The Persian Military



Cyrus' military was modeled in a large degree after that of the Assyrian Empire, although he modified and improved it . Archer-pair, spearmen with a large light shield of leather and wicker and . The shieldman held the shield for protection while the archer fired arrows . Persians called their shields spara and shield-bearers sparabara. Assyrians typically lines these up in a single row, but Cyrus increased the depth for a heavier concentration of arrows . His also improved the Assyrian war chariot by making it more balanced. the war chariot remained in use up to the end of the Persian Empire, long after the Greeks had stopped using it in favor of cavalry .

The Persian army was organized into regiments of 10,000 men a ' hazarabam ' each regiment was commanded by a  'hazarapatis' or a commander of a thousand and each was divided into ten sataba of a hundred dathabam of ten bow and falchion ( curved sword ) .



The Immortals

 Immortals with apple shaped pommels on the bottom of spears


The best soldiers in the army became the Immortals 'Amrtaka' according to Herodotus ( The only reference to them ).These were the body guards of the king and an elite army unit. Only Persians, Medes or Elamites could join their ranks .they trained from childhood in the use of arms and horse riding . They were always kept at 10,000 strong, being replaced if one fell, hence the name the  ' immortals .' There is also mention of an elite guard from the a historian of Alexander, Callisthenes , mentions ' apple bearers ' from the apple shaped pommels at the end of their spears .


 The Immortals



Archers were an important core of the Persian army .The Persian bow, according to Herodotus and Xenophon, was of unusual size. According to the sculptures, it was rather short, certainly not exceeding four feet. It seems to have been carried strung, either on the left shoulder, with the arm passed through it, or in a bow-case slung at the left side. It was considerably bent in the middle, and had the ends slightly turned back. The arrows, which were of reed, tipped with metal, and feathered, were carried in a quiver, which hung at the back near the left shoulder. To judge from the sculptures, their length must have been about two feet and a half. The arrow-heads, which were either of bronze or iron, seem to have been of various shapes, the most common closely resembling the arrow-heads of the Assyrians.



 The Persian Bow-Archers against the Spartans

Persian Archers


colorful garments of a Persian Archer


   Royal guard, Peresoplis





Median and Scythian tribute bearer

soldiers with swords


The offensive arms of the foot-man were, a sword, a spear, and a bow. The sword, which was called by the Persians akinaces, appears to have been a short, straight weapon, suited for stabbing rather than for cutting, and, in fact, not very much better than a dagger. It was carried in a sheath, and was worn suspended from the girdle on the right side. From the Persepolitan sculptures it would seem not to have hung freely, but to have been attached to the right thigh by a thong which passed round the knee. The handle was short, and generally unprotected by a guard; but, in some specimens, we see a simple cross-bar between the hilt and the blade.


sword made of gold 500 B.C




The ordinary defence of the Persian against the weapons of his enemy was a shield of wicker-work, which covered him almost from head to foot, and which probably differed little from the wattle shield of the Assyrians. This he commonly planted on the ground, supporting it, perhaps, with a crutch, while he shot his arrows from behind it. Occasionally, he added to this defence the protection of a coat of mail, composed either of scale armor, or of quilted linen, like the corselets of the Egyptians. Armor of the former kind was almost impenetrable, since the scales were of metal—iron, bronze, or sometimes gold—and overlapped one another like those of a fish.




 Persian cavalryman, from a seal

The Persian cavalry was armed, in the early times of the monarchy, almost exactly in the same manner as their infantry. Afterwards, however a considerable change seems to have been made. In the time of the younger Cyrus cavalry soldiers were very fully protected. They wore helmets on their heads, coats of mail about their bodies, and greaves on their legs. Their chief offensive arms seem, then, to have been the short sword, the javelin, and the knife. It is probable that they were without shields, being sufficiently defended by their armor, which (as we have seen) was almost complete.

The javelin of the horseman, which was his special weapon, was a short strong spear or pike, with a shaft of cornel-wood, and an iron point. It was common for him to carry two such weapons, one of which he used as a missile, while he retained the other in order to employ it in hand-to-hand combat with the enemy. It was a stout manageable weapon, and though no match for the longer and equally strong spear of the Macedonian cavalry, was preferred by Xenophon to the long weak reed-lance commonly carried by horse-soldiers in his day.

