Ptolemaic Warriors

Watch on the nile

Foreworld: Ancient egyptian armies

Warriors of the Old Kingdom (2686–2181 BC).

ancient egypian armies

Warfare fo Egyptian went back to the old city-states along the Niles, which, like for the Tigris and Euprates. However a proper "Egyptian" united army appeared under the Old Kingdom (2686–2181 BC). This affluent kingdom, could fund a large and functioning military. Threats which were dealt with were the Libyans tribes from the Sahara to the west, Nubians from the south, Sinai and Canaanites tribes to the north, and internal conflict when nomes separated from the monarchy to form rival factions. They also had outposts in order to face raiding parties entering Egypt. The Old Kingdom indeed created a chain of forts along the Nile River, more or less far away from main cities. The main conflict with Nubia obliged Egypt to create most fortified garrisons, deep south. They were generally bypassed, but acted as a deterrence. Lake Nasser now covers many. Another crucial point, is that there was no professional army in Egypt, not united at least. The all-powerful governor of each nome, or administrative divisio raised its own volunteer army in case of war. This allowed to spare local finances, but did not provided an highly trained army. The Pharaoh was the commander in chief by default, shiwh summoned all these provincial armies to battle. Military service was not prestigious, so recruits were merely lower-class citizens and peasants. Weaponry was very diverse as shown by many bas-reliefs which survived from that time:
-Spears: Generally 2 to 2.5 m, mostly helf by conscripts
-maces, cudgels and daggers: Used by the assault infantry, picked-up among the levies
-Bows and daggers: Used by levied archers

Apparently the famous kopesh was not common yet among levied troops because of its price, however the most ancient dated back from 2500 BC and they would probably be given to officers. The levied troops were unarmoured, but at least they had wooden shields and their thick braided hair and thick fabric coiff somewhat acted as an improvized helmet. Some assault troops could have been given paddled armor. In addition there were the Pharao's personal armies, made of professional warriors chosen and paid by the nobility, including the Goernor's own personal guard. The latter would have used an axe or Kopesh, were given a reinforced shield or a metal one, metal helmets, paddled or composite armour with linen and leather, leather bands on part of the torso of charioteers for example, but generally soldiers are depicted without any body protection. Scale armour: Its price must had reserved it to the Governor himself and also because of the status symbol attached, and probably drove a chariot. The Pharaoh's own body armour also was a scale armor, made of precious metals, multicolored tiny scales.

The extended Pharaoh's guard was probably made of full time elite warriors which were proficient with the spear, the Kopesh and above all, the bow. Single-arched bow were used with proficience by the Egyptian armies of the time. But encounters later with the Hyksos, brought to the Egyptian arsenal the much more powerful composite bow. The Pharaoh himself and his nobles had probably whariots, at a time cavalry was not a thing. But they were a mod of transport, and the Hyksos were believed to have broughts the war chariot associated with tactics in the intermediate period.

ancient egypian armies

The Kopesh was undoubtely one of the most interesting and typical weapon of the time. A typical one was 50–60 cm (20–24 inches) in length, with an inside curve used to trap an opponent's arm, or to pull his shield out before hitting. They appeared in bronze during the namesake age, and refined liter to iron in the New Kingdom period. The word "khopesh" possibly derived from "leg" probably because of the shape. It was only sharpened on the outside portion of the curved end. It was probably an evolution of the epsilon or crescent-shaped axes used by elites. The khopesh was used until around 1300 BC and replaced by the sword. But mentions of it still emerged on the 196 BC Rosetta Stone and pharaohs are depicted with a khopesh, also found in royal graves (Like for Tutankhamun). They were also ceremonial variants, in gold, or precious alliage like the silver-bronze one. But the military models were complex to maufactures and probable made only by the Governor's own smith, or the Pharaoh's smiths. Their mastery demanded skills and mastery, so they were likely reserve to guards only.

Warriors of the Intermediate period (2181–1550 BC).


During the forst and second intermediate era, as shown by Mentuhotep II campaign down to the Second Cataract in Nubia, and restored hegemony over the Sinai, large, well-trained standing armies, were constituted. They always formed the core of the invasion army, still supplemented by provincial armies. Between 1650 and 1550 BC, the second period, the Hyksos renewed chariots warfare. These were a Canaanite tribe, and proved usnstoppable, sacking Memphis and then conquered Upper and Lower Egypt. The Egyptians fled to Thebes, the starting point to reconstruct their army. However to the south the Kushite Nubians still threatened them. There was no other choice but reform the military. The Hyksos not only showed cavarly was possible and are said to introduce in Egypt the horse and Ourarit (chariot) in addition to the composite bow but also demonstration of their tactical use. The Egyptian made these innovations their own, and brought these elements together to form large charioteer units. These chariots were basically archers-carriers, 2-3 per chariot. The speed acted as a sort of active protection.

