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Greek military glossary

Glossary of ancient Greek military terms

This glossary offers an explanation of Greek (GR) and a few Persian (PE) terms and expressions associated with ancient Greek warfare. All Greek words have been transcribed in the Latin alphabet. Distinct meanings of the same word are indicated by numbers between brackets. Please note that some of the Persian terminology is derived from educated guesswork rather than hard evidence.

Last update: 10th of September 2000.


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    A | B | C | D | E | G | H | I | K | L | M | N | O | P | R | S | T | X | Z


    A


    Agèma (GR): ‘leading part’; elite unit.
    Agèma toon hypaspistoon (GR): 'leading part of the shieldbearers'; elite unit of Macedonian royal foot guard.
    Agrianos (GR): elite light infantryman.
    Agoogè (GR): Spartan upbringing.
    Aichmè (GR): javelin.
    Aichmophoros (GR): spearbearer.
    Akinakès (GR): Persian shortsword or dagger.
    Akontion (GR): missile; projectile.
    Akontistès (GR): javelineer.
    Akrobolos (GR): skirmisher.
    Akropolis (GR): citadel; fortified part of a city.
    Alala (GR): warcry.
    Alalazoo (GR): to raise a battle cry.
    Amphippos (GR): cavalryman with two mounts.
    Amrtaka (PE): ‘Immortals’; Persian royal foot guards.
    Anabasis (GR): march inland.
    Anaklèsis (GR): retreat; withdrawal.
    Anaklètikon (GR): signal to retreat.
    Anastrophè (GR): (1) back-turn; (2) wheeling manoeuvre.
    Anax (GR): king.
    Andreia (GR): courage.
    Antilabè (GR): grip of a shield.
    Aporthètos (GR): unconquered; unplundered.
    Aretè (GR): virtue; valour; martial distinction.
    Argyraspis (GR): ‘silvershield’; title of Macedonian infantry guard which is probably identical with the hypaspistai (GR).
    Arithmos (GR): ‘number’; military unit.
    Arstibara (PE): ‘spearbearers’; Persian guardsmen.
    Asapatish (PE): cavalry commander.
    Askooma (GR): leather sleeve surrounding lowest oar to prevent the ship from taking water.
    Aspidiskè (GR): small shield.
    Aspis (GR): shield.
    Aspis koilè (GR): ‘hollow shield’; concave hoplite shield.
    Asthetairos (GR): ‘city companion’; title borne by Macedonian infantryman, possibly an alternative name for the pezhetairoi (GR) from the northern districts of the kingdom.
    Asthippos (GR): ‘city cavalryman’; title borne by some Macedonian mounted troops.
    Athanatoi (GR): ‘immortals’; nickname of the infantry guard corps of the Persian king which was always kept at its establishment strength of 10.000 men by direct substitution of losses among its complement.
    Aulètès (GR): flute-player.
    Auloi (GR): double reed-flutes.
    Automolos (GR): deserter.
    Axinè (GR): battle-axe.

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    B


    Baivarabam (PE): 'unit of ten thousand'; Persian military unit cf Greek term myrias.
    Baivarapatish (PE): 'commander of ten thousand'; senior Persian officer.
    Bandaka (PE): 'bondsmen' or 'retainers'.
    Basileus (GR): king.
    Basilikè ilè (GR): ‘royal wing’; Macedonian royal guard cavalry unit.
    Basilikos (GR): royal.
    Belos (GR): missile

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    C


    Chalkaspis (GR): bronze shield.
    Cheir (GR): arm protector.
    Chiliarchia (GR): ‘unit of thousand’; military unit.
    Chiliarchès (GR): ‘commander of thousand’; officer.
    Chiliostys (GR): ‘unit of thousand’; military unit.
    Chitoon (GR): tunic.
    Chlamys (GR): cloak.

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    D


    Dathabam (PE):'unit of ten'; squad.
    Dathapatish (PE): 'commander of ten'; squad leader.
    Dekania (GR): ‘unit of ten’; file; squad.
    Dekarchos (GR): ‘leader of ten’; junior officer; squad leader.
    Dekas (GR): 'unit of ten'; squad.
    Diastèma (GR): interval.
    Diekplous (GR): naval manoeuvre to break an enemy’s line.
    Dilochia (GR): double-file.
    Dilochitès (GR): double-file leader; junior officer.
    Dimoiria (GR): ‘two quarters’; half-file.
    Dimoirites (GR): half-file leader; NCO.
    Dipèchiakè (GR): space of 2 cubits separating two tholepins in a file of oarsmen, probably some 98cm.
    Doration (GR): light spear.
    Dory (GR): spear.
    Dorydrepanon (GR): shafted sickle.
    Doryphoros (GR): (1) spearman; (2) guard.
    Doulos (GR): slave.
    Drepanèphoros (GR): scythed chariot.
    Drepanon (GR): battle-scythe.
    Dromos (GR): charge on the run.

