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Thread: Achaemenid Imperial Army

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    Default Achaemenid Imperial Army

    Iran under Achaemenid dynasty
    The Achaemenian/Achaemenid army is well known through descriptions by Herodotus, Xenophon, and Arrian as well as by illustrations on Persepolitan and Greco-Persian monuments [31]. Of particular importance for the topic are the Greek representations of Persian warriors [32] and the evidence of the so-called Alexander Sarcophagus from Sidon [33]. The Persians whom Cyrus united [34] did not possess a professional army: as in days of old, the "people" of a region was represented by its backbone, the "military force," so the two words were used synonymously in one Old Persian term, kāra (cognate with Lithuanian kārias/kāris "war, army," Gothic harjis "army," and German Heer "army," [35]), a sense still retained in the New Persian term kas-o kār "relatives and supporters."


    Glazed0Tiles from Susa, showing the Immortals (Click to enlarge)
    At first the Achaemenid army consisted wholly of Iranian warriors, and even when other regions were subjugated, Iranian formed the nucleus of the imperial army [36]. Darius the Great advises his successor: "If thus thou shalt think: `May I not feel fear of (any) other,' protect this Persian kāra; if the Persian kāra shall be protected, thereafter by the will of Ahuramazda happiness shall come down uninterruptedly and eternally upon this royal house" [37]. With the expansion of the petty kingdom of Persis into a world-empire embracing all Iranian groups from Central Asia to the Danube, a standing army was formed from Persians, Medes, and closely related peoples, and an imperial army was organized by incorporating warriors of all subject nations. Persepolitan representations, and official Persian economic and military documents ultimately used by Herodotus [38] prove that the closer a nation was to the Persians, the more it shared in the domination of the empire by paying less tribute but contributing more soldiers. Thus, the Medes who had the second position in the empire furnished more soldiers than others and indeed many of the imperial generals were chosen from the Medes (Mazares, Harpagus, Taxmaspada, Datis, etc.). Then came the Sacians, Bactrians, Hyrcanians, and other East Iranian groups [39].

    The general term for the professional army was spāda. This consisted of infantry (pasti), cavalry (asabāri "horse-borne," and occasionally usabari "camel-borne"), and charioteers (only the noblest warriors used the then obsolete but symbolic chariot), and a large number of camp followers [40]. From the moment they met the Greeks, the Iranians incorporated subject or mercenary Greeks in their army [41]. As the time went by, not only Iranian satraps in Asia Minor but also the King of Kings employed Greek mercenaries, each of whom received free board and a monthly wage (a gold Daric per month in 401 BCE [42]). By the time of Alexander, these mercenaries had become a regular part of the spāda and their leaders had been incorporated into Iranian aristocracy [43]. They played a major role in Greco-Iranian cultural relations, and helped an eastward expansion of Greek culture.


    (Click to enlarge)
    The size of the imperial army was never as large as the Greeks exaggerated. Careful examination of topography, logistics, organization of the spāda, and official battle orders enable historians to arrive at reasonable figures for Iranian forces. Thus, Xerxes' 3,000,000 fighting men [44] or 2,641,610 soldiers and an equal number of attendants [45] are reduced to 70,000 infantry and 9,000 horsemen [46]; the 900,000-strong army of Artaxerxes II at Cunaxa [47] was in reality no more than 40,000 [48], and the 1,040,000 soldiers of Darius III at Gaugamela [49] is brought down to 34,000 cavalry and some infantry [50]. Unfortunately, historians have seldom paid attention to these overstatements, accordingly, their judgements of Iranian tactics, strategy, and motives have been impaired by faulty calculations [51].

    The organization of the spāda was based on a decimal system "far superior to anything on the Greek side" [52] and was not employed in any Asiatic army until the Mongols [53]. Ten men composed a company under a daθapati [54]; ten companies made up a battalion under a *θatapati [55]; ten battalions formed a division under a *hazārapati [56]; and ten divisions comprised a corps under a *baivarapati [57]. The whole spāda was led by a supreme commander (probably *spādapati, although a generalissimo with full civil authority was called *kārana [Greek karanos] [58]), who was either the King of Kings himself or a trusted close relative or friend (e.g., Mazares the Mede led Cyrus the Great’s army and Datis the Mede that of Darius of the Great at Marathon). A characteristic of the Achaemenid period is that commanders and dignitaries participated in actual fighting, and many of them lost their lives in action [59].