Warriors of the New Kingdom (2686–2181 BC).

During the New Kingdom the new Egyptian army had learned all possible tricks from the Hyksos, fighting them for many years before driving them of Egypt. This allowed Egypt to defend against new foreign invasions successfully. The Hittites for example attempted to conquer Egypt, but were defeated. The "Sea Peoples" also invaded the entire Near East but after their rampage they were ultimately contained. Egyptians still believed in numbers and their infantry, while the Hittites mostly relied on their chariots. The traditional levied infantry was made of conscripted peasants and artisans, armed with a spear and its copper spearhead, large wooden shield covered by leather, stone mace and bronze battle axe. Archers carryed a simple curved bow with flint/copper arowhead and none had armor. However mercenaries appeared, Nubians (Medjay) whih were quickly recoignises as highly-skilled archers and from then on would be parts of all Egyptioan armies until the Ptolemies.

Major advance in weapons technology and warfare around 1600 BC combined lrge chariot units and powerful composite bows. These reforms were implemented under 18th Dynasty and the design of the chariot was adapted to Egyptian requirements, lighter and faster than those of other major powers in the Middle East. There was a driver, holding whip and reins, and an archer or two, which after spending its arrows, could throw javelins and wield a short spear. Guards, nobles and elite Charioteers wore occasionally scale armor, but the common armor was made of leather bands crossed over the chest. They also had a shield. Pharaohs scale armour was enriched by inlaid semi-precious stones, harder than metal scaled and better at stopping arrowheads. Between the power of the composite bow and the speed of their chariots, in the vast expand of the desert, the Egyptians had forged an instrument which made regular foot infantry secondary, athough in case of war, it still made the meaty bulk of the army. Also in the 18th Dynasty elite soldiers started to wear leather helmets, rarely metal, and cloth tunics with metal scale coverings, while the kopesh was mass-produced at lower quality to equip a better trained assault infantry.

The military changes had an impact in turn in the Egyptian society. During the New Kingdom, levies troops was turned into a permanent army, and troops trained as professional soldiers, equipped in a more coherent and standardized fashion using the Royal Arsenal that took charge in mass production of weapons, helmets, chest armour and shields. Levies were still called by local governors, but only for local defense. Conquests of foreign territories such as Nubia, required also permanent forces to be garrisoned in the numerous forts in this area. Ongoing campaigns against the Mitanni, Hittites, Assyrians and Babylonians later, dictated frequent adaptations, to answer new tactics and sustain the army far from home. The base of the Egyptian army of the new kingdom was made of a corps of 4,000 infantry organized into 20 companies (200-250 men each). The mecrnry pool also grew substancially, as after Libyans and Nubians, the Egyptian army started recruiting Canaanite and Sherdens (Greeks). Many were impressed prisoners which were given the choice between a life as slaves or as soldiers.

The Ptolemaic Dynasty

Arrival of Alexandros Megas

Prior to the rise of Macedon, the Persian Empire which ruled the area had views on Egypt. The leap forward came in the Late Period (712–332 BC), when Egypt acquired both iron weaponry and armor, and proper cavalry in replacement to chariots, which was much cheaper. The turning point was the Battle of Pelusium (525 BC) on the Nile delta, after which the Aechemenid dynasty ruled Egypt, with a new governenor appointed by Cambyses II of Persia, himself recoignised as Pharahoh of the twenty-seventh dynasty. During this battle, Pharaoh Psamtik III called for Carian and Ionian mercenaries. After the defeat he poisined himself according to Herodotus, while most nobles were executed and his family emprisoned. During the Achaemenid rule in the sixth century BC, Persian rulers dominated Egypt from 525 BC to 402 BC, (to the exception of Petubastis III). The 30th Dynasty was the last native ruling dynasty, which succeeded to lead a great revolt ousting the Persians. But they cam back to quell what they saw as a rebellion, in 343 BC. They defeated Nectanebo II, conquereed Egypt again and created the 31th Dynasty of Egypt (Second Egyptian Satrapy) in 343-332 BC. Artaxerxes III reconquered the Nile valley during that time (33th Dynasty) and "pacified" the whole Kingdom. But would soon meet a powerful foe from the north: The Macedonian Kingdom.

