Cretan archers

Cretan archers were a well known class of warrior whose specialist skills were extensively utilized in both ancient and medieval warfare.[1] They were especially valued in armies, such as those of the Greek city states, Macedonia and ancient Rome, which could not draw upon substantial numbers of skilled archers from their native populations.


The use of bows and arrows by Cretan hunters is indicated as early as 2200 BC, in a Minoan seal. A mosaic discovered in Knossos and dated about 1700 BC portrays warriors armed with bows of both simple and double-convex designs.[2]

Though Cretan archers could be theoretically outranged by Rhodian slingers,[3] they were widely recognized as being amongst the best light missile troops in the ancient world, and as such found employment as mercenaries in many armies, including Alexander the Great's and those of many of the Diadochi. During the Retreat of the Ten thousand following the Battle of Cunaxa in 401 Xenophon's hoplites were able to hold off pursuing Persian troops, with the aid of the Cretan archers who formed part of the Greek mercenary army. On this occasion the Cretans, cut off from supplies, were able to gather and reuse the spent Persian arrows while seizing bowstrings from local peasantry.[4] Xenophon records that Cretan archers were outranged by their Persian counterparts and suffered losses because they wore no armour.

Following the conquest of Macedonia and of the independent Greek city-states, Cretan archers served as auxiliaries in the Roman army as reformed by Gaius Marius under the Republic[5], and that of the Empire. Mediterranean light archers in Roman service from the 3rd through the 5th centuries A.D. might wear leather caps or be bare-headed. The chain-mail of earlier periods was replaced by leather jerkins or long-sleeved tunics, in favor of increased mobility and economy. Secondary weapons for use at close quarters included light axes and small round shields slung from a belt and suitable for parrying.[6] An auxiliary unit of mounted Cretan archers: Cohors I Cretum Sagittariorum Equitata; fought in the Dacian Wars of 102–105 AD and continued to serve in that province until at least 161 AD.[7]

Crete remained part of the Byzantine Empire until seized by Venice in the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade. During much of this period the island was a Theme (military province), providing both archers and sailors for the Byzantine forces.[8]

In 1452 Venice granted specific permission for Byzantium to resume recruitment of Cretans.[9] One of the last occasions on which Cretan archers are known to have played a significant role was as part of the garrison defending Constantinople against the Turkish army of Mehmet II in May 1453.[10]

In popular culture

Cretan Archers, along with Rhodian Slingers, are included in the video games Rome: Total War, Total War: Rome II & Total War: Arena, where they are available to be hired as mercenaries.


  1. ^ Bigwood, "Ctesias as Historian of the Persian Wars," 35.
  2. ^ D'Amato, Raffaele. Early Aegean Warrior 5000-1450 BC. p. 37. ISBN 978-1-78096-858-2.
  3. ^ Echols, "The Ancient Slinger," 228.
  4. ^ Wary, John. Warfare in the Classical World. pp. 56–57. ISBN 0-86101-034-5.
  5. ^ Fields, Nic. Boudicca's Rebellion AD 60-61. p. 38. ISBN 978-1-84908-313-3.
  6. ^ Phil Barker, page 41 "The Armies and Enemies of Imperial Rome 150 BC to 600 AD"
  7. ^ Wary, Raffaele D'Amato. Roman Army Units in the Eastern Provinces (1). p. 13. ISBN 978-1-4728-2176-8.
  8. ^ Wary, John. Byzantine Armies 886-1118. pp. 18 & 23. ISBN 0-85045-306-2.
  9. ^ Heath, Ian. Byzantine Armies 1118-1461 AD. p. 23. ISBN 1-85532-347-8.
  10. ^ D'Amato, Raffaele. The Eastern Romans 330-1461 AD. p. 42. ISBN 962-361-089-0.


  • Bigwood, J.M. "Ctesias as Historian of the Persian Wars." Phoenix 32, no. 1: 19–41.
  • Echols, Edward C. "The Ancient Slinger." The Classical Weekly 43, no. 15: 227–230.

