World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article


Article Id: WHEBN0009462559
Reproduction Date:

Title: Psiloi  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Hoplite, Ekdromoi, Infantry tactics, Light infantry, Greco-Persian Wars
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Macedonian battle formation with psiloi at the fore, courtesy of The Department of History, United States Military Academy. The hypaspists, elite heavy infantry, are mislabeled as elite heavy cavalry.

In Ancient Greek warfare, psiloi (Ancient Greek ψιλοί, plural of ψιλός, psilos, literally “bare, stripped”),[1] were extremely light infantry who acted as skirmishers and missile troops.

Psiloi, often used as a broad term to describe types of unarmored or lightly armored infantry, have often been more explicitly referred to by other names, such as gymnetes (lit. naked)[2] or euzonoi (light armored; after who the modern Evzones are named),[3] grosphomachoi and akontistai (javelineers),[4][5] sphendonetai (slingers),[6] toxotai (bowmen or archers) or lithoboloi (stone throwers).[7] The peltastai (bearers of light shields, targeteers)[8] are often categorized as an intermediary infantry type, later grouped either with the psiloi or the heavy infantry, according to their main tactical role.

In Greek and Byzantine literature, the psiloi are light troops equipped with missiles, able to fight irregularly in a loose formation.


  • Ancient Greece 1
  • Byzantine Empire 2
  • Examples of use in battle 3
  • Notes 4

Ancient Greece

In ancient Greece, the psiloi usually belonged to the poorest citizen classes; sometimes even unfree conscripts would be employed, such as the Peloponnesian helots. They were armed with a variety of missile weapons, such as the bow (toxa), javelin (akontia), sling (sfendonai) or even stones (lithoi). For defense, they had no armor and usually no shield, but would be equipped with a dagger or shortsword.

The psiloi were trained as skirmishers. Their task was to harass the enemy phalanx before the clash, to try to provoke disorder and protect their own lines from enemy skirmishers. They would be sent to occupy imposing terrain around and within the battlefield, as well as to disrupt the enemy in any way during his march, deployment or encampment. Just before the charge of the line, the psiloi would be recalled through the phalanx and deployed behind it or on its wings. They would avoid close combat with more heavily armed opponents unless they had the advantage of especially favorable terrain.

Byzantine Empire

Byzantine military treatises call all light troops psiloi, regardless of their defensive equipment. They were still used as skirmishers, but they were often deployed in regular lines behind or among the heavy infantry ranks, usually equipped with bows.

Examples of use in battle

The most successful use of psiloi against hoplites was in the Battle of Sphacteria,[9] where a huge number of Athenian psiloi eliminated a force of Spartan hoplites.


  1. ^ psiloi. Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  2. ^ gymnetes in Liddell and Scott.
  3. ^ euzonoi in Liddell and Scott.
  4. ^ grosphomachoi, grosphos in Liddell and Scott.
  5. ^ akontistai in Liddell and Scott.
  6. ^ sphendonetai in Liddell and Scott.
  7. ^ lithoboloi in Liddell and Scott.
  8. ^ peltastai in Liddell and Scott.
  9. ^ Psiloi were used tactically, to constantly harass an enemy, totally unable to engage them. Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War 4.32.4–4.36.3.
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.