The Arms and Armor of The Punic Phoenicians
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Reproduced by kind permission of the author, Paul Basar, and Jason Bishop (aka Wijitmaker) from the highly recommended website: Wildfire Games

Note: References to Greek means Macedonian.

"Carthage: Warriors From the Sands, Arms of Carhage"

Punic ArmorCarthage the most powerful nation in the western Mediterranean during the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, thanks to its powerful navy and vast trading network. Originally settled by Phoenicians in the 9th century on the north coast of Africa in modern Tunisia, Carthage had grown by the 3rd century BC to control Northwestern Africa, Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia, and large parts of Spain. Militarily it was unique in its heavy reliance on mercenaries to fight its wars abroad. Monetarily this was not a problem due to the Carthaginians vast wealth gained from trading all over the Mediterranean. Carthaginian citizens did train for battle, but only fought if there was an immediate threat to their homeland. As with many nations during the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, Hellenistic phalanx tactics had reached Carthage and had been embraced. Most of its richer citizens fought armed in Greek equipment, although often embellished with uniquely Carthaginian features, using the sarissa as their main weapon. Carthaginian citizens unable to procure the expensive armor of a phalangite were employed as light infantry, using javelins as their main weapons. One special unit was the Sacred Band, an elite corps of soldiers whose patron deity was the goddess Tanit.

Abroad the Carthaginians used mercenaries, notably Spanish (Iberian) soldiers recruited from their territory in Spain. They brought heavy infantry, as well as cavalry and light troops such as javelin throwers and slingers. From Africa, Numidians provided light cavalry, among the best ever produced by any nation. They rode without saddles and bridles, controlling their horses by using their riding sticks and voice commands. They also served as light infantry using javelins and slings. Another large population that the Carthaginians drew mercenaries from was Celtic peoples of modern day France and Northern Italy. In combat they used swords and spears in massive charges, screaming as they did so. Another unique tool available to the Carthaginians was the war elephant, used to crush opposing infantry. Although powerful and psychologically imposing, disciplined infantry could drive off an elephant so that it would run back on its own lines. Hannibal, the most famous of Carthaginians, used all of these mercenaries and elephants as well as Carthaginian citizen soldiers in his famous campaign against the Romans during the Second Punic War. In the end Roman won all three of the wars it fought with Carthage, the last one completely destroying Carthage in 146 BC.

Armor – Carthaginian armor was based on Greek styles, the linothorax being especially popular. The Carthaginian heavy infantry did not differ greatly from any of the Hellenized armies that existed around the Mediterranean in the period after Alexander the Great.

Linothorax

Linothorax Click the drawing to view an enlarged color version. All linked enlarged versions were used from images on the web without permission. If you are the creator of any of these graphics, please let us know by e-mail so that you would be duly credited.

Many pieces of Greek equipment were used by Carthaginians troops, one popular piece being the linothorax, a cuirass made of layers of linen glued together to make a tough shell. Elite troops of the Sacred Band used the linothorax and it was distinctively painted with symbols of Tanit, the patron goddess of the unit. The early Carthaginian citizen army rank and file used the linothorax but after extensive contact with the Romans, superior chain mail replaced it.

Punic ArmorChain Mail

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Initially Celtic, the Romans were the first major proponents of chain mail and during the First Punic War the Carthaginians were treated to a front row demonstration of its protective abilities. Needless to say they were highly impressed. Hannibal’s African troops often stripped dead Romans for their elaborate hauberks, wearing them instead of their own linothorax cuirasses. Among the Carthaginian troops the chain mail hauberk, or lorica hamata as the Romans called it, proved to be extremely popular. And since the Carthaginian troops were allowed first pick of captured equipment, many of them ended up with chain mail.

Greaves

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Greaves were standard Hellenistic infantry equipment and the Carthaginians used them to a large degree. Heavy citizen infantry used them, as well as cavalry. Usually made of bronze, they could be tied or be held in place by squeezing against the wearer’s legs.

Helmets – Again, Greek styles were popular, especially the Thracian among the Carthaginians. In addition, many of the helmet styles made by their mercenaries were also used by Carthaginian troops.

Punic ArmorThracian

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Among Carthaginian citizen troops, the Thracian helmet was the preeminent style. The elegant bronze helmet was often painted, usually with a black band across the front of the helmet, above the eyes. Crests made of horsehair were commonplace, adding to the contrasting colors of the Carthaginian panoply. Heavy infantry were especially attracted to the Thracian, being a large, heavy helmet with good protection for the head, neck, and face but affording a considerable field of vision to the wearer.

Montefortino

Montefortino Click the drawing to view an enlarged color version. All linked enlarged versions were used from images on the web without permission. If you are the creator of any of these graphics, please let us know by e-mail so that you would be duly credited.

Used by both Celtic mercenaries and Carthaginian citizen soldiers, the Montefortino helmet was also used their Roman enemies. As with chain mail hauberks, helmets were stripped from Roman corpses, one of the most common being the Montefortino. The bronze helmet was protective, gave good visibility, and was comfortable to wear. While the Carthaginians obtained their Montefortinos from dead Romans, the Celts manufactured their own, and it is not improbable that during Hannibal’s campaign in Italy helmets were produced by Celtic blacksmiths for use in his army. In many cases Montefortino helmets were decorated with horsehair plumes and feathers.

Iberian

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Originating in Spain, the Iberian style helmet was widely used by Spanish mercenaries, as well as by Carthaginian citizen troops, especially light infantry. A simple conical bronze helmet fitted with cheek guards, the Iberian helmet provided good protection and could be fitted with a crest.

