from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

As Pezhetairoi ( Greek  πεζέταιροι , literally "companions on foot", singular Pezhetairos ) in the ancient Hellenistic army the soldiers of the heavy infantry were referred to, which as a " Macedonian phalanx " usually formed the core of every army formation. So they were the regular phalangites in the armies of Macedonia and its Hellenistic successor states of the Antigonids , Seleucids , Ptolemies and other dynasties. A comparable equivalent with them were the Roman legionaries .


The Greek term hetairos (companion) was already used in Homer's epics , where it described the closer personal retinue of the heroes . The companions were usually defined by a particularly pronounced relationship of loyalty to the hero, which in the army of Macedonia was ultimately also assumed from the warriors to their commanders.

In the social and state order of ancient Macedonia, all men who had civil rights were considered free and equal to their king, whose position was more like that of first among equals ( primus inter pares ) than that of ruler. The Macedonian citizen did not see himself as a subject of the king and therefore did not follow him as a vassal of compulsory service, but as a voluntary companion in battle.


In his around 350 BC The Attic orator Demosthenes used this term for the first time to describe the Pezhetaires , who wrote the second Olynthian speech . He described her as tall and well-built bodyguards of King Philip II of Macedonia . In doing so, he conforms to the description of the historian Theopompus , who also described the Pezhetaires as royal bodyguards. It was only Anaximenes who used the term as a term for the entirety of the Macedonian infantry troops. He named a king Alexander as the creator of the Pezhetaire troupe, although his identity is controversial in historical research. Since Macedonia did not emerge as an infantry military power before Philip II and Alexander II could hardly have had a creative impact with only one year of reign, the majority of historians see Alexander I as the founder of the Pezhetaires, who initially served the Macedonian kings as a small troop as bodyguards must have served. The term “companions on foot”, which refers to a relationship of trust, probably stems from this past as a royal bodyguard.

Anaximenes was the first to describe the Macedonian army after its reform by Philip II and the heavy Macedonian infantry, i.e. the "companions on foot", differentiated from the heavy Macedonian cavalry ( Hetairenreiterei ), whose riders he simply referred to as "companions" . Philip II used the bodyguard corps he had taken over from his predecessors as a foundation for building up a standing infantry army, provided it with an armament specific to the Macedonians and trained it in a corresponding fighting style. In the end, the so-called “ Macedonian Phalanx ” (Μακεδονικήν φάλαγγα) was created, which in its fighting style differed significantly from the hoplite phalanx of the Greek city-states and should prove to be superior to it.

Recruitment, equipment and organization

The Pezhetairen were not simple military citizens, but professional warriors who were paid for their service from the royal treasury. Each warrior received an average salary of 30 drachmas a month. The earnings could be increased through looting, loot sharing and awards. They were recruited primarily from the simple rural population of Macedonia, whereby the traditional paternal custom and the pronounced warrior ethos of the Macedonians ensured a constantly growing reservoir of men willing to fight. The young recruit ( ephebos ) was usually subjected to several years of training before he came into combat. He was trained in the strictest discipline and hard drill in handling the weapons and especially in formation marches. The training continued during the campaign in the breaks from fighting and marching. The trained Pezhetairos was preferably sent to the first combat mission after his marriage, which gave him the prospect of paternity, because after all, enough recruits had to be available for the future. In the first year of his campaign in Asia, for example, Alexander the Great released the newly married warriors home over the winter in order to give them the opportunity to procreate more sons before they had to resume the campaign through Asia the following year. The period of service of a Pezhetairos was not limited in time, because the longer the period of service, the greater the earnings. In addition, the combat experience acquired with advancing age was a coveted commodity among the generals. As a rule, a Macedonian warrior stayed in action until he was able to use his earnings to purchase his own land to secure his old age. In case of doubt he fought as long as he was fit for war. A famous example of this is known from the veterans of the shield-bearers ( hypaspistes ) , the "silver shields", who went into battle during the Diadoch Wars with an average age of sixty to seventy. And that retirement on the elderly was sometimes incompatible with the warriors' sense of honor, they demonstrated, for example, with their mutiny against Alexander in Opis 324 BC. BC, with which they wanted to defend themselves against the dismissal of the veterans.

The characteristic weapon of a Pezhetairos was a long thrusting lance, the Sarissa , which was an average of 12 cubits (5.5 m) long, but could at times also reach a length of up to 16 cubits (7.3 m). Its shaft was made from the wood of the cornel cherry . It had to be carried out with both hands. For his protection, the Pezhetairos wore a small round shield over his left shoulder, a smaller version of the Hoplon , which was fastened around his neck with a leather strap. Alternatively, especially in siege combat, the Pezhetairos could also be armed with a 2.5 m long spear and a shield. In this configuration, the armament was similar to that of a shield bearer. Regardless of his main armament, the Pezhetairos always wore a helmet, breastplate (presumably without a back piece), greaves and sword.

