The Bithynian Army in the Hellenistic Period
The main basis for this article is the body of funerary stelai from within Bithynia and its
periphery. Almost all of these stelai date to the second century BC, with the remaining few
dating to the first century BC. Despite the lack of variety in sources, a plethora of information
can be gleaned from these stelai, allowing us to illuminate a relatively obscure army from the
late Hellenistic period, providing details of the equipment and social conditions of the cavalry,
infantry, and even the naval force of the Bithynians.
Xenophon, in his Anabasis, provides us with one of the first detailed accounts of Bithynia:1
The place which goes by the name of Calpe Haven is in Asiatic Thrace, the name given to a
region extending from the mouth of the Euxine all the way to Heraclea, which lies on the right
hand as you sail into the Euxine. It is a long day's voyage for a war-ship, using her three banks
of oars, from Byzantium to Heraclea, and between these two there is not a single Hellenic or
friendly city, but only these Bithynian Thracians, who have a bad reputation for the savagery
with which they treat any Greeks cast ashore by shipwreck or otherwise thrown into their power.
The natives of Bithynia, at least as far back as Herodotus, were known to be Thracians who had
migrated across the Bosporus from Europe.2 When this migration took place is unknown. The
land is often called “Asian Thrace” and the people the “Thracians of Asia.”3 In Xenophon’s day,
the Bithynians were considered a backward and thoroughly uncivilized people only really
notable for their malignancy towards those who became stranded in their territory. By the fall of
Lysimachus in 281 BC, the kingdom of Bithynia had become an independent political force in
western Asia Minor, though not a particularly large or powerful one in the scope of the
Hellenistic world. It extended from the western shores of the Sea of Marmara to, at its farthest
eastern reaches, the major Greek city of Heraclea Pontica (a city which it never controlled). Its
main territory lay around the river Sangarius, its fertile valley, and the hilly lands beside it. The
country of Bithynia provided amply for its inhabitants, with vast forests, quarries, grain fields,
and pastures.4 Before the invasion of Alexander, this region of Asia Minor had been associated
with the satrapy of Dascyleum in the Persian kingdom.5
From the end of the fourth century, Bithynia grew from a small, isolated kingdom into prominent
minor kingdom. In 297 BC, when Zipoites became the first Bithynian ruler to assume the title of
king, Bithynia was still removed from major access to the sea and, thus, major Pontic or Aegean
trade. He laid the foundation for the future Bithynian state when he first put into motion a
process of modernization that included establishing Greek cities. It was Nicomedes I, though,
who first began in earnest what could be deemed a program of hellenization in Bithynia.
1 Xenophon, Anabasis, 6.4.1-2.
2 Herodotos, 7.75.
3 Herodotos, 7.75; Thoukudides, 4.75.2; Xenophon, Hellenika, 1.3.2, 3.2.2, Anabasis 6.4.1-2.
4 Xenophon, Anabasis, 6.4.3-5. M. Rostovtzeff, Social and Economic History of the Hellenistic World (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1941), 566.
5 Xenophon, Anabasis, 5.6.24, 7.8.24.
Ascending to the throne in 280, he moved the capital to the coast in 264. This new capital,
Nicomedea, was a major urban centre, inhabited by Greeks, and cleverly established to fill the
void left in the eastern Sea of Marmara by the destruction of Astacus earlier in the third century.6
Nicomedes also began to donate to the cities of Greece in an effort to secure his image as an
important Hellenistic king. His son Ziaelas continued this program after becoming king,7 as did
the next king Prusias I, founding several poleis named after the Bithynian royal family in the
Macedonian fashion (a habit initiated by Zipoites and his founding of Zipoitum).8
The Bithynian military has been dealt with fleetingly in the past. Griffith covered it in The
Mercenaries of the Hellenistic World and wrote:9
...[I]t would be surprising if we were to find that [Bithynia] developed anything in the nature of
an Hellenistic military system such as has been described in connection with the Ptolemaic and
Seleucid empires, or even that of Pergamum: and no trace in fact of any such development
exists.... [T]here is nothing to make one think that they kept standing armies of mercenaries,
much less were able to command a supply of Greeks from military settlements like those of the
Seleucids, and in the absence of further evidence it seems more probable that their standing
armies must have consisted of soldiers drawn from their own subjects, after the old Persian
Rostovtzeff echoed this in his coverage, in the absolute briefest sense, of the Bithynian army in
Social and Economic History of the Hellenistic World:10
[We do not have] any idea to what extent the Bithynians adopted the Hellenistic military policy
of their neighbours, the system of mercenary soldiers and military katoikoi. Their armies appear
to have been recruited from their own subjects, reinforced by Galatian mercenaries.
A consideration of more recent evidence, namely a number of stelai and some other useful
sources, provides us with a more comprehensive image of this minor Hellenistic kingdom’s
military. These stelai give us a good idea of the weaponry and equipment of the soldiers fighting
in the Bithynian army during the second century against Pergamum, Pontus, and Cappadocia.
Stele A.11 Grave stele of Mokazis, found near Adapazari, 1st half of 2nd century BC.
Stele B.12 From the Bithynian Black Sea coast, 2nd century BC.
6 Rostovtzeff, 568.
7 Rostovtzeff, 569.
8 Rostovtzeff, 570.
9 G.T. Griffith, The Mercenaries of the Hellenistic World (London: Cambridge University Press, 1935), 183.
10 Rostovtzeff, 570-571.
11 Held Winifried and Frank Rumscheid, “Erinnerungen an Mokazis,” Istanbuler Mitteilungen 44 (1994): 89-106.
12 Urs Peschlow, Anneliese Peschlow-Bindokat and Michael Wörrle, “Die Sammlung Turan Beler in Kimbaba bei Sile
(II) Antike und byzantinische Denkmäler von der bithynischen Schwarzmeerküste,” Istanbuler Mitteilungen 52
Stele C.13 Grave stele of Diliporis, found in Kutluca, 1st half of 2nd century BC .
Stele D.14 Grave stele of Pasias, from the Bithynian Black Sea coast, 2nd century BC.
Stele E.15 Found in Izmit (Nikomedeia), 1st century BC.
