Historical Warfare: The Ancient Greek Peltast
A Peltast was a type of light infantry, originating in Thrace, who often served as skirmishers in the Hellenistic armies. Discover what equipment the Peltast used and how they fought in battle.
Peltasts carried a crescent-shaped wicker shield called a pelte as their main protection. The pelte was rimless and covered in goat or sheep skin. The shield could be carried with a central strap and a hand grip near the rim or with just a central hand-grip. It may also have had a carrying strap as Thracian peltasts slung their shields on their backs when evading the enemy.
A Peltasts' weapons consisted of several javelins and were also armed with a sword, which was used for close quarter combat. As their armour was cheap and cost effective, a majority of the poorer class citizens of ancient greece would fight as peltasts. Eventually, Peltasts came to use a spear, however it is generally regarded that soldiers are not ‘true’ peltasts.
Although originating in the land of the Thracians, Peltasts gradually became more important in Greek warfare, in particular during the Peloponnesian War. Peltasts were usually deployed on the flanks of the Greek phalanx, in order to provide a link with any cavalry, or in rough or broken ground.
The tactic used by Peltasts when fighting hoplites, was to throw their javelins at short range. If the hoplites charged, the peltasts would retreat. As they carried considerably lighter equipment than the hoplites, they were usually able to evade successfully. They would then return to the attack once the pursuit ended, taking advantage of any disorder created in the hoplites' ranks. However, their lack of heavy equipment made them quite vulnerable to shock-capable cavalry, and as a result, the Peltast fought on broken ground where cavalry was useless and heavy infantry found it difficult to maintain formation.
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