    The training of the Iranian nobility was arduous. As a youth, the Iranian was schooled-in companies of fifty-in running, swimming, horse grooming, tilling the land, tending the cattle, making various handicrafts, and getting accustomed to standing at watch; he would be trained in the arts of the chase (both afoot and on horseback), archery, throwing the spear and javelin, and of sustaining forced marches in unfriendly climate [60]. At twenty he started his military profession [61] which lasted till the age of fifty [62] as a foot soldier or a rider. The elitist groups were trained for both tasks. Thus, Darius says proudly: "Trained am I both with hands and with feet. As a horseman I am a good horseman. As a bowman I am a good bowman both afoot and on horseback. As a spearman I am a good spearman both afoot and on horseback" [63]. The foot soldier carried a short sword (acinaces), a spear with wooden shaft and metal head and butt, a quiver full of arrows of reed with bronze or iron heads, and a bow about one meter long with ends formed in animals' heads, and a case which combined the bow-case and quiver-holder [64]. A symbol of kingship and the Iranian national arm, the bow was held in the hand of the King of Kings on his tomb and coins. Battle-axe was also used, especially by North Iranians [65]. For protection, the infantryman relied on his wicker shield (made of sticks evidently threaded through a wet sheet of leather capable of stopping arrows [66]). The shield was either small and crescent-shaped or large and rectangular; the latter could be planted in the ground allowing the archer to discharge his arrows from behind it [67]. Some guards carried the large "figure-of-eight" -shaped shield known as the Boeotian, while the Gandharans carried round shields not dissimilar to those of Greek hoplites [68]. Some Iranians wore metal helmets, but only the Egyptians and the Mesopotamian contingents wore armour for body protection [69]. The elite infantry had variegated costumes: either the fluted hat, short cape over a shirt, pleated skirt and strapped shoes of the Elamite court dress, or the conical felt hat, tight-fitting tunic and trousers and boots of the Median cavalry suit. One division of the infantry comprised "one thousand spearmen, the noblest and bravest of the Persians" who formed a special royal guard; their spears had golden apples as butts from which they were called the Apple-bearers [70]. As a prince, Darius served in this guard of spearmen under Cambyses [71]. Their commander was the hazārapati of the empire, who, as the officer next to the emperor, possessed vast political power [72]. All members of this guard fell at Plataea defending their position [73]. One corps of the spāda consisted of ten thousand elite Iranian foot soldiers, the so-called "Immortal Guard," whose "number was at no time either greater or less than 10,000"[74]. These had variegated costumes [75] and acted as the Imperial Guards [76]. "Of these one thousand carried spears with golden pomegranate at the lower end instead of spikes; and these encircled the other nine thousand, who bore on their spears pomegranates of silver" [77].

    Achaemenid Armored Cavalry
    (Click to enlarge)
    The cavalry had been instrumental in conquering subject lands, and it retained its importance to the last days of the Achaemenid empire. The horseman was equipped more or less like the foot soldier; but he carried two javelins, one for throwing and one for fending-at least this was the case in Xenophon's time[78]. Some wore metal helmets and padded linen corselets covered with metal scales [79]. A Babylonian document dated to the second year of Darius II lists the requirements of a horseman as follows: a horse along with its girdle (?) and bridle, a helmet, a cuirass of iron, a bronze shield, 120 arrows, a mace of iron, and two iron spears [80]. There were also units of camel-borne troops, and some riding chariots and scythed-chariots, but these were very seldom effective against massed infantry. At Gaugamela 15 elephants were also present but their action is not recorded [81]. Various divisions bore particular standards (Herodotus 9.59), but the imperial banner was a golden eagle with outstretched wings borne on a spear at the side of the commander-in-chief of the army [82].

    Apart from the standing army, the rest of the levies were recruited when the need arose, and it took a long time, sometimes years, to muster a grand army. There were many Iranian garrisons in important centres of the empire, and satraps and governors also had their guards and local levies, but these could not be depleted to form an army on short notice because the danger of revolt was always present. Tribal troops, especially from East Iran, were more readily available. Levies were summoned to a recruiting station (*handaisa[83]) where they were marshaled and reviewed. Campaigns usually started in early spring [84]. Provisions were stored at various magazines along the route of the army, and were also brought with it in baggage-trains [85]. Royal and religious emblems accompanied the centre of the army where the commander had his position: the eagle standard and the holy fire in portable fire-holders attended by Magi chanting hymns, and the sacred chariots of Miθra, Ahura Mazda and others[86]. Mounted scouts were sent in advance to watch the enemy's movements [87]. There was also an excellent system of communication: couriers on the royal road changed horses at short intervals and speedily conveyed their messages to their destinations [88]; also by their light and mirror signals the King of Kings in Susā and Ecbātanā received the news from the whole empire-it is claimed-on the same day [89]. Fire signals communicating the news from towers and heights were widely used with good results [90]. Fortified gates were set up in narrow passes leading into various provinces not only for custom checks but also for stopping the advance of an enemy [91]. The Iranians disliked night marches and did not attack at night; their daily marches were, however, in slow pace because of the heavy baggage-train which often comprised litters for conveying the wives and concubines of the commanders [92]. When night fell, they encamped in a flat area, and if they were approaching the enemy, they dug a ditch and set up ramps of sand-bags around it [93]. Rivers were forded by using rafts, boat-bridges, or inflated skins or simply by riding across on horses and camels [94].

    Before the battle (hamarana), a council of war was held and plans of action discussed. The line of battle was usually drawn up as follows: the foot archers were stationed in the front, flanked by cavalry and supported by light-armed and heavier-armed infantry. The commander-in-chief occupied the centre, observing the lines and directing the actions from an elevated point, where he was best protected, and his orders were received by both wings at the same time. When the battle was joined the archers discharged their arrows, and the slingers [95] threw their stone missiles (lead missiles with longer range became fashionable from 400 BCE, and an actual lead bullet bearing the name of Tissaphernes in Greek has survived [96]). The aim was to throw the enemy lines into confusion. The effective range of the Persian archer was about 120 yards [97]. Then the heavier infantry with spear and sword moved in, supported by cavalry attacking the flanks. These tactics worked well against Asiatic armies, but failed against heavy-armed Greek infantry (hoplites) and Macedonian phalanxes: the arrows were simply stopped by the body armour and the huge shield of the hoplites, and once the hand to hand combat began, no amount of personal bravery could compensate for the Iranians' lack of armour and their inferior offensive weapons [98]. At the battle of Plataea, for instance, a fierce hand-to-hand combat raged between the Iranians and the Greek hoplites: The Iranians "many times seized hold of the Greek spears and broke them; for in boldness and warlike spirit the Iranians were not a whit inferior to the Greeks; but they were without shields, untrained, and far below the enemy in respect of skill in arms. Sometimes singly, sometimes in bodies of ten, now fewer and now more in number, they dashed forward upon the Spartan ranks, and so perished" [99]. Another weakness of the Iranians was the attitude towards their commander: with an able and farsighted general, they displayed unsurpassed courage, but the same men took to disorderly flight as soon as the commander was killed or forced to flee [100]. Knowing that the King of Kings was the heart of his army, Cyrus the Younger ordered Clearchus-his Greek mercenary leader-to attack the centre where the King of Kings was stationed: "and if," he said, "we are victorious there, our whole task [of defeating his army] is accomplished," [101].

