mercoledì, aprile 15

Illyria (English)

A Cavalrymans Grave Stele from Apollonia
Fig. 1: A Cavalryman's Grave
Stele from Apollonia, 3rd C. BC.

As in many other Greek settlements outside of Greece proper, ethnic Greeks comprised the upper class of this area while the lower classes, mostly living in the rural areas around the city and working the land, were Illyrians. In the third century, before the Romans took control of the city in 229 BC, the city fell under the control of Pyrrhus of Epirus. The first stele
(Fig. 1), of a cavalryman from Lapardha, south of Apollonia, is of a fairly common Hellenistic type: the deceased sits with his wife, disproportionately tiny children below him, and Hermes, acting as Psychopompus, standing behind him. The stelae is of fairly fine workmanship and is very Greek in style. On the wall behind the family scene hang the soldier's sword and shield, beside which can be seen a small fragment of the shaft of a spear. We know that the man is a cavalryman as a groom and a horse, both of which are only partially seen, are represented beside his equipment. Though we do not know the man's name, which would help us to identify his ethnicity, he was most likely not an indigenous Illyrian, or at least in the rare chance that he was he was probably so hellenized so as to be indistinguishable from a Greek.

The sword is unremarkable, and unfortunately the hilt has been broken off along with the top of the relief, which means that we cannot determine if it is a kopis or a xiphos (the kopis having a curved or "beaked" hilt while the xiphos a straight hilt). However, it is known that the kopis was favoured by cavalry (Xenophon, On Horsemanship xii.9), and many archeological sources attest to this fact, so we may presume that this sword was a kopis.

The most interesting item on display is his shield; it is of a uniquely late Hellenistic type. The design of the shield is of Celtic origin, like the the thureos, but outside of Celtic sources it is only shown being used by cavalrymen. It was flat and of plank wood construction with a leather covering and a carved wooden spine with a pronounced boss. This shield

A Macedonian Cavalryman from the Aemilius Paullus Relief
Fig. 2: A Macedonian Cavalryman
from the Aemilius Paullus
Relief Commemorating the
Battle of Pydna, 168 BC.

Bienkowski writes about a "statuette representing a cavalryman found in Apollonia in Epirus, (cf. Heuzey, Mission en Macédoine, pl. XXXIII) on which we see ... cuirass modelled with two rows of pteryges, chiton, round shield, lance, and sword"2. The deceased's complete panoply would probably be identical to that of Bienkowski's statuette. A Hellenistic epitaph of an Amphilochian who was buried in Corcyra, not far from Apollonia, also states that he was killed by Illyrian cavalrymen3; perhaps they were cavalrymen similarly equipped to this man.

If in fact this stele dates to the first three-quarters of the third century BC, then the deceased would be representative of the type of cavalry that fought with Pyrrhus in the Epirote army. The use of shields by cavalrymen was popularized by Tarentine cavalry, who began using it by the late fourth century BC. Other Italian peoples adopted this Tarentine style, and by the mid-third century BC, the Samnites also had cavalry who used shields. A coin from Frentrum dating from 260 BC

A Coin from Frentrum, 260 BC
Fig. 3: A Coin from Frentrum,
260 BC.

The second stele from the necropolis in Apollonia, also form the third century BC, shows an soldier named Kallen (Fig. 3)4. The stele itself is of remarkably good workmanship, and thankfully many details can still be made out. The workmanship shows a clarity and proportional realism that is unusual in Hellenistic reliefs and which is very helpful when it comes to the study of weaponry and equipment. Kallen wears a short chiton, as was the military fashion in the Hellenistic period,

The Stele of Kallen from Apollonia, 3rd C. BC
Fig. 4: The Stele of
Kallen from
Apollonia, 3rd C. BC.

Considering that Kallen was wealthy enough to afford a finely worked grave stele, he must have been a Greek infantry officer. This notion is reinforced by the fact that he wears a bi-plumed helmet, an indication of rank, and that his name, and the names of his family members, are Greek. His equipment appears to have comprised the full panoply of the thyreophoros officer: he has a thureos, a spear, sword, and helmet. His sword is of a common Hellenistic variety and is most likely a xiphos; the two frayed ends of his baldric can be seen hanging on his left side. His spear is remarkable as it has been represented completely and in a realistic size; many Hellenistic grave stelae depict soldiers with scaled down spears or spears that run off the edge of the relief, not giving a good indication of size. Kallen's spear appears to be close to seven feet in length, including spearbutt and a large spearhead. That his spear has a spearbutt is interesting, as most depictions of thyreophoroi depict them carrying spears without a butt.

Though the thureos was commonly used by the northern Illyrians tribes, the use of this shield most likely did not penetrate down into the south before the invasion of Macedon by the Gauls. Therefore, this relief must date to after 279 BC and may represent a thyreophoros officer in Pyrrhus's army who served during his campaigns in Greece and Macedonia after 275 BC. It is also a possibility, however, that this man is an Illyrian garrison officer from after Pyrrhus's death.


1. Eggebrecht pp. 410-11.

2. Bienkowski p. 93

3. Launey p. 417 (1).

4. Eggebrecht p. 413.


Bienkowski, Piotr. Les Celtes dans les Arts Mineurs Gréco-Romains. Krakow: Imprimerie de L'Université des Jagellons à Cracovie, 1928.

Eggebrecht, Arne. Albanien: Schätze aus dem Land der Skipetarin. Mainz: Verlag Philip von Zabern, 1988.

Launey, Marcel. Recherches sur les Armées Hellénistiques. Paris: Université de Paris, 1947.

Image Credits

Fig. 1: Eggebrecht, 1988, p. 411.

Fig. 2: Courtesy of Florian Himmler.

Fig. 3: Monaco, Davide. 2005. Sanniti Monete Coins Sannio. Archeologia dell'Antico Sannio.

Fig. 4: Eggebrecht, 1988, p. 413.

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