Further reading

  • McLeod, W. "The Ancient Cretan Bow." Journal of the Society of Archer-Antiquaries 11 (1968): 30-31.
58 BC

Year 58 BC was a year of the pre-Julian Roman calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Piso and Gabinius (or, less frequently, year 696 Ab urbe condita). The denomination 58 BC for this year has been used since the early medieval period, when the Anno Domini calendar era became the prevalent method in Europe for naming years.

Acropolis of Athens

The Acropolis of Athens is an ancient citadel located on a rocky outcrop above the city of Athens and contains the remains of several ancient buildings of great architectural and historic significance, the most famous being the Parthenon. The word acropolis is from the Greek words ἄκρον (akron, "highest point, extremity") and πόλις (polis, "city"). Although the term acropolis is generic and there are many other acropoleis in Greece, the significance of the Acropolis of Athens is such that it is commonly known as "The Acropolis" without qualification. During ancient times it was known also more properly as Cecropia, after the legendary serpent-man, Cecrops, the supposed first Athenian king.

While there is evidence that the hill was inhabited as far back as the fourth millennium BC, it was Pericles (c. 495–429 BC) in the fifth century BC who coordinated the construction of the site's most important present remains including the Parthenon, the Propylaia, the Erechtheion and the Temple of Athena Nike. The Parthenon and the other buildings were damaged seriously during the 1687 siege by the Venetians during the Morean War when gunpowder being stored in the Parthenon was hit by a cannonball and exploded.

Ancient Greek dialects

Ancient Greek in classical antiquity, before the development of the common Koine Greek of the Hellenistic period, was divided into several varieties.

Most of these varieties are known only from inscriptions, but a few of them, principally Aeolic, Doric, and Ionic, are also represented in the literary canon alongside the dominant Attic form of literary Greek.

Likewise, Modern Greek is divided into several dialects, most derived from Koine Greek.

Ancient Macedonian army

The army of the Kingdom of Macedon was among the greatest military forces of the ancient world. It was created and made formidable by King Philip II of Macedon; previously the army of Macedon had been of little account in the politics of the Greek world, and Macedonia had been regarded as a second-rate power.

The latest innovations in weapons and tactics were adopted and refined by Philip II, and he created a uniquely flexible and effective army. By introducing military service as a full-time occupation, Philip was able to drill his men regularly, ensuring unity and cohesion in his ranks. In a remarkably short time, this led to the creation of one of the finest military machines of the ancient world.

Tactical improvements included the latest developments in the deployment of the traditional Greek phalanx made by men such as Epaminondas of Thebes and Iphicrates of Athens. Philip II improved on these military innovators by using both Epaminondas' deeper phalanx and Iphicrates' combination of a longer spear and smaller and lighter shield. However, the Macedonian king also innovated; he introduced the use of a much longer spear, the two-handed pike. The Macedonian pike, the sarissa, gave its wielder many advantages both offensively and defensively. For the first time in Greek warfare, cavalry became a decisive arm in battle. The Macedonian army perfected the co-ordination of different troop types, an early example of combined arms tactics — the heavy infantry phalanx, skirmish infantry, archers, light cavalry and heavy cavalry, and siege engines were all deployed in battle; each troop type being used to its own particular advantage and creating a synergy of mutual support.

The new Macedonian army was an amalgamation of different forces. Macedonians and other Greeks (especially Thessalian cavalry) and a wide range of mercenaries from across the Aegean and Balkans were employed by Phillip. By 338 BC, more than a half of the army for his planned invasion of the Achaemenid Empire of Persia came from outside the borders of Macedon — from all over the Greek world and the nearby barbarian tribes, such as the Illyrians, Paeonians, and Thracians.

Unfortunately, most of the primary historical sources for this period have been lost. As a consequence, scholarship is largely reliant on the works of Diodorus Siculus and Arrian, plus the incomplete writings of Curtius, all of whom lived centuries later than the events they describe.


An auxiliary force is an organized group supplementing but not directly incorporated in a regular military or police entity. It may comprise either civilian volunteers undertaking support functions or additional personnel directly performing military roles, such as garrison troops or police duties, usually on a part-time basis.

