Ancient Military History Glossary

This is the first in a series of articles which will define some of the more obscure terms that wargamers run into when reading about their armies. Many of the common terms, like hoplite, Panzer, or cuirassier have been omitted.

There are very few Asian terms in the ancient glossary, because they are rarely used in military history texts published in English. In the case of Latin and Greek, however, English texts frequently continued to use the original word, rather than translate it. As a result, most of the words here are (L)atin or (G)reek.

Term Definition
Diadochi (G) Alexander's successors, usually his generals.
Hwarang Korean for "Flower Boys" – The cavaliers of the Korean army - well dressed and impetuous young noble cavalry.
Poeni Full Carthaginian citizens, descended from Phoenician settlers.
Qurbuti/Qurubuti The elite Assyrian guard infantry and cavalry. Fully armoured, with spear and shield.
accensi (L) Men taken from the lowest taxed class to fill the ranks of the Roman heavy infantry. They followed the legion in their street clothes, and stood in the rear rank of the third line, ready to pick up the arms of the fallen and fill their places. They were also used as workmen and orderlies.
argyraspides (G) Literally, silver shields. The remnants of Alexander's original Macedonian pikemen, who formed the elite in the successor armies, and displayed their status and travels with shields overlaid with Indian silver.
Balista (L) A large, crossbow-like device, usually powered by a pair of torsion springs (twisted ropes, in this case), used by Greeks and Romans, and probably others. Balista fired bolts or arrows in a variety of sizes.
cassis (L) The bronze helmet worn by Roman soldiers.
clibanarii Cataphract. There is some debate about whether a clibinarii and a cataphract are the same thing. If an author uses both, clibinarii usually implied a more heavily armoured, more Asiatic style cataphract, typical of the Sassinid Persians.
cohors (L)
cohort
One tenth of a Marian legion.
dipylon (G) A large oval shield with cutouts on the sides. A figure eight. From the Homeric and Mycanean periods.
dromon A round-bottom sailing vessel. The most common ship type used by the Arabs and the Bzyantines.
equites (L) Roman cavalry.
falx A two-handed cutting weapon used by the Dacians. Similar to the rhompia used by he Thracians, with a curved blade and long haft.
foederatii (L) Barbarian units serving in the Roman army.
gaesati (L) Celtic fanatics who often fought naked and make berserk charges.
hasta (L) Spear
hastatii (L) The first line of the Republican army. Armed with pila and sword.
hepteres A rowed warship with two rows of oars, three men per oar.
hermiola A combination rowing and sailing ship, created by pirates.
hetaeri Full Macedonian citizens, known as companions, serving in the army.
hipparch (G) The commander of Greek cavalry.
hipparmostes (G) A commander of Spartan cavalry.
hippeis (G) Greek cavalry.
hypaspist (G) Foot companions. Macedonian heavy infantry equipped and trained to act as the hinge between the pike blocks and the Macedonian cavalry. The best morale.
kontos (G) Lance
liburna (L) A rowed warship that the Romans copied from the Illyrian pirates. It became the standard rowed ship for the later half of the Empire.
lochos (G) Any group of Greek infantry, ¼ of a mora, or a 100 man company.
lorica (L) Shell. Body armour. Lorica segmentata - overlapping, segmented plates (lobster), lorica hamata (chainmail), from lora, for leather thong.
maniple (L) Half of a cohort.
mora (G) One sixth of the Spartan army.
onager (L) Mule. A catapult with a scoop propelled by a torsion bow.
palton (G) A light spear used by Greek and Persian cavalry.
parma (L) A small, round shield used by light infantry.
pedites (L) Foot soldiers.
pelte (G) The round Thracian shield with a cutout on top that gave peltasts their name.
petasus (G) A flat felt hat with a broad round rim worn by Thessalian cavalry.
pezetairoi The free but not noble Macedonians who served as heavy infantry.
principes (L) The second line in the Republican Roman army, first armed with a spear, they were later armed with pila and sword, after the Camillan reforms.
prodromoi (G) Medium cavalry in the Macedonian army. Usually Greeks or allies.
rhompia/rhompaia (G) The sickle-like two-handed cutting weapon used by Thracians.
rorarii (L) The Roman precursors to velites, lower class citizens who fought with only a dart and a sling.
sagitarii (L) Archers
sagum (L) The cloak of Roman soldiers.
sarissa (G) The Maceonian pike. Usually 18 feet long.
sarissophoroi (G) Lance(sarissa)-armed Macedonian cavalry.
sciritae (G) Spartan light infantry.
scorpion (L) A catapult based on a giant horizontal bow shooting large bolts.
scutum (L) A shield, any shield, although usually a big square one.
soldurii (L) The elite and well armoured bodyguards of a Celtic chieftain.
strategos (G) A Greek general.
takabara The Late Achamenid Persian imitation of peltasts.
testudo (L) Turtle. A three-dimensional box of shields formed by a unit of infantry during siege operations. Also used to refer to sheds protecting battering rams.
thorakitai (G) See thureophoroi.
thorax (G) A cuirass made of linen, leather, or metal.
thureophoroi (G) A type of pike-armed peltast or light pikeman developed in the Hellenistic period and named after their shield, the thureos.
tremiola A combination sailing and rowing vessel designed by the Romans to overtake and catch pirates using hermiolas.
triarii (L) The third line of the Republican Roman army. Veteran spearmen.
trierarch The commander of a warship. Originally the commander of a trireme.
velites (L) Roman skirmishers.
xiphos (G) The standard Greek sword.
xyele (G) The curved Spartan sword.
xystonphoroi (G) Xyston-armed cavalry, where a xyston is a long spear or lance.

Chris Salander

Frequently Asked Questions

For further information and updates, please join us on facebook or in the Miniatures Forum.

Return to the Homepage