Persian cavalry throwing cats (a sacred animal) at the Egyptians

Under the leadership of young Alexandros, new king of Macedonia after the assassination of his father Philip II Monophtalmos, and an army reinforced by Greek city states and thracian mercenaries (among many others) stepped into actual turkey to start a reconquest of the greek Ionian coast. To avoid the Persian naval threat thwarting his plans, he conquered coastal cities one by one along the Syrian coast, leading sometimes to legendary sieges, like Tyre; Once done, his armies marched south, to conquer Egypt. He visited Memphis, traveled to the oracle of Amun at the Siwa Oasis, the latter declaring him to be the son of Amun. While setting up his local power, he conciliated himself the Egyptians by respecting their religion, but still appointed Macedonians to all the senior posts while founding his own capital city, Alexandria. The wealth of Egypt was from there, harnessed for Alexander's conquest of the remainder of the Achaemenid Empire. In 331 BC he led his troops to Phoenicia and left behind a trusted Cleomenes of Naucratis, as nomarch, but Alexander will never returned to Egypt.

Fundation of the dynasty

Following Alexander's death in Babylon in 323 BC, the succession crisis commenced, as well as the era called the "Dadochi wars". Alexander's former generals all competed for territories and took the titles of kings. Perdiccas for a short while ruled the the entire empire as regent for Alexander's half-brother Arrhidaeus (retarded and therefore not able to rule properly). Persiccas was crowned as Philip III of Macedon, and stayed as regent for Philip III and Alexander's son Alexander IV of Macedon, born as his father died. To rule Egypt, Perdiccas appointed Ptolemy, one of Alexander's closest companions, as satrap. Ptolemy started to take its role 323 BC, still in the name of the Philip III and Alexander IV in a joint rule but as the empire disintegrated, Ptolemy no longer accounted for the Macedonian kings and became a fully independent ruler, successfully defending Egypt against Perdiccas which tried to invade his territory in 321 BC. He consolidated his position from 322 to 301 BC and already by 305 BC, took the title of King, Ptolemy I Soter ("Saviour"), founder of the Ptolemaic dynasty rusling Egypt 300 years.

Kleruch phalanx

Basilikon Agema


Machimoi Phalanx

Late Kleruchoi Thorakitai
Male rulers of the dynasty were all named Ptolemy, and princesses or co-regent queens (in the brother-sister co-rule usual here) were named Cleopatra, Arsinoë or Berenice. Ptolemaic politics became confusingly incestuous as the result of these internal marriages, having quite an effect on later kings. Some Ptolemaic Queens ruled by themselves, like Berenice III and Berenice IV while Cleopatra V co-ruled with another queen, Berenice IV. Cleopatra VII co-ruled with Ptolemy XIII Theos Philopator as well as his younger brothers Ptolemy XIV, and Ptolemy XV, allowing her a quasi-regent position and effectively ruled alone. The Greeks were highly respectuous of the history and traditions of the country, and kept all them alive, while Egypt was slowly buut surely Hellenized in some ways. But it was mostly a fusion, well apparent in art and architecture. There was however definitely a social divide between the Hellenes, notably those of Alexandria, and the natives of the rest of Egypt, definitely "upper class" for the former. This created some tensions and underlined the composition of the army as well. The early Ptolemies tried to concile the population by financing the construction of brand new, magnificent temples for the Egyptian gods and displayed all the classic regalia of the pharaohs, incuding the entire priests caste and ceremionials. Under Ptolemies II and III, Macedonian veterans of the Alexandrian and Diadochi wars settled in Egypt, being rewarded with farmlands around the Nile. They became in effect landlors, exploiting the local peasantry, or were planted in military colonies and garrisons throughout the country. Upper Egypt was the farthest from Alexandria, soon the siege of government, and remained a native stronghold, with little Greeks settlers. Ptolemy I funded Ptolemais Hermiou as a new capital but it remained an isolated city, and a showroom of Hellenistic science and tech. Within a century, Greek influence and intermarriage produced a large Greco-Egyptian educated class, which made the bulk of the army. They however always remained a privileged minority, living under Greek law, with a Greek education and preying in greek Temples, were tried in Greek courts, and stayed citizens of all Greek cities around the Mediterranean.

The early Ptolemaic Army

The Hellenistic core

The social stratification of Ptolemaic egypt was the main factor behind the composition of the Army. The educated greek settlers formed the bulk of the semi-active and semi-profeesional arrmy that fought during the Diadochi wars and the whole Hellenistic era, that is, until the battle of Actium which sealed the fate of Egypt as an independent state from Rome. Before the 143 C reforms, the hard core of the army was very Macedonian-like in its composition: The elites made the cavalry, nobles in the Agema, the 300 elite Royal cavalry, the others in heavy cavalry units (Hetairoi), rich landowners making the Kleruchoi (Cleruch) cavalry, add-mixed with settlers, former mercenaries Gauls and Thracians, or Greeks called "Katoikai". It was complemented by a considerable native cavalry (see later). The Phalanx still made the bulk of the foot infantry, and for its majority at least in the 100 first years, made exclusively of greek settlers. The phalanx was complemented by a more mobile light infantry, of peltasts and thureophoroi, and around 140 BC, of Thorakitai. Archers could be Cretan settlers, mercenaries, or Syrians, renown and enjoying an old status, or natives (see later). Light infantry was mainly from the lower classes, so native Egyptian in majority.