    Remains of an Achaemenid battle-ship along with the artist reconstruction
    Cyrus the Younger who knew both the Iranian and Greek armies, tactics and strategies, nearly succeeded in removing Iran's military weaknesses. He supplemented his Asiatic force with a large army of Greek hoplites, formed battalions of heavy cavalry which wore helmets. Breast-plates, and thigh-guards (this protected the sides of the horse as well), and carried a Greek sword in addition to their own arms; their horses too were protected with frontlets and breast-pieces [102]. He made effective use of the coordination of heavy cavalry and heavy infantry-an art which later Agesilaus and especially Alexander employed to the fullest and with the best results. It must be remembered, however, that the effectiveness of the Persian shock cavalry was severely hampered by the lack of stirrup and the saddle. "Encumbered with a corslet of scale armour and poised precariously atop his steed, the horseman kept his seat only through the pressure of his knees. He will have been in serious danger of being unhorsed whenever he delivered a blow with his saber or came within reach of an enemy soldier" [103].

    The Iranians gave quarter to the adversary who requested it, and usually treated their captives with respect and kindness. Noble prisoners were accorded due honour, and princes treated royally. Even rebellious peoples were deported only to be given new lands and houses and enrolled as ordinary subjects. Personal valour was greatly esteemed, and special boons were conferred on brave servants of the empire [104]. Records of battles were kept, detailing the course of an engagement and casualty figures [105]. The commander-in-chief's scribe wrote down distinguished deeds of warriors: "During the whole battle Xerxes sat at the base of the hill..., and whenever he saw any of his own captains perform any worthy exploit he inquired concerning him, and the man's name was taken down by his scribe, together with the names of his father and city" [106]. In the same way Darius recorded the names of his six helpers, together with those of their fathers and nationality, adding: "Thou who shalt be king hereafter, protect well the family of these men" [107]. In 335 BCE both Athens and Thebes sought Iranian help, and the ambassadors of the latter city were received with the greatest honour at the Imperial court and their wishes were granted on the account that their forebears had rendered military assistance to Xerxes 150 years earlier [108]. Cont.. Parthian Army
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    1. Apparel:
    Herodotus described the equipment of the Median and Persian infantry:

    "They wore soft caps called tiaras, multicoloured sleeved tunics with iron scale armour looking like the scales of fish, and trousers. Instead of aspides they carried gerrha with their bows cases slung below them. They carried short spears, large bows, cane arrows and daggers hanging from their belts beside the right thigh."
    Colours/Dyes:
    This description is thought to be a general list, rather than a description of what each soldier carried. Infantry on the stone and tile reliefs at Persepolis and Susa are not shown carrying bow, spear and shield, rather, they carry spear and shield, spear and bow or only a spear or bow.

    The colours of the ancient world were derived from plant and earth pigments. These were mixed with natural resins, animal fats or drying oils to produce paints or boiled with or painted onto cloth as a dye. This range of available colours was quite extensive but in no way anything like the unlimited choice of colours we have today. However, for most peoples, the colours available to them were limited because of geographic isolation, expense or rarity of certain plant or mineral substances.

    The practices and techniques of dyeing has remained mostly unchanged up until the mid 19th. century with the invention and wide spread use of synthetic dyes. Although much of the properties of natural dyes has been down played by commerial interests behind synthethic dyes, natural dyes, particularly the cheaper ones were prone to quickly wash out or become faded making bright colours or intense dark colours rare.

    With many dyes only available through trade or others being very expensive to produce, most ancient people were restricted to those colours that could be obtained from locally produced from vegetable dyes or earth pigments. Trade networks from India to Egypt and Greece which had existed well before the beginning of the Persian empire. Trade greatly increased range of colours available but imported dyes were very expensive and would have only been available to the wealthiest. The poorer classes throughout the ancient world, apart from a possible coloured border would have worn unbleached or undyed linen or wool or leather.

    Reds and browns, particularly in earthy or rusty shades from iron oxides and vegetable dyes were the most common and readily available in the ancient world. Less common would be grassy greens, dull yellows and blues. True black was a difficult colour to fix and pure white would not have remained white for long on campaign.

    Listed below are some of the better known or more expensive dyes that were available to and were used by the Persians of the Achaemenid period.


    Madder:
    Madder, is a bright red dye made from the roots of a small, yellow flowering perennial shrub, 'Rubia Tinctorum' which grows to a height of about one metre. Madder is native to India/ western Asia and had been used as a dye for thousands of years. Its earliest record of use is in Egypt in the fourteenth century BC.

    Depending on the type of mordant used, it can produce a range of colours from brown, purple, red or pinks. Mordants might include alum, chalk, slaked lime, tin, charcoal, cow or sheep dung milk or fermented milk or grape juice
    The process of digging up the roots, drying and making them into a powder made it a fairly expensive dye. Madder has been used on everything from the robes of Persian Kings, to Eygptian mummies and the British redcoats.