It was the practice of the later Persians to protect with armor, not only the horseman, but the horse. They selected for the service large and powerful animals, chiefly of the Nisaean breed, and cased them almost wholly in mail. The head was guarded by a frontlet, and the neck and chest by a breast-piece; the sides and flanks had their own special covering and cuisses defended the thighs. These defences were not merely, like those of the later Assyrian heavy cavalry, of felt or leather, but consisted, like the cuirasses worn by the riders, of some such material covered with metal scales. The weight which the horse had to sustain was thus very great, and the movements of the cavalry force were, in consequence, slow and hesitating. Flight was difficult; and, in a retreat, the weaker animals were apt to sink under their burdens, and to be trampled to death by the stronger ones.

There can be no doubt that, besides these heavy horsemen, the Persians employed, even in the latest times, and much more in the earlier, a light and agile cavalry force. Such were the troops which, under Tissaphernes, harassed the Ten Thousand during their retreat; and such, it may be conjectured, was really at all times the great body of their cavalry. The education of the Persian, as we shall see hereafter, was directed to the formation of those habits of quickness and agility in the mounting and managing of horses, which have a military value only as furnishing a good training for the light-cavalry service; and the tendency of the race has at all times been, not to those forms of military organization which are efficient by means of solidity and strength, but to those lighter, more varied, and more elastic branches which compensate for a want of solidity by increased activity, readiness, and ease of movement.


Cavalry, till end of the Achaemenid period, fought with wooden javelins called palta, instead of the short thrusting spear used by the infantry. The palta, were 1.5 to 1.8 metres in length and tipped with iron or bronze heads. They could be thrown just before contact or used as a thrusting weapon.

Persian Chariot


Though the Persians did not set any great store by chariots, as an arm of the military service, they nevertheless made occasional use of them. Not only were their kings and princes, when they commanded their troops in person, accustomed to direct their movements, both on the march and even inaction, from the elevation of a war-chariot, but now and then, in great battles, a considerable force of them was brought into the field, and important consequences were expected from their employment. The wheels of the war-chariots were armed with scythes; and these, when the chariot was set in motion, were regarded as calculated to inflict great damage on the ranks of opponents. Such hopes seem, however, to have been generally disappointed. As every chariot was drawn by at least two horses, and contained at least two persons—the charioteer and the warrior—a large mark was offered by each to the missiles of the light troops who were commonly stationed to receive them; and, as practically it was found that a single wound to either horse or man threw the whole equipage into confusion, the charge of a scythed chariot was commonly checked before it reached the line of battle of the enemy. Where this was not the case, the danger was escaped by opening the ranks and letting the chariots pass through them to the rear, a good account being speedily given of any adventurer who thus isolated himself from the support of his own party.

The Persian war-chariot was, probably, somewhat loftier than the Assyrian. The wheels appear to have been from, three to four feet in diameter; and the body rose above them to a height from the ground of nearly five feet. The person of the warrior was thus protected up to his middle by the curved board which enclosed the chariot on three sides. The axle-tree is said to have been broad, since breadth afforded a security against being overturned, and the whole construction to have been strong and solid. The wheels had twelve spokes, which radiated from a nave of unusual size. The felloes were narrower than the Assyrian, but were still composed, like them, of two or three distinct layers of wood. The tires were probably of metal, and were indented like the edge of a saw.


No great ornamentation of the chariot appears to have been attempted. The body was occasionally patterned with a chequer-work, which maybe compared with a style common in Assyria, and the spokes of the wheels were sometimes of great elegance, but the general character of the workmanship was massive and plain. The pole was short, and terminated with a simple curve. From the evidence of the monuments it would seem that chariots were drawn by two horses only; but the classical writers assure us that the ordinary practice was to have teams of four. The harness used was exceedingly simple, consisting of a yoke, a belly-band, a narrow collar, a head-stall, a bit, and reins. When the charioteer left his seat, the reins could be attached to a loop or bar which projected from the front of the chariot-board.

Chariots were constructed to contain two, or perhaps, in some instances, three persons. These consisted of the warrior, his charioteer, who stood beside him, and an attendant, whose place was behind, and whose business it was to open and shut the chariot doors. The charioteer wore a visor and a coat of mail, exposing nothing to the enemy but his eyes.


War Elephants


Alexander's army fighting Indian war elephants


The later Persians made use also of elephants in battle, but to a very small extent . Unlike Hannibal, the Persians were not able to use their elephants to good effect .