Stele F.16 Grave stele of Phila, found in Deydinler, around 150 BC.
Stele G.17 Found in Daskuleion, 2nd century BC.
Stele H.18 Found in Miletupolis, 2nd century BC.
Stele I.19 From the Bithynian Black Sea coast, 2nd century BC.
Stele J.20 Grave stele of Menas, found in Cihankoy, Early 2nd century BC.
Stele K.21 Grave stele of Nikasion, found in Gemlik (Kios), 1st half of the 2nd century BC.
Stele L.22 Grave stele of Dionusios, found in Alexandria, 2nd century BC.
Stele M.23 Grave stele of Phokritos, found in Yalova, 2nd century BC.
Stele N.24 Grave stele of Zadalas, from the Bithynian Black Sea coast, 2nd century BC.
Stele O.25 Grave stele from Bursa (Prousa), 2nd century BC.
Stele P.26 Fragmentary relief, found in Adapazari, between the 1st century BC and the 2nd
(2002): 433, Nr. 103, Abb. 1d.
13 Marielouise Cremer, Hellenistisch-römische Grabstelen im nordwestlichen Kleinasien 2. Bithynien (Bonn: Dr.
Rudolf Habelt GMBH, 1992), 123, NS 1.
14 Peschlow, Peschlow-Bindokat, and Wörrle, 433-36, Nr. 104, Abb. 2a-c.
15 Cremer, 126-127, NS 13.
16 Cremer, 126, NS 12.
17 Pfuhl and Möbius, Nr. 1429.
18 Pfuhl and Möbius, Nr. 1399.
19 Peschlow, Peschlow-Bindokat, and Wörrle, 430-32, Nr. 102, Abb. 1a-c.
20 Petros Dintsis, Hellenistische Helme (Rome: Giorgio Bretschneider Editore, 1986), 284, Taf. 60, Nr. 1.
21 Cremer, 27, Abb. 2. Pfuhl and Möbius, 310, Abb. 79 and 533, Abb. 115.
22 Blanche Brown, Ptolemaic Paintings and Mosaics in the Alexandrian Style (Cambridge: Archaeological Institute of
America, 1957), 28, Nr. 27, Pl. XX, I.
23 Cremer, Abb. 5.
24 Peschlow, Peschlow-Bindokat, and Wörrle, 436, Nr. 105, Abb. 2d.
25 Pfuhl and Möbius, Nr. 509.
26 Archaeological Museum Instanbul, Inv. Nr. 5889 T; Mendel Catalogue, Nr. 1072.
The Nature of the Stelai
These stelai are a part of a large body of Hellenistic-era gravestones found in the western half of
Asia Minor,27 the majority of which date to the second century BC. While many of these stelai
show consistent motifs, such as the meal scene, the hunt vignette, the battle scene, and the
“coronation” scene in which the deceased, reclining and already crowned with a wreath, holds
one above his wife’s head, there is little evidence of slavish replication of the details of these
motifs. Of course this matter would be of the utmost concern when evaluating the detail of the
arms, armour, and equipment of these men if in fact these were merely “stock” designs
(inasmuch as a design could be stock when produced by hand). However, the individual natures
of each of the fifteen stelai to be considered in this article stand up well to scrutiny. For the
purposes of this work I will evaluate only the relevant scenes of military subjects and their
similarities and differences.
Stele A and Stele B both feature very similar scenes, with a central rider on a rearing horse, his
cloak flying back dramatically, striking at an enemy to the right; they also both feature battle
scenes with infantrymen fighting beside the central figure of the deceased. However, while the
central figures look very similar, the victorious infantrymen beside them as well as their enemies
are entirely different in armament, pose, and treatment.
Stelai D, E, F, and H all feature cavalrymen on rearing horses, facing toward the right and
striking at an opponent. Stele H features the deceased in a hunting scene and so only armed with
a spear, while Stele F shows a light cavalryman. Stelai D and E both feature heavy cavalrymen,
but the former wears a long sword on his right hip and his cloak is dramatically flowing, while
the latter’s cloak is flaccid and he wears no visible sword; the opposing soldiers on D, E, and F
are also differently equipped and posed.
The scenes of the deceased standing with his groom and his horse behind or beside him on Stelai
G, H, I, and O have almost no features in common beyond the simple similarities of the motif.
The remaining stelai are so varied in composition and style that their being duplicates can
effectively be ruled out, at least in the context of the current evidence.
The Early Hellenistic Bithynian Army
It is unfortunate that the evidence for the Bithynian military dates almost entirely from the
second century BC and later. The late fourth and third centuries BC were times of significant
change in the armies of Asia Minor. The invasion of Alexander set about a drastic hellenization
process which heavily influenced the militaries of all states on the periphery of the empire and
which was to continue for some time into the third century. In addition to this, the introduction of
the Galatians into Asia Minor had a large effect on the material culture of these armies.
One of our only glimpses of the Bithynian soldier of the third century is provided by the stele of
Dionusios from Alexandria in Egypt. His is a type of funerary monument which was peculiar to
the Hellenistic period - stelai decorated as they had been from the Classical period with
27 The most complete coverage of these in a publication is in Pfuhl and Möbius.
architectural fixtures around a main field, but in that field there was instead of a sculpted relief a
painting on the flat stone surface. These painted stelai, of which examples, all of them dating to
the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC, have been found in Alexandria, Cyprus, Sidon, Demetrias in
Macedonia, and the northern Black Sea. A large proportion of these stelai were for soldiers (the
entirety of the stelai found at Sidon with surviving paint, around 17 in total, were for mercenary
soldiers), and some paintings with paint still visible depicting up to three soldiers on a single
stele have been found. Dionusios’ stele is one of these. Though he was a mercenary, there is little
reason to believe that he would have changed his equipment or costume while serving abroad. Of
the numerous other painted stelai depicting soldiers which have been found in and around the
modern city of Alexandria, the mercenaries (who comprise almost all of them) are all armed in
their respective national fashions.28 Dionusios wears a dark brown chiton with a single white
stripe down the front of it, a pair of dark brown boots, and a laurel wreath on his head. He holds
a medium length spear while his diminutive page holds two shorter javelins and his yellow-
brown thureos (a large oval shield). The boy wears a short white chiton as well and an item of
headgear painted in blue which most likely represents an iron helmet, seemingly of the pilos
It is notable that Dionusios is the only soldier depicted on the Alexandria stele to carry a thureos
who is not a Galatian. It seems that the Hellenistic militaries that came into contact with the
Galatians only began to adopt their style of armament towards the middle of the third century
BC, and so Dionusios would have to date to the latter half of that century. This also fits in well
with the accepted dates of most of the Alexandrian painted stelai which places them in the
second half of the third century. Therefore, it is likely that by the turn of the century, the
equipment of at least the Bithynian infantry had already undergone a significant reform. It was
also about the middle of the third century when the use of shields became popular again with
cavalry in the eastern Mediterranean,29 and so it was most likely around the end of that century
that carrying shields also became fashionable among the Bithynian heavy cavalry.
