Whoosh! Issue 51 - December 2000

FROM HEROES TO LEGIONS:
WARRIORS OF THE XENAVERSE IN HISTORY

By Andrew Shaughnessy
Content copyright (c) 2000 held by author
WHOOSH! Edition copyright (c) 2000 held by WHOOSH!
8478 words



Introduction (01-03)
The Homeric Hero (04-08)
The Greek Hoplite (09-11)
Hoplite Warfare (12-15)
Cavalry and Light Troops (16-18)
The Amazons (19-24)
The Horde (25-26)
Warriors of the Bible (27-28)
Armies of Imperial Ch'in (29-34)
The Persians (35-37)
The Scythians (38-40)
Celtic Warriors (41-46)
Rome's Legions (47-50)
The Legion in Action (51-54)
The Auxilia (55-58)
Xena: Warrior Princess (59-61)
Acknowledgement
References
Disclaimer
Articles
Biography



From Heroes to Legions: Warriors of the Xenaverse in History




Introduction



Notice my ample hair extensions!

Xena shook things up right from Day One in SINS OF THE PAST.


[1] XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS (XWP) is set in a period of almost constant warfare. The classical world was shaped by clashes between city-states, nations and empires, many of which feature in the series. XWP telescopes more than a thousand years into barely four decades, with most of the warriors featured in this article appearing in the space of five years.

[2] This has resulted in armies from different time periods being mixed together in a way that is a lot of fun, but an absolute nightmare to any student of military history. Chronology is twisted, and even the outcomes of battles are changed. For example, ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313) has the Persians annihilating the Athenian and Spartan armies at Marathon. In fact, the battle of Marathon was a victory for Athens and her Plataean allies. The Spartans were not even present, having been delayed in their preparation for battle by religious observances.

[3] My purpose in writing this article is to compare the warriors and armies who appear in XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS with their historical (or even legendary) counterparts, and to examine the latter in detail. I will also try to answer the question "Which of these groups does Xena herself most resemble?"


The Homeric Hero

[4] Warfare in the Xenaverse resembles that of the Heroic Age, as described in Homer's ILIAD and ODYSSEY, together with several other works of the Epic Cycle. Although set around 1200 BCE, the style of combat in the ILIAD reflects that of Homer's own time, some 400 years later. This seems to have been a fluid affair. Troops fought in loose formation, with the most important confrontations being individual duels between aristocratic "heroes". The Homeric hero fought for a number of motives. Personal glory, family honor, the swearing of oaths, love, greed, and vengeance all played their part in the tales of the Trojan War and its aftermath. Hector, the great Trojan hero of the ILIAD, was a man ahead of his time in declaring, "One omen is best - to fight for one's country". In an age of individualism, Hector was probably the Greek world's first patriot.

[5] The heroic ideal of facing one's enemy man-to-man goes a long way towards explaining the behavior of the three temple armies in ETERNAL BONDS (103/513), who throw away their massive numerical superiority by attacking singly or in small groups. This was the way for a hero to win fame and honor, but against two such skilful opponents as Xena and Gabrielle, it could prove disastrous. Achilles best demonstrates the theme of vengeance. Hector had slain Achilles' kinsman Patroclus, so the Greek hero tied Hector's corpse behind his chariot and dragged it around the walls of Troy. This finds a parallel in Xena's abuse of the very much alive Gabrielle in THE BITTER SUITE (58/312).

[6] Many of Homer's heroes wear bronze armor. Articulated panoplies of bronze have been dated to as early as 1400 BCE, but it seems likely that only wealthy warriors could have afforded them. The so-called "Warrior Vase" of about 1200 BCE shows men wearing what appears to be leather armor and this may be regarded as standard for ordinary troops. Shields of this time were large. The most common type was a figure-eight shape made of several layers of bull's hide over a wicker core. Smaller round shields also appear to have been used, implied by existence of greaves to protect warriors' lower legs. Helmets were often made of bronze and surmounted by plumes. In Book Ten of the ILIAD, however, Odysseus (called Ulysses by the Romans) goes out on a night raid wearing a leather and felt cap overlaid with boars' tusks. His friend Diomedes wears a leather helmet without a crest. The troops shown on the "Warrior Vase" wear decorated helms with trailing plumes and a pair of horns projecting from the brow.