Historically the designation "auxiliary" has also been given to foreign or allied troops in the service of a nation at war. In the context of colonial armies locally recruited irregulars were often described as auxiliaries.

Battle of Jaxartes

The Battle of Jaxartes was a battle fought in 329 BC by Alexander the Great and his Macedonian army against the Scythians at the River Jaxartes, now known as the Syr Darya River. The site of the battle straddles the modern borders of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, just south-west of the ancient city of Tashkent (the modern capital of Uzbekistan) and north-east of Khujand (a city in Tajikistan).

Battle of Nemea

The Battle of Nemea (394 BC), also known in ancient Athens as the Battle of Corinth, was a battle in the Corinthian War, between Sparta and the allied cities of Argos, Athens, Corinth, and Thebes. The battle was fought in Corinthian territory, at the dry bed of the Nemea River. The battle was a decisive Spartan victory, which, coupled with the Battle of Coronea later in the same year, gave Sparta the advantage in the early fighting on the Greek mainland.

Cycladic culture

Cycladic culture (also known as Cycladic civilisation or, chronologically, as Cycladic chronology) was a Bronze Age culture (c. 3200–c. 1050 BC) found throughout the islands of the Cyclades in the Aegean Sea. In chronological terms, it is a relative dating system for artefacts which broadly complements Helladic chronology (mainland Greece) and Minoan chronology (Crete) during the same period of time.


Demonax (Greek: Δημώναξ, Dēmōnax, gen.: Δημώνακτος; c. AD 70 – c. 170) was a Greek Cynic philosopher. Born in Cyprus, he moved to Athens, where his wisdom, and his skill in solving disputes, earned him the admiration of the citizens. He taught Lucian, who wrote a Life of Demonax in praise of his teacher. When he died he received a magnificent public funeral.


Eurybotas (Greek: Ευρυβώτας) of Crete was the toxarch of the Cretan archers in the Macedonian army, a position to which he may have been summoned already by Philip II, when he planned his Asiatic campaign. He was killed, along with seventy of his men, in the Siege of Thebes in 335 BC. His successor appears to have been Ombrion of Crete.

Cretan archers were highly skilled and were an essential part of Greek military tactics. The Cretan archers were generally mercenaries.

Greece in the Roman era

Greece in the Roman era describes the period of Greek history when Ancient Greece was dominated by the Roman Republic (509 – 27 BC), the Roman Empire (27 BC – AD 395), and the Byzantine Empire (AD 395 – 1453). The Roman era of Greek history began with the Corinthian defeat in the Battle of Corinth in 146 BC. However, before the Achaean War, the Roman Republic had been steadily gaining control of mainland Greece by defeating the Kingdom of Macedon in a series of conflicts known as the Macedonian Wars. The Fourth Macedonian War ended at the Battle of Pydna in 148 BC and defeat of the Macedonian royal pretender Andriscus.

The definitive Roman occupation of the Greek world was established after the Battle of Actium (31 BC), in which Augustus defeated Cleopatra VII, the Greek Ptolemaic queen of Egypt, and the Roman general Mark Antony, and afterwards conquered Alexandria (32 BC), the last great city of Hellenistic Greece. The Roman era of Greek history continued with Emperor Constantine the Great's adoption of Byzantium as Nova Roma, the capital city of the Roman Empire; in AD 330, the city was renamed Constantinople; afterwards, the Byzantine Empire was a generally Greek-speaking polity.

Greek Dark Ages

The Greek Dark Ages, Homeric Age (named for the fabled poet, Homer) or Geometric period (so called after the characteristic Geometric art of the time),

is the period of Greek history from the end of the Mycenaean palatial civilization around 1100 BC to the first signs of the Greek poleis (city states) in the 9th century BC.

The archaeological evidence shows a widespread collapse of Bronze Age civilization in the Eastern Mediterranean world at the outset of the period, as the great palaces and cities of the Mycenaeans were destroyed or abandoned. At about the same time, the Hittite civilization suffered serious disruption and cities from Troy to Gaza were destroyed and in Egypt the New Kingdom fell into disarray that led to the Third Intermediate Period.

