Hellenistic Warfare > Bematist


Alexander the Great - Dove Decoration


Bematists or bematistae (Ancient Greek βηματισταί, from βῆμα bema 'pace'), were specialists in ancient Greece who were trained to measure distances by counting their steps. Bematists accompanied Alexander the Great on his campaign in Asia. Their measurements of the distances traveled by Alexander's army show a high degree of precision to the point that it had been suggested that they must have used an odometer, although there is no direct mentioning of such a device:

The overall accuracy of the bematists’ measurements should be apparent. The minor discrepancies of distance can be adequately explained by slight changes in the tracks of roads during the last 2,300 years. The accuracy of the measurements implies that the bematists used a sophisticated mechanical device for measuring distances, undoubtedly an odometer such as described by Heron of Alexandria.

The table below lists distances of the routes as measured by two of Alexander's bematists, Diognetus and Baeton. They were recorded in Pliny's Naturalis Historia (NH 6.61–62). Another similar set of measurements is given by Strabo (11.8.9) following Eratosthenes.

Pliny 6.61–62Strabo 11.8.9Actual distanceRouteMilia passuum 1)English milesDeviationStadia 2)English milesDeviationEnglish milesNorthern Caspian Gates – Hecatompylos———19602250.8%227 main roadSouthern Caspian Gates – Hecatompylos1331222.4%———125 main roadHecatompylos – Alexandria Areion5755290.4%45305211.9%531 Silk RouteAlexandria Areion – Prophtasia1991833.2%16001842.6%189 Herat-JuwainProphtasia – Arachoti Polis5655201%41204749.7%525 Juwain – Kelat-i-GhilzaiArachoti Polis – Hortospana2502300.4%20002300.4%231 main road Kelat-i-Ghilzai – KabulHortospana – Alexandria ad Caucasum50462.1%———47 Kabul – BegramAlexandria ad Caucasum – Peucolatis2372183.2%———211 Begram – CharsadaPeucolatis – Taxila605520%———69 Charsada – TaxilaTaxila – Hydaspes (Jhelum)1201104.8%———105 Aurel Stein’s routeAlexandria Areion – Bactra – Zariaspa3)———38704451.6%438 via Kala Nau, Bala Murghab, Maimana and AndkhuiAverage4.2%2.8%Median2.8%1.9%Notes:1) 1 mille passus = 1,480 meters or 1,618.5 yards2) 1 Attic stadion = 606’10’’3) The route is not recorded to have been followed by Alexander himself.Addenda: Leaving out the highest outlier each, the average deviation of the rest of the bematists's measurements would be 1.9% with Pliny and 1.5% with Strabo at a measured distance of 1,958 respectively 1,605 miles.List of bematistsAmyntasBaetonDiognetusPhilonides of Chersonissos


Engels, Donald W.: Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army, University of California Press, Los Angeles 1978, ISBN 0-520-04272-7. p. 157-158.

Heckel, Waldemar: Who's Who in the Age of Alexander the Great: Prosopography of Alexander's Empire, Blackwell, 2006, ISBN 978-1-4051-1210-9, p. 26, 216.

Epigraphical Database: Elis — Olympia — 336–323 BC.

Warfare Links

Sabalico Logo
Sabalytics Logo
World Map Logo
rStatistics Logo
Time Zone Logo
Galaxy View Logo
Periodic Table Logo
My Location Logo
Weather Track Logo
Sprite Sheet Logo
Barcode Generator Logo
Test Speed Logo
Website Tools Logo
Image Tools Logo
Color Tools Logo
Text Tools Logo
Finance Tools Logo
File Tools Logo
Data Tools Logo
History of Humanity - History Archive Logo
History of Humanity - History Mysteries Logo
History of Humanity - Ancient Mesopotamia Logo
History of Humanity - Egypt History Logo
History of Humanity - Persian Empire Logo
History of Humanity - Greek History Logo
History of Humanity - Alexander the Great Logo
History of Humanity - Roman History Logo
History of Humanity - Punic Wars Logo
History of Humanity - Golden Age of Piracy Logo
History of Humanity - Revolutionary War Logo