[7] Combat usually opened with an exchange of one or two javelins, or even hurled rocks. If this produced no result, both men would draw their swords. These were short and generally used as slashing weapons. Thrusting spears were sometimes used. A spear thrust ended Hector's life. Weapons were usually made of bronze at this time, although iron was sometimes used for smaller items, such as daggers and arrowheads. Several Homeric heroes were skilled archers, notably Paris and Pandarus on the Trojan side, and Teucer for the Greeks. Odysseus possessed a bow that reputedly, only he could string, and this was put to good use against Penelope's suitors as seen in ULYSSES (43/219). Crossbows, despite their repeated appearance in the series, did not reach the Mediterranean world until after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.

[8] True cavalry did not exist at this time, due to the lack of saddles and stirrups, the latter being anachronistic in the Xenaverse. This made it almost impossible for a horseman to keep his seat in combat. In fact, horses were not regarded as riding animals for several centuries after their domestication, their use in warfare being limited to pulling chariots. These generally served as a type of "battle taxi", with the hero dismounting to fight on foot, his charioteer waiting nearby ready to effect a rescue if the need arose. Something similar is seen in CHARIOTS OF WAR (02/102), as well as the secondary use of the vehicle as a platform for archery. Chariots of the time were remarkably light and somewhat flimsy. Homer tells of many Trojan vehicles failing whilst trying to cross the ditch surrounding the Greek camp.


The Greek Hoplite



This town ainıt big enough for two princesses!

Helen is roughed up by Greek soldiers who were ostensibly bearing gifts.


[9] Around the middle of the 7th century BCE a new style of warfare appeared in Greece, reflected in the writings of the Spartan poet Tyrtaeus. He said that a soldier's duty was to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with his comrades, not to engage in individual acts of bravery. This change in attitude seems to have been brought about by an overall increase in prosperity. More men were able to afford weapons and armor, so warfare was no longer the preserve of the aristocracy. Since these middle-class warriors were less interested in personal glory, they needed a new kind of motivation. The polis, or city-state, provided this. There were scores of these dotted all over mainland Greece, and many are mentioned in XWP - Athens, Sparta, Corinth, Argos, and Thebes are just some of the better-known ones. The polis was a man's home and the source of his livelihood, and as such, it was worth defending.

[10] The new style of fighting evolved due to a change in the warrior's equipment. The older shield with a single central handgrip was replaced by a more substantial item about 80 cm in diameter, faced with bronze and fitted with a double grip. An armband was located behind the center of the shield. The left forearm was thrust through this to the elbow, with the hand grasping a second grip near the rim. This type of shield was usually called an aspis, although the term hoplon could also be used. This may explain why the men who carried them became known as hoplites (hoplitai).

[11] The disadvantage of the shield was that it left the right side of the body exposed. It therefore made sense to fight in a closely ordered line, with the left-hand edge of each hoplite's shield protecting the right side of the man next to him. This formation did not allow for javelin throwing or the type of wild swordplay seen in XWP, and the main offensive weapon became the spear, 2-2.5 m long and thrust over arm. Swords were still carried, but used only in emergencies. Both weapons were now made of iron. Armor typically comprised a bronze helmet (often with a horsehair crest), a corselet of several layers of linen strips glued together (linothorax), and bronze greaves to protect the shins.


Hoplite Warfare

[12] Tactics at this time were rudimentary. The Greek historian Herodotus quotes the dry observation of the Persian general Mardonius that in normal circumstances, when the Greeks declared war on each other, they looked out the best and flattest piece of ground and had their battle on that. Opposing armies would each form up in a solid block of men called a phalanx, at least eight ranks deep, then advance until contact was made. Even this simple maneuver was complicated by the tendency of the phalanx to drift to its right, as each man sought the protection of his neighbor's shield. This meant that opposing phalanxes often overlapped each other's left flank, and victory went to the army that could best exploit this advantage. There is anecdotal evidence of two phalanxes actually missing each other due to excessive rightwards drift. One can imagine the astonishment of the men on the left wing of each phalanx as they watched their opponents thunder past in the opposite direction!

[13] The initial shock of impact was followed by what the Greeks called "the shoving" (othismos). Both sides would push as hard as they could, with the men behind adding weight to the effort of those in front. The front ranks would, of course, also be trying to stab one another over their shield rims. Eventually one side would tire and break, and this was when most of the fatalities occurred. The victors would pursue their fleeing enemies, striking at their unprotected backs. The heavy hoplite shield was a liability in this situation, and many men jettisoned their shields in order to outrun their pursuers. Even in Modern Greek, the term ripsaspis ("one who throws away his shield") is used to describe a deserter.

