used for a type of Byzantine infantryman.

Battle of Raphia battle

The Battle of Raphia, also known as the Battle of Gaza, was a battle fought on 22 June 217 BC near modern Rafah between the forces of Ptolemy IV Philopator, king and pharaoh of Ptolemaic Egypt and Antiochus III the Great of the Seleucid Empire during the Syrian Wars. It was one of the largest battles of the Hellenistic kingdoms and was one of the largest battles of the ancient world. The battle was waged to determine the sovereignty of Coele Syria.

Sarissa cold weapon

The sarisa or sarissa was a long spear or pike about 4–6 metres (13–20 ft) in length. It was introduced by Philip II of Macedon and was used in his Macedonian phalanxes as a replacement for the earlier dory, which was considerably shorter. These longer spears improved the traditional strength of the phalanx by extending the rows of overlapping weapons projecting towards the enemy, and the word remained in use throughout the Byzantine years to sometimes describe the long spears of their own infantry.

Iphicrates Athenian general

Iphicrates was an Athenian general, the son of a shoemaker of the deme of Rhamnous, who flourished in the earlier half of the 4th century BC. He is credited with important infantry reforms that revolutionized ancient Greek warfare by regularizing light-armed peltasts. He was married to the daughter of the Thracian King Cotys and had a son with her. His son was named Menestheus, after the legendary King of Athens during the Trojan War. Iphicrates' other son, who was also called Iphicrates, was sent as the Athenian ambassador to the Persian court sometime before 335 BC. He was captured by the Macedonian army along with the Persian court in the aftermath of the Battle of Issus. When Iphicrates the younger died from an unknown disease, Alexander the Great paid for the transportation of his body to his homeland, as an homage to his father.

Hypaspists

A hypaspist is a squire, man at arms, or "shield carrier". In Homer, Deiphobos advances "ὑπασπίδια" or under cover of his shield. By the time of Herodotus (426 BC), the word had come to mean a high status soldier as is strongly suggested by Herodotus in one of the earliest known uses:

The thyreophoroi or thureophoroi was a type of infantry soldier, common in the 3rd to 1st centuries BC, who carried a large oval shield called a Thyreos which had a type of metal strip boss and a central spine. They were armed with a long thrusting spear, javelins and a sword. They also usually wore an iron or bronze Macedonian helmet. The thureos was probably originally an adapted form of a Celtic shield. Thracian and Illyrian infantry probably adopted the shield before the Greeks. However it has been suggested that the thureos was brought to Greece after Pyrrhus of Epirus' campaigns in Italy, as his Oscan allies and Roman enemies used the scutum.

Javelin light spear, designed to be thrown

A javelin is a light spear designed primarily to be thrown, historically as a ranged weapon, but today predominantly for sport. The javelin is almost always thrown by hand, unlike the bow and arrow and slingshot, which shoot projectiles from a mechanism. However, devices do exist to assist the javelin thrower in achieving greater distance, generally called spear-throwers.

Heavy infantry

Heavy infantry refers to heavily armed and armoured infantrymen trained to mount frontal assaults and/or anchor the defensive center of a battle line. This differentiates them from light infantry which are relatively mobile and lightly armoured skirmisher troops intended for screening, scouting, and other roles unsuited to the heavier soldiers.

Hellenistic armies

The Hellenistic armies is the term applied to the armies of the successor kingdoms of the Hellenistic period, which emerged after the death of Alexander the Great. After his death, Alexander's huge empire was torn between his successors, the Diadochi. During the Wars of the Diadochi, the Macedonian army, as developed by Alexander and Philip II, gradually adopted new units and tactics, further developing Macedonian warfare and improving on the tactics used in the Classical era. The armies of the Diadochi bear few differences from that of Alexander, but during the era of the Epigonoi, the differences were obvious, favoring numbers over quality and weight over maneuverability. The limited availability of Greek conscripts in the east led to an increasing dependence on mercenary forces, whereas in the west, Hellenistic armies were continuously involved in wars, which soon exhausted local manpower, paving the way for Roman supremacy. The major Hellenistic states were the Seleucid Empire, Ptolemaic Egypt and the Antigonid kingdom (Macedonia). Smaller states included: Attalid Pergamum, Pontus, Epirus, the Achaean League, the Aetolian League, Syracuse, and other states.

Roman–Seleucid War war 192–188 BC between the Roman Republic and the Seleucid Empire

The Seleucid War, also known as the War of Antiochos or the Syrian War, was a military conflict between two coalitions led by the Roman Republic and the Seleucid Empire. The fighting took place in Greece, the Aegean Sea and Asia Minor.

The Leukaspides, may have made up one of the two probable corps of the Antigonid Macedonian phalanx in the Hellenistic period, with the Chalkaspides forming the other. However, this conclusion is contested, as the Thracians at Pydna also had white shields so the reference may simply refer to these and there may not have been a corps of "white shields" within the phalanx at all. If this theory is correct, then it is likely that the term "bronze shields" applied only to the phalanx part of the Antigonid army. Possible supporting evidence for this claim can be drawn from the fact that the latter term in the 1st century BC Mithridatic army of Pontus is used by Plutarch to define its phalanx component against the other infantry.

Antigonid Macedonian army

The Antigonid Macedonian army was the army that evolved from the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedonia in the period when it was ruled by the Antigonid dynasty from 276 BC to 168 BC. It was seen as one of the principal Hellenistic fighting forces until its ultimate defeat at Roman hands at the Battle of Pydna in 168 BC. However, there was a brief resurgence in 150-148 during the revolt of Andriscus, a supposed heir to Perseus.

Ancient Greek military personal equipment armour and weaponry of soldiers in Ancient Greece

Ancient Greek weapons and armor were primarily geared towards combat between individuals. Their primary technique was called the phalanx, a formation consisting of massed shield wall, which required heavy frontal armor and medium-ranged weapons such as spears. Soldiers were required to provide their own panoply, which could prove expensive, however the lack of any official peace-keeping force meant that most Greek citizens carried weapons as a matter of course for self-defence. Because individuals provided their own equipment, there was considerable diversity in arms and armour among the Hellenistic troops.

References

  1. Head (1982), p. 115
  2. Polybius IV.12.3; XI.11.4-5;14.1;15.5
  3. Plutarch Philopoemen 9.1ff.
  4. Polybius X.29.6
  5. Head (1982), p. 115
  6. Bar-Kochva (1979), p.142-45

Sources