Hellenistic Warfare > Hellenistic Infantry

Hellenistic Infantry


Hellenistic Infantry

Hellenistic infantry evolved significantly after the conquests of Alexander the Great, influenced by the blending of Greek and Eastern military traditions and the changing nature of warfare during the period. The infantry units of the Hellenistic kingdoms, including the Ptolemaic, Seleucid, and Antigonid empires, were crucial components of their armies, providing both offensive and defensive capabilities on the battlefield.

Types of Hellenistic Infantry

  1. Phalangites:

    • Role: The core of Hellenistic infantry was the phalangites, soldiers who fought in the Macedonian phalanx formation. This formation was a development of the traditional Greek hoplite phalanx, optimized for both offense and defense.
    • Equipment: Phalangites were equipped with the sarissa, a long pike (typically 4 to 6 meters in length), a small shield (pelta), and wore body armor such as a linothorax (linen cuirass) or metal cuirass, along with helmets and greaves.
    • Formation: The phalanx was a dense formation of soldiers with overlapping shields and projecting sarissas, creating a formidable wall of spear points that was difficult for enemies to penetrate.
  2. Hypaspists:

    • Role: Originally, hypaspists were elite infantrymen who served as the king's bodyguard and as a flexible force that could operate both in the phalanx and independently. They were later known as the Argyraspides ("Silver Shields") in the Seleucid army.
    • Equipment: Hypaspists were equipped similarly to phalangites but carried shorter spears and larger shields, allowing them greater maneuverability. They wore heavier armor, making them suitable for more versatile roles, including assault and defense.
    • Tactics: They were often used to guard the flanks of the phalanx, engage in skirmishes, and execute rapid movements on the battlefield.
  3. Thureophoroi:

    • Role: Thureophoroi were light infantrymen introduced in the Hellenistic period. They served as skirmishers, providing support to the phalanx and engaging in more mobile combat.
    • Equipment: Thureophoroi were equipped with a thureos (an oval shield), a short spear or javelins, and light armor. Their equipment allowed for greater speed and flexibility compared to the heavily armed phalangites.
    • Tactics: They were used for harassing the enemy, protecting the flanks, and filling gaps in the line. Their mobility made them useful in a variety of tactical situations.
  4. Thorakitai:

    • Role: Thorakitai were heavily armed infantrymen who combined the attributes of the phalangites and thureophoroi. They were introduced to address the need for more flexible heavy infantry.
    • Equipment: Thorakitai wore heavier armor, such as chain mail (thorax), carried a thureos, and were armed with a spear or javelins and a short sword (xiphos).
    • Tactics: They could operate in various roles, from forming a solid line to engaging in close combat and supporting skirmishes.
  5. Peltasts:

    • Role: Peltasts were light infantry skirmishers who played a crucial role in Hellenistic armies, particularly in disrupting enemy formations and engaging in guerrilla-style warfare.
    • Equipment: They carried a small, light shield called a pelta, and were armed with javelins, a short sword, and sometimes a spear. They wore little to no armor to maximize mobility.
    • Tactics: Peltasts excelled in hit-and-run tactics, ambushing, and harassing enemy troops. They were often used to exploit terrain advantages and create chaos among enemy ranks.

Organization and Tactics

  1. Phalanx Formation:

    • Deep Ranks: The phalanx was typically organized in deep ranks, with the front rows presenting a wall of sarissas. The depth of the formation provided stability and the ability to absorb and counter enemy charges.
    • Cohesion and Discipline: The effectiveness of the phalanx depended on the discipline and cohesion of the soldiers. Training and drill were essential to maintaining the formation's integrity during combat.
  2. Combined Arms Approach:

    • Integration with Cavalry: Hellenistic armies emphasized the integration of infantry with cavalry units. The cavalry provided mobility and offensive striking power, while the infantry offered a solid defensive base and support.
    • Support from Light Infantry: Light infantry units, such as peltasts and thureophoroi, played crucial roles in supporting the phalanx, protecting flanks, and engaging in skirmishes.
  3. Flexibility and Adaptation:

    • Responding to Terrain and Enemy Tactics: Hellenistic commanders adapted their tactics to the terrain and the nature of the enemy. Flexibility in the use of different infantry types allowed them to respond effectively to various battlefield situations.
    • Use of Fortifications and Siege Warfare: Hellenistic armies often engaged in sieges, requiring specialized infantry tactics and equipment for both attacking and defending fortifications.

Notable Hellenistic Infantry Units

  1. The Silver Shields (Argyraspides):

    • Seleucid Elite: The Argyraspides were an elite unit in the Seleucid army, known for their heavy armor, discipline, and loyalty. They were often used as the king's personal guard and in crucial battle roles.
    • Role in Battles: They played significant roles in many battles, acting as shock troops and providing a reliable core around which other units could maneuver.
  2. Macedonian Phalangites:

    • Core of the Army: The Macedonian phalanx remained the core of Hellenistic armies, particularly in the Antigonid and Ptolemaic kingdoms. Their training and equipment evolved but retained the essential characteristics of the original Macedonian phalanx.
    • Battle of Cynoscephalae (197 BCE): This battle highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of the phalanx when it faced the more flexible Roman legions. The defeat of the Macedonian phalanx by the Romans marked a turning point in military tactics.


Hellenistic infantry represented a blend of traditional Greek and innovative Eastern military practices, resulting in a versatile and powerful force capable of adapting to various combat scenarios. The evolution of different infantry types, such as phalangites, hypaspists, thureophoroi, and peltasts, reflected the changing nature of warfare during the Hellenistic period. The integration of these units into a cohesive and flexible army structure allowed the Hellenistic kingdoms to achieve significant military successes and maintain their power for centuries. The legacy of Hellenistic infantry tactics and organization influenced subsequent military developments in the Roman and Byzantine periods, showcasing the enduring impact of these innovations on the history of warfare.


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