War tactics


The chief points of Persian tactics were the following. The army was organized into three distinct services—those of the chariots, the horse, and the foot. In drawing up the line of battle, it was usual, where chariots were employed, to place them in the front rank, in front of the rest of the army. Behind the chariots were stationed the horse and the foot; the former generally massed upon the wings; the latter placed in the middle, drawn up according to nations, in a number of oblong squares, which touched, or nearly touched, one another. The bravest and best armed troops were placed in front; the ranks towards the rear being occupied by those of inferior quality. The depth of the ranks was usually very great, since Oriental troops cannot be trusted to maintain a firm front unless they are strongly supported from behind. No attempt, however, seems to have been made at forming a second line of battle in the rear of the first, nor does there even seem to have been any organized system of reserves. When the battle began, the chariots were first launched against the enemy, whose ranks it was hoped they would confuse, or, at any rate, disturb. After this the main line advanced to the attack, but without any inclination to come at once to close quarters. Planting their shields firmly on the ground in front of them, the Persian heavy-armed shot flight after flight of arrows against their foe, while the slingers and other light-armed in the rear sent clouds of missiles over the heads of their friends into the adverse ranks beyond them. It was usually the enemy which brought this phase of the battle to an end, by pressing onward and closing with the Persian main line in a hand:to-hand combat. Here the struggle was commonly brief—a very few minutes often decided the engagement. If the Persian line of battle was forced or broken, all was immediately regarded as lost—flight and rout followed. The cavalry, from its position on the wings, might attempt, by desperate charges on the flanks of the advancing foe, to stay his progress, and restore the fortune of the day, but such efforts were usually unavailing. Its line of battle once broken, a Persian army lost heart; its commander commonly set the example of flight, and there was a general rush of all arms from the battle-field.

For success the Persians trusted mainly to their numbers, which enabled them, in some cases, to renew an attack time after time with fresh troops, in others to outflank and surround their adversary. Their best troops were undoubtedly their cavalry, both heavy and light. The heavy, armed in the old times with bows, and in the later with the javelins, highly distinguished itself on many important occasions. The weight of its charge must have been great; its offensive weapons were good; and its armor made it almost invulnerable to ordinary weapons. The light cavalry was celebrated for the quickness and dexterity of its manoeuvres. It had the loose organization of modern Bashi-Bazouks or Cossacks; it hung in clouds on the enemy—assailed, retreated, rallied, re-advanced—fled, and even in flight was formidable, since each rider was trained to discharge his arrows backwards with a sure aim. against the pursuing foe. The famous skill of the Parthians in their horse-combats was inherited from their Persian predecessors, who seem to have invented the practice which the later people carried to perfection.


Though mainly depending for success on their numbers, the Persians did not wholly despise the use of contrivance and stratagem. At Guagamela, Darius Codomannus had spiked balls strewn over the ground where he expected the Greek cavalry to make its attacks.; and, at Sardis, Cyrus obtained his victory over the Lydian horse by frightening them with the grotesque and unfamiliar camel. Other instances will readily occur to the reader, whereby it appears that the art of war was studied, and ingenuity allowed its due place in military matters, by this people, who showed a fair share of Oriental subtlety in the devices which they employed against their enemies.


Army command


A Persian army was usually, though not always, placed under a single commander. This commander was the monarch, if he was present; if not, it was a Persian, or a Mede, nominated by him. Under the commander-in-chief were a number of general officers, heads of corps or divisions, of whom we find, in one instance, as many as nine. Next in rank to these were the chiefs of the various ethnic contingents composing the army, who were, probably, in general the satraps of the different provinces.

Thus far appointments were held directly from the crown; but beyond this the system was changed. The ethnic or satrapial commanders appointed the officers next below themselves, the captains over a thousand, and (if their contingent was large enough to admit it) the captains over ten thousand; who, again, nominated their subordinates, commanders of a hundred, and commanders of ten. Thus, in the main, a decimal scale prevailed. The lowest rank of officers commanded each ten men, the next lowest a hundred, the next to that a thousand, the next ten thousand. The officer over ten thousand was sometimes a divisional chief; sometimes he was subject to the commander of an ethnic contingent, who was himself under the orders of the head of a division. Altogether there were six ranks of officers, exclusive of the commander-in-chief.