The Bithynian Cavalry
Interestingly, the stelai featuring Thracian names are clustered throughout the countryside. Not a
single Thracian name can be found in epigraphical evidence from within the poleis of Bithynia
until the first century AD. The Thracian names that appear on numerous monuments dated to the
Hellenistic period from the rural “heartland” of Bithynia around Nicaea and Prusa are all rural in
28 For the Galatians, see Brown Nrs. 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 23. For the Greeks, see Brown Nrs. 4 and 20; the armament
and shield emblems of Nrs. 10 and 11 are so similar to Nr. 20 that they are most likely also Greek mercenaries.
Contrary to Marcel Launey, Recherches sur les Armées Hellenistiques (Paris: University of Paris, 1949), 530-32, the
Galatians preserve their native armament and do not, in fact, wear tunics, instead preferring, as was their custom,
to fight wearing only a cloak.
29 Phil Barker, “The Use of Shields by Achaemenid and Hellenistic Cavalry,” Slingshot 95 (1981): 28.
30 Corsten 2003. Thomas Corsten, “Onomastic evidence for the settlement of Thracians and Galatians in Asia
Minor” (paper presented at the Second Colloquium of the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names, Oxford, England,
There could have been various reasons for this. Xenophon reported that in his day within
Bithynia there were no cities but that there were many villages inhabited by the natives.31 These
men may simply be descendants of these native Bithynians who remained on their ancestral
estates through a variety of political upheavals. Alternatively, Antigonus Monophthalmus, who
actively moulded the urban geography of Bithynia,32 may have done the same with the chora and
settled soldiers (including Thracians) in this area; Lysimachus, who controlled large portions of
Bithynia and Thrace, may have acted likewise. Another possibility is that the Bithynians actively
copied the style of military settlement of soldiers in katoikai as practiced by the Seleucids in and
around Asia Minor.33 At any rate, our knowledge of Bithynia in the late fourth and third
centuries BC is insufficient to provide any further evidence, and so this is mere speculation.
Regardless of their origins, it seems, therefore, that despite the efforts of Nicomedes and his
successors to hellenize Bithynia, the Bithynian aristocracy preferred to inhabit the rural towns
which their ancestors had lived in for generations. It was only because of the autonomy of the
Bithynian kingdom that this group of the native élite was able to own large estates – by the early
Imperial period, the owners of large estates in the Bithynian countryside have Roman and Greek
names, and not a single Thracian name can be found listed in positions of importance.34
The armament, equipment, and costume of these cavalrymen appear to have been thoroughly
hellenized, though with some subtle Celtic influences as well. The standard equipment seems to
have been a cuirass (of the cavalrymen depicted on Bithynian funerary stelai, all but one wear
the common “shoulder-yoke” cuirass), a helmet, a large circular shield, one or more spears, and a
Almost all of the Bithynian cavalrymen are depicted wearing a style of helmet which was unique
to the region around the Black Sea and Asia Minor from the late third century BC to the first
century BC. This was a peculiar Hellenistic-style helmet which seems to have been a synthesis of
the later Hellenistic Pilos type helmet35 with the Boeotian type.36 The wide, crimped brim of the
Boeotian type, which allowed for maximum visibility while also shielding the eyes from the sun
and deflecting downward blows, was combined with a unique highly arching bowl and peak of
the late Pilos type. However, unlike other late Hellenistic Pilos type helmets, the bowl rises to a
slender peak. This kind of helmet can be seen on Stelai A, B, and I, as well as on Stele M, that
of Phokritos from Yalova, on which it is most clearly represented.
Stele N shows a cavalryman in a rather dramatic scene of combat. He is riding down a dying
Galatian cavalryman whose horse rears backwards over another dead or dying horse. Though it
is hard to ascertain details of the Bithynian horseman who is heavily effaced, the offset rim of his
hoplon can be made out behind him. One other interesting aspect of this stele is that the Galatian
is pierced by two javelins, perhaps indicating that the Bithynian cavalryman in this case wielded
31 Xenophon, Anabasis, 6.4.1-2.
32 R.A. Billows, Antigonos the One-Eyed and the Creation of the Hellenistic State (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1990), 238-239, 296-297.
33 Corsten, 2003. Griffith, 149-161.
34 Corsten, 2003.
multiple javelins and not a single spear. Unfortunately, it is often hard to judge whether a
vignette on a stele is self contained or not, something which can often complicate interpretations
of the equipment on such battle scenes. If the scene on this stele is self contained, then the two
javelins are the Bithynian rider's. However, if it is not, and the presence of another defeated
cavalryman's horse could indicate so, then one or even both of the weapons piercing the
vanquished could be from another warrior. Some other Bithynian and Mysian cavalrymen are
depicted on funerary stelai carrying multiple javelins, but these cavalrymen appear unarmoured,
and so are most likely light cavalrymen.
Of the stelai depicting cavalrymen, a few show men wearing no defensive armour and carrying
only a few javelins with them. The clearest example is Stele F, Phila’s stele. The only sort of
extra protection that Phila appears to wear is what appears to be some sort of jerkin or overtunic
which the artisan has taken care to show as being much more rippled than his undertunic which
extends down to his mid-thigh.