[14] Every so often, an echo of the old "heroic" style of warfare could still be heard. Herodotus describes the so-called "Battle of the Champions", fought in about 546 BCE. Argos and Sparta were contesting the territory of Thyrea, and agreed that a token force of 300 hoplites from each army should resolve the dispute. When the dust settled only three men remained standing, two Argives and one Spartan. The Argives immediately decamped, claiming victory, but matters are rarely that simple in war. The Spartan survivor staked a rival claim, pointing out that he had been left in possession of the field. This new disagreement resulted in a full-scale battle, which the Spartans won.

[15] Hoplite armies were in effect trained militias who served in time of need, the sole exception being the Spartans. These men were full-time professionals who lived in barracks from an early age and were not allowed to marry until they were thirty. Spartan training gave their armies a distinct edge in battle, and they were remarkably well organized. Alone of the Greek city-states, they broke their forces down into manageable tactical units and practiced complex battlefield maneuvers. Other armies imitated them, but the Spartans were the past masters of hoplite fighting. At the battle of Sepea, the Argive army was so afraid of being outmaneuvered that it was ordered to conform to all the trumpet signals given to the nearby Spartans. When the Spartan commander observed this, he ordered his men to attack when the "fall out for breakfast" signal was given, achieving complete tactical surprise. Xena would have appreciated that trick!


Cavalry and Light Troops



Xena pulls Callisto over for riding in the chariot pool lane without a 
passenger

Chariots appear from time to time in the Xenaverse.


[16] Although the hoplite phalanx was the mainstay of classical Greek armies, other troop types acted in supporting roles. By this time, chariots had been abandoned and cavalry was in use, because improvements to the bit and bridle made it easier to control the horse. There were few Cavalries owing to the expense of owning a horse. Horsemen were completely unarmored and typically carried spears or javelins. Most rode bareback or used only a saddlecloth. This, together with the lack of stirrups, made it impossible for them to ride down a properly deployed phalanx, although hoplites could be vulnerable if caught on the move. Cavalry were therefore often placed on the wings of the phalanx to guard against outflanking movements. Horsemen were also useful for scouting, harrying supply lines, and the pursuit of a routed enemy.

[17] Light troops included archers and slingers. The best Greek archers were the Cretans, although many city-states employed Scythian mercenaries. Archery was seldom decisive in hoplite battles, as Greek bows were not very powerful and had little effect against the bronze-faced shields of the phalanx. The island of Rhodes was noted for its slingers, and these men served in many armies of the period. In addition to stones, cast lead bullets were used, some with inscriptions on them. Examples have been found bearing the thunderbolt of Zeus, others with the message "Dexa" ("Take that!"). The bullet would not be seen in flight, and could penetrate unprotected flesh at up to 100 meters. It was also capable of concussing a soldier through his helmet, rather than glancing off like an arrow.

[18] Xena's homeland of Thrace provided peltasts, so called because of the pelta, the crescent-shaped shield that was their only defense. They were armed with a bundle of javelins, and were used mostly for scouting and raiding - anything that involved hit-and-run tactics. In a pitched battle, they would form a skirmish line in front of their own phalanx to protect it from enemy missile fire. They would then withdraw to the rear, awaiting their chance to pursue the defeated enemy. The peltasts' mobility meant that they need never come to grips with the enemy, and they were capable of winning minor actions virtually unaided. Of course, on the rare occasions when peltasts were caught by hoplites the light troops suffered severely. Consequently, later peltasts wore helmets and carried larger, oval shields. They were also armed with swords and spears for self-defense.


The Amazons



Hey!  Iım up here!  Pay attention!

Early XENA Amazons always wore bird masks when on official business.


[19] These warrior women feature in several Greek legends. Hercules won the girdle of the Amazon queen, Hippolyta, as his Ninth Labor. In retaliation for this humiliation, the Amazons joined forces with the Scythians to attack Athens. King Theseus of Athens, giving the Greeks their first victory over a foreign invader, eventually drove their combined army from Greece. The epic poem, "The Amazonia", tells how another queen, Penthesilea, led her Amazons to the aid of Troy during its war against the Greeks. Penthesilea later died at the hands of Achilles, the last Amazon queen of any note until Thalestris, whom Alexander the Great reputedly encountered in 330 BCE.

