Antigonid Macedonian army

This article is about the army of the Kingdom of Macedonia under the Antigonid dynasty. For the army of the Kingdom of Macedonia under Philip II and Alexander the Great, see Ancient Macedonian army.
Antigonid Macedonian army

Fresco of an ancient Makedonian soldier (thorakitai) wearing chainmail armor and bearing a thureos shield, 3rd century BC; Archeological Museum in Istanbul.
Active 276-168, 150-148 BC
Country Macedon
Role Army of the Kingdom of Macedon under the Antigonid Dynasty
Size 18,600 (c. 222 BC)
25,500 (c. 197 BC)
43,000 (c. 172 BC)
Engagements Chremonidean War
Cleomenean War
Social War (220–217 BC)
First Macedonian War
Cretan War
Second Macedonian War
Aetolian War
War against Nabis
Third Macedonian War
Fourth Macedonian War
Antigonus Gonatas
Antigonus Doson
Philip V of Macedon
Perseus of Macedon

The Antigonid Macedonian army was the army of Macedon in the period when it was ruled by the Antigonid dynasty from 276 BC to 168 BC. It was seen as one of the principal Hellenistic fighting forces until its ultimate defeat at Roman hands at the Battle of Pydna in 168 BC. However, there was a brief resurgence in 150-148 during the revolt of Andriscus, a supposed heir to Perseus.

Starting as just a mere handful of mercenary troops under Antigonus Gonatas in the 270s BC, the Antigonid army eventually became the dominant force in Hellenistic Greece, fighting campaigns against Epirus, the Achaean League, Sparta, Athens, Rhodes and Pergamon, not to mention the numerous Thracian and Celtic tribes that threatened Macedon from the north.

The Antigonid army, as with the army of Philip II and Alexander the Great that came before it, was based principally around the Macedonian phalanx, which was a solid formation of men armed with small shields and long pikes called sarissae. The majority of Macedonian troops serving in the army would have made up the numbers of the phalanx, which took up to one-third to two-thirds of the entire army on campaign.[1] Alongside the phalanx, the Antigonid army had its elite corps, the Peltasts, numerous Macedonian and allied cavalry and always a considerable amount of allied and mercenary infantry and auxiliary troops.

Antigonid army under Antigonus Gonatas

When Antigonus Gonatas took over from his father, Demetrius I of Macedon, he inherited little more than a few mercenary garrisons spread across Greece.[2] But using his mercenary forces, he was able to defeat an invading Celtic army at Lysimachea in 277 BC. This gave Gonatas the Macedonian throne, which had been in turmoil since the Galatian invasions of 279 BC. However, when Pyrrhus of Epirus invaded Macedon in 274 BC, Antigonus' army suffered some minor defeats and desertions before eventually defecting en masse to Pyrrhus.[3] Once again Gonatas was left with but a mere handful of followers and mercenaries. These forces were of considerable aid to Sparta when Pyrrhus assaulted the city in 272 BC.[4] Pyrrhus was soon killed by a combined effort of the Spartans, the Argives and Antigonus Gonatas. Having now recovered Macedon after the death of Pyrrhus, Gonatas ruled until 239 BC. At this point, the Antigonid kingdom probably had no standing army; the only permanent corps, besides the mercenaries, being the 'horse guards... and the foot guards, the agema'.[5] The army was probably formed by a levy of farmers called out when a serious campaign was expected.[6] Almost all overseas and garrison work was performed by mercenaries. Due to the financial strains that plagued the kingdom, Gonatas primarily hired Galatian and Celtic mercenaries, as they were much cheaper than Greeks![7] Antigonus Gonatas ruled directly over the original Macedonian kingdom, however he put the newly acquired territory under the control of a strategoi with military powers.[8] By the time of his death, Gonatas had cemented Antigonid dominance in Macedon; however, in Greece itself, Macedon was weaker than it had been under Alexander the Great. This would change with his successors though.