Identically-equipped cavalrymen can be found on numerous Mysian stelai.37 Similar Thracian
cavalrymen are depicted on some stelai decorated with scenes in relief from Byzantium dating to
the second century BC as well. Those stelai, however, seem to have more in common with other
Thracian stelai than Bithynian stelai in that they usually only have a single scene in the central
field, rather than the multiple, often multi-layered registers seen on almost all Bithynian stelai.
This could be a sign of Thracian mercenaries serving in the Bithynian army adopting local
funerary customs, but it seems more likely that these are Bithynian citizens. Many of these stelai
are also fairly large and well-crafted, indicating that their owners at least came from a wealthy
family, if they weren’t wealthy themselves. If they indeed are native Bithynians, this is yet
another sign that wealthier citizens able to afford well-crafted tombstones served in the lighter
and typically poorer elements of the army.
One would suppose that the Bithynian army fielded in addition to such heavy and light
cavalrymen thureophoroi cavalrymen, seemingly ubiquitous in the Hellenistic world. The
Bithynians were, after all surrounded by peoples who employed such cavalrymen in their armies.38
A Bithynian stele seen by the author in the lapidarium of the Bursa Archaeological Museum,
unfortunately not labeled, confirms this supposition. This fragmentary stele, which does not
preserve an inscription, shows an unarmoured cavalryman whose groom following behind him
holds a rather small thureos. The style of the relief is certainly second or first century BC.
The Stele of Diliporis
37 Marielouise Cremer, Hellenistisch-römische Grabstelen im nordwestlichen Kleinasien 1. Mysien (Bonn: Dr. Rudolf
Habelt GMBH, 1992), K 8, KS 4, KS 3, UMiS 1, UMiS 3, UMiS 6.
38 Livy 43.6.6 states that the people of Alabanda in Caria sent 300 scuta equestrian to the Romans in 170 BC; the
inscription on the stele of Menas (Launey, 434) mentions that Menas killed two cavalrymen, a Mysian and a
Thracian, and both of the dead soldiers at his feet carry thureoi; Bienkowski, Fig. 192 shows a terracotta figurine
from Tarsus in Cilicia, second century BC, of a cavalryman carrying a thureos; Sekunda, The Seleucid Army, Fig. 22
shows a stele from Abdera, second to first century BC, of a Thracian cavalryman carrying a rectangular thureos;
Kieseritzky, Fig. 688 shows the stele of Straton son of Protomachos, second century BC, a Bosporan light
cavalryman with a thureos hanging above his couch, while Fig. 591 shows the stele of Charixenos son of Apphos,
also a cavalrymen in the Bosporan army from the first century BC, who is depicted unarmoured while his groom
holds his very large thureos and a spear.
The stele of Diliporis (Stele C) is quite a remarkable piece when considered both within the
context of the Bithynian stelai and within the corpus of Hellenistic funerary stelai at large. The
stele was made for Diliporis, who was evidently the head of a large Bithynian family. He sits
with his wife Dintise and his two daughters in the upper register and on the wall behind them
hang several weapons with armour. To the left the head of a horse can be seen with a groom; to
the right of this is a fairly small round, rimless shield with two short spears behind it, and to the
right of that is a helmet surmounted by a peak with a decorated visor, an offset rim, and cheek
pieces. On the far right hangs a thureos with a trilobate sword behind it.
In the register below this, the male members of the family are arrayed for the viewer. On the far
right stands Numisios, who is fully armed. He carries a round, rimless shield and two short
spears, most likely the same spears and shield seen hanging on the wall on the left of the upper
register, and wears a helmet with a plume, similar to the one shown hanging on the right. He also
wears a cuirass, the form of which cannot be determined with accuracy but which is probably a
linothorax with pteruges (textile strips protecting the thighs and shoulders) and a sword on his
left hip. He also wears high boots that reach up about halfway to his knees. To his left stands
Mokasis, who wears the chiton and chlamus of a military man has a sword hanging on his left.
Next in the lineup is Zardoiles, who carries a very large thureos and also wears a linothorax and
some sort of helmet, evidently the one seen in the upper register; the hilt of a sword can be seen
on his left side. The name of the next figure is no longer preserved; he wears a large ephaptis and
carries what appear to be scrolls, probably marking him as a scholar or student. The final figure
is a cavalryman whose name is also no longer preserved. He wears a plumed helmet that appears
similar to Numisios’ (and those of many other cavalrymen on the other stelai) and he wears a
cuirass with an officer’s sash. The most remarkable aspect of this stele is Numisios. His panoply
is clearly represented, seemingly completely, and it is unlike that of any other soldier depicted in
the art of the Hellenistic period.
Asclepiodotus, in his first century BC treatise on tactics entitled Techne Taktike, divides the
infantry into three divisions: phalangites (“hoplites of the phalanx”), light troops or psiloi, and an
intermediate category of infantry called peltastai, or peltasts.39 This division of parts the army
into threes is repeated in all other elements of the army as described by Asclepiodotus, and it
seems a highly artificial division that probably has its roots in rhetorical teaching.40 He also
seems to omit, ignore, or shoehorn into other divisions several distinct types of troops (such as
the thureophoroi, who had been ubiquitous in the Hellenistic militaries from the middle of the
third century BC, and who fit neither in the psiloi nor in the peltastai) which calls into question
his actual knowledge of Hellenistic militaries.41 However, the prominence of the peltastai within
his division begs the question of what exactly these troops were. It should be noted that the use
of the word peltast in this context is unrelated to the “Classical” and much more common use of
the term, which was to describe light troops armed with similarly-sized shields but otherwise
entirely (or almost entirely) unarmed and without armour. Asclepiodotus writes that:
39 Asklepiodotos 1.2.
40 Oldfather, Charles Henry and William Abbott Oldfather, Aeneas Tacticus, Asclepiodotus, Onasander (Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 1962), 250, Nr. 1.
41 Nick Sekunda, Seleucid and Ptolemaic Reformed Armies 168-145 B.C Volume 1: The Seleucid Army (Stockport:
Montvert Publications, 1993), 6.
The corps of the peltasts stands in a sense between these two [i.e. the phalangites and the light
troops], for the pelte is a kind of small, light shield, and their spears are much shorter than those
of the hoplites.
