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Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Q on Thracian Peltasts Reply to topic
 
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William Carew




PostPosted: Mon 02 Jul, 2007 4:11 pm    Post subject: Q on Thracian Peltasts         Reply with quote

Hi,

I'm looking for more info on Thracian Peltasts (eg http://uoregon.edu/~klio/maps/gr/peltast2.jpg), especially around the 5th/4th C BC. The idea of being able to hurl a few javelins and run for the hills while some hoplite lumbers along behind is strangely appealing. Wink I have Christopher Webber's Osprey MAA 360 The Thracians 700 BC - AD 46 though unforutnately his old Thracian website seems to be down.

Pelta
It seems to be taken as an article of faith that the pelta was a 'wicker' shield. But I haven't been able to track down a definitive source for that, apart from the patterning on some Greek vases. Other than the fact they were usually crescent shaped (occassionaly round), and covered with goat- or sheepskin, what is the evidence for wicker over ordinary wood (my understanding is ancient Thrace was heavily forrested with no shortage of timber)? For a first pelta, I've taken the modern shortcut of cutting one out of 1/2" ply, and it's still quite light overall (haven't added covering or straps yet though).

Javelin
I can find very little info on these, perhaps understandably, as it is sometimes even harder to make out their dimensions in iconography than items like pelta, cloaks etc. How long, thick and heavy were they? How did the shafts taper, if at all? Webber suggests a length between 1.1 and 2m, but that isn't very precise of helpful in trying to reconstruct a couple. What kind of speahead did they have (e.g. shape, type of attachment)? What wood was used (and what properties needed if looking for a modern substitute)?

Alopekis
The 'fox-skin' headware, so characteristic of the Thracians on Greek pottery. Webber suggests that whilst one type was literally a fox's skin, other types could include the same neck and cheek flaps of cloth, felt or cowhide. Has anyone tried putting one of these together, and have a pattern they don't mind sharing?

Embades (boots)
Re-enacting a Thracian Peltast, probably the only time moccasin like boots are actually historically appropriate! Apparently these were made of fawnskin. Again, anyone have a pattern they don't mind sharing?

Cloaks
Like Thracian clothing in general, presumably these were made of hemp, flax or wool? Hemp would probably be cooler in Summer, wool for Winter? Just need to track down one with the right geometric patterning...

Cheers,

Bill Carew
Jogo do Pau Brisbane
COLLEGIUM IN ARMIS
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George Hill




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Location: Atlanta Ga
Posts: 611
PostPosted: Mon 02 Jul, 2007 6:26 pm    Post subject: Re: Q on Thracian Peltasts         Reply with quote

William, I hope this will be a big thread. I'm facinated by these fellows as well, though my only source on them is Rome: Total War. And that's not a good source. Not at all.

But the main reason for my post is that your link is broken. You put a ) at the end of the link, and the software thinks it's part of the link. You need to have a space at the end of your links. Here's the correct link for everyone else.

http://uoregon.edu/~klio/maps/gr/peltast2.jpg

And as it goes to am image, I'm going to put another copy of the link in a [ i m g ] and [ / i m g ] (Without the spaces) so everyone can see it as a picture rather then a link.


To abandon your shield is the basest of crimes. - --Tacitus on Germania
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Jean Thibodeau




PostPosted: Mon 02 Jul, 2007 7:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Would they also use slings at times ? At least carrying a sling is real easy to do as it takes no space to speak of.
The only limiting factor is skill for giving every Peltast a sling as a sling takes a lot of practice if any accuracy is expected.

Seems probable to me if every Greek peasant child or sheep herder would probably have grown up with a sling in hand.
( Or is this just a Hollywood notion seen in too many sand and sandals films of the 1950 / 1960 period: All the Steve Reeves
Hercules movies ).

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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Dan P




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PostPosted: Mon 02 Jul, 2007 8:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Is it just me or do the javelins that the fellow in the drawing are holding seem a little short ? Maybe by a foot or two?
At least compared to this modern example?
http://www.kultofathena.com/product~item~AA21...avelin.htm
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George Hill




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PostPosted: Mon 02 Jul, 2007 10:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan P wrote:
Is it just me or do the javelins that the fellow in the drawing are holding seem a little short ? Maybe by a foot or two?
At least compared to this modern example?
http://www.kultofathena.com/product~item~AA21...avelin.htm


Whilst I cannot comment on these javelins being their right or wrong length, I can tell you that thrown spears came in all sizes. If you do a search on these forums for dart(s) you will find a bit of information on shorter javelins.