The phalanx in battle formed-up 16-32 ranks deep but at Raphia they formed 24 ranks deep, helping them to defeat their better-quality Seleucid counterparts. There were two spacing orders, the pyknosis, standard battle order with men separared by three inches and the synaspismos or “locked shields” when they occupied just half that. It was seemingly a defensive density, to receive an assault or charge. The Graeco-Macedonian kleroi received the same standard equipment, with a linothorax, greaves or more likely light boots, a helmet of any style, although the Thracian protected best, or a Chalcidian, or Konos-type, a short sword, a pelte, around 60 c wide strapped to their forearm, leaving two hands free to manage their massive sarissa, carried in two-parts on the road, and around five-six meters long sarissa. Elite units would have been equipped with a heavier seven meters long ones.

The Cleruchs

First off, the Cleruchy was born in ancient Greece, not in Egypt. It represented originally the body of Athenian citizens settled in another country, holding land grants awarded by Athens. This was the case at Salamis captured from Megara, for example, in the 6th century bc. Athens used of the institution to keep under control its dependent states, and planters took the best landes, and as colonizers could count on a nearby Athenian garrisons to enforce their occupation, agains the will of the population. When the Delian League appeared, and the Second Athenian League (5th-4th Cent. BCE), the cleruchy became the symbol of Athenian imperialism in Greece and beyond. Athenian cleruchs saw themselves above the locals in rights, with a full Athenian citizenship and were directly heard for their their internal affairs by the local archon, and Ecclesia. Cleruchies were a strategic asset, placed on main lines of communication, providing permanent bases also for the Athenian fleets. It was doubled by a financial advantage which urged many Athenian citizens to resettle.

When King Philip of Macedon conquered Greece, he inherited this system, and adaptated to his will. This was later exported throughout Alexander's Empire as a way to resettle Greek colonists all along the Empire, from Spain to the black sea, or North Africa. Outside Cyrene in Libya, Egypt became soon a land ready to be colonized by Hellenic populations, and the Nile's banks was peppered by Garrisons while lands and vilages were divided among Clerurchies. Basically these colonists were in the military, but awarded this plot of land (kleros) they provided a livelihood and home base when not employed on active service. Therefore the Clerurchy count encompass various social levels, from a humble peltast to a cavalryman part of the Royal companion wing (Hetairoi), and noble. However that way, they mixed into local populations and mitigated what appeared as a domination by strangers. Alexander understood this system and what it represented in the past for the Greeks, so it was watered-down. Instead of referring to the court of Macedon, common Clerurchs were more in touch with local governors for their internal affairs, and if large plantations employed many locals, small ones were comparable to local Egyptian farmers already had and there was better solidarity and intermingled populations.

Nevertheless, on a military standpoint, Clerurchs were mostly assimilated to wealthy landowners, able to purchased and maintained their equipment as a cavalryman. The bulk of the Hellenistic cavalry, more important in these vast, desolate lands, was therefore this Clerurch cavalry, not noble, but well equipped, with lances and javelins. Unlik the Romans, this was therefore symbolic of a non-commissioned, unpaid but permanent army, in the sense, they could sustain themselves financially and take service whenever needed. Their wealth also depended of their ability to go to war as well. Indeed, a simple soldier needed to be replaced during campaigns on his land, by trusted personal, generally his wife and slaves, plus locals. It was easier for high class Clerurchs. This was not a feodal system either, as these scatterred troops unlike militias were not supposed to fight locally, but join the army for a distant campaign. They were not a local police either, a garrison was posted nearby for this. This institution was still ongoing during the Roman rule.

The Machimoi

The second part of the Ptolemaic army was assuredly the largest, with what was called the "Machimoi", and levies. These were raised to supplement the Hellenistic core of the army in campaigns. The low status peasantry made the bulk of the light infantry, mostly slingers, archers, and javelineers, avoiding close combat. In addition, a light native spear levy, summarily trained for a campaign called the Pandotapoi, were also there to bolster the ranks and defend the baggage train. But the most interesting soldiers were the Machimoi.