His description implies that they were not unlike the phalangites in other ways, and so would
have worn cuirasses and greaves. Considering that he describes the shields of the phalangites,
who he says are “protected by shields of the largest size,” as being eight palms (about 60
centimeters) in diameter, these peltai must have been fairly small. The description of the shorter
spears simply indicates that these men were not equipped with the sarissai of the phalangites, but
instead with shorter fighting spears (dorata).
The family of Diliporis is clearly a family of Bithynian citizens - all of the preserved names are
Thracian in origin - and very wealthy ones at that, as Diliporis’ wife and children could afford to
buy an exceptionally large and well-crafted funerary stele for him. Yet we see that one son is a
cavalryman, another is a thureophoros, and yet another is a peltast. The immediate conclusion to
draw from this is that Bithynian citizens served not just as cavalry but also as thureophoroi and
peltasts within the Bithynian army. This is borne out by the stele of Mokazis (Stele A) and
another anonymous stele showing part of a battle scene (Stele B). The former shows Mokazis
with two sons, a thureophoros and a spear bearer, and the latter shows the deceased’s son
wearing a helmet and carrying a large round shield and a sword.
The stele of Menas (Stele J) provides some more evidence in this matter. The lengthy epitaph on
this gravestone reads as follows: 42
Although a long tomb contains my bones, stranger, I did not shrink back in view of the heavy
weight of the enemies. Although I fought on foot, I stood my ground in front of riders among
those who fought in the first line when we battled in the plain of Kouros. After I had hit a
Thracian in his armour and a Mysian, I died because of my great bravery. For this, may
someone praise the swift Menas, the son of Bioeris, the Bithynian, an excellent officer.
One may come and pour tears on the tombs of cowards who have died an inglorious death
through illness. But earth has received me, who fought near the flow of the Phrygian river for my
fatherland and for my parents, as a man who died while fighting with others before the line,
having first slain many enemies. For this, may someone praise the Bithynian Menas, the son of
Bioeris, who exchanged light life with bravery.
The battle on the plains of Corupedium in which he met his demise could not have been the
famous battle of Corupedium in 281 BC, as has been supposed, because the armament of his
dead opponents, shown lying at his feet, and the general character of the stele, indicates a date in
the second century. Unfortunately, due to the damage done to this relief, little remains of the
upper field carved in relief depicting Menas himself. A helmet lies behind him and he stands on
what appears to be a thureos which cannot be attributed to either of the fallen opponents, but it
seems unlikely that these are his. Nonetheless, the equipment fits in perfectly with the panoply of
the Bithynian thureophoros, and the helmet is very similar to the others shown on Bithynian
42 Launey, 434, footnote 3 contains the full bibliography for this stele.
sources (most notably a mint issued by Prusias II showing a bust of the king wearing an almost
identical helmet). The most important aspect of this stele is that Menas was an officer of the light
infantry (the promachoi),43 yet his Bithynian family was both wealthy enough to provide him
with a finely carved stele and educated enough to provide an epitaph extolling his virtue and
prowess in battle in Homeric verse.
One would ordinarily expect the role of lighter troops such as these to be filled by mercenaries in
this period (as they were, according to most evidence, in the Seleucid and Ptolemaic armies44).
We may presume then that some sort of system was in place for placement of soldiers within the
different branches of the army. Wealth was probably one criterion for placement (as it was in
almost all citizen armies in the ancient world), but there must have been others, as it seems
unlikely that wealth would vary so drastically within the siblings of a single family so as to
require one to join the cavalry and another the “lights.” The next most likely criterion would be
age. Perhaps Bithynian “ephebes” served in the light infantry and only with age graduated to the
more prestigious and heavier infantry, or from the infantry to the cavalry.
Another Bithynian stele found in Dascyleum (Stele G) also shows varied arms being displayed
by an aristocratic Bithynian cavalryman. Unlike the stele of Diliporis, in this case the numerous
items displayed on the wall are entirely different from those that the deceased is equipped with in
the register below. The man wears a linothorax and his attendant holds his large circular cavalry
shield, while the register above shows a rather long and thin thureos behind which are hung two
spears, two peaked helmets with wide brims, a muscled cuirass, and a sword. No inscription
survives on this gravestone which could indicate if the deceased had any sons to whom these
weapons could belong, but judging from the family members portrayed in the upper register, he
either did not have any male offspring or they were too young to bear arms. These arms
definitely seem to be Bithynian, excluding the option of their being war booty (such display of
captured enemy equipment was very uncommon on Greek personal funerary monuments), but it
seems very unlikely that a man, even one wealthy enough to be able to afford such a stele, would
own multiple shields, helmets, cuirasses, and swords. It could be that they were heirlooms,
markers of the deceased’s family’s proud history of service in the military. This would mean that
at least one ancestor from this élite family had served as a thureophoros, again suggesting that
wealthy citizens also served in the lighter elements of the army. Alternatively, these could be the
arms of the man himself that he used when he fought as a young man as a thureophoros.
A relief found in Adapazari, dating to between the first century BC and the second century AD,
is also of interest.45 In this fragmentary relief, probably from a funerary stele, four men are
depicted: three men represented to the same scale walk to the right, a cavalryman and two
infantrymen, while a diminutive attendant follows behind. The cavalryman carries a spear and is
unarmoured except perhaps for a helmet, though his head is so badly effaced that the only
possible trace of this is a slight projection at the back of his head. The first infantryman carries a
fairly small round shield and two spears and wears a helmet (the form of which is unclear due to
43 Launey, 434.
44 The most notable evidence is the corpus of painted stelai found in Sidon, dating to the second century BC, which
depicts more than a dozen mercenaries of the local garrison. The majority show thureophoroi, while the rest depict
45 Archaeological Museum Instanbul Inv. Nr. 5889 T; Mendel Catalogue Nr. 1072.
effacement), while the second infantryman carries a large thureos (stretching from neck to mid-
shin) and also wears a helmet (though, again, the exact form is not discernable). Behind the
thureophoros follows his attendant who carries two spears, presumably those of his master
whom he follows. While the relief has been dated on stylistic grounds to between the first
century BC and the second century AD, the equipment present on the relief indicates a date in
the centuries BC.