The smallest military sub-unit to which a Pezhetairos belonged was the member (dekas) , which originally consisted of 10 and at the latest since Alexander the Great of 16 men. One member was headed by a "decade leader" (decadarchos) , who was assisted by three deputies. The first in the list immediately next to him was the bravest warrior of the member, who received double and thus the highest monthly salary. In third place was a dekastateros , who received 10 staters in addition to his monthly salary. Twelve simple pezhetaires joined him. The link was finally closed by a second dekastateros . One member was also a tent community, which had a servant and a donkey who carried the tent and food for 30 to 40 days. Sixteen members arranged in a square of 16 by 16 men (a total of 256 men) formed a military network, a syntagma . Two such groups together resulted in a "five hundred corps" (lóchos) as the smallest operative unit, three such "five hundred corpses" in turn a 1536 man taxis as the largest infantry corps. A phalanx formation was usually composed of several taxeis .

Fighting style

The Pezhetairos was specialized for fighting in the phalanx formation, in his specific case in that of the so-called "Macedonian phalanx" , which, due to the peculiar armament of its warriors, represented a further development of the classic hoplite phalanx.

In contrast to the classic hoplite, the Pezhetairos did not lead his lance over his shoulder with just one hand, but had to hold it at hip height in both hands. The significantly greater length of his sarissa gave him an advantage over the hoplite, whom he could now hit with his lance tip from a greater distance without having to fight a direct duel with him. This advantage, however, required the warrior to be embedded in the unity of his phalanx formation, which protected him, because as a lone fighter he could only be used to a limited extent. The handling of his long lance allowed him only slow, clumsy movements and his small shield offered little protection. For hand-to-hand combat he carried a small sword or a longer dagger with him, which weapons were only used as a last resort. On the battlefield, the Pezhetairos tried to prevent physical contact with the enemy by impaling him with his lance in good time.

The higher protection for the individual warrior, which the closed formation guaranteed him, resulted once again from the length of the Sarissas, as well as from the number of those deployed by them. Their length allowed several members of the formation, a maximum of five, to take part in the fighting. If a formation had inserted its lances, five rows of lances protruded ahead of the warrior of the first link, with the tip of his own lance protruding about 4.5 m and that of the fourth man behind him almost 1 m from his body. A syntagma of the Pezhetaires protruded a total of 80 lance tips in five rows, which had to be overcome by the opponent first in order to reach the Pezhetairen of the first link for close combat. For the opponents of the Macedonian phalanx, primarily Greeks, Persians and Romans, an almost impossible undertaking. The warriors of the sixth to sixteenth ranks did not take an active part in the fighting in the front ranks, but kept their lances in the vertical, which they were able to disrupt the flight path of approaching arrow projectiles and thus protected the formation from above. They only put their lances in the horizontal position for the fight after one of the front-line fighters had fallen and those behind them had to move forward one position at a time. This kept the maximum number of lances ready for use. Another important task assigned to the hind limbs was to keep the formation moving forward by constantly pushing the fore limbs forward using their physical pressure. This meant that they literally pushed the lance tips of their front rows into the formation of the enemy. For the warriors of the front ranks, this also meant that, due to the pressure of their backers, they were forced to follow the movement no matter what weapons were aimed at them. For the enemy, in turn, the Macedonian phalanx presented itself as an unstoppable and weapon-staring human roller (Greek: phalanx), on which its notorious reputation was based.

The fighting power of the Macedonian phalanx was generated from the unity of the formation of its individual sub-units and members. This required a high level of discipline and coordination with the men next to him for every single Pezhetairen, which is why the formation march at a constant speed with changes of direction was one of his most intensive training units. If a warrior made a mistake on the march, he could lose contact with the formation and thus endanger his life as an inferior lone fighter. The same was true of a formation that not only deprived itself of protective flank cover when it veered out of the overall formation, but also endangered the cohesion of the phalanx as a whole due to the gap it created.

Shield bearer

Within the Macedonian army order there was a second class of troops, the shield-bearers ( hypaspistes ) , which played an important role on the battlefield as a supplement to the phalanx. As Macedonians, the shield-bearers were also pezhetairoi in the broader sense , meaning “companions on foot”; however, they were distinguished from the phalangites by name. Like the phalanx fighters, they had probably emerged from the old Pezhetaire troop, which before Philip II had served the kings as bodyguards, because from then on they had continued to protect the king. The shield-bearers were recruited from the same social class as the phalangites and did not differ in principle from them in their equipment. However, they fought mainly with the one-handed spear and large round shield ( Hoplon ), which the name already indicates, with which they came very close to the classic hoplite.