Other offensive weapons carried occasionally by the Persian foot-men were, a battle-axe, a sling, and a knife. The battle-axe, which appears in the sculptures only in one or two instances, is declared to have been a common Persian weapon by Xenophon, who, upon such a point, would seem to be trustworthy. The use of the sling by the Persian light-armed is quite certain. It is mentioned by Curtius and Strabo, no less than by Xenophon; and the last-named writer speaks with full knowledge on the subject, for he witnessed the effect of the weapon in the hands of Persian slingers during his return with the Ten Thousand. The only missiles which the Persian slingers threw were stones; they did not, like the Rhodians, make use of small lumps of lead


The proper position of the commander-in-chief was considered to be the centre of the line of battle. He was regarded as safer there than he would have been on either wing; and it was seen that, from such a position, his orders would be most rapidly conveyed to all parts of the battlefield. It was not, however, thought to be honorable that he should keep aloof from the fight, or avoid risking his own person. On the contrary, he was expected to take an active part in the combat; and therefore, though his place was not exactly in the very foremost ranks, it was towards the front, and the result followed that he was often exposed to imminent danger. The consequences of this arrangement were frequently disastrous in the extreme, the death or flight of the commander producing universal panic, stopping the further issue of any general order, and thus paralyzing the whole army.


The numbers of a Persian army, though no doubt exaggerated by the Greeks, must have been very great, amounting, probably, on occasions, to more than a million of combatants. Troops were drawn from the entire empire, and were marshaled in the field according to nations, each tribe accoutered in its own fashion. Here were seen the gilded breastplates and scarlet kilts of the Persians and Medes; there the woolen shirt of the Arab, the leathern jerkin of the Berber, or the cotton dress of the native of Hindustan. Swart savage Ethiopians from the Upper Nile, adorned with a war-paint of white and red, and scantily clad with the skins of leopards or lions, fought in one place with huge clubs, arrows tipped with stone, and spears terminating in the horn of an antelope.

In another, Scyths, with their loose spangled trousers and their tall pointed caps, dealt death around from their unerring blows; while near them Assyrians, helmeted, and wearing corselets of quilted linen, wielded the tough spear, or the still more formidable iron mace. Rude weapons, like cane bows, unfeathered arrows, and stakes hardened at one end in the fire, were seen side by side with keen swords and daggers of the best steel, the finished productions of the workshops of Phoenicia and Greece. Here the bronze helmet was surmounted with the ears and horns of an ox; there it was superseded by a fox-skin, a leathern or wooden skull-cap, or a head-dress fashioned out of a horse's scalp. Besides horses and mules, elephants, camels, and wild asses, diversified the scene, and rendered it still more strange and wonderful to the eye of a European. One large body of cavalry was accustomed to enter the field apparently unarmed; besides the dagger, which the Oriental never lays aside, they had nothing but a long leathern thong. They used this, however, just as the lasso is used by the natives of Brazil, and the wretch at whom they aimed their deadly noose had small chance of escape.

The Persians, like the Assyrians, usually avoided fighting during the winter, and marched out their armies against the enemy in early spring. With the great hosts which they moved a fixed order of march was most necessary; and we find evidence of so much attention being paid to this point that confusion and disorder seem scarcely ever to have arisen. When the march lay within their own country, it was usual to send on the baggage and the sumpter-beasts in advance, after which came about half the troops, moving slowly in a long and continuous column along the appointed line of route. At this point a considerable break occurred, in order that all might be clear for the most important part of the army, which was now to follow. A guard, consisting of a thousand horse and a thousand foot, picked men of the Persian people, prepared the way for what was most holy in the eyes of the nation—the emblems of their religion, and their king. The former consisted of sacred horses and cars; perhaps, in the later times, of silver altars also, bearing the perpetual and heaven-kindled fire, which was a special object of Persian religious regard, and which the superstition of the people viewed as a sort of palladium, sure to bring the blessings of heaven upon their arms. Behind the sacred emblems followed the Great King himself, mounted on a car drawn by Nissean steeds, and perhaps protected on either side by a select band of his relatives. Behind the royal chariot came a second guard, consisting, like the first, of a thousand foot and a thousand horse. Then followed ten thousand picked foot, probably the famous "Immortals;" then came a body of ten thousand picked Persian horsemen. After these a space of four hundred yards (nearly a quarter of a mile) was left vacant; then marched, in a second continuous column, the remainder of the host.