Antigonid army, 239–168 BC

Demetrius II, father of the future Philip V of Macedon, only ruled for 10 years, but in his reign he fought many campaigns against the northern Thracian, Celtic and Illyrian tribes as well as an Achaean-Aetolian alliance. However his swift death left Antigonus Doson as regent for the young Philip. A resurgent Sparta under Cleomenes III led to war in the Peloponnese and the Achaean League under Aratus of Sicyon turned to Antigonus Doson for help. Doson campaigned against Cleomenes in 224-22 BC. This culminated with the Battle of Sellasia in 222 BC, in which Cleomenes was defeated by an allied army, mainly anchored by a Macedonian army of 13,300 Macedonians and 5,300 mercenaries.

After the death of Doson, Philip took the throne and almost immediately began to campaign. Wars against the Aetolia, Sparta and Elis, as well as a Dardanian invasion kept Philip busy in the years 220-217 BC and gave him a great deal of military experience. Yet Philip's rule would be marked by war with Rome, which culminated with a treaty with Carthage which led to the First Macedonian War.[9] The first war ended in a stalemate and the Peace of Phoinike, which allowed Philip to keep his newly acquired land from his campaigns against the Aetolians, Rome's ally. Between 205 and 201/200 BC Philip used the peace to reorganize his army recruitment system and introduce new strict disciplinary codes for the army.[10]

Peace did not last and an alliance with Antiochus III of the Seleucid Empire, which allowed Philip to campaign in Asia Minor, led to an alliance of Pergamon, Athens and Rhodes who appealed to Rome for help.[11] By 199 BC, the Romans had inflicted some minor defeats on the Macedonians and had also recruited the Aetolian and Achaean Leagues to their side.[12] An army under Titus Quinctius Flamininus was sent to Greece and campaigned against Philip V in 198 BC in the Aous Valley, which Philip defended by using carefully placed artillery and missile troops, leading to many Roman casualties.[13] Using a flanking maneuver, Flaminius managed to dislodge Philip and chase him into Thessaly, where in 197 BC the two sides met at the Battle of Cynoscephalae. Here, Philip was decisively beaten, with 8,000 of his men killed and 5,000 taken prisoner, about half of his entire army.[14][15]

The defeat left Philip with a weakened kingdom. Consequently, the king set about a system of reforms and reorganized his kingdom, especially in increasing his manpower base for future campaigns. He encouraged large families and imported Thracians from districts he had recently annexed into Macedon proper.[16] Thus, in the autumn of 187 BC, Philip transported segments of the populations of the coastal towns and cities to the northern Paeonian frontier and then moved Thracians and so forth into the evacuated districts of the towns. This 'Macedonised' the frontier and also made it easier to defend. The Thracians moved to the cities and towns were people directly responsible to Philip as king and also a useful force to watch over suspect citizens. New mines were created, old ones were deepened and agricultural and harbour duties were increased to increase the kingdom's revenue.[17]

Overall, these social and economic moves strengthened the kingdom by Philip's death and the accession of his son Perseus of Macedon. By the eve of the Third Macedonian War, Perseus, thanks to his father, had enough grain to last the army 10 years without drawing on harvests in or outside Macedon, enough money to hire 10,000 mercenaries for 10 years, a fully reconstituted army and "arms for three such armies as Perseus possessed in his armouries".[18] In fact, when Aemilius Paullus, the Roman commander who defeated Perseus as Pydna in 168 BC, took the Antigonid royal treasury, he found 6,000 talents left![19][20] The army fielded by Perseus in the Third Macedonian war was 43,000 strong, 29,000 of them Macedonians. Compare this to the army of Doson at Sellasia, which had 13,300 Macedonians, or the army of Philip at Cynoscephalae (18,000 Macedonian foot, 2,000 cavalry and 5,500 mercenaries). The years of peace and consolidation had increased the national levy by 9,000 men.[21] However, at the battle of Pydna in 168 BC, Perseus was severely defeated, with the loss of 20-25,000 killed and 11,000 captured.[22][23][24] After this defeat, the Antigonid kingdom was quickly disbanded, with Perseus becoming a Roman prisoner and Macedonia being split up into several autonomous republics.

