Hellenistic Warfare > Hypaspists



The Hypaspists, also known as the "Shield Bearers," were an elite unit of infantry in the Macedonian army during the time of Philip II and Alexander the Great. They played a crucial role in many of Alexander's campaigns and were renowned for their versatility, discipline, and fighting prowess.

Origins and Role

  1. Formation:

    • The Hypaspists were likely formed by Philip II of Macedon, Alexander's father, as part of his military reforms that created a more professional and effective army.
    • They were established as a unit to provide a flexible and elite force capable of undertaking a variety of battlefield roles.
  2. Role in Battle:

    • The primary role of the Hypaspists was to act as a link between the heavy infantry phalanx (Macedonian phalanx) and the Companion Cavalry.
    • They were often positioned on the right flank of the phalanx, providing protection and ensuring the cohesion of the battle line.
    • Due to their elite status, they were frequently used for special missions, such as storming fortifications, guarding key positions, and conducting rapid assaults.

Equipment and Training

  1. Equipment:

    • The Hypaspists were equipped similarly to hoplites, with a large round shield (aspis), a helmet, greaves, and body armor (usually a cuirass).
    • They carried a spear, shorter than the sarissa used by the phalanx, and a sword for close combat.
  2. Training:

    • The Hypaspists were well-trained and disciplined soldiers, often chosen for their physical prowess and combat skills.
    • Their training included a range of skills to ensure they could adapt to different combat situations, from phalanx warfare to skirmishing and siege operations.


  1. Regiments:

    • The Hypaspists were organized into several regiments, each commanded by a senior officer. The exact number of regiments varied, but they were typically divided into units of around 500 to 1,000 men.
    • These regiments included the Royal Hypaspists, who were the most elite and closely associated with the king and his personal guard.
  2. Leadership:

    • The Hypaspists were commanded by officers who were often of noble birth and had proven their loyalty and ability in battle. One of the most notable commanders of the Hypaspists was Nicanor, the son of Parmenion.

Campaigns and Battles

  1. Battle of Gaugamela (331 BCE):

    • During the Battle of Gaugamela, the Hypaspists played a crucial role in the decisive attack on the Persian center. They were positioned to protect the flank of the phalanx and support the cavalry's assault.
    • Their discipline and effectiveness helped ensure the success of Alexander's tactics, leading to a significant victory over Darius III.
  2. Siege of Tyre (332 BCE):

    • The Hypaspists were instrumental in the Siege of Tyre, where their versatility was demonstrated in storming the heavily fortified city.
    • They participated in the construction of siege works and conducted assaults on the city's defenses, showcasing their adaptability in different combat scenarios.
  3. Battle of the Hydaspes (326 BCE):

    • At the Battle of the Hydaspes River against King Porus, the Hypaspists again proved their worth. They were involved in the crossing of the river and played a key role in the battle's outcome.
    • Their ability to fight in varied terrains and conditions was crucial to Alexander's victory.


  1. Evolution and Successors:

    • After Alexander's death, the Hypaspists continued to serve in the armies of the Successor kingdoms. They evolved into units known as the Argyraspides (Silver Shields) and continued to be regarded as elite troops.
    • The legacy of the Hypaspists influenced the development of elite infantry units in Hellenistic armies and beyond.
  2. Cultural Impact:

    • The Hypaspists became symbols of military excellence and loyalty, often highlighted in historical accounts and praised for their contributions to Alexander's conquests.


The Hypaspists were an elite and versatile infantry unit that played a pivotal role in the successes of the Macedonian army under Philip II and Alexander the Great. Their equipment, training, and organization allowed them to perform a wide range of military tasks, from supporting the phalanx to storming fortifications. Their legacy continued to influence military organization and elite infantry units in the Hellenistic period and beyond.


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