[20] Although originally portrayed in Greek armor, Amazons are later represented as "barbarians" in Persian or Scythian dress - a long sleeved tunic and trousers or, more rarely, a calf-length skirt. Headgear is either the "Phrygian cap", with its distinctive forward drooping peak, or the Persian tiara. This was a soft covering, which could be drawn across the lower half of the face to keep out dust. Amazons are portrayed as fighting both on foot and from horseback. Many of them, even those involved in hand-to-hand combat, carry bows. Spears are prominent, especially among mounted Amazons, but their characteristic weapon is the labrys, a battle-axe with the blade balanced by a long spike. Shields, rarely carried in later representations, are either circular or crescent-shaped.

[21] Who were these mysterious women, and how did they acquire their name? There was a long-held belief that is now no longer considered accurate in academic circles that the word Amazon meant "without breast", referring to their alleged practice of cutting off the right breast in order to facilitate drawing a bow. Any female archers among you will know that this is unnecessary, which would doubtless come as a relief to Gabrielle! A more plausible explanation is that the name derives from an Armenian word meaning, "moon women", probably linking them to worship of a goddess equivalent to Artemis in the Greek pantheon. The legendary Amazons, unlike Queen Melosa's tribe in HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110), were not native to Greece. Hippocrates, writing in the 5th century BCE, identified them with the Sarmatians. An Indo-European people, the Sarmatian's territory stretched from the Ukraine to Kazakhstan, beyond the Caspian Sea.

[22] Later Greek and Roman writers mythologized the origins of the Amazons, some even going so far as to deny their existence, yet it appears that Hippocrates was correct. Excavations in the Soviet Union during the 1950s and 1960s uncovered a number of remarkable graves. They belonged to Sarmatian women, who had been buried with weapons and, in some cases, armor. As grave goods were normally intended for use in the afterlife, it is safe to say that Hippocrates' Amazons have been found. The grave of one young woman is particularly noteworthy. It contained items typical of a privileged female background: a bronze mirror, a necklace of glass beads, silver, bronze and glass bracelets, and an imported Greek amphora. More surprising were the presence of two lance heads, a quiver of 20 arrows and a corselet of iron scale armor. Clearly, she was a woman of rank—a true warrior princess.

[23] The Sarmatians, like all steppe nomads, were excellent horsemen (and women). Their principal weapon was the powerful composite bow, but they were also capable of closing for combat with lance, sword, and a type of axe resembling the labrys. Their heavy cavalry (cataphracti) wore iron scale armor, as did many of their horses. In the 4th century BCE they threw off Scythian domination and embarked on conquests of their own. Since the Amazon graves discovered date from this century and the next, these high-ranking women doubtlessly played a major role in this expansion. No Amazon queens are mentioned after Thalestris, but the Roman general Pompey, campaigning in the Caucasus in 66 BCE, reported seeing women fighting on horseback. When he asked a Greek companion who or what they were, the man replied "Amazons". In a later skirmish, the Romans captured a number of prisoners. Some of them were women, bearing injuries that had clearly been received in battle. Although these particular Amazons lived in a forest, there is no evidence to suggest they possessed the arboreal skills displayed by Cyane's tribe in ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE, PART 2 (70/402).

[24] Contrary to Greek (and Xenaverse) myth, the true Amazons were not a matriarchal society. Sarmatian women lived alongside their men, and dedicated themselves to family life once they were married. Some, however, clearly chose to remain single and rose to prominence as warriors. The Sarmatians appear to have practiced a form of sexual equality unique in the ancient world, and would doubtless have welcomed Xena and Gabrielle with open arms.


The Horde

[25] Encountered in THE PRICE (44/220) and DAUGHTER OF POMIRA (79/411), the warriors of the Horde remain an enigma. Their closest historical counterparts are the Ethiopians who served with the Persians. The Persian army was noted for its heterogeneous nature, with many subject nationals fighting in native dress and with their indigenous weapons. The Ethiopians of Upper Egypt appeared particularly outlandish to the Greeks who faced them during the Plataea campaign of 479 BCE. Tall and dark-skinned, they wore the pelts of leopards and painted their bodies for war, typically chalk white on one side and vermilion on the other. This, together with their bone jewelry and incomprehensible language, would have given them a superficial resemblance to the Horde.

