Saturday 19 August 2023

ProjectSeleukid - Hellenistic Arab light infantry

For a number of circumstantial reasons, my next unit for the Seleukid project happens to be some Hellenised Arab light infantry. I never considered the inclusion of Arab light infantry in a Seleukid army to be objectionable, but it was recently drawn to my attention (via the comments left on this blog) that some folk find it problematic.

From the two known orders of battle, we know that 10,000 Arabs under their own commander were present at Raphia in 217 BC. There is no indication how they were equipped and the usual assumption is that they were tribal light infantry as they were deployed opposite (and bested by) Ptolemiac phalangites. At Magnesia in 190 BC, Arab camelry (the subject of a future post) are described in some detail. Arab infantry are not explicitly mentioned, but I have proposed that some of the unaccounted for 10,000+ troops may have included Arab infantry.

Antiochos III's army at Magnesia was hastily assembled, brought together from contingents across the empire from Iran to Ionia at a time or crisis. There is little reason why Levantine or Mesopotamian Arab auxiliaries might not have formed part of the army. In Greco-Roman sources, 'Arab' could be applied to any number of peoples from the Levant and Mesopotamia. The term was a malleable label that could be applied to groups who were considered to live in a similar lifestyle which today could be termed transhumant, or mixed settled-pastoral communities. The term Arab could be (and was) applied very widely for peoples from the Persian Gulf across to the Red Sea and north to include Nabataeans, Idumaeans, Ituraeans, and Emesenes, as well as proto-Palmyrenes from around Tadmor, across to Hatra and the test-dwelling Skenitai.

In later periods of Seleukid history, Arab dynasts and their forces continue to appear and allies and enemies of the Seleukids. Certainly, over time the losses of territory in both the West and East decreased recruitment potential and this manpower shortage seems to have been filled at least partially by the increased presence of Arab, Aramaean and Jewish contingents. in 145 BC, Alexander I was decapitated by an Arab prince, Zabdiel, in the service of Demetrios II and Ptolemy VI. I have published elsewhere the suggestion that Ituraean autonomy was granted by Antiochos IX in return for support in his struggle with Antiochos VIII.

For this unit I took inspiration from a blog post by Simon Millar from several years ago and opted for a more Hellenised group of Arabs, using Perry Mahdists as the basis, with some head-swaps using spares from Victrix sprues - along with the Victrix phalangite standard. This group have given up their round shields - still used in south-east Arabia at this stage - and well into late antiquity, and taken on the thureos - these ones ordered from 1st Corp. The palm tree unit identifier was a bit of a concession. I really wanted little scorpions, or little eagles, but couldn't find any small enough to fit the narrow thureoi. The palm tree, historically an emblem of the Phoenician city of Tyre, is a suitable enough symbol for a Levantine unit of any description. These are 15mm slide transfers from Veni Vidi Vici.

I vacillated a bit on skin tone as modern Arab skin tones vary quite a bit, but settled on trying to match Mahmud and Juma'a, both of whom are settled Bedouin I have had the privilege of working with over the years. 

1 comment:

  1. Excellent! I've not seen many attempts to depict the Arabs of the Seleucid army, this is a great interpretation!