Various peoples: Polybios on the mixed composition of Ptolemy IV’s and Antiochos III’s armies (second century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Various peoples: Polybios on the mixed composition of Ptolemy IV’s and Antiochos III’s armies (second century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified May 15, 2023,

Ancient author: Polybios, Histories 5.62-65, 79 (link)

Comments: In this passage, Polybios details the ethnic composition of both Ptolemy IV Philopator’s and Antiochos III’s armies (ca. 217 BCE), illustrating how military and mercenary contexts were a place for significant interactions among peoples.

Works consulted: S. Spyridakis, “Cretans and Neocretans,” The Classical Journal 72 (1977): 299–307 (link).

Mixed ethnic composition of armies series:

  • Herodotos on the Persian king Xerxes’ army (link)
  • Curtius Rufus on the Persian king Darius III’s army (link)
  • Polybios on Hannibal’s army at the battle of Cannae and on military equipment (link)
  • Polybios on Italian armies and the Celtic invasion of 225 BCE (link)
  • Polybios on Ptolemy IV’s and Antiochos III’s armies (link)
  • Polybios on Antiochos IV’s army (link)


Source of the translation: W.R. Paton, Polybius: The Histories, 6 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1922-27), public domain (Paton passed away in 1921), adapted by Harland.


Book 5

[Composition of Ptolemy IV Philopator’s army centred in Egypt]

(62) . . . Ptolemy [IV Philopator, ruling ca. 221-204 BCE] whose obvious duty it was to march to the help of his territories, attacked as they had been in such flagrant defiance of treaties, was too weak to entertain any such project, so completely had all military preparations been neglected. . . . (63) . . . They entrusted the task of providing weapons, selecting the men and organizing them to Echecrates the Thessalian and Phoxidas of Melita, assisted by Eurylochos the Magnesian, Socrates the Boiotian, and Knopias of Allaria. They were most well advised in employing the services of these men, who having served under Demetrios and Antigonos had some notion of the reality of war and of campaigning in general. Bringing in the troops, they got them into shape by correct military methods. (64) First of all they divided them according to descent groups (genē) and ages, and provided them in each case with suitable weapons and equipment, paying no attention to the manner in which they had previously been equiped. In the next place, they organized them according to what the necessities of the present situation required, breaking up the old regiments and abolishing the existing paymasters’ lists. After achieving this, they drilled them, getting them used to the word of command, but also the correct manipulation of their weapons. They also held frequent reviews and addressed the men.

With regard to this, great services were provided by Andromachos of Aspendos and Polykrates of Argos, who had recently arrived from Greece and in whom the spirit of Greek military effort and resourcefulness was still fresh. At the same time, these men were distinguished by their origin and by their wealth, and Polykrates more especially by the antiquity of his family and his father’s, Mnesiades’, reputation as an athlete. By addressing the men both in public and in private, these men together with officers inspired the soldiers with enthusiasm and eagerness for the coming battle.

(65) All the men I have mentioned held commands suited to their particular achievements. Eurylochos of Magnesia commanded a body of about three thousand men known as the “Royal Guard,” Socrates the Boiotian had under him two thousand lightly-equiped soldiers with crescent-shaped shields (peltasts), Phoxidas the Achaian, Ptolemy the son of Thraseas, and Andromachos of Aspendos exercised together in one body the phalanx and the Greek mercenaries, the phalanx twenty-five thousand strong being under the command of Andromachos and Ptolemy and the mercenaries, numbering eight thousand, under that of Phoxidas. Polykrates undertook the training of the cavalry of the guard, about seven hundred strong, and the Libyan and native Egyptian horse, numbering about three thousand, who were all under his command. It was Echekrates the Thessalian who trained most admirably the cavalry from Greece and all the mercenary cavalry, and so rendered most notable service in the battle itself, and Knopias of Allaria too was second to none in the attention he paid to the force under him composed of three thousand Cretans [i.e. likely free Doric citizens supplied by city-states], one thousand being Neocretans [i.e. perhaps non-Doric and/or servile natives of Crete, new but inferior citizens, on which see Spyridakis 1977] whom he placed under the command of Philo of Knossos. They also armed in the Macedonian fashion three thousand Libyans under the command of Ammonios of Barke. The total native Egyptian force consisted of about twenty thousand heavy-armed men, and was commanded by Sosibios. They had also collected a force of Thracians and Gauls, about four thousand of them from among settlers in Egypt and their descendants, and two thousand lately raised elsewhere. These were commanded by Dionysios the Thracian. Such were the numbers and nature of the army that Ptolemy was preparing.

[Composition of Antiochos III’s Seleucid army]

(79) By the beginning of spring [ca. 217 BCE] Antiochos and Ptolemy had completed their preparations and were determined on deciding the fate of the Syrian expedition by a battle. Now Ptolemy started from Alexandria with an army of seventy thousand foot, five thousand horse, and seventy-three elephants. On learning about Ptolemy’s advance, Antiochos [ruling ca. 222-187 BCE] concentrated his forces, consisting first of Daans (Daai) [on the Caspian Sea, sometimes encompassed within “Scythians”], Karmanians [from near Kerman, Iran], and Cilicians, light-armed troops about five thousand in number organized and commanded by Byttakos the Macedonian. Under Theodotos the Aitolian, who had been a traitor to Ptolemy, was a force of ten thousand selected from every part of the kingdom and armed in the Macedonian manner, most of them with silver shields. The phalanx was about twenty thousand strong and was under the command of Nikarchos and Theodotos surnamed Hemiolios.

There were two thousand Agrianian and Persian bowmen and slingers, and with them two thousand Thracians, all under the command of Menedemos of Alabanda. Aspasianos the Mede had under him a force of about five thousand Medes, Kissians [from near Susiana, Persia], Kadousians [from the eastern coast of the Caspian Sea], and Karmanians.

The Arabians and those neighbouring them numbered about ten thousand and were commanded by Zabdibelos. Hippolochos the Thessalian commanded the mercenaries from Greece, five thousand in number. Antiochos had also fifteen hundred Cretans under Eurylochos and a thousand Neocretans [see earlier comment on the distinction] under Zelys of Gortyna. With these were five hundred Lydian javelin-throwers and a thousand Kardakians [some particular kind of foot-soldiers] under Lysimachos the Gaul. The cavalry numbered six thousand in all, four thousand of them being commanded by Antipater the king’s nephew and the rest by Themison. The whole army of Antiochos consisted of sixty-two thousand foot-soldiers, six thousand horsemen, and a hundred and two elephants.

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