    Indigo:
    Indigo, (Indigofera tinctoria), is a shrubby legume which can grow to five feet in height. A native of India, it has been in use for over 4000 years. Indigo produces a beautiful blue colour which was prized for its fastness and it's resistance to sunlight. Denim was initially dyed with indigo before synthetic dyes.


    Henna:
    was derived from the dried leaf of a shrub or small tree (Lawsonia inermis), which is indigenous to the area between Iran and northern India. A range of colours from black, to red, through to neutral can be produced for use with textiles and leather as well as a cosmetic dye for hair, skin and nails. A hectare would produce approximately 1,000 kg of dried leaf.


    Saffron:
    was and still is one of the world's most expensive spices. Originally used as a medicinal herb and a dye, saffron is now principally used for flavoring and colouring foods. Harvesting is still done by hand, the three rusty-red pistils from the crocus blossom, (Crocus sativus), give a range of colours from yellow to orange. Although occurring naturally throughout Persia and Media, the harvesting and drying process made it an expensive, luxury dye.
    Each plant only flowers once a year, the blooms lasting for about fifteen days, so harvesting must be timely.
    Yields can vary considerably according to local conditions. On average one hectare produces 10 kg of dried saffron or approximately 150 crocus stigmas are required to produce one gram of saffron.



    Purple:
    was the most expensive dye of the ancient world. The only source of 'royal' purple was from the Murex shell (Murex trunculus and Murex brandaris) from the waters off the coast of Lebanon. The shades of dye produced from these shellfish could range from bright red, to blue, and to deep, almost black, purple. So expensive it seems that it was only available to the richest. Unlike other dyes which were widely available, access to the Murex shell was limited and the Achaemenid kings seem to have controlled access and use of this resource. Achaemenid kings hoarded purple cloth and only distributed it sparingly. Plutarch's 'Life of Alexander' records that 5,000 talents by weight of purple-dyed cloth taken by Alexander from the treasury of Darius III at Susa had lost none of its freshness of color during almost two centuries of storage.

    However, it is the 'Egyptian blue' or ultramarine colour that had puzzled historians and scientists for centuries as knowledge of its method of production had been lost. Although referred to as 'Egyptian blue', it was used throughout the middle east region, Egypt, Mycenae and the later Roman empire. The knowledge of producing the world's first synthetic pigment was strangely lost around the 9th century AD after over 4000 years of use.

    It was not until the late 19th century that chemists rediscovered that the key to this pigment was lapis lazuli, a semi precious stone found only in Afghanistan. The blue stone was crushed with a mixture of sand, lime and copper and heated to between 850 and 1000 degrees C.


    Pomegrantes
    The pomegranate is a native of Persia and one of the oldest known edible fruits. Its many seeds making it a symbol of fertility and abundance. The rind or skin of the pomegranate was used fresh or dried to produce a range of colours from yellowish brown to a brownish black depending on how it is processed.


    Walnut Tree
    The fruit of the walnut tree is covered with a thick green rind. The rind, along with the leaves were used to produce a green or blackish-brown dye. The colour will adhere directly to wool fibers without a fixing agent or mordant. It was also used as a medicine and as a hair dye.


    Ochre
    Ochre is one of the oldest dyes or pigment know to man. It is a mineral, an oxide of iron, that produces a dye ranging from a golden yellow to orange or red depending upon mineral content or how it is processed. Ochre is processed by first being ground to a powder then either mixed with a binder to form a paint, or added to water to make a dye. Processing sometimes included it being roasted in an air tight container to form a darker, redder colour. Ochre was both readily available and cheap, but faded quickly.

    Persian were referred to by Greek authors as very colourful. Their woollen, leather or silk tunics were multi-coloured and decorated with geometric, floral and religious designs. Colours used included blue, red, green, saffron (yellow -orange), almond, brown or purple or breached white. Purple would only be seen on kings or generals. Saffron being more expensive was more likely on guard and 'Immortal' troops. Some uniformity in colours, would be expected, particularly in the guard or full time regiments.



    2. Armour:
    Both Herodotus and Xenophon's mention Persians wearing a cuirass. This is backed up Greek vases that protray Persians in scale or quilted armour. A number of metal scales have also been found in the ruins of Persepolis, these are made of either bronze, iron or gold plated.

    Masistius, the Persian cavalry commander at Plataea wore a breastplate formed of golden scales under a scarlet tunic.
    Xenophon describes the Persian line as cuirassiers in front, javelin-men behind and archers behind them. This formation he says shall not waste a man and stand firm enough.




    3. Battle-Axe or Sagaris


    The Persian battle-axe or Sagaris was Scythian in origin, not being a traditional Persian weapon, it was rarely shown in Achaemenid art. However it was commonly used for throughout Asia and the middle east and seems to have be favored in battle by some Persian subject nations and by some Persians themselves.

