Hellenistic Warfare > Sarissophoroi


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The Sarissophoroi were a specialized unit in Alexander the Great's army, distinguished by their use of the sarissa, a long spear or pike that was a key element of the Macedonian phalanx. Here’s a detailed look at the Sarissophoroi:


Role and Function

  1. Phalanx Formation:

    • Primary Role: The Sarissophoroi were integral to the Macedonian phalanx, the dense infantry formation developed by Philip II of Macedon and perfected by his son, Alexander the Great. The phalanx's primary function was to provide a solid and impenetrable front line in battle.
    • Defensive and Offensive Capabilities: The length of the sarissa allowed the soldiers in the back rows to extend their spears past the front lines, creating multiple layers of defense and offense.
  2. Composition and Training:

    • Heavily Armed Infantry: The Sarissophoroi were heavily armed infantrymen (pezhetairoi), equipped not only with the sarissa but also with smaller shields (aspi), body armor, helmets, and sometimes secondary weapons like short swords (xiphos) or daggers.
    • Training and Discipline: These soldiers required rigorous training to handle the sarissa effectively and to maintain the tight formation of the phalanx. The coordination and discipline needed to maneuver such long spears in unison were considerable.
  3. Tactical Use:

    • Offensive Maneuvers: In offensive maneuvers, the phalanx would advance towards the enemy, using the sarissas to push back and break enemy lines before engaging in close combat.
    • Defensive Stability: In defense, the sarissas created a formidable barrier against cavalry charges and infantry assaults. The length and density of the spears made it difficult for enemies to penetrate the formation.

Historical Context

  1. Philip II and Alexander the Great:

    • Philip II's Innovations: Philip II introduced the sarissa and reformed the Macedonian army, making the phalanx the core of his military strategy. This innovation gave Macedonia a significant advantage over its adversaries.
    • Alexander’s Campaigns: Alexander the Great utilized the Sarissophoroi in his numerous campaigns across Persia, Egypt, and India. The effectiveness of the phalanx played a crucial role in his many victories, including decisive battles like the Battle of Gaugamela.
  2. Key Battles:

    • Battle of Chaeronea (338 BCE): The Macedonian phalanx, including the Sarissophoroi, played a critical role in defeating the combined Greek forces of Athens and Thebes.
    • Battle of Issus (333 BCE): The Sarissophoroi were instrumental in Alexander's victory over the Persian King Darius III, using their long spears to break through the Persian lines.
    • Battle of Gaugamela (331 BCE): One of the most famous battles where the phalanx and the Sarissophoroi contributed significantly to the decisive defeat of Darius III, leading to the fall of the Persian Empire.


  1. Influence on Warfare:

    • Hellenistic Period: The use of the sarissa and the phalanx formation continued to influence Hellenistic armies long after Alexander's death. His Successors (Diadochi) adopted and adapted these tactics in their own conflicts.
    • Roman Adaptations: The Roman military also recognized the effectiveness of the phalanx and incorporated some of its elements into their own tactics, although they eventually developed different approaches to warfare.
  2. Enduring Symbol:

    • Military Excellence: The Sarissophoroi became a symbol of Macedonian military excellence and innovation. Their disciplined formations and the devastating effectiveness of their long spears were legendary in ancient military history.


The Sarissophoroi were a crucial component of Alexander the Great's military successes, embodying the tactical innovations introduced by Philip II and perfected by Alexander. Their use of the sarissa in the phalanx formation provided a formidable advantage in battle, contributing to the rapid expansion and enduring legacy of the Macedonian Empire. The tactics and discipline of the Sarissophoroi left a lasting impact on the development of ancient warfare.


Sidnell, Philip (2006). Warhorse. London: Hambeldon Continuum. p. 355. ISBN 1-85285-374-3.

Heckel, Waldemar (2006). Who's Who in the Age of Alexander the Great: Prosopography of Alexander's Empire. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. p. 351. ISBN 1-4051-8839-1.

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