[26] The Ethiopians, however, were a Stone Age people. The arrows fired from their palm-wood bows had heads of flint, and their close-combat weapons were typically wooden clubs and spears tipped with the horns of antelope. In this respect they were quite unlike the Horde, whose finely worked and well-balanced throwing axes are more reminiscent of the later German francisca. Furthermore, Xena's army encountered the Horde when travelling west, whilst the Ethiopians lived far to the south. It appears that the Horde's origins owe more to artistic license and imagination than to any historical group of warriors.


Warriors of the Bible

[27] The Israelite and Philistine armies bore little resemblance to those seen in THE GIANT KILLER (27/203). The Israelites at the time of King Saul were at a severe disadvantage against the technologically superior Philistines. This was due to the latter's knowledge of iron working, obtained when they destroyed the Hittite Empire and kept a closely guarded secret to prevent the Israelites from manufacturing iron weapons. The Bible tells us "Not a blacksmith could be found in the whole land of Israel, because the Philistines had said, "Otherwise the Hebrews will make swords or spears!" So on the day of the battle not a man with Saul or Jonathan had a sword or spear in his hand; only Saul and his son Jonathan had them" (1 Samuel 13:19,22). Helmets and body armor were equally scarce. The Israelites would have resembled a peasant levy, armed with agricultural implements for the most part or, as in David's case, with the weapons of a shepherd - sling and staff.

[28] The Philistines were one of the so-called "Sea Peoples", and appear to have been related to both the Minoans of Crete and the Mycenaeans. After Rameses III repulsed their attempted invasion of Egypt, they settled on the shores of Canaan, a region that still bears their name - Palestine. In Egyptian reliefs, they are easily recognizable due to their distinctive feather-fringed headgear. They were armed with spears, bows, and long iron swords. Large round shields were often carried, and segmented leather body armor appears to have been worn by some warriors. In open country, the Philistines' use of chariots gave them superior mobility, and squadrons of chariot-borne archers were responsible for Saul's eventual defeat on Mount Gilboa. They were also accomplished seafarers, and consequently later kings of Israel and Judah tolerated a Philistine presence on their coastline in order to maintain trade links with the western Mediterranean.


Armies of Imperial Ch'in



ıMake the Pig Squealı was a game Gabrielle objected 
to ­- usually.

Fighting was a dirty business even in the Chıin armies.


[29] THE DEBT (52/306 and 53/307) introduces the Ch'in Empire to the Xenaverse. The political situation reflects the power struggles of the 3rd century BCE, which resulted in the final victory of Ch'in over the other Chinese states and united the country for the first time in five hundred years. Construction of the Great Wall, however, did not begin until the Ch'in Dynasty was already in power. Its original purpose was to defend the northern border of Ch'in against the Hsiung-nu nomad confederation, of which Borias seems to have been a leader. Ironically, the high mortality rate amongst the conscripted laborers who built the Great Wall (it is estimated that one man died for every meter constructed) was a primary cause of the rebellion that overthrew the Ch'in Dynasty.

[30] Chinese armor was often of leather, but by the time of the Empire metal protection was widespread, particularly amongst elite guard units. This comprised small square plates of bronze or iron, riveted or laced together, the latter method being used where flexibility was needed. Some troops, notably infantry skirmishers and light cavalry, remained completely unarmored. Helmets, of bronze or sometimes leather, seem to have been less common than body armor. This was in contrast to western armies, where a helmet was usually the first piece of armor acquired. Shields were often carried by infantry and dismounted cavalry. These were generally rectangular, and made of wood or leather.

[31] Weapons were still often made of bronze, as iron-smelting technology remained very primitive until the 2nd century BCE. Ch'in bronze casters were capable of producing blades at least as good as the brittle cast iron of the time, and these could be coated with a chromium alloy to improve their sharpness. The province of Han was known for the excellence of its arms and equipment, including weapons of low- grade steel. Swords had become increasingly popular over the centuries, with blades up to 110 cm in length. Other typical hand-to-hand weapons were spears and halberds, the latter being a development of the earlier "dagger axe". This was originally a one-handed weapon similar to that carried by Yakut in ADVENTURES IN THE SIN TRADE (69/401 and 70/402), consisting of a large dagger blade lashed or socket-mounted to a fairly short haft. This was gradually lengthened to allow two- handed use, and a spear point and hook were added to the original blade, turning it into a versatile cut-and-thrust weapon.