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    E


    Eirènè (GR): peace.
    Ekdromos (GR): 'out runner'; hoplite leaving the phalanx (GR) formation to chase light troops.
    Ektatos (GR): ‘someone outside the battle formation’; supernumerary officer or NCO.
    Ektaxis (GR): battle order.
    Elephantos (GR): elephant.
    Embolon (GR): (1) wedge formation; (2) ship’s beak or ram.
    Encheiridion (GR): dagger.
    Enoomotia (GR): ‘sworn band’; military unit.
    Enoomotarchès (GR): commander of an enoomotia (GR); junior officer.
    Eparchos (GR): officer.
    Epi dory klinai (GR): ‘face to the spear-side’; right-face.
    Epibatès (GR): marine.
    Epikouros (GR): auxiliary.
    Epilektos (GR): picked soldier.
    Epimelètès (GR): officer.
    Epistatès (GR): rear-ranker.
    Epitagma (GR): supporting force.
    Es cheiras (GR): ‘at grips’; in close combat.
    Euzonos (GR): light infantryman .
    Exelasis (GR): cavalry charge.
    Exeligmos (GR): counter-march.
    Exeligmos Lakoonikos (GR): ‘Laconian counter-march’; manoeuvre in which the file-closer does an about-face on the spot and the file-leader leads his men past the file-closer.
    Exeligmos Makedonikos (GR): ‘Macedonian counter-march’; manoeuvre in which the file-leader does an about-face on the spot and the rear-rankers counter-march to form up behind him.
    Exeligmos Persikos (GR): ‘Persian counter-march’; manoeuvre in which the front-half and rear-half both counter-march to form up in a mirror-image of their original disposition and the battle-order remains in the same position.
    Exoomis (GR): sleeveless tunic fastened at the shoulders.

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    G


    Gastraphetès (GR): ‘belly bow’; heavy crossbow/light catapult.
    Gerrhon (GR): wicker shield.
    Gorytos (GR): (1) quiver; (2) combined bowcase and quiver.
    Grosphomachos (GR): skirmisher equipped with javelins.
    Grosphos (GR): javelin.
    Gymnès (GR): light-armed skirmisher.

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    H


    Halysidootos (GR): mail coat.
    Hamippos (GR): infantry skirmisher fighting mixed with the cavalry.
    Harmostès (GR): Spartan governor.
    Harpagè (GR): looting; plundering.
    Hazarapatish (PE): ‘commander of a thousand’; Persian officer.
    Hèlootès (GR): helot; serf from the subjugated population of the Spartan state.
    Hèmilochion (GR): half-file.
    Hèmilochitès (GR): half-file-leader; NCO.
    Hèmithoorakion (GR): ‘half-armour’; body armour covering the breast only.
    Hetarieia (GR): company; (1) aristocratic warrior band; (2) dining association.
    Hetairos (GR): companion; (1) aristocratic warrior; (2) Macedonian heavy cavalryman.
    Hègemoon (GR): commander.
    Hekatontarchia (GR): ‘unit of hundred’; military unit; company.
    Hekatontarchès (GR): ‘commander of hundred’; officer.
    Helepolis (GR): siege tower.
    Hieros lochos (GR): ‘Sacred band’; Theban elite formation composed of 150 couples of male lovers.
    Hippakontistès (GR): mounted javelinman.
    Hipparchia (GR): cavalry regiment.
    Hippeus (GR): ‘horseman’ or ‘knight’: (1) cavalryman; (2) elite infantryman; title of picked Spartan hoplite.
    Hippikè (GR): cavalry.
    Hippikon (GR): cavalry.
    Hippos (GR): horse.
    Hippotoxotès (GR): horse archer.
    Holosidèros (GR): (1) heavily armoured soldier; (2) cataphract horseman.
    Homoios (GR): ‘peer’; Spartan enjoying full citizenship.
    Homozygos (GR): soldier from the same rank.
    Hoplitès (GR): heavy armed soldier; hoplite.
    Hoplitikon (GR): heavy armed part of an army.
    Hoplomachia (GR): weapons drill.
    Hoplomachos (GR): weapons or drill instructor.
    Hoplon (GR): weapon, both offensive and defensive; note this word is often used in modern literature as a technical term for the hoplite shield when in fact this was by no means the case in Antiquity.
    Hyparchos (GR): officer.
    Hypaspistès (GR): ‘shield-bearer’; (1) Macedonian infantry guard; (2) military servant.
    Hypaspistès basilikos (GR): ‘royal shield-bearer’; elite soldier among the Macedonian infantry guard.
    Hyperèsia (GR): 'auxiliary group'; naval crew in addition to the rowers and captain such as marines and deck hands.
    Hypèretès (GR): officer.
    Hypomeioon (GR): 'inferior'; second grade citizen; Spartan lacking full rights as homoios but still subject to military service obligation.
    Hypotaxis (GR): array behind main battle line.
    Hypozygion (GR): pack animal.
    Hyssos (GR): spear; javelin.