Here again we see cavalryman, thureophoros, and peltast depicted to the same scale as fellow
citizens and clearly as equals in status. The thureophoros to the rear could also afford to own a
slave attendant, suggesting that he was at least reasonably wealthy.
The Stele of Nikasion
The region of Bithynia has yielded several very unusual military stelai, and the gravestone of
Nikasion (Stele K) is chief among them. This stele is actually a combination of two
chronologically different stelai. The original stele, with the upper register decorated with a meal
scene, was created for Nikasion, but was later altered to make his son more prominent. The
changes were presumably made by this son, who also seems to have added the battle scene. This
piece is interesting not only for its subject matter, a Hellenistic naval battle, but also for its
mixture of figures and their equipment. Scenes depicting warships manned with marines and
ready for battle are not uncommon in Hellenistic art,46 but scenes depicting actual naval
skirmishes are very rare.
Nikasion's son is presumably the disproportionately large figure on the left ship. He wears a
plumed helmet and a muscled cuirass with an officer's sash and carries a sizeable thureos. One
bizarre aspect of his depiction is that the only weapon he seems to carry is a stone, which he
prepares to throw in his right hand. His hand may have held a separate metal spear, as was
common on reliefs carved more in the round, that is now lost, but his palm appears to be either
open or grasping a circular object. Another relief, from Turkey, showing a soldier on a warship
carrying a hoplon (the common Greek round shield with an offset rim) also appears to show the
man holding a stone.
The other marine on the left ship is unarmoured, wearing only chiton and chlamus, and carrying
a thureos. His right hand appears to have been broken off, but he may also have held a stone. On
the other ship, a man, depicted nude and having fallen overboard, lies between the steering oars
of his own vessel. Another fallen man, facing away from the viewer, lies on the deck of the ship
and is being walked over by a marine bearing a hoplon. The thureos beside the ship probably
belonged to one of the two fallen men; this type of thureos, with pointed top and bottom, no rim,
and a thin spine that does not run the entire length of the shield, seems to have been used
predominantly by Galatians.47 The fallen figure has a few distinct physical characteristic which
may allow us to identify his ethnicity. He has overly long limbs, a bulging stomach, and what
seems to be spiked-back hair. An Etruscan stamnos from the group of the Bonn Faliscan
46 E.g. Pfuhl and Möbius, Nrs. 1275, 1278. Nicholas Sekunda, Republican Roman Army 200-104 BC (Oxford: Osprey
Publishing, 1996), 14. Bullettino della Commissione Archeologica Comunale di Roma 67 (1939): Taf. 1.
47 Piotr Bienkowski, Les Celtes dans les Arts Mineurs Gréco-Romains (Cracow: Imprimerie de L'Université des
Jagellons à Cracovie, 1928), 135, Fig. 196a-b. Brown, Nrs. 3, 8.
depicting two Celtic warriors (one of the earliest representations of Gauls in Graeco-Roman art)
shows a close parallel.48 One of the two warriors, who is dead, lies back in a very similar pose to
the warrior thrown overboard on Nikasion’s stele. His gut is also similarly bulbous and his hair
similarly spiked. It seems very likely that this soldier was a Galatian in the service of the navy of
one of the other kingdoms on the Black Sea.49 This is an interesting indication of the use of
Galatian mercenaries in the navies around the Black Sea in the Hellenistic period.
It is surprising to see the hoplon in use by the soldiers of the naval corps. Such heavy and large
shields, ideal for combat in formation on land but cumbersome when used on the cramped decks
of warships, were already being phased out in the context of naval warfare by Iphikrates in the
early fourth century BC.50 Iphikrates, though famous for reforming the infantry of the Athenian
army, seems to have tested his revolutionary changes first in the Athenian navy, of which he was
appointed general in command upon his return from Egypt.51 The hoplite marines of the navy
were the most active troops in the Athenian military, and so they would have been the obvious
choice for testing out a new style of armament. Iphikrates unsurprisingly switched the hefty
hopla for lighter “peltai summetroi”,52 probably oval shields of similar light construction to the
thureos. Not operating in a phalanx, the extra width of the hoplon was no longer necessary, and
the added height of the thureos provided better defense.
The Battle Scene Stelai
The battle scene on the middle register of Mokazis' stele (Stele A), the scene of combat on
Nikasion’s stele (Stele K), and that shown on the surviving register of Stele B are extraordinary
due to the number of figures involved in the melées featured on each. Three Bithynians are
represented on the stele of Mokazis: a well equipped cavalryman (the deceased himself) and two
infantrymen, a thureophoros and a spearman, who presumably are his sons. The two opponents
of the sons are clearly represented in the nude; Mokazis’ adversary may also be nude, but that
section of the relief has been badly effaced. Ordinarily, it would be assumed that these fallen
soldiers were Galatians, who were always a favourite choice to play the part of the vanquished in
the art of many of the Hellenistic kingdoms and who traditionally fought in the nude. And while
one adversary does carry a sword and a thureos in the Celtic manner, the fact that the adversary
of Mokazis’ thureophoros son is carrying a round shield seems to discredit this idea, as the
Galatians (or at least their infantry) are not known to have commonly used round shields. The
defeated thureophoros could either be a mercenary Galatian in the service of another state, such
as the Pontic, Cappadocian, or Pergamene kings, or, in the light of the other nude non-Celtic
opponent, he may be some other kind of mercenary or citizen infantryman. His companion
bearing a round shield and perhaps wearing a helmet is probably a peltast.
48 J.D. Beazley, Etruscan Vase-Painting (London: Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1947), Pl. XXIV, Nrs. 1-2.
49 In this case, the enemy is most likely the navy of Pontus. According to Appian, Mithridatic Wars, 13, Mithridates
VI possessed 300 ships before the outbreak of the Mithridatic wars and “300 ships with decks, 100 with two banks
of oars each” at the onset of fighting (Mithridatic Wars 17). He also held a sizeable mercenary force drawn from
“many neighbouring peoples,” undoubtedly including Galatians. Apollonius 13 (Fragmenta Historicum Graecum II,
312) also suggests the use of Galatian mercenaries by earlier Pontic rulers.
