An extract from Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars
by Duncan Head, illustrated by Ian Heath


The Rhoxolani were a major western Sarmatian tribe who moved west across the Don in the 2nd century BC and towards the end of that century attacked the Bosporan kingdom. Strabo describes them at that period as lightly armed with helmets and cuirasses of raw oxhide, wicker shields, spears, bows and swords. This seems to be the equipment of the cavalry who made up the majority of at least the effective troops (Sarmatian infantry being sometimes numerous but never much use) and grave finds confirm that most Rhoxolani were lightly armed horse archers until the 1st century AD. Cuirasses were probably of rawhide scales, perhaps lacquered red; an alternative possibility is the laminated hide armour shown on the base of Trajanís Column and as figure 88a in The Armies and Enemies of Imperial Rome. The helmets were probably leather with a metal frame like those shown in later art. The shape of the wicker shield is not specified by Strabo; the Scythian styles of 77a and b are possible. The bow is kept in a birchbark quiver, and arrowheads were usually iron. The sword shown is a relatively short type with a ring pommel; a longer sword with spherical pommel was also in use. Strabo uses longche for the spear, implying a fairly light spear or a javelin.

Some Sarmatian cavalry however were already more heavily armoured, carrying a longer lance, as shown in figure 88 of The Armies and Enemies of Imperial Rome. This style emerges in the 4th and 3rd centuries in the Sarmatian Prokhorovka culture of the southern Urals, probably under the influence of the Massagetai. The nobles of the Rhoxolani probably fought in this way. Among the Siracae, in the Kuban valley, the nobles fought in this style, as armoured lancers with long sword and bow; the bulk of the people lacked armour, but unlike the Rhoxolani they did use the long lance. Equipment of the armoured lancers included conical bronze or iron helmets and armour for both rider and horse, usually of bronze, iron or horn scales, but iron plate seems to have been used occasionally. The Siracae also used numerous light infantry, notably archers, but these may have been subject peasants of a different nationality, all the Sarmatians proper thus being to some extent an aristocracy.
[Based on the Strabo passage "they use helmets and corselets made of raw ox-hides, carry wicker shields, and have for weapons spears, bow, and sword"]

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