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    I


    Ilarchès (GR): ‘wing commander’; cavalry officer.
    Ilè (GR): ‘wing’; military unit.
    Ilè basilikè (GR): 'royal squadron'; elite unit of Macedonian hetairoi (GR) cavalry, possibly of larger size than other ilai (GR).
    Interscalmium (LA): space between two tholes in oared ship.

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    K


    Kakos (GR): coward.
    Kara (PE): host; army.
    Karda (PE): warlike spirit.
    Kardaka (PE): Kurdish soldier.
    Kardax (GR): either 'warrior' or 'household soldier'; Persian mercenary soldier.
    Katalogos (GR): mustering list.
    Katapaltès (GR): ‘shield smasher’; artillery piece.
    Katapeltaphetès (GR): (1) artilleryman; (2) artillery instructor.
    Kataphraktès (GR): suit of armour.
    Kataphraktos (GR): armoured soldier.
    Kataskopos (GR): scout.
    Katoikia (GR): military colony.
    Katoikos (GR): fief holder; military settler; soldier granted land to support himself.
    Kausia (GR): Macedonian hat.
    Keleusthès (GR): naval officer responsible for setting and maintaining the rowing speed.
    Keras (GR): wing.
    Kèryx (GR): herald.
    Kestrosphendonè (GR): special type of bolt used by slingers as a short range missile.
    Klaros (GR): fief; tract of land.
    Klèros (GR): fief; tract of land.
    Klèrouchos (GR): fief holder; military settler; soldier granted land for his upkeep.
    Klisis (GR): right/left-face.
    Knèmis (GR): greave.
    Koilè phalanx (GR): concave battle-formation.
    Koilembolos (GR): hollow wedge formation.
    Koinon (GR): association; unit.
    Kontophoros (GR): spearman.
    Kontos (GR): spear; pike.
    Kopis (GR): slashing sword; falchion.
    Kopidion (GR): slashing knife.
    Kranos (GR): helmet.
    Krypteia (GR): ‘secret service’; Spartan death squad for keeping the helots in check.
    Kryptès (GR): 'secret agent'; Spartan who roamed covertly through the territory to look for signs of possible helot rebelliousness.
    Kybernètès (GR): helmsman.
    Kyrtè phalanx (GR): convex battle-order.

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    L


    Lakedaimoon (GR): name of Spartan state.
    Lambda (GR): Greek letter ‘L’ for Lakedaimoon painted on front of the Spartan shields.
    Lineothoorax (GR): linen corselet.
    Lithobolos (GR): ‘stonethrower’; torsion gun.
    Lochagos (GR): (1) unit commander; (2) file leader.
    Lochos (GR): (1) military unit; (2) file of men.
    Logas (GR): picked soldier.
    Lonchè (GR): spear; javelin.
    Lonchophoros (GR): spearman; javelineer.

