Seleucid Mounted Troops: A Reassessment of the Organisation and Operation of the Seleucid Cavalry and its Unconventional Units

  • Silvannen Gerrard

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis establishes the importance of the Seleucids' mounted troops. In contrast to previous scholarship the analysis presented here argues that Seleucid cavalry did not decline in quality or battlefield significance in comparison to its Macedonian predecessors, nor did Hellenistic warfare witness a stagnation of tactics. Through the application of modern military theory this thesis reassesses the battles of the Seleucid Empire, demonstrating that the Seleucids' unconventional units of war-elephants, scythed chariots, and camel-archers were intended to operate in conjunction with the standard cavalry through combined arms warfare. This offers a new way of approaching Hellenistic battles, and refutes the persistent scholarly dismissals of these unconventional troops' tactical value and the misguided notion that their use was a symptom, or even cause, of Hellenistic cavalry decline. This thesis also addresses the lack of more recent systematic studies of the Seleucid army. Refuting the standard, but crucially flawed, ethnically-based dichotomy of Greco-Macedonian 'regulars' vs. 'national' levies, this thesis establishes a new tripartite military infrastructure of standing troops, reserve troops, and 'non-regular' troops, directly centred on the military status of the men involved. Reaffirming the existence of a Seleucid military settlement system, the analysis illustrates how this three-way organisation operated within the Seleucids' mounted corps, offering greater clarity to our understanding of the intricate workings of this vast Empire. This thesis also presents a careful assessment of the 'types' of horses available, the effects of their physiognomy on their military capabilities, and the range of potential stud locations throughout the Empire. These aspects are often neglected, and yet prove invaluable for understanding the logistical underpinnings of the Seleucids' mounted force. Similarly, this thesis provides a comprehensive analysis of the Seleucids' infantry:cavalry ratios in comparison to those of their contemporaries and predecessors. This material is likewise broadly unstudied in existing military scholarship, leading to crucial misunderstandings of the infantry-cavalry relationship in ancient warfare. This thesis corrects this, demonstrating that the Seleucids maintained a flexible and high quality mounted force that remained tactically significant throughout the Hellenistic period.
Date of Award1 Aug 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorMaria-Ruth Morello (Supervisor) & Andrew Fear (Supervisor)


  • Camels
  • Combined arms
  • Decline
  • Warfare
  • Hellenistic
  • Scythed chariots
  • Seleucid Empire
  • Unconventional troops
  • Mounted troops
  • Cavalry
  • Seleucid
  • Elephants

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