50 Luke Ueda-Sarson, “The Evolution of Hellenistic Infantry, part 1: The Reforms of Iphikrates,” Slingshot 222
51 Xenophon, Hellenika, 6.2.14.
52 Diodoros, 15.44.
Mokazis himself is an excellent example of the cavalry élite of Asia Minor. He wears a short
chiton and chlamus as well as a cuirass, probably a linothorax. Between the mane of his horse
and the head of Mokazis himself can be seen a curved line which seems to be the edge of a
shield. Finally, he wields a spear overhand.
Of his two sons, the thureophoros is the most interesting; unfortunately, the other son, who
wears only a chiton and wields only a spear, is an anomaly. It seems highly unlikely that a
soldier would fight in battle with only a single spear, though this may indicate that this man was
some sort of light infantryman. His brother, however, is a fine example of the common
infantryman which could be found serving in the armies around Asia Minor and the Black Sea in
the later third and second century BC. He wields only sword and thureos, but based on analogous
evidence we may assume that his regular panoply also included spear.53
Stele B provides an incredibly crisply preserved example of this kind of battle scene which is
unfortunately missing its right half. Just as in Mokazis’ stele, we see a Bithynian cavalryman
rearing back to strike at an enemy who disappeared along with the rest of the scene. The details
on this relief are for the most part superb: even the torc worn around the fallen Galatian’s neck
and the tiny weights at the corners of the rider’s cloak can be made out. The deceased wears
equipment almost identical to Mokazis, though no trace of a shield can be seen behind him. His
companion in arms, a footman, is truly unique: he is the only infantryman on any of the reliefs
covered in this paper to wear a peaked helmet with a wide brim (identical to the rider’s), but he
also carries a large, round, plain, and rimless shield with a sword. This kind of shield can be seen
on another Bithynian stele, Stele H, but there it is carried by a cavalryman. It cannot be
discerned if he wears any body armour. It is hard to place what kind of soldier this man is; is he
perhaps a fellow cavalryman who, due to the conventions of funerary imagery, cannot be
depicted on horseback in order to not lessen the heroic appearance of the deceased? If he were
simply a regular infantryman in the army, he would have to be some sort of hoplite due to the
large size of his shield.
It should be noted that there is no evidence that the Bithynians ever adopted the Macedonian-
style phalanx in their army. Being a small state with neither the manpower nor the knowledge
and expertise to organize and assemble such a military mechanism, they, like many of the minor
states on the borders of the major Hellenistic kingdoms, simply never incorporated it into their
military. As such, this kind of soldier would most likely have fought like the hoplites of Classical
Greece in a looser formation. Without other similar examples to compare to, it is unfortunately
impossible to determine more about this kind of soldier, but he provides tantalizing evidence that
there were other, heavier elements of the infantry within the Bithynian army which are not
represented in the other evidence.
Equipment and Celtic Influence
53Pfuhl and Möbius, 193-4, Abb. 54 is the closest comparison, found only about 120 km away from the findspot of
Mokazis` stele in ancient Hadrianutherae near modern day Balikesir in Mysia. It dates to the late Hellenistic period
and shows a soldier shaking his wife`s hand before departing for war. He has a thureos slung across his back, a
sword at his left side, and a short spear leaning against his shoulder.
One of the most striking aspects of the equipment depicted on these stelai is the Celtic influences
which can be seen in the arms of both cavalry and infantry. The militaries of the kingdoms
surrounding Galatia seem to have widely adopted items of the traditional Celtic panoply
following the crossing of the Galatian tribes to Asia Minor.
What is evident also from the reliefs on these stelai is that the swords of the Gallic fashion had
become popular in Bithynia, as in other parts of Asia Minor, by the second century BC. Many
second century reliefs from the countryside surrounding the Pisidian city of Sagalassos show
Macedonian shields with spears and multi-lobate Gallic swords,54 and the Pisidian mercenaries
of the early second century Sidon garrison also carried this style of sword.55 This type of sword,
marked by a hilt terminating in two or three lobes and a straight-edged blade, could vary greatly
in length, and some examples (such as that worn by Pasias in Stele D, that of a Thracian
cavalryman on a first century stele from Abdera,56 and an example from the second century BC
Pergamene weapons reliefs57) are very long. Such long swords were mainly used by cavalry,
who could employ their long reach from horseback. The swords carried by the infantrymen on
Stele B and Stele C are of a more regular length, as one would expect.
The final item of Gallic equipment adopted by the Bithynian army was of course the thureos,
that most Celtic of armour. By the second century, most militaries around the eastern
Mediterranean and the Black Sea had adopted the thureos in some capacity, and it had even
spread as far afield as Bactria.58 While some have ascribed the widespread adoption of the
thureos in the east to Roman influence,59 when the evidence from both the third and second
centuries BC is considered, it is very clear that the emergence of the thureos as a common type
of shield in the east coincides with the bursting of the Galatians into Asia Minor in 279. Bithynia
was probably one of the first eastern states to adopt the thureos, as they were after all the first to
make use of Celtic mercenaries in Asia Minor, and this is corroborated by Dionusios’ stele,
dating to the third century, which depicts him carrying just such a shield.
Mercenaries in the Bithynian Army
Bithynia, being situated between Thrace and the Gallic tribes residing around that region in the
west and Galatia in the east, was situated in an ideal area for recruiting mercenaries. Despite the
Bithynians’ ethnic link to the European Thracians, there is little actual evidence for them being
hired to fight in the Bithynian army. Prusias I hired Thracians to harass Byzantium during his
war with that city in 219-218 BC,60 and Prusias II received a bodyguard of 500 Thracians from
his Thracian son-in-law Diegylis when besieged by Attalus II in 149 BC.61 In the former case,
54 Veli Kose, Nekropolen und Grabdenkmaler von Sagalassos in Pisidien in hellenistischer und römischer zeit
(Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, 2005).