[32] Bows were usually of the recurved composite type, which had greater range and penetration than any simple wooden bow. This system of construction evolved on the Asian steppes to offset the shortage of wood. It used horn and sinew glued to a relatively thin wooden core. The elastic sinew was fixed to the "back" of the bow, and the horn, which resisted compression, was fixed to the "belly". The whole assembly was then waterproofed with a wrapping of birch bark and often lacquered, producing a powerful weapon that could easily be used from horseback. All the steppe nomads (including the Scythians and Sarmatians) used bows of this type, which soon found their way to the Middle East. The crossbow appeared in China in the 6th century BCE, and although originally used for defending towns and forts, it was being employed in pitched battles by 340 BCE. Its main advantages were ease of use and its penetration at short range. The main disadvantage was its slow rate of fire. Gunpowder, seen in PURITY (96/506) and BACK IN THE BOTTLE (97/507), appeared much later. The chemical formulae for its manufacture appear to have been discovered in the 9th century AD.

[33] Chinese armies were comprised largely of infantry, although cavalry appeared in increasing numbers from 307 BCE. The Ch'in were among the leading exponents of cavalry warfare and were particularly unpopular due to their employment of savage Hu tribesmen. Cavalry were often armed with bows, but could also be equipped for hand-to-hand fighting with swords, spears, or even halberds. The increase in cavalry brought about a corresponding decrease in the use of chariots. These were pulled by a team of four horses, and carried a crew of two in addition to the driver - an archer to his left and another warrior to his right, typically armed with a spear or halberd. Chariots had low cabs and large wheels, some 1.5 m in diameter, with up to twenty-six spokes. Although used mainly for their shock value, some chariots were specialized command vehicles, with a "crow's nest" from which a general could observe the battle unimpeded by the clouds of dust thrown up by the opposing armies.

[34] Chinese soldiers were well disciplined and generally well led. A professional officer corps had replaced the old nobility, and they controlled their troops on the battlefield by means of an elaborate system of flags, drums, and bells. Thanks to their intensive drill, the troops could maneuver at once in response to the signals, and they were trained to deploy in emergencies without specific orders. Drums and gongs were also used to encourage an army's own soldiers and terrify the enemy, an early example of psychological warfare. Tactics were sophisticated, employing attacks against the enemy's flanks and rear, as well as frontal assaults. Considerable use was made of deception, such as elite units masquerading as regular troops until the time came to strike the decisive blow. Other ploys included carts dragging branches to raise dust, giving the impression of a much larger force from a distance. Charioteers also employed this tactic to create a "smokescreen" in battle, allowing the troops behind it to re-deploy and outflank the enemy.


The Persians



I didnıt say XENA SEZ!

Beware of Persians disguised as Greeks in ONE AGAINST AN ARMY.


[35] ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313) features the Persians, who fought a number of wars against the Greek city-states before their final conquest by Alexander the Great in the latter half of the 4th century BCE. They recruited troops from many nations within their vast empire and the spy Dorian was probably an Ionian Greek from the coast of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). These Greeks had rebelled against their Persian overlords, but there may well have been collaborators among them.

[36] The Persian army relied heavily on its archers. In an early scene Pheidippides tells Xena "The sky was so thick with arrows, you couldn't see the sun", and it is gratifying to see the Persian troops represented with a high proportion of archers. The main weakness of the Persian infantry lay in their lack of armor. When drawn up in regiments the front row, armed with spears, carried large shields (spara) to protect the ranks of archers behind. However, if the spara wall could be penetrated the archers were vulnerable, as few men wore cuirasses. This is what happened at Marathon, as the Athenians and Plataeans advanced some 1,500 meters at the double to deny the Persians an easy target. The archers had less time to aim and fire and, although the elite Persian regiments succeeded in pushing back the Athenian center, their wings collapsed and the army was routed. This problem of defense was eventually addressed by introducing a shield called the taka, similar to the Thracian pelta but considerably larger. Most archers carried these, although the spara wall still formed a defensive line in front of the regiment.

[37] The Persians had a strong cavalry arm, and in later years their cuirassiers (armored cavalry) proved particularly effective. At the time of Marathon (490 BCE), however, Persian cavalry did not generally use shields. Some were archers, while others carried javelins. The Persians seem to have been adept at using their cavalry in combination with infantry to harry and isolate enemy units before destroying them. During the invasion of their empire by Alexander, they also fielded considerable numbers of chariots with scythe blades fitted to the wheels. These were of little tactical use, being easily dealt with by a combination of archers and peltasts.


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