KORYVANTES Association of Historic Studies reconstructs a Thracian peltast, similar to the one that appears on a Classical-era pottery.
Peltasts warriors carried a crescent-shaped wicker shield called Pelti (Latin: peltarion) as their main protection, hence their name. According to Aristotle the Pelti was rimless and covered in goat or sheep skin.
Some literary sources imply that the shield could be round but in art it is usually shown as crescent shaped. It also appears in Scythian Art and may have been a common type in central Europe. 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 (or baldric) as Thracian Peltasts slung their shields on their backs when evading the enemy. Peltasts weapons consisted of several javelins, which may have had throwing straps to allow more force to be applied to a throw. In the Archaic period, the Greek martial tradition had been focused almost exclusively on the heavy infantry, based on Hoplites warriors. The style of fighting used by Peltasts originated in Thrace and the first Greek Peltasts were recruited from the Greek cities of the Thracian coast.
On vases and other images they are generally depicted wearing the costume of Thrace including the distinctive Phrygian cap. This was made of fox-skin and had ear flaps. They also usually wear patterned tunic, fawn skin boots and a long cloak called a Zeira decorated with a bright, geometric, pattern. However, many mercenary Peltasts were probably recruited in Greece. Some vases have also been found showing Hoplites (men wearing Corinthian helmets, greaves and cuirasses, holding hoplite spears) carrying Peltes. Often, the mythical Amazons (women warriors) are shown with Peltast equipment.
Peltasts gradually became more important in Greek warfare, in particular during the Peloponnesian War. Xenophon in the Anabasis describes Peltasts in action against Persian cavalry at the Battle of Cunaxa in 401 BCE where they were serving as part of the mercenary force of Cyrus the Younger. Xenophon\’s description makes it clear that peltasts were armed with swords, as well as javelins, but not with spears. When faced with a charge from the Persian cavalry they opened their ranks and allowed the cavalry through while striking them with swords and hurling javelins at them. They became the main type of Greek mercenary infantry in the 4th century BCE. Their equipment was less expensive than traditional hoplite equipment and would have been more readily available to poorer members of society.
The Athenian general Iphicrates destroyed a Spartan phalanx in the Battle of Lechaeum in 390 BCE, using mostly Peltasts. In the account of Diodorus Siculus, Iphicrates is credited with re-arming his men with long spears, perhaps in around 374 BCE. This reform may have produced a type of peltasts armed with a small shield, a sword, and a spear instead of javelins. Some authorities, such as J.G.P. Best, state that these later Peltasts were not truly Peltasts in the traditional sense, but lightly-armored Hoplites carrying the pelte shield in conjunction with longer spears–a combination that has been interpreted as a direct ancestor to the Macedonian phalanx.
However, thrusting spears are included on some illustrations of Peltasts before the time of Iphicrates and some Peltasts may have carried them as well as javelins rather than as a replacement for them. As no battle accounts actually describe Peltasts using thrusting spears it may be that they were sometimes carried by individuals by choice rather than as part of a policy or reform. The Lykian sarcophagas of Payava from about 400 BCE depicts a soldier carrying a round pelte but using a thrusting spear overarm. He wears a pilos helmet with cheekpieces but no armour. His equipment therefore resembles Iphicrates’s supposed new troops. 4th century BCE Peltasts also seem to have sometimes worn both helmets and linen armour. Alexander the Great employed Peltasts drawn from the Thracian tribes to the north of Macedonia, particularly the Agrianoi. In the 3rd century BC Peltasts were gradually replaced with Thyreophoroi. Later references to Peltasts may not in fact refer to their style of equipment as the word peltast became a synonym for mercenary.
This representation of Tracian Peltast is very interesting, because it possibly reveals the diplomatic and political relationships of the era. The painting depicts a young Warrior wearing the traditional Tracian Zeira (long, heavy wool tunic, decorated with geometric patterns). Instead of the distinctive Phrygian cap, the warrior wears an Athenian-like (Attic) helmet. He carries a Pelti (shield) decorated with an Episimon (emblem) that combines both a Phallus and Wings. The Episimon (emblem) on shields of ancient Greeks used to represent the Fratria (family) of the warrior. The combination of Phallus and Wings clearly represents the union of two Fratries (families)
Phallus is related with the orgiastic rituals of the Dinysus God, as symbol of fertility/life. Dionysus, a God that originates from Greek civilization (the name Dionysus has been found on Mycenaen texts, dated to 2000 bc), was worshiped especially by north Greek tribes (Macedonians, Illyrians and Thracians) in theLand of Hedonon (Pleasure),area that today is north Greece and south Bulgaria.
It is scientifically documented that Land of Hedonon was covered by wild-grape plants since the pre-historic era and Dionysus rituals were closely related to wine culture. Phallus, as an Episimon on warrior’s shield, clearly indicates a member of a Fratria related to Dionysys rituals. The Thracian clothes indicate a Thracian Warrion and the Attic helmet the connection with city of Athens. In city of Athens, Phallus was introduced from north and was connected with the rituals of Hermes (Hermetic statues with Phallus were used as sacred road signs).
One of the major symbols of Hermes were the Wings, thus the symbol of Kyrikes (Messengers) Fratria of Athens. It is documented that the Kirikes Fratia used mixed origin Thracian-Athenians as means of diplomatic alliance. The pottery repesents a Warrior carrying the Phallus of Dionysus priests and the Wings of the Kyrikes Fratria.
Clearly this represents the union of two powerful Fratries through marriage or diplomatic relationships. In December 2010, members of KORYVANTES Association constructed a Pelti similar to the one represented on the pottery and re-enacted the Thracian warrior. Pelti was constructed of natural only material (skin, linen, hide glue, wood, rope). The Thracian warrior is armored with Illyrian helmet and thorax made of leather scales, a usual low-cost armor for Peltasts.
The warrior wears a Zeira (cloak), we used a hand-made/heavy-wool carpet of more than 100 years old decorated with bright geometric patterns. The Warrior is armed with a heavy Romfaia, a weapon used by Thracians in post-Classical era, made using traditional iron-smith techniques.
The presented armors (lino-thorax and dermato-thorax) are built by Dimitrios Katsikis (firstname.lastname@example.org), researcher and fine armour-smith. pelti was built by Aliadis Antonis, using native-Greek wikcer wood, linen cloth (myltiple layers of) and leather reinforcements.
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