The old Machimoi (Late Empire)

This was a Greek name, "máchimos" meaning "pugnacious". Rather vague, it is understood as applied to a medium infantry trained for melee combat, with close range weaponry. The are first attestated by Herodotus, who visited Egypt during the first Persian rule and the term has been translated as "warriors" or "fighting men" from then on. The term also referred to Asiatic troops used by the Persians for close combat, close in role and origin to the Takabara, close quarter axe infantry. Herodotus claimed the Egyptian máchimoi, were literally a closed caste of warriors, forbidden to practice other activities, and given provided twelve "arourai" of tax-free land as reward. So they were a kind of native landlords, but Herodotus went further and recoigised two categories, the hermotybies and kalasiries, distinct by their origin and that the two forces amounted to 160,000 and 250,000 soldiers respectively, so a total or about 410,000 professional warriors. It seems considerable for the time, specially if these are all considered "elites", which was certainly not the case. Herodotus, was also confirmed by Plato and Diodorus Siculus, about the deployment of máchimoi troops in many battles during the Late Empire (pre-persian), notably under Pharaoh Apries as they are clearly cited in their assault of Cyrene. They were defeated and proclaimed general Amasis as pharaoh, setting up a rebellion against Apries in 570 BCE. These old máchimoi also fought at Plataea in 479 BCE, and under Persian rule, were soon recoignised for their military value by their new overlords and by them. But also against them, like the pharaoh Teos, which raised an army of 80,000 Machimoi for an expedition in the Near East circa 360/358 BCE (Diodorus), commanded by his nephew Nakhthorheb (future Nectanebo II, last ruler of Egypt before Alexander). Nectanebo II also made them the bulk of his army during the second Persian conquest of Egypt in 343 BCE.

The Machimoi in Hellenistic era

Máchimoi were stil a large part of the army in the Ptolemaic period, most scholars considering them as direct successors of their pre-persian ancestors. They were still seen as a caste of native-Egyptian possessing lands, but still low-rank warriors. They took on increasingly important roles, notably after the battle of Raphia in 217 BCE, which is understandable as the original hellenic pool dwindled down after 300 years. Aware of their importance, they would have generated officers sensible to the cause of Egyptian independence and exerted increasing social pressure on the Ptolemies for reforms or animate various rebellions and uprisings, procuring the manpower and active arm, especially in the high nile region. Under the Ptolemies the terms of "máchimoi" are found on rare documents while only existing in Greek literary works prior. They were mentioned under Ptolemy II Philadelphus (261 BCE) as given guard duties. The Rosetta Stone, under Ptolemy V Epiphanes (196 BCE), also referred to an amnesty for some máchimoi deserters.

The Epilektoi raised at Raphia, were a force within the guard, drawn from the Egyptian warrior caste. It also reflected a growing ethnic Egyptian political involvement. Under Ptolemy VI Philometor, they could have been likely trained and equipped as thureophoroi around 160-150 BC.

More recent reinterpretations, notably a 2013 paper by historian Christelle Fischer-Bovet revised these views, and according to this, Herodotus unintentionally merged professional military officers with a levied militia of commoners. The whole group could not therefore have an elite status. She also perceived a discontinuity between the late empire and Ptolemaic máchimoi, which through historical documents proved they were not exclusively native Egyptians, and thetefore the term was rather a status indicator. They were indeed a máchimoi phalanx and even a Machimoi epilektoi, elite thureophoroi or the Machimoi hippeis, a cavalry. This could also be connected to the amount of land received, leading to sub-distinctions: A Pentarouros, was a máchimos granted five arourai of land, which made them higher in status and more likely to be part of the cavary or elite pikemen than the Ekarouros, probably a simple spearman/clubman/axeman. In this regard, Christelle Fischer-Bovet accepts the idea of the lowest rank in military hierarchy wheras their socio-economic status was still way above the Egyptian commoner.

The Ptolemaic army in action

The constant problem for the Ptolemaic army was its small population of Greeks to provide the main cadre of the army. They were found in more lite ranks, from the Royal guards to the phalanx, complemented by Peltasts. Both the distance from Greece and sufficient incentives plagued the army resplenishment, to remedy this, even early rulers set up military colonies, settled Mercenaries (Ptolemy IV paid for example 1,000 drachmas a day for an Aetolian officer), the last recourse was to use the large manpower available from the old military system, which traduced into local native militias to bolster the pool of light infantry, and the Machimoi. Indeed native Egyptians were never allowed to fight in the army proper but only served as auxiliaries and in the Prolemaic navy (see later).

The first episode was the 322–281 BC war of the Diadochi. It was fought first between Perdiccas, a former companion of Alexander, and a coalition of the Antipatrid, Antigonid and Ptolemaic Dynasties and after 318 BC between the same, and Thrace, against Polyperchon's faction and Epirus, until 315 BC. The next stage until 312 BC saw the Ptolemies at war against the same Polyperchon and Antigonids, to the side of Antipatros, Thrace and Caria as the fight developed in Asia minor, and in 308-301 BC, a new coalition of Ptolemies, Antipatrid Macedonians, Thrace and the Seleucid Empire against the Antigonids. In 280 BC Greece was overwhelmed by Gallic invaders, which eventually settled in Anatolia, while in 275 Ptolemy secured his rule over Egypt, southern Syria (Coele-Syria), and various territories on the southern coast of Asia Minor. Of course, this trigerred a cahange of alliance as the Seleucids were not pleased with this distribution. For all this time, Ptolemaic armies used the projection power of their massive fleet, built thanks to access to Coele-Syrian forests. The army core was Greek through and through and not different from their adversaries, and also comprised mercenaries.

