What was a ‘peltast’?

In the battles of Ancient Greece, a special type of light infantry was used as skirmishers – meaning they ran ahead of the main battle line and fired the first shots at the enemy

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These infantry soldier were known as peltasts and they formed a part of most Greek armies from around 650 BC to about 250 BC. The type of equipment and style of tactics used by peltasts varied over the centuries, but the key feature was that they were lightly armed infantry used to scout ahead of the main army.

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The earliest peltasts seem to have been men from Thrace who were hired as mercenaries by the various city states of Greece. They came equipped with a wicker shield made in a crescent shape and held by a metal grip on the rim or in the centre. As weapons, the men carried light javelins, and short swords or daggers for use in close combat.

SKIRMISHERS

The peltasts would skirmish forward, hurling their javelins into the massed ranks of the enemy’s heavily armoured infantry phalanx in an effort to thin the ranks and disrupt the formation. Then their own phalanx would charge forward for the decisive clash.

By 400 BC, most Greek states were recruiting their own peltasts as well as, or instead of, hiring mercenaries. Gradually, the peltasts gained heavier equipment, including a metal helmet and a thrusting spear in addition to the throwing javelins.

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Around the year 250 BC, references to peltasts cease and their place was taken by another type of light infantry called the ‘thureophoroi’, who had conventional weaponry but no armour.