In the battle formation, the shield-bearers assumed a supporting function for the phalangites. Since the Pezhetairen had to lead their sarissas with both hands on the right half of their body, they were almost unprotected and particularly vulnerable at this point. Within the battle formation, this disadvantage was largely neutralized, as the body of the right neighbor covered the right side of the Pezhetairen. However, this did not apply to those who were positioned at the far right end of the phalanx, which thus formed a vulnerable open flank. In order to close this, the corps of shield-bearers was set up at this point, which covered the right flank with its large shields from the enemy attack. Pezhetaires and Hypaspists thus followed the principle of combined arms on the battlefield and were equal parts of the Macedonian phalanx.

Away from the battlefield, the shield bearers were used much more flexibly than the regular phalangites. In particular, they were used for operations or command actions to be carried out quickly. Since they, as the new guard corps (agema) , had a much closer relationship of trust with the king, they were also favored in their social position vis-à-vis simple phalanx fighters by attaining aristocratic dignity as the "prime of the Macedonians".


The Macedonian phalanx was mainly recruited from Pezhetairoi from the time of Alexander the Great until the collapse of the Diadochian Empire. This troop was introduced by Philip II , Alexander's father. The Pezhetairoi already distinguished themselves in the battle of Chaironeia , in which they defeated the Athens-Thebes alliance. The unit played a decisive role against Reiter in the Battle of Gaugamela . Alexander took six regiments of the Pezhetairoi to India. On the way there, the Pezhetairen marched up to 30 km a day despite a load of at least 25 kg. At the latest after his arrival from the Makran desert , Orientals also served in the regiments of the Pezhetaires. In the Diadochian empires they were the core troops of the infantry armies.


  • John Warry: Warfare in the Classical World. Univ. of Oklahoma Press, Norman (Okla.) 1995, ISBN 0-8061-2794-5 . (engl.)
  • Bertram Kanstinger: Alexander's Asian campaign up to the Battle of Granikos. Diplomica, Hamburg 2002, ISBN 3-8386-4907-9 .
  • Robin Lane Fox: Alexander The Great. Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, Reinbek near Hamburg, 2010, ISBN 978-3-499-62641-8 .
  • Joseph Roisman and Ian Worthington (Eds.): A Companion to Ancient Macedonia. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2010, pp. 446-472.
  • Minor M. Markle, III: The Macedonian Sarissa, Spear, and Related Armor. In: American Journal of Archeology. Vol. 81 (1977), pp. 323-339.
  • Minor M. Markle, III: Use of the Sarissa by Philip and Alexander of Macedon. In: American Journal of Archeology. Vol. 82 (1978), pp. 483-497.
  • R. Develin: Anaximenes ("FGrHist" 72) F 4. In: Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte , Vol. 34 (1985), pp. 493-496.
  • Andrew Erskine: The πεζέταιϱοι of Philip II and Alexander III. In: Historia: magazine for ancient history. 38: 385-394 (1989).

Individual evidence

  1. Demosthenes , Second Olynthic Speech (2), 17.
  2. ^ Theopompos , The Fragments of the Greek Historians . No. 115, question. 348.
  3. Anaximenes , The Fragments of the Greek Historians. No. 72, question. 4th
  4. ^ Cf. Roisman / Worthington, 2010, p. 447.
  5. Diodorus 16, 3, 2.
  6. ^ Arrian , Anabasis. 1, 24, 1.
  7. Diodorus 19, 41, 2.
  8. Theophrast , Historia plantarum. 3, 17, 2. Polyainos , Strategika. 2, 29, 2.
  9. ^ Arrian, Anabasis. 1, 15, 5.
  10. Helmut Berve : The Alexander Empire on a prosopographical basis. Volume 1, Munich 1926, p. 113.
  11. See Hans-Joachim Gehrke : Alexander the Great. Beck, Munich 1996, ISBN 3-406-41043-X , p. 180, note 18.
  12. Bertram Kanstinger: Alexander's campaign in Asia up to the Battle of Granikos. 2002, p. 79.
  13. ^ Arrian, Anabasis. 7, 23, 3-4.
  14. Polybios 18:29 .
  15. Polybios 18, 30.
  16. Polybios 18, 30.
  17. See Arrian, Anabasis. 2, 10, 4f.
  18. a b H. J. Gehrke: History of Hellenism. Oldenburg Wissenschaftsverlag GmbH, Munich 2003, p. 148.
  19. Diodorus 16, 4, 5.
  20. DW Engels,?, P. 28, note 15 and p. 153.
  21. DW Engels,?, P. 21, note 31.