Later, the Ptolemies took part in the Chremonidean War (267–261 BC). Ptolemaic Egypt was allied with a Greek city-states league against the Antigonid Macedonian domination. It ended with a Macedonian victory and confirmed Antigonid control over Greece. In this war, the Ptolemies failed to bring reinforcements to Athens and their fleet was defeated at the Battle of Cos, part also of the second Syrian War. The one which suffered the most was Athens, which lost all remaining power and influence in Greece. But the series of wars that retained Historian attention was of course the one for the control of what we called the "near east", what is nowadays Lebanon, Israel and Syria.

The Syrian war pitted the Seleucids and Ptolemies over the same territory for nearly two centuries: The First Syrian War (274–271 BC) saw Ptolemy II facing Antiochus I trying to expand in Syria and Anatolia. This Ptolemy proved both a shrewed ruler and skilled general and stabilized Egypt internally by marrying Arsinoe II, taming the volatile Egyptian court. By 271 BC, the Ptolemaic rule went as far as Caria and most of Cilicia, amost depriving the Seleucids from a sea access in the Mediterranean. His half-brother Magas meanwhile declared himself king of Cyrenaica until 250 BC. This was followed by nearly ten years of political intrigue, but war started again when Antiochus II succeeded his father in 261 BC, also by agreement to Antigonus II Gonatas which wanted Ptolemaic rule out of the Aegean. Antigonus's fleet defeated Ptolemy's at Cos in 261, helping his conquest on land. Cilicia, Pamphylia, and Ionia were soon lost as a result, Miletus and Ephesus. In 253 BC this was settled by the marriage of Antiochus to Ptolemy's daughter, Berenice Syra.

The third Syrian war lasted for five years, from 246 to 241 BC, also known as the Laodicean War. It came from a succession crisis and court intrigue. Ptolemy declared war on Laodice's newly crowned son, Seleucus II, and his armies triumphed, under command of Xanthippus of Sparta, winning in Syria and Anatolia and possibly went as far as Babylon. The Battle of Andros was a reverse however, while internaly a revalry started between Antiochus and Seleucus, undermining all efforts to defend the empire against Ptolemy. Ptolemy gained new territories on the northern coast of Syria, including Antioch and reached the height of its power. The fourth war was mostly the result of the amibitious new ruler of the Seleucid Kingdom in 223 BC, Antiochus III (layer called "Megas" of the Great). He established firmly his control over the empire, as far as India, then turned his attention to Syria and soon invaded Prolemaic territories. He capitalized on an internal event at the Ptolemaic court, when Ptolemy IV Philopator had his queen-mother Berenice II murdered, and as young as he was, fell under the absolute influence of imperial courtiers, more interested by their personal agendas than the fate of northern territories.

The great change arrived at Raphia in 217: The Ptolemaic army was far too small to counter the Seleucid force of Antiochus III, coined as the "new alexander". General Sosibius prepared a large army and its training long before the battle, enrolling in it 30,000 native Egyptians. These were picked-up men Egyptians called the "Machimoi Epilektoi", which supplied the phalanx. The problem with this move was to empowering them, giving them a higher status and inside out knowledge of the colonists Army, so on the long run, encouraging revolts, which became a reccuring phenomenon after Raphia, and was only partially adressed by the reforms. At Raphia, armies were comparable, the Prolemies mustered 75,000 troops in total, comprising 70,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry plus 73 elephants, against an army eveluated to 68,000 with more cavalry (6,000) and 102 elephants. What's more, the latter Elephants were Asian, whereas the Ptolemies used larger African bush elephants.

The detailed composition showed a very mixed bag of troops from various horizon; sei-professional: He had many mercenary generals and recruited 8,000 mercenaries. The supreme elite of his forces consisted of 3,000 Hypaspists (Eurylochus the Magnesian) making the Royal Agema on foot, 2,000 peltasts (Socrates the Boeotian), 25,000 Macedonian type Phalangites (Andromachus the Aspendian, Ptolemy). Among the 8,000 Greek mercenaries (Phoxidas the Achaean) were 2,000 Cretan (Cnopias of Allaria), 1,000 Neocretan archers (Philon the Cnossian), 3,000 Libyans (Ammonius the Barcian), 4,000 settled Thracians and Gauls (Mistophoroi Katoikai) and an additional 2,000 from Europe (Dionysius the Thracian), and 20,000 Egyptians (Sosibius) making an auxiliary phalanx. It was called the "Machimoi Epilektoi" and they trained the Macedonian way.