Treatment of the captured


The Persians readily gave quarter to the enemy who asked it, and generally treated their prisoners of war with much kindness. Personages of importance, as monarchs or princes, either preserved their titles and their liberty, with even a certain nominal authority, or received appanages in other parts of the Persian territory, or, finally, were retained about the Court as friends and table-companions of the Great King. Those of less rank were commonly given lands and houses in some province remote from their own country, and thenceforth held the same position as the great mass of the subject races.

Exchanges of prisoners do not seem to have been thought of. In a few cases, persons, whom we should regard as prisoners of war, experienced some severities, but probably only when they were viewed by the Persians, not as fair enemies, but as rebels. Rebels were, of course, liable to any punishment which the king might think it right to inflict upon them, and there were occasions after a revolt when sentences of extreme rigor were passed upon the persons considered to have been most in fault. According to Herodotus, three thousand Babylonians were crucified by order of Darius, to punish their revolt from him; and, though this is probably an exaggeration, it is certain that sometimes, where an example was thought to be required, the Persians put to death, not only the leader of a rebellion, but a number of his chief adherents. Crucifixion, or, at any rate, impalement of some sort, was in such cases the ordinary punishment. Sometimes, before a rebel was executed, he was kept for a while chained at the king's door, in order that there might be no doubt of his capture.

Among the minor punishments of rebellion were branding, and removal of the rebels en masse from their own country, to some remote locality. In this latter case, they were merely treated in the same way as ordinary prisoners of war. In the former, they probably became royal slaves attached to the household of the monarch.


The Persian Navy


they were quite aware of the great importance of a navy, and spared no pains to provide themselves with an efficient one. The conquests of Phoenicia, Cyprus, Egypt, and the Greek islands were undertaken, it is probable, mainly with this object; and these parts of the Empire were always valued chiefly as possessing skilled seamen, vessels, and dockyards, from which the Great King could draw an almost inexhaustible supply of war-ships and transports. Persia at times had the complete command of the Mediterranean Sea, and bore undisputed sway in the Levant during almost the whole period of her existence as an empire.

The war-ship preferred by the best naval powers during the whole period of the Persian rule was the trireme, or decked galley impelled by rowers sitting in three tiers, or banks, one above another. This vessel, the invention of the Corinthians, had been generally adopted by the nations bordering on the Mediterranean in the interval between B.C. 700 and B.C. 525, when by the reduction of Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Egypt, the Persians obtained the command of the sea. Notwithstanding the invention of quadriremes by the Carthaginians before B.C. 400, and of quinqueremes by Dionysius the Elder soon after, the trireme stood its ground, and from first to last the Persian fleets were mainly composed of this class of vessels.


The trireme was a vessel of a considerable size, and was capable of accommodating two hundred and thirty persons. Of these, two hundred constituted the crew, while the remaining thirty were men-at-arms, corresponding to our own "marines." By far the greater number of the crew consisted of the rowers, who probably formed at least nine-tenths of the whole, or one hundred and eighty out of the two hundred. The rowers sat, not on benches running right across the vessel, but on small seats attached to its side. They were arranged, as before stated, in three tiers, not, however, directly one over the head of another, but obliquely, each at once above and behind his fellow. Each rower had the sole management of a single oar, which he worked through a hole pierced in the side of the vessel. To prevent his oar from slipping he had a leathern strap, which he twisted round it, and fastened to the hole, probably by means of a button. The remainder of the crew comprised the captain, the steersman, the petty officers, and the sailors proper, or those whose office it was to trim the sails and look to the rigging. The trireme of Persian times had, in all cases, a mast, and at least one sail, which was of a square shape, hung across the mast by means of a yard or spar, like the "square-sail" of a modern vessel. The rudder was composed of two broad-bladed oars, one on either side of the stern, united, however, by a cross-bar, and managed by a single steersman. The central part of a trireme was always decked, and on this deck, which was generally level with the bulwarks, stood and fought the men-at-arms, whose business it was to engage the similar force of the enemy.


The weapon of the trireme, with which she was intended chiefly to attack her foe, was the beak. This consisted of a projection from the prow of the ship, either above or below the water-line, strongly shod with a casting of iron, and terminating either in the head of an animal, or in one or more sharp points. A trireme was expected, like a modern "ram," to use this implement against the sides of her adversary's vessels, so as to crush them in and cause the vessels to sink. Driven by the full force of her oars, which impelled her almost at the rate of a modern steamer, she was nearly certain, if she struck her adversary full, to send ship and men to the bottom. She might also, it is true, greatly damage herself; but, to preclude this, it was customary to make the whole prow of a trireme exceedingly strong, and, more particularly, to support it with beams at the side which tended to prevent the timbers from starting.