    Greek art work and Greek historians commonly made reference to the 'Persians' use of the axe. Herodotus describes Callimachus, the hero of Marathon being killed by an axe.
    "..they laid hold of the ships and called aloud for fire. It was in the struggle here that Callimachus the Polemarch, after greatly distinguishing himself, lost his life; ........ having seized on a vessel of the enemy's by the ornament at the stern, had his hand cut off by the blow of an axe, and so perished.
    Plutarch, (Life of Alexander) also describes another famous blow stuck by an axe when he tells how the Persian, Spithridates, strikes a almost deadly blow to Alexander at the battle of Gran.
    "Spithridates came up on one side of him, and raising himself upon his horse, gave him such a blow with his battle-axe on the helmet, that he cut off the crest of it, with one of his plumes, and the helmet was only just so far strong enough to save him, that the edge of the weapon touched the hair of his head. But as he was about to repeat his stroke, Clitus, called the black Clitus, prevented him, by running him through the body with his spear."
    The 'Sagaris' had a long slender handle with a heavy cutting or striking blade or point. It took a number of different styles but it was characteristically a light weight weapon that could be used by both cavalry and infantry. Being light enough to use effectively one handed but still able to penetrate a metal helmet or armour. Below is a Cimmerian or Scythian socketed iron axe with a narrow cutting blade and curled top. (7.25 inches ca. 7th century BC.)

    The alabasta vase (480 - 470 BC) below, portrays an archer (probably a Blackman from African provinces serving in Imperial Army) dressed as a Persian, possibly as a marine which may have served in Xerxes fleet. He carries the Eastern-Iranian/Median style bow case and axe.





    4. Archery:

    The Persians used a composite recurve bow which had a wooden core with strips of horn glued to the back and reinforced with tendon. Its small size allowed them to be used both when mounted and on foot.

    The arrows were of cane or reed, with three-feathered flights and triangular sectioned bronze tips. The arrows seem to be of relatively light weight and with their broad heads were more effective against unarmoured targets than for penetrating shield or armour.

    The bow string was pulled back with the index and middle fingers of their right hand with the end of the arrow rested between these two fingers. This was the method used by the Scythians and others throughout the Mediterranean. The Greeks however, held the end of the arrow between the thumb and the index finger, and pulled the string back with the end of the arrow. This was not as effective and so limited distance and penetration of the arrow.


    The Persians seemed to have relied on long range shooting, their massed ranks and fast rate of fire would blanket enemy troops.


    It is the Spartan, Dieneces' famous comment that probably gives us our best impression of Persian archery. One of the Trachinians at the battle of Thermopolyae, remarked,

    "Such was the number of the barbarians, that when they shot forth their arrows the sun would be darkened by their multitude." Dieneces, not at all frightened at these words, but making light of the Median numbers, answered "Our Trachinian friend brings us excellent tidings. If the Medes darken the sun, we shall have our fight in the shade."(Herodotus -The Histories, Bk 7,227)
    This description of hiding the sun, suggests the Persians were shooting at long range with a high trajectory. Even despite the volume of arrows, the heavily armoured Spartans were able to shield themselves from the worst of it, the Persians lightweight arrows were not able to penetrate their cuirasses or shields.
    Against disciplined and trained troops who maintained a tight stationary formation, the Persian archery had little effect. However the high trajectory was most likely due the the presence of the stone wall protecting the Spartans. In other situations such as the battle of Plataea, where they formed up close to the Spartan line, their archery seems to have been more effective.


    Xerxes boasted, "I will conquer Greece with my archers". Whether his pun was intentional or otherwise, it was never fulfilled. Part of the reason, is that around 490 BC a particularly rich seam of silver was struck in the Laurion mines some 25 miles south of Athens. After some powerful persuasion from Themistocles, the Athenians used the proceeds to build the fleet which destroyed the Persians at the battle of Salamis in 480 BC.

    The silver coin depicts the King in the stylised archer pose, with spear and bow. It was with such coins that the Persians not only supplied and equipped their armies but bought off minor kingdoms, tyrants and individuals.



    5. Chariots:
    Seal of Darius the Great
    Chariots were still being used throughout the Achaemenid period in a number of different roles. Foreign contingents still maintained their use, however Persian's military use was now limited to that of a command vehicle, with a number of exceptions.
    Although the chariot was not longer the main offensive arm it was still seen as a symbol of authority and power. Generals would still use them in cultural and military parades, for hunting and to transport themselves to battle.



    No only is Xerxes recorded as being carried in a chariot during his invasion of Greece but he also took with him the sacred chariot of Ahura-Madza. The golden solar chariot that was dedicated to the one great god. It was pulled by eight white horses with the charioteer walking behind holding the reins as no mortal was allowed to ride in it.


    In Xerxes invasion of Greece, both the Indian and Libyan contingents were said to have brought a chariot force.


    Probably the most specialised chariot use was that of the scythed chariot which Xenophon described as used by Cyrus the Great.


    Scythed Chariots

    Cyrus the Great, according to Xenophon, would never refuse two gifts, horses and good weapons. He captured many chariots but considered them an inefficient use of horse and human resources.
    " He abolished this system in favour of the war-chariot proper, with strong wheels to resist the shock of collision, and long axles, on the principle that a broad base is the firmer, while the driver's seat was changed into what might be called a turret, stoutly built with timber and reaching up to the elbow, leaving the driver room to manage the horses above the rim. The driver's themselves were all fully armed, only their eyes uncovered. He had iron scythes about two feet long attached to the axles on either side, and others, under the tree, pointing to the ground, for use in a charge. Such was the type of chariot invented by Cyrus, and it is still in use to-day among the subjects of the Great King."

    Cyrus is said to have fielded a force of 300 Chariots divided into 3 commands of 100 against Croesus. One hundred of his own, a hundred from his Assyrian ally Abradatas of Susa and a hundred converted from the old Median chariots.


    There is debate about whether the Scythed chariot were used by the Early Achaemenid Persians, Xenophon is the only reference to their use by Cyrus the Great and they do not appear to have been used by Darius or Xerxes in their campaigns against Greece.


