See also:

- Luke Ueda-Sarson's alternative DBM early Ptolemaic list at

- Hellenistic fortified camps


Ptolemy II's felt-armoured cavalry


Author: Duncan Head


Synopsis: Allow some mercenary cavalry to be Cv (S)/Kn (I) with felt horse-armour.


Under discussion - numbers involved may not merit an upgrade at the element scale of the list.


See TNE message 7355 and responses



Add the following lines:


Only in Nubia under Ptolemy II, in 274-260 BC:

Upgrade Greek mercenary Regular Cv (O) to Reg Cv (S){DBM} or Reg Kn (I){DBMM} with front ranks on felt-caparisoned horses 0-2



The Alexandria-based Hellenistic writer Agatharchides of Knidos writes, in

his "On the Erythraean Sea":


For the war against the Aithiopians Ptolemy recruited 500 cavalrymen from Greece. To those who were to fight in the front ranks and to be the vanguard - they were a hundred in number - he assigned the following form of equipment. For he distributed to them and their horses garments of felt (stolas piletas), which those of that country (hoi kata ten choran; "the natives of the country" in Burstein) call kasas, that conceal the whole body except for the eyes.


(Translation Burstein p.52; frag.20, slightly modified by me.)


The passage relates to the "Aithiopian" war undertaken by Ptolemy II (282-246 BC) to defeat the Meroitic Kushite kingdom's opposition to the establishment of Egyptian elephant-hunting stations on the Red Sea coast, and the associated expansion of Egyptian influence in Nubia. The war probably took place, roughly, somewhen between 275 and 265 BC. I've chosen 274 rather than 275 as the start date to fit with an existing "step" in the published Ptolemaic list.


Ptolemy equipped one hundred Greek cavalry with stolas piletas, called kasas "in the country". Stole is quite a general word for clothing or equipment, sometimes translated "robe", but also used for military equipment. In this case it is clearly used for some sort of extensive robe and horse-caparison, covering "the whole body except for the eyes". Piletos - "quilted" in Burstein's translation - derives from pilos, "felt", and means "made of felt" according to LSJ. Kasas is the accusative plural of kases, a word that Xenophon uses for a Persian saddle-cloth and in the form kassos is found in Egyptian papyri of the Ptolemaic period. The word kasopoios, a maker of kasai, also occurs in the papyri. The LSJ translates kassos as "a thick garment".


That the kases was defensive equipment, rather than flowing robes intended as suitable desert clothing, is suggested by the fact that the fragment before this concerns Nubian archery and poisoned arrows; the felt caparisons were probably a response to the poisoned arrows. Secondly, while loose robes are a common response to desert sun, I've not come across another case of such covering being extended to horses! Thirdly, and perhaps most decisively, the most likely reason for limiting the kasai to the front ranks rather than issuing them to the whole unit was if they were defensive. The proportion, 100 out of 500, adopting this armour might suggest that one front rank out of five, or two out of ten, received the additional protection.


This usage of kasai appears to be Egyptian (see TNE message 7158 and subsequent discussion, or my forthcoming Slingshot article), rather than a Nubian word relating to the Ptolemaic adoption of a local defence. So what we have here is an example of an unusual Hellenistic response to specific local military conditions, a counter to poisoned arrows that might otherwise disable a cavalryman if they hit unprotected areas of either the rider or his horse (cf. Smaldone pp.50-52). Interestingly, it appears to pre-date the Seleucid adoption of full cataphract armour by 60-75 years.


While we have no information on whether the felt defences actually worked in practice, it seems reasonable to assume that they had some benefit against archery. However, only part of the formation represented by the element will be protected. Greek mercenary cavalry are normally Cv (O); giving them armoured horses would make them Cv (S) in DBM. But the definition of that type doesn't explicitly cater for cases where only the front ranks of the element has the additional protection - which is part of the reason why I suggest only an optional, not a compulsory, upgrade. In DBMM, the definition of Cv (S) is more restricted; details aren't relevant here but basically you need to have a bow. The alternatives seem to be either to assume that felt protection for a quarter of the horses makes too little difference to be represented, and stick to the same Cv (O) classification as before; or to treat these troops as poorly-armoured shock cavalry, Kn (I) in DBMM, as Persian javelin-armed cavalry on part-armoured horses have now become. In DBM and DBMM an element normally represents 200-250 cavalry; if one front rank of a 4-deep formation were protected, this would mean upgrading two elements. But if the two front ranks of an eight-deep formation are involved, only one element would be upgraded as all the felt-caparisoned horse would be concentrated in the front element of a two-element-deep formation. To complicate things, this only really works well in DBM 3.0, where a second rank of Ordinary cavalry can support a Superior cavalry front rank - not in DBM 3.1 or in DBMM. The numbers also assume that the Ptolemaic list is at "normal" scale; I suspect this is appropriate for campaigns in Nubia even if the large royal armies used for big battle like Raphia would require a reduced troop scale.



Thanks to David Brown who originally brought this to our attention and provided the Bassett article; and to all who commented on TNE, especially Luke Ueda-Sarson.


Bassett, Sherrylee R, The Death of Cyrus the Younger (Classical Quarterly NS. Vol. 49 No.2, 1999)


Burstein, Stanley M, Agatharchides of Cnidus: On the Erythraean Sea (Hakluyt Society, London, 1989)


Head, Duncan, "Ptolemy II's felt-armoured cavalry" - Slingshot, forthcoming.


LSJ - Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon; revised and augmented throughout by Sir Henry Stuart Jones with the assistance of Roderick McKenzie (Oxford. Clarendon Press. 1940); available online at the Perseus Project,


Smaldone, Joseph P, Warfare in the Sokoto Caliphate (Cambridge University Press, 1977)