Besides triremes, which constituted the bulk of the Persian navy, there were contained in their fleet various other classes of vessels, as triaconters, penteconters, cercuri, and others. Triaconters were long, sharp-keeled ships, shaped very much like a trireme, rowed by thirty rowers, who sat all upon a level, like the rowers in modern boats, fifteen on either side of the vessel. Penteconters were very similar, the only difference being in the number of the oars and oarsmen.Both these classes of vessels seem to have been frequently without sails. Cercuri were light boats, very long and swift. They are said to have been invented by the Cyprians, and were always peculiar to Asia.

The transports of the Persians were either for the conveyance of horses or of food. Horse-transports were large clumsy vessels, constructed expressly for the service whereon they were used, possessing probably a special apparatus for the embarkation and disembarkation of the animals which they were built to carry. Corn-transports seem to have been of a somewhat lighter character. Probably, they varied very considerably in their size and burthen, including huge and heavy merchantmen on the one hand, and a much lighter and smaller craft on the other.

The Persians used their ships of war, not only for naval engagements, but also for the conveyance of troops and the construction of bridges. Accustomed to pass the great streams which intersect Western Asia by bridges of boats, which were permanently established wherever an unfordable river crossed any of the regular routes connecting the provinces with the capital, the Persians, when they proceeded to carry their arms from Asia into Europe, conceived the idea of bridging the interval between the continents, which did not much exceed the width of one of the Mesopotamian streams, by constructions similar in principle and general character to those wherewith long use had made them familiar in their own country. Ranging a number of vessels side by side, at no great distance one from another, parallel with the course of the stream, which ran down the straits, anchoring each vessel stem and stern to keep it in place, and then laying upon these supports a long wooden platform, they made a floating bridge of considerable strength, reaching from the Asiatic to the European coast, on which not only men, but horses, camels, chariots, and laden carts passed over safely from the one continent to the other. Only, as the water which they had to cross was not a river, but an arm of the real salt sea, and might, therefore, in case of a storm, show a might and fury far beyond a river's power, they thought it necessary to employ, in lieu of boats, the strongest ships which they possessed, namely, triremes and penteconters, as best capable of withstanding the force of an angry sea. Bridges of this kind were intended sometimes for temporary, sometimes for permanent constructions. In the latter case, great care and much engineering skill was lavished on their erection. The shore cables, which united the ships together, and sustained the actual bridge or platform, were made of most carefully selected materials, and must have been of enormous strength; the ships were placed in close proximity one to another; and by the substitution of a double for a single line—of two bridges, in fact, for one—the solidity of the work was very largely augmented. Yet, rare as was the skill shown, solid and compact as were the causeways thus thrown by human art over the sea, they were found inadequate to the end desired. The great work of Xerxes, far the most elaborate of its class, failed to withstand the fury of the elements for a single year; the bridge, constructed in one autumn, was utterly swept away in the next; and the army which had crossed into Europe by its aid had to embark as it best could, and return on board ship to Asia.

As the furnishing of the Persian fleet was left wholly to the subject nations of the Empire, so was its manning entrusted to them almost entirely. Phoenicians, Syrians, Egyptians, Cypriots, Cilicians, Lycians, Pamphylians, Carians, Greeks, equipped in the several costumes of their countries, served side by side in their respective contingents of ships, thereby giving the fleet nearly the same motley appearance which was presented by the army. In one respect alone did the navy exhibit superior uniformity to their sister service—the epibatae, or "marines," who formed the whole fighting force of the fleet while it kept the sea, was a nearly homogeneous body, consisting of three races only (two of which were closely allied), namely, Persians, Medes, and Sacse. Every ship had thirty such men on board; all, it is probable, uniformly armed, and all animated by one and the same spirit. To this force the Persians must have owed it mainly that their great fleets were not mere congeries of mutually repellant atoms, but were capable of acting against an enemy with a fair amount of combination and singleness of purpose.