    In support of Xenophon, scythed chariots are recorded on both sides of the battle at Cunaxa 401B.C. The difficulty of transporting them overseas in the invasion of Greece. Four horses, and the carriage would not only take up valuable space on board a boat but also when the army was in march, the presence of numerous chariots would greatly lengthen the army's march formation. This could cause delays was well as making it harder to defend against attack when on the march.. They would be useless in any attacks on cities or fortifications. And finally they inclusion or not in the army would be dependent on the individual preferences of the King or commander.



    6. War Wagons
    Xenophon describes Cyrus' mobile towers as a car with 8 poles, drawn by eight yoke of oxen, to carry the lower compartment of the battering engines, which stood, with its wheels, about twenty seven feet from the ground. The towers were built with galleries and parapets, each of them could carry twenty men. They were built of planks as thick as the boards of a stage.

    According to Xenophon's description of the battle of Thumbra, they were positioned behind the first line of infantry. The Egyptians forced the Persian infantry backwards until the war wagons behind came into shooting range.







    7. Shields
    Early Achaemenid armies were characterised by a number of interesting and unique shields. A large wicker shield called the gerrha or the Persian word 'spara'. A violin shaped shield protrayed on the reliefs at Persepolis and a 'pelta' which shows a Greek influence.


    a. The 'Spara' Shield

    The 'Spara' is beleived they were used by the armies of Cyrus the great, up until the time of Cyrus the younger at the battle of Cunaxa in 401 BC.

    They were carried only by the front rank infantry to form a barrier or shield wall. The man who held it was referred to as the sparabara or shield bearer. I

    Surviving examples of Sassanian Persian shields from AD 255 are made of reed and leather and are considered to be similar the the earlier Achaemenid Spara. Although it is expected they they were dyed a uniform colour, the Sassanian shields found show no sign of dye or colour.

    The spara seems to be supplied to the bulk of the Persian army included the Persian themselves and their bow armed mercenary and levy troops.




    b. The Violin Shield:
    This shield, so called because of its oval shape with circular cut-outs on either side gives it the appearance of a violin. It had a central metal boss and possible metal edge, the outside and inside is shown smooth so it would appear to be metal or leather covered wood rather than wicker. It may have been carried by guard regiments or the 2 -3 ranks behind the sparabara, as shown above.

    Its shape may be ornamental or functional, it has been suggested that the cut outs enabled it to be used with a two handed grip on the spear. The shield is generally referred to as the Dipylon shield. The name coming from the Dipylon cemetry in Athens where large numbers of representations were found. (Geometric period, 9th and 8th century BC).


    Earlier, Hittites on the Egyptian reliefs of the battle of Kadesh, are also depicted carrying a violin-shaped shield. Casting moulds for the rims of violin-shaped shields have been found in Ramses' capital in the Nile delta.


    c. The Crescent Shield:
    This shield is shown being carried by Persian peltasts, archers and javelin men. Its appears mostly in battle scenes of the later period and may be limited to the western parts of the empire which adopted it from the Greeks.


    8. Spears:
    The main hand to hand weapon of the Persian

    Longer spears are also shown on reliefs at Persepolis (left image), these are 8 to 9 ft to length and held by Persian guards. These may have be used one handed or possibly two handed like a pike. A Persian is shown on a Achaemenid 'seal' a long spear as a two handed pike in a fight against an archer.

    The seal on the right, shows a Persian fighting a charging boar. The spear is held in the right hand in an overhand fashion. Notice the cloak ie saddle cloth used as an improvised shield.


    This bronze spearbutt was found in a 5th century BC cemetery at Deve Huyuk in Northern Syria. It is similar those shown on the reliefs at Susa and Persepolis.

    Herodotus mentions the Guard and Immortals regiments carried spears with silver or gold apple and pomegranate shaped spearbutts. These may have been both a decorative as well functional use. It certainly would have been safer to stand behind a Persian soldier thrusting with a rounded end spear compared to standing behind a Greek hoplite with a sharp spear end.



    9. Sword & Daggers
    The Persians used a number of various weapons for hand-to-hand combat. These were some of Iranian origins inherited from Median and Scythians, or borrowed or adapted from Assrrians, Babylonians or Egyptian origins.



    a. Akinakes
    The characteristic Persian sidearm was the akinakes, which was short in length but could be used for both cut and thrust. It is of Scythian origin, adopted by both the Medes and Persians from at least the seventh century until the second century B.C.

    The akinakes shown above, has the characteristic mount which allowed the wearer to suspend the weapon from a belt on the right side. The sword had a short, straight, double-edged iron blade, 34-45 cm (14-18") in length.

    Median & Persian officials are pictured wearing the akinakes on the stone reliefs of Persepolis. Interestingly, only a small number are shown with sidearms. It could be supposed that only the most trusted officials were allowed be bear arms in the presence of the King.





    b. Kopis

    Greek art, however, does not show the akinakes but rather portrays Persian figures weilding an axe or kopis.

    The kopis sword was predominantly a cutting weapon, similar to a machaira, but with a convex cutting edge of the blade, much like the modern Ghurka kukri. Its heavy, curved blade was large enough to make it the ideal weapon for both infantry and cavalry.


    Although the kopis was used by the Greeks, the classical Greek weapon was the phasganon/xiphos, a straight-bladed and double-edged. cut-and-thrust sword.