Weapons - Thanks to the broad range of soldiers employed by the Carthaginians, it was one of the most cosmopolitan armies in existence. Weapons from many unique backgrounds were used, allowing for a broad range of tactics.

Sarissa

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The 15 to 19 foot long sarissa was popular all over the Greece, Middle East, and North Africa during the 3rd century BC, thanks to Alexander the Great’s army. Carthaginian citizen soldiers used the sarissa in phalanxes two handed, with their shield hanging from a strap across their neck and left shoulder. As with other pikemen, the Carthaginian soldiers were at a severe disadvantage when facing swordsmen like the Romans, who attacked the inevitable weak spots of the phalanx that formed as it moved over uneven ground.

Xiphos

Xiphos Click the drawing to view an enlarged color version. All linked enlarged versions were used from images on the web without permission. If you are the creator of any of these graphics, please let us know by e-mail so that you would be duly credited.

The native Carthaginians used the extremely popular Greek xiphos, the roughly 30-inch straight double-edged slashing sword. In combat they would wear it on their left hip on a baldric that went over their right shoulder. Cavalry also used the xiphos to great effect.

Celtic Long Sword

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The Celtic mercenaries in Carthaginian armies fought using there own equipment and the famous Celtic long sword was their most prized weapon. Roughly 36 inches long and made of an early form of steel, it was one of the finest sword types every produced. Used by wealthy chieftains and nobles, it was uncommon in the ranks where spears were the main weapons. In combat the double-edged Celtic sword would be used as a slashing weapon, a task to which it was ideally suited.

Punic ArmorEspasa

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As with most of the mercenaries in Carthaginian armies, Spanish troops used their own cultural weapons. One of these was the espasa, a short double-edged stabbing sword. Roughly 25 inches long, the Spaniards were famous for their use of it. When Spanish mercenaries in the service of Carthage fought Roman soldiers in Sicily during the First Punic War the Romans were so impressed by the espasa that they adopted it and called it the gladius hispanicus. The gladius went onto conquer the known world with the legions of Rome.

Falcata

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Another Spanish weapon, the falcata was a descendent of the famous Greek kopis, the heavy curved saber. Made of high quality steel, the falcata was feared for its ability to chop through shields and crush helmets like tin cans. Used by infantry and cavalry, the falcata was a favorite among Spanish troops, who were highly sought after by the Carthaginians as heavy infantry and light troops.

Javelin

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Javelins were popular weapons in the Carthaginian army, used by both citizen soldiers and mercenaries. Light Carthaginian troops used javelins to engage their opponents at range before close combat began, while Numidian light cavalry hurled javelins while riding bareback. Spanish mercenaries used a special javelin made completely out of iron called a saunion, measuring roughly 4 to 5 feet long. As well young Celtic warriors fighting under Carthaginian banners used light javelins randomly in combat.

Sling

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Balearic slingers were valuable components of the Carthaginian mercenary army. Using a simple leather strap and a stone, slingers were able to kill opponents at ranges that archers could not dream of reaching. At the Battle of Cannae, Carthage’s greatest victory, Balearic slingers wounded one of the consuls in command of the Roman forces near the beginning of the battle. Numidians also used the sling on foot.

Shields – As with weapons, shields were taken from a broad range of cultures and martial traditions. Carthaginians used Greek style shields, while the mercenaries used their own national shields. Although not listed here, the Numidians used a round shield on horseback and on foot.

Hoplon

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As you have noticed, Greek equipment was an extremely common sight within the Carthaginian citizen army. Chief among them was the hoplon, the heavy Greek infantry shield. Made out of wood covered with bronze, the hoplon was vital to the phalanx-style of combat that the Carthaginians adhered to, allowing for large numbers of men to form a shield wall and defend each other as they advanced toward the enemy. Often Carthaginians painted their shields white or as in the case of the Sacred Band, with the symbols of their units.

Scutum

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Originally of Italian design, Celtic and Spanish mercenaries used a large body shield known as a scutum. A large oval shield with a large spindle-shaped boss, the scuta used by mercenaries under Carthaginian control were flat, unlike their Roman counterparts. Made of an early form of plywood (layers of wood glued together) covered with leather, the scutum was able to protect a man from his shoulder’s to his shins. In addition to being used to block blows, the scutum’s large boss was often used to punch at opponents.

Caetra

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Spanish soldiers were fond of this buckler, which they used in combination with a falcata or espasa in combat. Roughly 2 feet across, both light infantry and the cavalry used the caetra in combat.

Thureos

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Originally an oval shield used by peltasts, the thureos was soon adopted for use by Carthaginian citizen light infantry as they ran forward to hurl their javelins at opposing infantry. In many ways it was similar to the scutum, although of completely different origin. It had an iron or bronze boss and could be painted.

Bibliography

  1. Carthaginian Heavy Infantryman
  2. Xoom Virgilio Spearmen
  3. THE GREAT WARS IN THE MEDITERRANEAN
  4. Carthaginian War Elephants
  5. HaT Carthaginians
  6. Ellas Foto Gallery
  7. Amazon Miniatures
  8. War Game Warrior
  9. Painting Carthaginians
  10. Carthaginian Range

"Warfare in the Classical World" by John Warry
All sketches by Paul Basar

Reproduced by kind permission of the author, Paul Basar from John Warry's book "Warfare in the Classical World",
and Jason Bishop (aka Wijitmaker) from the highly recommended site: Wildfire Games (a must visit site)

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