55 Nick Sekunda, The Ptolemaic Army, 18-33, Nrs.. 6-7.
56 Nick Sekunda, The Seleucid Army, 75, Fig. 22.
57 Peter Jaeckel, “Pergamenische Waffenreliefs,” Waffen- und Kostümkunde: Zeitschrift der Gesellschaft für
Historische Waffen- und Kostümkunde 7 (1965): 97, Fig. 7.
58 Valerii P. Nikonorov, The Armies of Bactria 700 BC - 450 AD (Stockport: Montvert Publications, 1997) 5-6, Fig. 8
m; 10, Figs. 24 a-b.
59 Most notable is Nick Sekunda in his twin publications of Seleucid and Ptolemaic Reformed Armies 168-145 BC.
60 Polubios, 4.51.8.
61 Appian, Mithridatic Wars 6.
the Thracians were clearly not a component of the Bithynian army, but rather were incited to
attack Byzantium from the European side, and in the latter they composed a hastily assembled
force to ensure the king’s protection rather than a part of the standing army.
The Galatians also had a major presence within the Bithynian military. Nicomedes I, of course,
famously shuttled the Gauls across the Bosporus in 278 BC, and he used their warriors as
mercenaries to great effect against his rival claimant to the throne.62 Ziaelas, Nicomedes’ son,
also employed the newly available Galatians, ironically, against his father. 63
Bithynians as Mercenaries
The majority of Bithynians that served abroad as mercenaries went to Egypt. This is not
surprising, as the Bithynians were not friendly to the Seleucids, the primary employers of
soldiers from Asia Minor, and so the natural choice would be then to serve for the major
opponent of the Seleucids, the Ptolemies. The Ptolemies also possessed foreign holdings all
around Bithynia - on the Thracian coast, in the Aegean, and throughout Asia Minor. There were
certainly enough Bithynian soldiers present in Alexandria in the third century BC to form a
military organization which dedicated a statue to a Bithynian mercenary and gymnasiarch.64 The
third century stele of Dionusios the Bithynian, whose painted funerary stele is among the best
preserved of those found in the Alexandrian funerary complexes, provides us with an image of
just such a soldier. He is armed with an iron helmet, a thureos, and a long spear and two shorter
javelins.65 One epitaph of a Bithynian mercenary that fought in Egypt is particularly poignant:66
Former leader of warriors in battle, I put to flight the nations of a destructive hand, firm on the
ships, courageous on the ground. Commanding the sanguinary troop of Enualios when repelling
the bandits in the glens of Asia, I looted the corpses of the vanquished natives. Then I came to
the illustrious fortress of Egypt, mother of corn, to provide her princes with my strength and my
conviction. Today, while I advanced towards my eighth decade, Hades confined me in his dark
hollows. I did not have to suffer to see my children perish; rather, I watched until my very end as
the children of my children cared for me in my old age. The homeland which gave birth to me is
Apamea, but the earth of Egypt saw me dying; me, the friend of all mortals, Diazelmis, honoured
by the kings. O Passing, can you say to me: "Goodbye, may the earth lay lightly upon you!"
Three Bithynians who erected stelai in the necropolis of Demetrias in Macedonia in the late third
or early second century BC were likely mercenaries of the local garrison as well.67 A lone
epitaph from a Pergamene garrison in Aegina also includes what is most likely the name of a
Bithynian mercenary stationed there.68 Even so, this evidence is sparse compared to that for
many other peoples of Asia Minor (or the Bithynians’ European Thracian kin, for that matter)
who served as mercenaries in the Hellenistic period. As the Bithynian military seems to have
62 Memnon, 19 (Fragmenta Historicum Graecorum III, 535). Livy, 38.16.6. Pausanias, 10.23.14.
63 Memnon, 22.
64 Launey, 435.
65 Brown, 28, Nr. 27, Pl. XX, 1.
66 Launey, 808-809.
67 Launey, 436.
68 Launey, 436.
been primarily a citizen military, most Bithynians capable of bearing arms would have been
necessary to maintain the army in the tumultuous period from the late third century well into the
The evidence of these stelai, many of them complete and very well preserved, provides a unique
opportunity to examine, at least in part, the military of a minor Hellenistic kingdom. Bithynia’s
eastern contemporaries – Pergamum, Pontus, Cappadocia, Armenia, and the kingdoms to the east
of the Black Sea – have not yielded similar archaeological information, either for lack of
excavation or lack of preservation. Only a tiny amount of Hellenistic-era artifacts relating to
these kingdoms have been found (Pergamum yielding by far the most), and only a fraction of
those relate to their militaries. Direct iconographic evidence for the military of Mithridates VI,
who challenged Rome and led a war which effectively divided the kingdoms around the Black
Sea for Pontus or against the Romans, is pitifully small: a stele from Apollonia Pontica
mentioning the king and depicting a helmet and a sword carved in relief is among the few to
have been found and published.69 For this reason the information provided by this body of stelai
is very important. It provides a clear image of a military on the periphery, unable to afford or
maintain a massive army with scores of mercenaries and a variety of heavily-armed infantry and
cavalry and thus forced to rely on a force composed primarily of native citizenry.
The evidence is just complete enough that one can begin to make out all the individual
components. The infantry was made up of the more common thureophoroi fighting alongside
their heavier companions-in-arms the peltasts and perhaps a body of heavily-armed hoplites as
well. These core troops were supported by the light promachoi infantry and the skirmishing light
cavalry as well as the crucial heavy cavalry. A navy was maintained to control Bithynian trade in
the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara and, undoubtedly, to ward off their seagoing neighbours
who also resided on the coast of the Black Sea. All of these elements are primarily supplied with
manpower from Bithynian citizens, the majority of whom inhabited the countryside around the
main poleis. Greeks from these cities may sometimes have been levied into the military in times
of need, but no evidence exists to support this. The kings took a pragmatic approach to the hiring
of mercenaries – when the need arose or the opportunity was presented, they would be hired, but
they were by no means a permanent fixture of the army like they were in most Hellenistic
In addition to the stelai discussed, hundreds of Hellenistic gravestones from northwestern Turkey
have been excavated that have not yet been published or properly analyzed. When or if these are
published, some of them could hopefully shine more light on the militaries of the Bithynians and
of other minor kingdoms around Asia Minor in the Hellenistic period.
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