Achaemenid elite cavalry: from Xerxes to Darius III

Document Type


Publication details

Charles, MB 2015, 'Achaemenid elite cavalry: from Xerxes to Darius III', The Classical Quarterly (New Series), vol. 65, pp. 14-35.

Published version available from:


Peer Reviewed



A proper understanding of any military establishment is predicated on a sound understanding of the distinctions of its various components, including the relationship of elite units to those of lesser standing. The infantry of Achaemenid Persia has been given increased attention in recent years, especially in my three recent articles on (a) the permanent Achaemenid infantry, these being the 10,000 so-called Immortals (ἀθάνατοι) and the 1,000 Apple Bearers (μηλοφόροι), (b) the κάρδακες, whom I identified as a kind of general-purpose infantry of indeterminate ethnicity, and (c) the defensive equipment of Achaemenid infantry. In these articles, the Persian cavalry, or asabārain Old Persian, was mentioned in passing, yet a thorough appraisal of elite Achaemenid cavalry is still required. For example, in his overview of Xerxes' army, Barkworth pays particular attention to the elite infantry, but the cavalry is mentioned only in passing, while Shabazi, in his entry on the Achaemenid army or spāda, does not mention elite cavalry at all. In a recent important study, Tuplin looked carefully at the evidence for Achaemenid cavalry and the degree of importance attached to cavalry among the Persians, but only mentioned what might be termed elite cavalry twice – he did not offer any in-depth commentary on their relationship to other cavalry units.

Find in your library