Amphipolis military codes

For more details on this topic, see Military Decree of Amphipolis.
Philip V of Macedon

Sometime around the beginning of the second century BC, Philip V introduced a set of new codes for discipline in his army - the Amphipolis codes. As an example, these new measures included fines for missing equipment and weaponry: two obols for not having the konos (helmet), 3 obols for missing a sarissa and a drachma for missing the shield.[25] We also know from this code that the ordinary phalangite would have been equipped with a leather or linen jerkin known as a linothorax and not a full metal cuirass, as the fines for missing cuirasses are limited to officers only. They also dealt with the organization of encampments. Hypaspists were to set up their tents "immediately after those of the king and his immediate entourage".[26]

Peltasts and the agema

Like the army of Alexander the Great, the army of the Antigonids had their Hypaspist corps, but they were known in the Antigonid army as Peltasts. This corps was the premier guard infantry unit of the regular army. They are not, however, to be confused with the skirmisher troops of the same name, denoted by their shield, the pelte. The Peltast corps, much like the Hypaspists of Alexander, were "an infantry force... which fought beside the phalanx in battle, but at other times employed for ambushes, forced marches and special expeditions".[27][28] Examples of their special actions would be their ambush in Lyncestis[29] and their use, as shock troops, in the storming of Cephallenia.[30] At Pydna, the corps fought as part of the phalanx, in which they were butchered to the last man. The Peltast corps was probably 5,000 strong, with an elite battalion of 2,000 called the agema.[31][32][33] The corps was probably organized into chiliarchiai and subdivided like those of the phalanx.[34]

As for term Hypaspist, it still lived on in the army. However, instead of a combat unit, it was a staff corps and bodyguard force for the king. For instance, a Hypaspist was sent by Philip V to Larissa to burn state papers after the defeat at Cynoscephalae.[35]

Chalkaspides and Leukaspides

Like Alexander's phalanx, the phalanx of the Antigonids was mainly based on men "enrolled territorially from the Macedonian peasantry".[36][37] "Barbarians" settled in Macedon, like the Thracians and so forth, were given land in return for serving in the phalanx.[38] The phalanx under the Antigonids made up a much higher proportion of the army than under Alexander. At Sellasia, it was 34% of the army, at Cynoscephalae it was 62% and at Pydna it was 49%.[39] The Antigonid phalanx itself was probably divided into two separate corps, the Chalkaspides ("bronze-shields") and Leukaspides ("white-shields").[40][41][42] Together, they were 10,000 strong in Antigonus Doson's army at Sellasia in 222 BC, though the precise number for each corps is unknown. The Chalkaspides were probably more prepared for prolonged combat service than the ,Leukaspides as they are sometimes found on distant expeditions without the other corps.[43]


The importance and proportion of cavalry in the Antigonid army was far less than in Alexander's army. Whereas the proportion of cavalry to infantry in Alexander's army was about 1:6, in the later Antigonid armys the proportion was about 1:20.[44] However, we must remember that Philip II had a similar proportion of cavalry to infantry and the reasoning for the higher amounts of mounted forces in Alexander's campaigns was due to the vast distance of territory needed to be travelled, especially in Persia. In Alexander's campaigns, swift advances and the ability to cover vast distances were the key to success. In comparison, for the Antigonid commanders, the lack of any real enemy cavalry and short distances meant cavalry were not needed as much and they reverted to pitched heavy infantry battle.[45] Antigonus Doson had only 300 Macedonian horse with him at Sellasia in 222 BC, though by the reign of Philip V the amount of cavalry had increased, with Philip fielding about 2,000 Macedonian and Thessalian horse in 197 BC.[46] A sizeable part of the Macedonian cavalry was actually supplied by Thessaly, whose city-states continued to supply horse for the Antigonid kings as they had for Alexander and his father. However, the use of Thessalian cavalry decreased in 196 BC, when the Romans, triumphant after Cynoscephalae, gave parts of Macedonian Thessaly to their allies, the Aetolians.[47] Perseus, due to his father's extensive recruitment drive and a period of 30 years of peace, was able to field 3,000 purely Macedonian cavalry to serve with him in the Third Macedonian War. The core guard cavalry unit was the small royal or 'sacred' squadron. This unit seems to have been between 300 and 400 strong, as Doson had that amount with him at Sellasia and Philip V had 400 'household' cavalry with him on his campaigns.[48] Due to the general lack of native horse, the Macedonians usually supplemented their cavalry with that of allies and mercenaries. At Sellasia, alongsides Doson's 300, there were 600 allied and 300 mercenary cavalry.[49] Meanwhile, at Pydna, Perseus had a 1,000 picked allied Thracian horse under Cotys, the king of the Odrysai.[50] The infantry phalanx depended heavily on the cavalry, which of course the Antigonids lacked in numbers. The weakness and neglect of forces on the flanks, most importantly cavalry forces, led to the exploitation of gaps in the phalanx at Cynoscephalae and Pydna.[51]