Following the collapse, fewer and smaller settlements suggest famine and depopulation. In Greece, the Linear B writing of the Greek language used by Mycenaean bureaucrats ceased. The decoration on Greek pottery after about 1100 BC lacks the figurative decoration of Mycenaean ware and is restricted to simpler, generally geometric styles (1000–700 BC).

It was previously thought that all contact was lost between mainland Hellenes and foreign powers during this period, yielding little cultural progress or growth, but artifacts from excavations at Lefkandi on the Lelantine Plain in Euboea show that significant cultural and trade links with the east, particularly the Levant coast, developed from c. 900 BC onwards. Additionally, evidence has emerged of the new presence of Hellenes in sub-Mycenaean Cyprus and on the Syrian coast at Al-Mina.

Grotta-Pelos culture

The Grotta-Pelos culture (Greek: Γρόττα-Πηλός) refers to a "cultural" dating system used for part of the early Bronze Age in Greece. Specifically, it is the period that marks the beginning of the so-called Cycladic culture and spans the Neolithic period in the late 4th millennium BC (ca. 3300 BC), continuing in the Bronze Age to about 2700 BC.

The term was coined by Colin Renfrew, who named it after the sites of Grotta and Pelos on the Cycladic islands of Naxos and Milos, respectively. Other archaeologists prefer a "chronological" dating system and refer to this period as the Early Cycladic I (ECI).

Kastelli Hill

Kastelli Hill (also Kasteli; Greek: Λόφος Καστέλλι or Καστέλι) is a landform at the city of Chania on the island of Crete in the present day country of Greece. The Minoan city of ancient Cydonia was centered on Kastelli Hill, which later was selected by the Romans as the site of an acropolis.


In the culture of ancient Greece, the term paideia (also spelled paedeia) (; Greek: παιδεία, paideía) referred to the rearing and education of the ideal member of the polis. It incorporated both practical, subject-based schooling and a focus upon the socialization of individuals within the aristocratic order of the polis. The practical aspects of this education included subjects subsumed under the modern designation of the liberal arts (rhetoric, grammar, and philosophy are examples), as well as scientific disciplines like arithmetic and medicine. An ideal and successful member of the polis would possess intellectual, moral and physical refinement, so training in gymnastics and wrestling was valued for its effect on the body alongside the moral education which the Greeks believed was imparted by the study of music, poetry, and philosophy. This approach to the rearing of a well-rounded Greek male was common to the Greek-speaking world, with the exception of Sparta where a rigid and militaristic form of education known as the agoge was practiced.

Phylakopi I culture

The Phylakopi I culture (Greek: Φυλακωπή) refers to a "cultural" dating system used for the Cycladic culture that flourished during the early Bronze Age in Greece. It spans the period ca. 2300-2000 BC and was named by Colin Renfrew, after the settlement of Phylakopi on the Cycladic island of Milos. Other archaeologists describe this period as the Early Cycladic III (ECIII).

Roman army

The Roman army (Latin: exercitus Romanus) was the terrestrial armed forces deployed by the Romans throughout the duration of Ancient Rome, from the Roman Kingdom (to c. 500 BC) to the Roman Republic (500–31 BC) and the Roman Empire (31 BC – 395), and its medieval continuation the Eastern Roman Empire. It is thus a term that may span approximately 2,206 years (753 BC to 1453 AD), during which the Roman armed forces underwent numerous permutations in composition, organisation, equipment and tactics, while conserving a core of lasting traditions..


Toxotai (Ancient Greek: τοξόται, romanized: toxotai, lit. 'archers'; singular: τοξότης, toxótēs) were Ancient Greek archers armed with a short Greek bow and a short sword. They carried a little pelte (or pelta) (πέλτη) shield. Cretan archers used nearly the same type of equipment except that they used a long bow.

Hippotoxotai were mounted archers and rode ahead of the cavalry.

The name Toxotes was used to describe the mythic Sagittarius, a legendary creature thought to be a centaur.

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