The Cavalry core was made by the usual companion Agema, 700 strong. This was bolstered by native cavalry (egchorioi) and Libyan cavalry (another 2,300) under command of general Polycrates of Argos. The Greek mercenary cavalry, Thessalian lancers, Tarentines, Aetolian mounted skirmishers, were placed under command of Echecrates the Thessalian. And 73 african elephants, less docile than Asian ones and smaller, so not likely to be equipped with archer towers. Ptolemy won this battle but after lossing almost all his elephants. Scared by the larger and better trained Asian ones, they fled, stampeding its own ranks or were captured. Nevertheless, the overonfident Antiochus routed the Egyptian cavalry but pursued them, persuaded he already won the battle. But meanwhile, the compsite Ptolemaic phalanx eventually won, cracking open the center of the infantry leaving the rest to flee. There are several explanation to this. It is believed the Seleucids used a lower-quality, levied phalanx, or Persian phalanx, while the Machimoi by all accounts fought very well, beyond all expectation, perhaps out of rivalry with their Macedonian comrades in arms. When Antiochus came back on the battlefield it was too late. His ary had fled and he was ambushed by Ptolemy. Raphia was not the last battle however: Ptolemy won back Coele Syria, as a result of this fourth Syrian war, but died and in 200 BC at Panium his less giften son Ptolemy V Epiphanes lost to Antiochus on the battlefield. Once again, Coele Syria and Judaea returned to Seleucid rule. The internal situation further degraded in Egypt and the new confidence gained by the Egyptians led to an open revolt and complete secession in 207–186 of Upper Egypt. Weakened, the new ruler could not supress the rebellion and take back what became in effect an independent kingdom. The Battle of Antioch (Oenoparus) in 145 BC closed the war, with the defeat and overthrow of Alexander Balas from the Seleucid throne while Ptolemy VI of Egypt unified his empire and the Seleucis under his banner. At that stage, the army was not yet reformed, but it was the last "Alexandrian" style battle.

The reformed Ptolemaic Army (143 BC)

Famous fresco of the late Ptolemaic army Reforms in the late Seleucid and Ptolemaic armies were made in parralel. It was basically a limuted "Romanization" notably for tactical formations. Units more resembled manipled, with a standard-bearer and officers attached not unlike Centurions, the "Hekatontarch" and Decurions. The Hekatontarch already appeared around 250 BC in the Septuagint as the 'captains of hundreds'. Asclepiodotus described in 'Tactica', the new unit called the Syntagma, smaller than the old batallion. The Phalangarkhia was the same size as a Roman Legion. Also for the anecdote, Roman adventurers and veterans preferred to serve under the Ptolemies than cultivating bad lands in remote, rainy outposts in the north. Romans already fought Ptolemaic service in 252/1 BC. As Sekunda suggested, these individuals helped the transition by their intimate knowledge of the Roman military system. This reform not only concerned tactical units, but also composition of the army at large. Although the Ptolemaic army retained its core made of phalanx, and an elite cavalry of Hetairoi completed by Cleruchs, mercenaries from Galatia or settled Thracians and mercenaries, possible Machimoi auxiliaries and epilektoi, there was a much larger medium infantry component, placed on both wings of the phalanx. Greek mercenaries, settled peltasts, Machimoi, even settled Celts all converged towards a light, mobile troop bearing the same Thureos. In short, they were all thureophoroi, diversely equipped. Veterans and picked-up men became Thorakitai, well protected and versatile, although their main weapon was still a one-handed spear. They were also proficient with javelins and sword for melee combat.

Ascepiodotos was not the reformer, but just testified of their reality by writing them down in great detail. In his book he detailed the Different Branches of the Army, Strength, names, subdivisions, disposition of Men, the Entire Army and its Subdivisions, intervals between Soldiers, appropriate size and character of the combined arms, phalanx, light Infantry, javelineers, disposition, subdivisions names, same for the cavalry, Chariots, Elephants, Terms for Military Evolutions, Arrangements of Divisions on the March and military Commands. He is the main source for modern historians to understant the Ptolemaic army at that time. Still formidable on paper however, this army was soon to bear the brunt of its intestine struggled, both court intrigue and rebellions in the south.