    Achaemenid Armoured Cavalry
    c. Cavalry Weapons

    Xenophon (Anabasis 1.8.7) describes Cyrus the younger (401 BC.) Persian guard cavalry as carrying look-a-like Greek swords.
    "and the men carried, besides their other weapons, Greek sabres."


    10. Imperial and Military Standards
    Persian army standards have been mentioned by Greek historians, depicted in Greek art and even

    Xenophon makes several references to Persian standards in his books. In Cyropaedia he describes a royal standard with a gold eagle as well as each senior officer having their own distinctive standard.

    In Anabasis, Xenophon describes the standard of Artaxerxes II at Cunaxa;
    "the royal standard, a kind of golden eagle, with wings extended, perched on a bar of wood and raised upon a lance."
    Herodotus mentions their use at the battle of Plataea 479 BC;
    "When the commanders of the other divisions of the barbarians saw the Persians pursuing the Greeks so hastily, they all forthwith seized their standards, and hurried after at their best speed in great disorder and disarray." (Herodotus -The Histories, Bk IX )

    Standards were not an invention of the Achaemenid armies, they had been used by other middle eastern nations for hundreds of years. Interestingly the Greeks had not yet made use of standards for battlefield command. One possible answer was the makeup of Persian armies. With large numbers of mounted troops, Persians armies were not only larger, but battles were much more mobile compared to the rather static Greek hoplite battles. So standards were needed to help control the armies of the wide plains of the middle east.

    Other uses for Persian standards were as rewards for military service. Plutarch says that Artaxerxes II rewarded a Carian, who was said to have cast the fatal spear that killed Cyrus the Younger at the battle of Cunaxa in 401 B.C,
    " the privilege of carrying ever after a golden cock upon his spear before the first ranks of the army in all expeditions"

    This partly damaged image on the left is from the Alexander mosaic. It is thought to be either a Persian standard or possibly a red banner of the advancing Macedonians. As the latter, it may have been used to signal an attack or possibly to mark the position in the field of Alexander or of Darius.

    Zvezda, the Russian plastics company have considered it to be the former and have used it together with the falcon tile (above) to create the plastic Persian standard bearer depicted below.



    Standards could be decorated with a variety of animal, floral, religious or mythical symbols.

    Animals common to the region were bears, ibex, wolves, leopards, lions, horses, bulls, roosters and falcons.




    Religious symbols including the out stretched wings of the eagle or the fire fire alter/temples of Zoroastrian religion (the official religion), were possibly used, as were other religious symbols including the lily, lion or lightening bolts associated with the worship of Mithra and mythical symbols including the gryphon and winged bulls.

    The fallen Persian on this red figure bowl, 470 B.C, (left), carries what appears to be a brightly coloured standard using geometric designs.
    The post Achaemenid coin below (275 BC.), also shows a similar standard beside a fire temple.

    If we consider that Persian standards are only mentioned as belonging to kings, generals, senior officers or individuals, we then need to consider that we have no reference to Persian regiments carrying their own standards.

    I see it dangerous to assume Persian standards were the Legion standards of the Roman armies or the colours carried by Napoleonic armies. From the references we have, it would be more appropriate to depict Achaemenid standards positioned with the King or commanding officers rather then within infantry or cavalry units.







  2. #2
    conon394's Avatar hoi polloi
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    Default Re: Achaemenid Imperial Army

    Sorry some quibbles....

    The organization of the spāda was based on a decimal system "far superior to anything on the Greek side"


    Really why because it was based on 10? A blanket statement requires blanket proof it is sufficient I think to note the Spartan organization was as complete and thorough.

    On Note 103 - Let remember this is Xenophon the experienced cavalry man trying to juice up the courage of his mostly foot force what else is going to say - hey they are going to kick your ass? Alexander had no stirrups and yet his cavalry remand very shocking indeed...
    Last edited by conon394; December 11, 2009 at 04:31 PM.
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    Default Re: Achaemenid Imperial Army

    CAIS-SOAS are frankly awful for for studying the Achaemenid army. I wouldn't take anyone that uses the Cyropaedia so heavily seriously.

    Moreover the author does not appear to take into account any kind of reform in the army. He sees one continuous entity.

    I could do a play by play critique but it would take me hours....

    Really why because it was based on 10? A blanket statement requires blanket proof it is sufficient think to note the Spartan organization was as complete and thorough.
    You're absolutely right. These sorts of claims are typical of Iranian scholars. They tend to do more harm than good for the cause.
    Last edited by rez; December 11, 2009 at 04:27 PM.

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    Rijul.J.Ballal's Avatar Domesticus
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    Default Re: Achaemenid Imperial Army

    hmm. I always find it annoying how the Persians are ignored...
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    MathiasOfAthens's Avatar Comes Rei Militaris
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    Default Re: Achaemenid Imperial Army

    I dont think that drawing of a ship is really accurate. It doesnt look like Trireme. The Persians didnt really have ships anyway, the Phoencians and the people of the Levant did. As well as the Egyptians.

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    Default Re: Achaemenid Imperial Army

    Where is Rez these days?
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    Default Re: Achaemenid Imperial Army

    Quote Originally Posted by rijul 2222 View Post
    Where is Rez these days?
    The Shah? Dead I think.

    What's so cool about the Persian troops is that so many of them have the robes over top of the armour so that you could probably say that this is the first instance of uniforms.

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    Default Re: Achaemenid Imperial Army

    Quote Originally Posted by MathiasOfAthens View Post
    I dont think that drawing of a ship is really accurate. It doesnt look like Trireme. The Persians didnt really have ships anyway, the Phoencians and the people of the Levant did. As well as the Egyptians.
    Well they are vassals, but you can nitpick.

