Hellenistic Warfare > Sphendonetai



In Alexander the Great's army, the sphendonetai were slingers, a type of light infantry that provided essential ranged support. These troops were an integral part of Alexander’s combined arms tactics, and they played a crucial role in disrupting enemy formations and providing cover for other units. Here’s an in-depth look at the sphendonetai and their place in Alexander’s military structure:

Overview of Alexander’s Army

Infantry Units

  1. Pezhetairoi (Foot Companions):

    • Core Unit: Backbone of the Macedonian phalanx.
    • Equipment: Armed with the sarissa (a long spear).
    • Role: Formed a dense, impenetrable front line.
  2. Hypaspists:

    • Elite Infantry: Flexible and versatile troops.
    • Equipment: Carried shorter spears and larger shields.
    • Role: Acted as a link between the phalanx and the cavalry.
  3. Agrianians:

    • Light Infantry: From Thrace, known for agility.
    • Equipment: Light armor, javelins, and small shields.
    • Role: Skirmishing, flanking, and operating in rough terrain.

Cavalry Units

  1. Companion Cavalry (Hetairoi):

    • Elite Cavalry: Shock troops.
    • Equipment: Heavily armored with long spears.
    • Role: Flanking maneuvers and decisive charges.
  2. Thessalian Cavalry:

    • Heavy Cavalry: Versatile and effective.
    • Equipment: Similar to Companion Cavalry.
    • Role: Supported the Companion Cavalry and balanced the flanks.
  3. Light Cavalry (Prodromoi and Sarissophoroi):

    • Mobile Units: For scouting and skirmishing.
    • Equipment: Light armor, spears, and sometimes bows.
    • Role: Reconnaissance and rapid assaults.

Specialized Units

  1. Engineers and Siege Equipment:

    • Role: Constructed and operated siege engines.
    • Equipment: Included catapults, battering rams, and siege towers.
  2. Archers (Toxotai) and Slingers (Sphendonetai):

    • Ranged Units: Provided essential long-range attacks.
    • Equipment: Bows for archers; slings for sphendonetai.
    • Role: Disrupted enemy formations and provided cover.

Sphendonetai (Slingers)

Background and Recruitment

Equipment and Techniques

Tactical Roles

  1. Disruption of Enemy Formations:

    • Initial Engagement: The sphendonetai would engage the enemy from a distance, disrupting formations and causing casualties before the main infantry engagement.
    • Psychological Impact: The whizzing sound of the projectiles and their impact could demoralize and confuse enemy troops.
  2. Support for Main Troops:

    • Cover Fire: Provided cover for the advancing phalanx and cavalry, forcing the enemy to keep their heads down.
    • Flexible Deployment: Could quickly reposition to support different parts of the battlefield as needed.
  3. Harassment and Skirmishing:

    • Flanking and Rear Attacks: Utilized their mobility to harass the enemy’s flanks and rear, targeting vulnerable troops and disrupting supply lines.
    • Ambushes: Used in ambush scenarios to deliver sudden, overwhelming projectile attacks.

Key Engagements Involving Sphendonetai

  1. Battle of Granicus (334 BCE):

    • Initial Skirmishing: The sphendonetai played a role in the initial skirmishes, targeting Persian troops and disrupting their cavalry charges.
  2. Battle of Issus (333 BCE):

    • Supporting Role: They provided ranged support, targeting Persian infantry and cavalry, aiding in the eventual Macedonian victory.
  3. Siege of Tyre (332 BCE):

    • Siege Operations: The sphendonetai were used to harass the defenders and cover Macedonian engineers constructing siege equipment.
  4. Battle of Gaugamela (331 BCE):

    • Crucial Support: Their role was crucial in weakening the Persian lines and providing cover for the Macedonian infantry and cavalry maneuvers.
  5. Battle of the Hydaspes (326 BCE):

    • River Crossing: The sphendonetai supported the complex river crossing by targeting enemy forces on the far bank, providing cover for the crossing troops.


The sphendonetai were an essential component of Alexander the Great’s military, providing critical ranged support that disrupted enemy formations and supported the main infantry and cavalry units. Their skills in skirmishing, harassment, and precision targeting made them invaluable in various combat scenarios, contributing significantly to Alexander’s numerous victories. The integration of the sphendonetai into Alexander's combined arms tactics exemplifies his innovative and strategic approach to warfare, which allowed him to conquer and control a vast empire.


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