Roman Legions in front of the Pyramids, artwork by Nick Gindreaux

This decline soon turned the army into a highly disorganized assemblage of mercenaries and other foreign troops, with no common agenda and disloyalty. It became so bad that internal turmoil led to grain exports to decline. In 61 BCE, Aulus Gabinius became Roman proconsul of Syria, restored the king after a campaign in Egypt, leaving a part of his legions, the Gabiniani. This Roman troop included Gallic and German horsemen. They intermingled with the natives before the arrival of Caesar in 48 BC, lost their connection with Rome while becoming sworn protectors of Ptolemy XII. They were used basically as a police force and sent in several expedition in the south. But a rift was created between Ptolemy and his sister-queen Cleopatra, the latter being exiled, but civil war brewing. Caesar supported Cleopatra while Pothinus organized military oppositionleading to the Alexandrinian war. By then the 'Gabiniani' constituted the core divisions of Achillas' army of 20,000 infantrymen and 2000 cavalry which besieged the Royal Palace in Alexandria. After the Pontic intervention, this army fled and was chased off by Caesar's legions, the XXVII, XXVIII and XXIX. They became an occupying army, tasked with the protection of Cleopatra and ensire her loyalty to Rome. Later, Casear was murdered and a new civil war erupted. When peace was secured, Antony inherited the eastern provinces and soon settled in Alexandria, almost becoming co-King of Egypt. He had legions and the Egyptian fleet, and led several military expeditions with various fortunes, notably against the Parthians. However when Octavian aspired to enforce his rule, the seemingly defiant independance of Antony became a problem. War was declared and legions were sent, ensuring a naval battle at Actium in 31 BC, which ended as a disaster for Antony. A land battle was expected against Octavian legions, but the remainder of Caesar's legions and Gabiniani simply defected and later both Antony and Cleopatra allegedly committed suicide.

Battle of the Nile (47), part of the Alexandrian war (Rome II)

The Roman era Egyptian army

As Egypt lost its last legitimate ruler, Cleopatra, the old kingdom became a Roman Province, administrated by an appointed governor. It was peaceful after the turmoil of civil wars for at least 50 years, the "Augustean peace". The order of the day was to abolish former segregation between greek and natives. All could now join one of the legions raised there. Rome's breadbasket indeed needs a powerful force to leave open the supply of grain at all times. The main threat was no longer from the remnants of the Ptolemies, which had been basically hunted down (and Cesarion killed), but the locals, which bitterly resented Roman presence. The latter indeed made no effort to integrate into the local population or respect any custom. Nevertheless, local governors seemed to be appointed more carefully than others like in Germany or Judaea. Therefore, revolts were rare. Apart the Jewish revolt which it the locals in Alexandia, the rift between Hellenes and Jews over questions of religion, there was a major revolt in 139 AD of the native Egyptians, fed up with taxation. There was another in 193 AD when Pescennius Niger was proclaimed emperor, while Caracalla (211–217) granted Roman citizenship to all Egyptians. The Late Empire saw a serie of mostly religious-based revolts and troubles. The great rift happened under Zenobia, queen of Palmyra, which took the country away from the Romans in 269 and became de facto Queen of Egypt, claiming an ancestral familial tie to Cleopatra VII. She was ousted ultimately by Aurelian in 274.

A Gabiniani Centurion. Note the locally-spiced style (Osprey). Many were Roman veterans.

Among other local legions had been Antony's Legio XVII Classica (Of the Fleet), disbanded in 31 BC like Legio XVIII Libyca and Legio XIX. The longest-lived was Legio III Cyrenaica (from Cyrene): created circa 36 BC by Mark Antony, extant in the 5th century AD. Equipment being standardized, they differed little from their counterparts in other legions but by lighter tunics, possibly paddled armor, and bright tunics over their Lorica (armor) to avoid them overheating. Auxiliaries were raised either among the former Hellenic and "metis" landowners and locals. Legions codes identified more units in North Africa and the near east as a whole: AEG for Aegyptus, AFR for "Africa" at large (Tunisia/Western Libya), AR for Arabia Petraea (Jordan/Sinai) and SYR for Syria (Syria/Lebanon province). The biggest difference in this Roman egyptian army was that their commanders were members of the second rank of the empire, the equestrian order, and not the senatorial class. Also, the legions were soon concentrated in Nikopolis. Also, titles of officers in this provincial army mixed Greek and Latin, and the praefectus Aegypti had his own pretorian guard called thr Starores, also unique to Egypt.

Sources/Read More

Ancient egyptian body armour
History of Egypt
Ptolemaic dynasty
Military of ancient egypt.
Oxford online: The Ptolemaic Army by Christelle Fischer-Bovet
About Cesarion
The Roman army in egypt
About the Ptolemaic Navy

Greek prefixes

Christelle Fischer-Bovet (2013), "Egyptian warriors: the Machimoi of Herodotus and the Ptolemaic Army".
Werner Huß, Ägypten in hellenistischer Zeit: 332–30 v. Chr. Beck, München 2001

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