When a fleet accompanied a land army upon an expedition, it was usually placed under the same commander. This commander, however, was not expected to adventure himself on board much less to take the direction of a sea-fight. He entrusted the fleet to an officer, or officers, whom he nominated, and was content himself with the conduct of operations ashore. Occasionally the land and sea forces were assigned to distinct commanders of co-ordinate authority—an arrangement which led naturally, to misunderstanding and quarrel.

The tactics of a Persian fleet seem to have been of the simplest kind Confident in their numbers, until experience had taught them the fallaciousness of such a ground of hope, they were chiefly anxious that their enemy should not escape. To prevent this they endeavored to surround the ships opposed to them, advancing their line in a crescent form, so as to enclose their adversary's wings, or even detaching squadrons to cut off his retreat. They formed their line several ships deep and when the hour of battle came, advanced directly at their best speed against the enemy, endeavoring to run down his vessels by sheer force, and never showing any acquaintance with or predilection for manoeuvres of a skilful antagonist, who avoided or successfully withstood this first onset, they were apt through their very numbers to be thrown into disorder: the first line would become entangled with the second, the second with the third, and inextricable confusion would be the result. Confusion placed them at the mercy of their antagonist, who, retaining complete command over his own vessels, was able to strike theirs in vulnerable parts, and, in a short time, to cover the sea with shattered and sinking wrecks. The loss to the Persians in men as well as in material, was then sure to be very great; for their sailors seldom knew how to swim, and were consequently drowned, even when the shore was but a few yards distant.

When, from deficiency in their numbers, or distrust of their own nautical skill in comparison with that of their enemy, the commanders of a Persian fleet wished to avoid an engagement, a plan sometimes adopted was to run the ships ashore upon a smooth soft beach, and, after drawing them together, to surround them with such a rampart as could be hastily made, and defend this rampart with the sailors. The crews of the Persian vessels were always more or less completely armed, in order that, if occasion arose, they might act as soldiers ashore, and were thus quite capable of fighting effectively behind a rampart. They might count, too, under such circumstances, upon assistance from such of their own land forces as might happen to be in the neighborhood, who would be sure to come with all speed to their aid, and might be expected to prove a sure protection.


Greek mercenaries



Greek mercenaries found employment in the Persian army after the first Persian wars , the most famous being Xenophon and the 10,000 in the reign of Artaxerxes II .and many fought for Darius III against their fellow Greeks, and were the Persian hardest fighting soldiers . Many of the Greek mercenaries who fought Alexander had a deep hatred for him, and gave nor expected any quarter .


Army Service


At fifteen years of age the Persian was considered to have attained to manhood, and was enrolled in the ranks of the army, continuing liable to military service from that time till he reached the age of fifty. Those of the highest rank became the body-guard of the king, and these formed the garrison of the capital. They were a force of not less than fourteen or fifteen thousand men. Others, though liable to military service, did not adopt arms as their profession, but attached themselves to the Court and looked to civil employment, as satraps, secretaries, attendants, ushers, judges, inspectors, messengers. A portion, no doubt, remained in the country districts, and there followed those agricultural pursuits which the Zoroastrian religion regarded as in the highest degree honorable. But the bulk of the nation must, from the time of the great conquests, have passed their lives mainly, like the Roman legionaries under the Empire, in garrison duty in the provinces.

The entire population of Persia Proper can scarcely have exceeded two millions. Not more than one fourth of this number would be males between the ages of fifteen and fifty. This body of 500,000 men, besides supplying the official class at the Court and throughout the provinces, and also furnishing to Persia Proper those who did the work of its cultivation, had to supply to the whole Empire those large and numerous garrisons on whose presence depended the maintenance of the Persian dominion in every province that had been conquered. According to Herodotus, the single country of Egypt contained, in his day, a standing army of 120,000 Persians; and, although this was no doubt an exceptional case, Egypt being more prone to revolt than any other satrapy, yet there is abundant evidence that elsewhere, in almost every part of the Empire, large bodies of troops were regularly maintained; troops which are always characterized as "Persians."

We may suspect that under the name were included the kindred nation of the Medes, and perhaps some other Arian races, as the Hyrcanians, and the Bactrians, for it is difficult to conceive that such a country as Persia Proper could alone have kept up the military force which the Empire required for its preservation; but to whatever extent the standing army was supplemented from these sources, Persia must still have furnished the bulk of it; and the demands of this service must have absorbed, at the very least, one third if not one half of the adult male population.