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    Blatta Optima Maxima's Avatar Definitely banned
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    Default Re: Achaemenid Imperial Army

    By that logic, the Persians hardly had any troops at all since the majority were non-Persian.

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    Default Re: Achaemenid Imperial Army

    The Persian had less Soldiers than often assumed because the core of their army based on a noble/warrior class. You will find later similarities to the Parthians which had also a smaller army. Larger contingents of vassal nations in the realm would been a constant threat and you will find them only in the Armies of the several Satraps. The Persian Army was very professional and in that case armies are allways smaller than possible. Just look at the roman army which was incredibly small in relation to the population.

    Proud to be a real Prussian.

  11. #11
    Lord Oda Nobunaga's Avatar 大信皇帝
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    Default Re: Achaemenid Imperial Army

    From what I've read, Cyrus the Greats personal army was some 10,000 cavalry and 20,000 infantry. It was about 35,000 infantry for Darius the Great except that Darius managed to increase the royal horses to 15,000. This increase in horses probably says a few things:
    1. there seems to be larger amounts of revenue to maintain and buy these horses
    2. there also seems to be more of an importance placed on cavalry than in Cyrus' time (probably because the young Persian empire didn't have the revenues for a larger cavalry force but also there may not have been any sort of royal monopoly in the vast Iranian areas and in Anatolia where horses could be kept in large numbers)(Darius may have also stopped the use of chariotry as neither Xerxes nor Darius mention chariotry and it isn't until the scythed chariots that it is mentioned again; it is possible that the chariots under Cyrus were only controlled as part of one of the King's personal units as any references to chariots seem to be rather obscure)
    3. The vast areas from Iran to Anatolia which can be used for horses must be under some sort of government control or Darius is getting these horses as some sort of foreign tribute or tribute from the satrapies. Interestingly the satraps may not have had many horses as the only time you really see any satraps with large cavalry forces are satraps in Iran or Bactria and also in Central Anatolia. If you look at the Battle of Granicus the Persians had AT MOST 10,000 cavalry troops and this is from various Anatolian satraps. At the battle of Issus in Syria, Darius had about 11,000 cavalry and at Gaugamela where there were Iranians, Anatolians, Bactrians and other troops and satraps from those areas, the army apparently fielded up to 40,000 cavalry.

    But what is interesting is that Darius I army was so large (maybe up to 50,000) that he very well could have been a self sufficient kingdom disconnected from all the other satrapies. Cyrus on the other hand depended on the Median, Bactrian and Babylonian satraps as well as Scythian allies to bolster his ranks (or any auxilia in the area that he was campaigning). The next time that numbers in cavalry get anywhere near that is Cyrus the Younger with 3,000 cavalry despite having 3 Anatolian satrapies. The king's army at Cunaxa only mobilized some 10,000 cavalry so it is interesting to note that Darius increased the number of Cavalry, but after that it seemed to go down again (especially when we don't see Xerxes mobilizing very much cavalry so it leads me to wonder if he mobilized much cavalry against Babylon or Egypt).
    Last edited by Lord Oda Nobunaga; December 03, 2012 at 04:51 PM.

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  12. #12
    Blatta Optima Maxima's Avatar Definitely banned
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    Default Re: Achaemenid Imperial Army

    From what I've read, Cyrus the Greats personal army was some 10,000 cavalry and 20,000 infantry.
    Doesn't matter what you've read, chances are it's fantasy. Cyrus is a semi-mythical figure - we don't even know when he was born. All we have is Greek records from a century later, based quite literally on hearsay.

    Certainly not enough source material to make any conclusions about his army.

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    Lord Oda Nobunaga's Avatar 大信皇帝
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    Default Re: Achaemenid Imperial Army

    Isn't that like saying any information on the Battle of Kadesh, Sargon of Akkad or the Neo Assyrian Empire should be disregarded. Otherwise we could disregard more than half the stuff that we have on Persian history. That too was Greek records and hearsay, or the Sassanid Empire which is mostly Roman records and Arabic hearsay. Why should we disregard the sources on Cyrus the Great, it's not like Herodotus is a liar or exaggerates anything on Cyrus the Great, at least not anywhere close to the way that he does about the Persian War.

    "Famous general without peer in any age, most superior in valor and inspired by the Way of Heaven; since the provinces are now subject to your will it is certain that you will increasingly mount in victory." - Ōgimachi-tennō

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    Blatta Optima Maxima's Avatar Definitely banned
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    Default Re: Achaemenid Imperial Army

    I am not talking about disregarding the narrative, I am talking about disregarding the details. We simply don't know jack about Cyrus's army due to having no reliable sources - and numbers are the first thing that tends to get distorted beyond all recognition. We know roughly what happened during his reign because, well, he established an empire, but that's about it.


    Unless you can provide me some payrolls or other administrative records, your claims about the size of his retinue are about as valid as Catholicism.

  15. #15
    Blatta Optima Maxima's Avatar Definitely banned
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    Default Re: Achaemenid Imperial Army

    I am not talking about disregarding the narrative, I am talking about disregarding the details. We simply don't know jack about Cyrus's army due to having no reliable sources - and numbers are the first thing that tends to get distorted beyond all recognition. We know roughly what happened during his reign because, well, he established an empire, but that's about it.


    Unless you can provide me some payrolls or other administrative records, your claims about the size of his retinue are about as valid as Catholicism.

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