To abandon your shield is the basest of crimes. - --Tacitus on Germania
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Lafayette C Curtis




PostPosted: Mon 02 Jul, 2007 10:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The javelin does seem a little short, especially compared to the illustrations (reliefs? Petroglyphs? I don't remember what form they took) actually found in Thrace. You could get a better look at them in this site: http://thrace.0catch.com --though don't forget to use a popup blocker.

About slings: some of them might have carried slings, but not in large enough numbers that it becomes noticeable. The use of the sling, BTW, doesn't really take all that much time to learn--in my case, I managed to learn the basics in about six weeks, almost exactly the same as the time I needed to learn the basics of archery way back then. Pinpoint accuracy, of course, would take years of practice, but this is the case with just about every non-mechanical and non-chemical (i.e. neither crossbows nor firearms) ranged weapon in history.

The Balearic and Rhodian slingers were remarkable because they fielded skirmisher formations where the sling was the dominant weapon--but even then many of them carried javelins and the like as secondary weapons.

Now, about the peltasts themselves: if you're looking to do a Thracian peltast, then you should either get sturdy javelins that can double as hand-to-hand weapons. Failing that, you should carry a sword or a heavy spear in addition to your javelins. This is because the Greek accounts of the time indicate a difference between the Thracian peltasts and the Greek peltasts/akontistai--the Greek skirmishers were skirmishers and just that, while the Thracians were often willing to charge into hand-to-hand combat when they thought they had the advantage. Not to mention that many contemporary illustrations of Thracian peltasts show them carrying a long spear instead of a bundle of javelins!
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P. Emerson Humphrey




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Location: Oklahoma, U.S.A.
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PostPosted: Tue 22 Jul, 2014 6:19 pm    Post subject: Thacin peltasts         Reply with quote

Lafayette C Curtis wrote:
The javelin does seem a little short, especially compared to the illustrations (reliefs? Petroglyphs? I don't remember what form they took) actually found in Thrace. You could get a better look at them in this site: http://thrace.0catch.com --though don't forget to use a popup blocker.

About slings: some of them might have carried slings, but not in large enough numbers that it becomes noticeable. The use of the sling, BTW, doesn't really take all that much time to learn--in my case, I managed to learn the basics in about six weeks, almost exactly the same as the time I needed to learn the basics of archery way back then. Pinpoint accuracy, of course, would take years of practice, but this is the case with just about every non-mechanical and non-chemical (i.e. neither crossbows nor firearms) ranged weapon in history.

The Balearic and Rhodian slingers were remarkable because they fielded skirmisher formations where the sling was the dominant weapon--but even then many of them carried javelins and the like as secondary weapons.

Now, about the peltasts themselves: if you're looking to do a Thracian peltast, then you should either get sturdy javelins that can double as hand-to-hand weapons. Failing that, you should carry a sword or a heavy spear in addition to your javelins. This is because the Greek accounts of the time indicate a difference between the Thracian peltasts and the Greek peltasts/akontistai--the Greek skirmishers were skirmishers and just that, while the Thracians were often willing to charge into hand-to-hand combat when they thought they had the advantage. Not to mention that many contemporary illustrations of Thracian peltasts show them carrying a long spear instead of a bundle of javelins!


Thracian peltasts varied a great deal, some used a sica and length of javelin varied as well from tribe to tribe and some seem to have mixed thrusting spears in the group. The reason wicker is supported is the value that was placed on light weight and mobility. My opinion is it varied from tribe to tribe.
I'm going to use a source from a Total war Rome II Mod help site of a peltast type used in Macedon mercenaries. I know this isn't considered a good source but the site is more historically sound than the game.

