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The Pezhetairoi, the backbone of Alexander's army

The pezhetairoi were the battalions of the Macedonian phalanx. They first came to prominence during the reign of Philip II, particularly when they played such an important role in Philip's subjugation of Greece at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC.

The pezhetairoi were armed with the sarissa, a long spear with a shaft made from flexible cornel wood, which had a much longer reach than the traditional hoplite spear. Because of its length the phalanx could present the spearpoints of around five files of men; which made the phalanx almost impenetrable, and fearsome to oppose.

Tactically, the pezhetairoi were best used as a strong defensive line, rather than as shock troops. The length of the sarissa, while making them an awesome enemy to oppose, severely limited their manoeuvrability, and if they were taken in flank or rear they had little chance of responding. This was particularly clear at the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC, when the rapid advance of the right wing caused a breach to open between two of the battalions of pezhetairoi—a force of enemy cavalry broke through and, had it not been for a lack of discipline in their own command, and for Alexander's placing of a second line of traditional hoplites in reserve, the phalanx might have been destroyed from the rear.

Apart from in pitched battles the pezhetairoi and their sarissas were not very practical; it is supposed that they were re-armed, and their tactics adapted, to suit the guerrilla warfare that was prevalent, and necessary, in Bactria and Sogdia.

Pezhetairoi Battalions

The battalions of pezhetairoi appear to have been organised on a regional basis, at least to begin with. We know of battalions named for the regions of Orestis/Lyncestis (two battalions probably combining men from both regions), Elimaea and Tymphaea - if all pezhetairoi were from Upper Macedonia then we would expect the other battalions to have represented Eordaea and Pelagonia.

In 334 BC Alexander took six battalions of pezhetairoi with him to Asia. By the time the army moved into India in 327 BC a seventh had been added.

  • At the Battle of the Granicus the battalions were those of (from right to left): Perdiccas, Coenus, Amyntas, Philip, Meleager, and Craterus (Arr. 1.14.2).
  • At the Battle of Issus the battalions were those of (from right to left): Coenus, Perdiccas, Craterus, Meleager, Ptolemy (replacing Philip), and Amyntas (Arr. 2.8.3-4).
  • At the Battle of Gaugamela the battalions were those of (from right to left): Coenus, Perdiccas, Meleager, Polyperchon (replacing Ptolemy), Simmias (deputising for Amyntas, who was recruiting in Macedonia), and Craterus (Arr. 3.11.9-10).
  • At the Battle of the Hydaspes only five battalions took part, and were those of (from right to left): Antigenes, Cleitus the White, Meleager, Attalus, and Gorgias. The other battalions (those of Polyperchon and Alcetas) remained on the western bank of the Hydaspes, under the command of Craterus, and crossed only when Alexander was victorious, in order to continue with the pursuit of the fleeing Indians. (There is much supposition and guesswork about this battle, however—see J.F.C. Fuller, 1957, pp.180-199.)


  • J.F.C. Fuller, The Generalship of Alexander the Great, NJ, 1960
    F.E. Adcock, The Greek and Macedonian Art of War, California, 1957
    D. Lonsdale, Alexander, Killer of Men. Alexander the Great and the Macedonian Art of War, London, 2004

Written by marcus