: Clad in Gold and Silver: Elite units of the Hellenistic era
Introduction: Filippo Donvito, 'Introduction to the theme'.
“And so, everything arranged, Alexander thought about the war against India; a country believed to be not only rich of gold, but also of pearls and gems, whose way of life was more prone to excesses than magnificence. Those who knew it affirmed that warriors shined of gold and ivory. Therefore the king, for not being exceeded in anything when he excelled for all the rest, ordered to decorate the shields with silver foils, the horses with golden bridles, and even the breastplates, some with gold, others with silver” (Quintus Curtius, Histories of Alexander the Great 8.52- 4). This extract from the Roman historian Quintus Curtius Rufus describes the preparations for the Indian campaign of Alexander the Great. The Macedonian king was decorating the men of his best units before their last effort. These men were the members of the Hypaspists and the Companion cavalry, Alexander’s most loyal soldiers.
The source: Jonathan Ross, 'The Daphne parade - 166 BC: A political statement'.
In 168 BC the Hellenistic world was thrown into chaos. In the East the constant struggles between the Seleucid and Ptolemaic dynasties had led to an invasion by the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Winning decisive victories and making great advances into the Ptolemaic kingdom the Seleucid king was a mere four miles from the great metropolis of Alexandria. At the river Eleusis he was met by Gaius Popillius Laenas, a Roman envoy. There and then Popillius demanded that Antiochus leave Egypt with the threat that if he continued any further Rome and the Seleucid kingdom would be at war. Antiochus, according to Polybius, “led his army back to Syria, deeply hurt and complaining indeed, but yielding to circumstances for the present” (29.27.7).
Sheda Vasseghi, 'Mithridates' elite units - Specialists of a polyglot army'. Illustrated by Angel Garcia Pinto.
“Either make yourself stronger than the Romans, or obey them!” Indeed, the departing words of Roman general Marius to king Mithridates of Pontus during a historical encounter in 98 BC left a strong impression. In fact, the ultimate choice of Mithridates VI the Great of Pontus (r.120-63 BC) in regards to this statement left him one of the most memorable Hellenistic kings to stand up to the Romans. The latter were at that time still a new power in that part of the world, slowly encroaching upon Mithridates’ homeland in Anatolia.
Theme: Paul McDonnell-Staff, 'The elite guard infantry of the Antigonid Macedonian army - Hypaspists to Peltasts'. Illustrated by Johnny Schumate
…he himself, regarding the Silver-shields as impious and bestial men, put them into the violence of Sibyrtius the governor of Arachosia, ordering him to wear them out and destroy them in every possible way, that not a man of them might ever return to Macedonia or behold the Grecian sea” (Plutarch, Life of Eumenes 19.2). Thus was the ignominious end of the proud elite guards of Philip II and Alexander the Great.
Theme: Michael Park, 'The battle of Gaza, 312 BC - Doomed men of distinction'. Illustrated by Igor Dzis and José Antonio German.
The horsemen reached Azotus (modern Ashdod, Israel) near midnight. Their horses, lathered in sweat in spite of the crisp December night, made directly for their stabling and water. Of the elite cavalrymen who had earlier left these winter quarters, few returned. The survivors, a defeated and desultory lot, made their way toward their general’s lodging. Here, in “council” (synhedrion) with what remained of his “Friends” (philoi), Demetrius canvassed his options. Many of the Friends, “the most distinguished of whom were Pithon [son of Agenor], who had shared the command on equal terms with himself, and Boeotus, who for a long time had lived with his father Antigonus and had shared in all his state secrets”, lay dead on the battlefield (Diodorus 19.85.2 – all references to this source and book unless noted). Still in his blood and grime covered armour and struggling to come to terms with events, Demetrius had an envoy sent to Ptolemy “about the burial of the dead since he was very anxious at any cost to honour those who had perished with the funeral that was their due” (85.1). More than a few of those who’d perished had sat in another council prior to the battle; a council of war.
Theme: Erich Anderson, 'The Seleucid cataphract - Origins of armored cavalry'. Illustrated by José Antonio German and Christos Giannopoulos.
Horses have been used in war for just about as long as warfare has existed. Due to the higher leverage and the vast increase in mobility a mounted warrior achieves over a soldier on foot, the horse has been used for thousands of years for numerous different functions. From mounted archers to armored lancers, the use of mounted troops has been pivotal to the outcome of so many battles and conflicts that warfare, and our past in general, would be completely different without them. One of the most effective and revolutionary mounted soldiers was the Medieval knight, a fully armored warrior who crashed into enemy lines with devastating efficiency; a true ‘tank’ of the European Middle Ages. Until recently (within the last fifty years or so), it was widely believed that before the stirrup was invented no other heavy cavalry similar to the knight had existed. However, in the Ancient world there existed a mounted warrior much like the Medieval knight who was not only heavily armored, but happened to be fully capable of a full-blown charge as well: the Seleucid cataphract.
The Find: Murray Dahm, 'A decorated box from Ephesus - Opening the lid.'
The fragments of a decorated ivory box now held in the Ephesus Museum (Turkey, inv. 6-8/4/75) deserve to be better known. Although there is little information on the piece and it is from an apparently unknown provenance (although presumably of eastern origin), it probably dates to the reign of Trajan. These intriguing fragments raise some interesting questions and add to our knowledge of the arms and armour of the period.
Special: Duncan B. Campbell, 'Roman siege warfare or training exercises at Burnswark? - Hillfort under attack'. Illustrated by Andrew Brozyna.
Not far from the little town of Lockerbie in southwest Scotland, travellers on the busy A74 motorway may glimpse, on the skyline, the distinctive flat-topped profile of Burnswark hill. Almost two thousand years ago, a traveller on roughly the same route might have heard the thump of artillery balls, the deadly hiss of sling bullets, and the horn blasts of Roman forces moving purposefully into action. The remains of two encampments can still be seen, lying at the foot of the hill, and the ground was littered with missiles, amply demonstrating the presence of the Roman army. But modern scholars are undecided whether the assault was accompanied by the sounds of slaughter, or by the barks of a Roman drill instructor. Are the remains at Burnswark simply vestiges of practice manoeuvres? Or do they signify a genuine episode of Roman warfare?
The Reenactor : Jasper Oorthuys, 'Imperial legionary, Flavian Era - A preview of Romeinen'.
As a preview and introduction for the book Romeinen by Stef Verstraaten, this special edition of The Reenactor features a soldier drawn from the pages of this new book.
The Debate :James Bowden, 'Introduction of a superior bow - Stave, compound and composite' .
The composite bow was a technical advancement in archery that shifted the balance of power on the battlefield and led to the foundation and rapid expansion of the Akkadian Empire under Sargon in 2350 BC. Its origins in Mesopotamia have remained murky and setting out a clear chronology of its concept and use is based largely on iconographic evidence (i.e. artistic representations), very limited textual evidence, and even fewer examples of bows in the archaeological record. Several other places have been suggested for its development such as Iran, Arabia, the Levant or Canaan, or even Anatolia. However, in my opinion, the evidence points to Mesopotamia and Sargon I of Akkad.