Thraikioi Peltastai (Thracian Peltasts)


The Thracian Peltast was the originator and the best of the peltasts and these men will often give a better service than their Hellenic counterparts. They are armored in good quality linen and carry a smaller version of the thureos style shield. They are Hellenized warriors, but still have their trademark wild beards, which serve to remind their enemies of their country of origin. They are expert javelinmen, able to pepper their targets with javelins before charging in with their fearsome rhomphaias. They are well trained and among the fiercest and most feared warriors in the entire world, and they know it. This often makes them very impetuous, but an able general should be able to keep them at bay until the right moment. Thrakioi Peltastai can be used with equal precision as skirmishers or medium shock infantry. They are even deadly against armored horsemen, due to their wicked armor-piercing blades.

Historically, the Thraikioi Peltastai have been around since the late Bronze Age and are often considered the archetype of the Thracian warrior, though these Hellenized Peltastai are considerably more heavily armored than their fifth century ancestors. The Thrakioi Peltastai have been plying their deadly trade against Hellenes for as long as any Thrakian or Hellene can remember, and their method of warfare was so effective it was copied by the Hellenes and Makedonians and even mimicked by tribes as distant as the Illyrians. The number of battles and by whom they were used is uncountable. Suffice to say Thrakian peltastai have been used in every major conflict between Hellenic states, and will continue to be used.
Written for BC 272 http://www.europabarbarorum.com/factions_getai_units.html

Another better source an osprey book. Get it while it's hot, .PDF, I'll have to file host it myself is this link goes. Wonderful book.
http://www.mediafire.com/view/jrr3iurm9br5lm4..._AD_46.pdf
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Tue 22 Jul, 2014 8:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I can't say I've done a *lot* of research on peltasts in particular, but I've run across some interesting stuff in the last couple months while digging around on other Greek and Macedonian subjects.

*Thracian* peltasts were indeed known to use spears and fight hand-to-hand at times, though the Greeks first hired them mainly as javelin-chuckers. And I have heard it said that modern reconstructions tend to make the javelins too short--5 to 6 feet is more in line with the pictoral evidence. There also seems to be a resistance to the acceptance of wicker shields, from which I gather that there isn't really any clear description of wicker in literature. But from the number of vase paintings I've seen that show some kind of cross-hatched pattern on the back of the pelta--or even on the front--when no other shield is shown that way, convinces me that a wicker base was certainly known. The face would be leather or hide. One vase painting clearly shows a spiral lashing around the rim.

*Greek* peltasts were also widely employed, at first as skirmishers with javelins. But at some point, possibly as a result of the reforms of Iphicrates, peltasts began to trade their javelins for spears and fight in formation, pretty much as hoplites. It seems to be accepted that a growing number of them were equipped with helmets and body armor (leather or linen). So while Iphicrates is said to have lightened the traditional hoplite gear by swapping the heavy aspis for the pelta, the same effect was achieved by giving peltasts spears. Net result, cheap hoplites! Of course, things are complicated by the apparent use of the word "pelta" to describe the smaller wooden Macedonian shield. But the word "peltast" is rare by Alexander's time, and other terms are used to describe his light infantry and skirmishers.

I think the thureos shield only shows up in Hellenistic times, introduced by Celtic mercenaries (possibly from Gallatia at first?). I don't think these troops were used as skirmishing missile troops--thureophoroi ("door carriers"!) were just auxiliary infantry, to support the pikemen, etc.

There's a great article on Iphicrates and the peltast/hoplite debate,

http://www.ne.jp/asahi/luke/ueda-sarson/Iphikrates1.html

http://www.ne.jp/asahi/luke/ueda-sarson/Iphikrates2.html

Again, I don't know enough to tell you where this writer may be good or bad, but the raw data is fascinating.

Anyway, the original post was a decent summary of what we know. Wool was certainly the primary fabric, even in summer. Certainly linen is an "industry standard" for reenactors in hot weather, but from what I understand it simply was not commonly worn in ancient Greece. So far I have not seen any readily available patterns for the cap or the boots. My one friend who put together a peltast impression converted commercial "Apache boots" by swapping the fringe for flaps, and he made the cap from wool though I don't know just what pattern he used.



The lucky dog DID find some fabulous patterned wool for his cloak, though! You can just see it at his shoulder.

No idea how I'll trump that (obviously I *have* to trump it, or there'd be no point in doing the impression at all, eh?), but I am planning to make a pelta at least. The base will be woven from strips of ash, and I hope to make it slightly dished. I have a Macedonian round wooden pelta under construction already, but I'll need a long spear or pike to go with that! Too many projects...

Khairete!

Matthew
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