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The thorakitai: An imitation legionary ?

Overview of the Thorakitai (various refs for around the web). This is calling for some commentaries.
  • 1. Fresco of an ancient Makedonian soldier (thorakitai) wearing mail armor and bearing a thureos shield, 3rd century BC. Photo taken from the Archeological Museum in Istanbul. It is related to the tomb of Sidon and its fragmentary inscription indicates an Anatolian Thorakitai.
  • 2. EB2 team depiction of a Ptolemaic Thorakitai, showing its boots, chainmail, thracian helmet, javelins, lance and side sword.
  • 3. Seleucid or pontic Thorakitai
  • 4. Judaean Thureophoroi, in guard duties, that could have been armoured in war
  • 5. CATW authors's depiction of ptolemaic horakitai
  • 6. RTW2 thorakitai showing a hoplite-type armour thather than chainmail or scale armor
  • 7. Depiction by Angus Mac Bride of a Seleucid "Imitation Legionaire"
  • 8. Another depiction of a ptolemaic thorakitai, with the reformed style of helmet

Summary definition

It could be tricky to establish the outfit of the Thorakitai, but some looks on the Thureophoroi and especially the Istambul museum Fresco (the only depiction of a late hellenististic chainmail armour infantryman) brings some credits to ancient authors which just mentioned the type, like Polybius. Now, the Thureophoroi by all accounts and authors, led to the development of the Thorakitai, which simply means "armoured breast" and is indeed a late infantry. It's hard to single out it's precise apparition date nor pinpoint their influences. They could have been either Roman Infantry perhaps less for the chainmail than overall versatility and crucially, unit size and tactical handling, observation of Galatian legionaries, or just the need to give more melee capabilities to the Thuerophoroi, unarmoured by default and light enough to be considered as a glorified peltast. So the Thorakitai is a kind of medium-heavy infantry able to sustain close combat for prolongated time, while at the same time performing skirmishing (more first-line, short range "softening"), guarding (with the dory) and close combat (with the Kopis or Xiphos sword). The armour could have been either a Celtic mail shirt, a scale armour, or a classic linothorax mixing various pieces of kit (as hoplite gear was still around these days). They all but rendered the old hoplites obsolete. But they are mentions of a "thorakitai hoplitai" which was a spear-only elite thorakitai protected by mail and fighting in close formation.

They were capable of handling indeed a large variety of tactical situations, a type of armoured but mobile infantry without the need of a rigid formation and a lot of training to be effective in combat. They trademark shield was the thureos, wooden and ovale shield with a central spine. They probably carried also only sword and javelins or sword and spear, depending on their tactical use, only carrying the whole kit for travel. They could handle all sorts of terrain (contrary to the phalanx), could quickly respond to flank and rear threat (also) but were a capable spear unit capable to do battle in a phalanx formation.

Historically the thorakitai are mentioned in the army of the Achaean League (Polybius) and the Seleucid and Ptolemaic army. Seleucid thorakitai rare mentioned in the storming of the Elburz Range in 210 BC (Antiochus III). They indeed could climb cliffs and fight hand to hand with much better efficiency than light perlasts or thureophoroi, a crucial advantage to deal with mountain citadels and hilltops of the Eastern ranges. Ascepiodotos 147 BC reforms did mentioned these.

Sources/Read More

The Seleucid Army: Organization and Tactics in the Great Campaigns By Bezalel Bar-Kochva
-Macedonian Armies after Alexander 323–168 BC Men-at-Arms 477 (Nicholas Sekunda, Peter Dennis)
-Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars By Duncan Head

Previous entries

Soldurii Iphikrates Kardaka The thureophoroi