The army of Andriscus

In 149 BC, nearly 20 years after the defeat of Perseus at Pydna, Andriscus, a mercenary and supposed heir to Perseus, went to Demetrius I of Syria for aid, but was sent as a prisoner to Rome.[52] He quickly made his escape and sought refuge amongst the Thracian tribes to the north of Macedon. There, Andriscus gained the support of the Thracian king Teres and was given a troop of 100 men, with another 100 sent by other Thracian chieftains.[53][54] Andriscus quickly defeated the forces of the several autonomous Macedonian republics in a battle bthan it had been under Alexanderof the Odomanti tribe).[55] The Thracian troops of Andriscus would have primarily been Peltast skirmisher infantry and light cavalry. Andriscus, having established himself as the new king of Macedon, under the name Philip VI, decisively defeated a Roman army under Publius Juventius. Having defeated the Romans, Andriscus invaded Thessaly in 148 BC, where he suffered a setback in battle against the Achaean League, commanded by Scipio Nasica. A Roman army under Quintus Caecilius Metellus then invaded Macedon and defeated Andriscus at the second Battle of Pydna.[56] The defeat was probably helped by the defection of Telestes, the general appointed by Andriscus to command his cavalry. The Macedonian aristocratic cavalry joined Telestes, as the richer classes supported the Romans more than they did Andriscus, and any hope of success was dead.[57]

See also


  1. Head, 1982, p.18
  2. Head, 1982, p.18
  3. Plutarch, Life Pyrrhus, 26
  4. Plutarch, Life of Pyrrhus, 29
  5. Tarn, 1913, p.193
  6. Tarn, 1913, p.194
  7. Cary, 1978, p.235
  8. Tarn, 1913, p.195
  9. Polybius, Histories, 9-11
  10. Errington, 2008, p.194
  11. Livy, History of Rome, 5-9
  12. Penrose, 2005, p.74
  13. Hammond, 1965, p.52
  14. Head, 1982, p.81
  15. Hammond, 1988, p.60-82
  16. Walbank, 1940, p.236
  17. Livy XXXIV.24.2
  18. Walbank, 1940, p.256
  19. Polybius XVIII.35.4
  20. Livy XLV.40
  21. Walbank, 1940, p.256
  22. Head, 1982, p.83
  23. Livy XLIV.40-43
  24. Plutarch, Life of Aemilius Paullus 18-23
  25. Heckel & Jones, 2006, p.24
  26. Connolly, 2006, p.80
  27. Walbank, 1940, p.290
  28. Arrian 1.8.4
  29. Livy XXXI.36.1
  30. Polybius V.4.9
  31. Head, 1982, p.18
  32. Livy XLII.51
  33. Polybius XVIII.24.8
  34. Head, 1982, p.18
  35. Polybius XVIII.33.1-7
  36. Walbank, 1940, p.289
  37. Polybius V.97.3-4
  38. Head, 1982, p.18
  39. Head, 1982, p.18
  40. Head, 1982, p.18
  41. Connolly, 2006, p.77
  42. Livy XLIV.41
  43. Head, 1982, p.18
  44. Connolly, 2006, p.80
  45. Tarn, 1930, p.27
  46. Head, 1982, p.18
  47. Head, 1982, p.12
  48. Head, 1982, p.18
  49. Polybius 2.65
  50. Webber, 2001, p.14
  51. Tarn, 1930, p.28
  52. Livy 49.21
  53. Diodorus XXXII.15.6-7
  54. Webber, 2001, p.14
  55. Polybius XXXVI.10.4
  56. Livy 50.14
  57. Sekunda, 1995, p.80


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