Persian Warfare > Achaemenid Military Units

Achaemenid Military Units


The Achaemenid Persian Empire, which existed from approximately 550 to 330 BCE, boasted a highly organized and diverse military. The military units of the Achaemenid army were drawn from the vast expanse of the empire, encompassing various ethnic groups and regions. Here’s a detailed overview of the key military units that composed the Achaemenid armed forces:

1. Immortals

  1. Description:

    • The Immortals were an elite unit of 10,000 soldiers, renowned for their discipline and effectiveness in battle.
    • The name "Immortals" likely comes from their constant number; when a soldier was killed or incapacitated, he was immediately replaced, maintaining the unit’s strength.
  2. Equipment:

    • Immortals were heavily armed, typically carrying spears, short swords or daggers, wicker shields, and bows.
    • They wore scale armor and tiaras (soft, felt caps) for protection.
  3. Role:

    • They served as the personal guard of the Persian king and were a key strike force in battles.
    • Their presence was intended to intimidate and demonstrate the power of the Achaemenid Empire.

2. Sparabara

  1. Description:

    • The Sparabara were the front-line infantry, acting as the first line of defense in battle formations.
    • Their name means "shield-bearers," reflecting their primary role in creating a defensive barrier.
  2. Equipment:

    • Sparabara carried large rectangular wicker shields (sparas) and long spears.
    • They wore lighter armor, such as padded or quilted garments, for increased mobility.
  3. Role:

    • Their primary function was to form a shield wall to protect the archers and other units behind them.
    • They provided a solid defense and absorbed the initial impact of enemy attacks.

3. Archers

  1. Description:

    • Persian archers were a significant component of the Achaemenid army, known for their skill and accuracy.
    • Archers were drawn from various parts of the empire, including regions known for their archery traditions.
  2. Equipment:

    • They used composite bows, which were powerful and effective at long ranges.
    • Archers often carried short swords or daggers for close combat.
  3. Role:

    • Archers provided long-range support, softening enemy formations before the infantry engaged.
    • They were crucial in the Persian tactic of using missile troops to weaken the opposition.

4. Cavalry

  1. Description:

    • The cavalry was a versatile and highly mobile component of the Achaemenid military, including light and heavy cavalry units.
    • Persian cavalry often included units from different ethnic groups, such as Median, Bactrian, and Scythian horsemen.
  2. Equipment:

    • Light cavalry typically carried bows, spears, and light armor for speed and maneuverability.
    • Heavy cavalry, including units like the Cataphracts, were heavily armored and used lances and swords.
  3. Role:

    • Cavalry units were used for flanking maneuvers, reconnaissance, and chasing down fleeing enemies.
    • They provided flexibility and speed, essential for the empire’s vast and diverse battlefield requirements.

5. Chariots

  1. Description:

    • War chariots were used in the earlier periods of the Achaemenid Empire, particularly by high-ranking nobles and commanders.
    • The use of chariots declined over time as cavalry became more dominant.
  2. Equipment:

    • Chariots were typically drawn by two or four horses and carried a driver and one or more warriors armed with bows or javelins.
    • They were often equipped with scythed wheels designed to cut through enemy ranks.
  3. Role:

    • Chariots were used for shock tactics, breaking enemy lines, and providing a platform for archers to shoot from a mobile and elevated position.
    • They symbolized prestige and power within the Persian military hierarchy.

6. Cardaces

  1. Description:

    • The Cardaces were infantry troops, often considered as light to medium infantry.
    • They were recruited from various provinces and were a diverse group ethnically.
  2. Equipment:

    • They typically carried spears, shields, and swords or daggers.
    • Armor varied but generally included lighter protection to maintain mobility.
  3. Role:

    • Cardaces served as a flexible infantry force, providing support and reinforcing other units.
    • They were used to fill gaps in the line, hold positions, and engage in both skirmishing and mainline combat.

7. Navy

  1. Description:

    • The Persian navy was a crucial part of the military, especially for campaigns involving the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean.
    • It included ships and crews from various coastal regions of the empire, such as Phoenicia, Egypt, and Ionia.
  2. Equipment:

    • The navy utilized triremes and other warships equipped with bronze rams for naval combat.
    • Crews were armed with bows, spears, and boarding equipment for close-quarters fighting.
  3. Role:

    • The navy provided transport for troops, protected supply lines, and engaged enemy fleets.
    • It was instrumental in the Persian strategy of projecting power across the sea and supporting land campaigns.


The Achaemenid Persian military was a highly organized and diverse force, leveraging the vast resources and populations of the empire. Each unit, from the elite Immortals to the versatile cavalry and specialized navy, played a crucial role in maintaining the empire's dominance and executing its military campaigns. The strategic use of these varied units allowed the Achaemenid Empire to adapt to different combat scenarios and effectively manage its expansive territories.

Persian Warfare

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