The term was first used for Thracian mercenary troops, which the mercenary leader Iphikrates in Athens in the 4th century BC. Began to be used more frequently after the Persian Wars had shown their value. In contrast to the heavily armored hoplites, they originally wore no armor and instead of a helmet mostly only a fur cap. They were armed with javelins and carried light shields made of basket and leather, called pelta , after which they were named. At the beginning of the 4th century BC First the Athenian general Iphikrates set up Peltast units, which no longer consisted of Thracians. These Greek Peltasts were recruited from the lower classes of the population and also soon developed into sought-after mercenaries. From then on, helmets were worn more often and the shields were larger, and later additional body armor could be added.
Since the Peltasts were not hindered by any armor, they were far superior to the hoplites in terms of mobility. At the same time, they were better protected against the other, even more lightly armed foot troops such as archers and slingshots by their shield and thus superior to them at short range or in close combat.
In their left hand they carried both the shield and a bundle of light javelins. These were one to one and a half meters long. Although usually shown with less in representations, a single fighter could in reality easily transport around five of them. Their tactic was to run in small groups and run within range of the opposing phalanx and throw their javelins to retreat before the hoplites could use their lances against them. The javelins of the Peltasts were provided with a loop, the so-called ankyle , at the end of the shaft . To throw, the Peltast put the index and middle finger into the loop and held the shaft with the other fingers. The loop enabled him to throw the spear with great precision and force.
Peltasts were not designed to withstand heavy melee attacks from the enemy. Nevertheless, in addition to their javelins, some of them were still equipped with a short sword that they could use in an emergency. From the 4th century BC In addition to throwing spears, people even went over to carrying long lances for close combat.
- John Warry, Warfare in the Classical World . Univ. of Oklahoma Press, Norman (Okla.) 1995. ISBN 0-8061-2794-5 (Eng.)