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    M


    Machaira (GR): sword.
    Machairion (GR): small falchion.
    Machairophoros (GR): swordsman.
    Machè (GR): fight; battle.
    Machimos (GR): indigenous Egyptian soldier.
    Mechanè (GR): siege engine.
    Melas zoomos (GR): ‘black soup’; infamous Spartan blood broth.
    Mèlophoros (GR): ‘apple bearer’; a Persian guard using a round counterweight on the spear.
    Meros (GR): part; subdivision; unit.
    Metabolè (GR): about-face.
    Metaichmion (GR): ‘no-mans land’; space separating two armies.
    Metalepsis (GR): change of grip on a spear.
    Metoopon (GR): front of a battle-line.
    Mistharchidès (GR): mercenary.
    Misthios (GR): soldier serving for pay; mercenary.
    Misthophoros (GR): mercenary.
    Misthos (GR): pay.
    Mitrè (GR): abdominal armour.
    Monomachia (GR): single combat.
    Mora (GR): Spartan military unit.
    Myrias (GR): ‘ten thousand’; myriad; Persian military unit.

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    N


    Nauarchos (GR): admiral.
    Naumachia (GR): sea battle.
    Naus (GR): ship.
    Nautès (GR): sailor.
    Nautikon (GR): fleet; navy.
    Neodamoodès (GR): newly enfranchised Spartan.
    Nikè (GR): victory.
    Nyktophylax (GR): night guard.

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    O


    Oothismos aspidoon (GR): ‘shield shoving’ or ‘shield pushing’; the sort of rugby scrummage which followed the clash of two phalanges (GR) when neither of them broke under the first charge.
    Ouragos (GR): file closer.
    Ouriachos (GR): butt-spike.
    Oxybelès (GR): catapult.

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    P


    Paian (GR): battle song.
    Pais basilikos (GR): royal page.
    Palton (GR): javelin.
    Panoplia (GR): war-gear; complete suit of military equipment.
    Paragoogè (GR): march in line.
    Paramèridion (GR): (1) side-arm; (2) thigh armour.
    Parapleuridion (GR): armoured horse trapping.
    Parastatès (GR): ranker.
    Parazoonion (GR): shortsword; dagger.
    Paredros (GR): marine protecting helmsman.
    Parexeiresia (GR): outrigger.
    Parmè (GR): buckler; round shield.
    Pèdalia (GR): pair of rudders.
    Peltarion (GR): light shield.
    Peltastès (GR): shieldbearing javelineer.
    Peltastikon (GR): unit of peltastai (GR).
    Peltè (GR): light shield.
    Peltophoros (GR): 'shieldbearer'; soldier armed with light shield.
    Pelekophoros (GR): axe-man.
    Pelekys (GR): battle-axe or warhammer.
    Pempas (GR): 'unit of five'; squad.
    Pentèkontoros (GR): galley with fifty oarsmen on one level.
    Pentèkostys (GR): ‘unit of fifty’; military unit.
    Pentèrès (GR): quinquereme; oared warship rowed by five oarsmen on either two or three levels.
    Perikephalaios (GR): helmet.
    Perioikos (GR): ‘one living about’; ally.
    Periplous (GR): naval encircling manoeuvre.
    Petasos (GR): hat.
    Petrobolos (GR): ‘stonethrower’; torsion gun.
    Pezhetairos (GR): ‘foot companion’; Macedonian heavy infantryman.
    Pezikon (GR): infantry.
    Pezomachos (GR): infantryman.
    Pezon (GR): infantry.
    Pezos (GR): foot soldier; infantryman.
    Pezakontistès (GR): infantry skirmisher; javelineer.
    Phalangitès (GR): phalangite; infantryman in Macedonian-type phalanx (GR).
    Phalanx (GR): ‘stick’; (1) small group of promachoi; (2) close-order military formation of heavy infantrymen equipped with thrusting spears and shields.
    Pharsalikè ilè (GR): elite Thessalian cavalry unit from Pharsalia.
    Pheidition (GR): Spartan military mess association.
    Phygè (GR): flight.
    Phylax (GR): guard; sentry.
    Phylè (GR): tribe.
    Pilos (GR): (1) felt cap; (2) metal helmet shaped like a pilos (GR).
    Plagiophylax (GR): flank guard.
    Plèrooma (GR): ship's crew.
    Ploion (GR): ship.
    Ploion makron (GR): longship; warship.
    Polemarchos (GR): senior officer.
    Polemos (GR): war; battle.
    Polemikon (GR): trumpet signal for the charge.
    Polemios (GR): enemy.
    Polemistès (GR): warrior; soldier.
    Poliorketès (GR): besieger.
    Poliorkia (GR): siege.
    Polis (GR): city state.
    Politès (GR): citizen; man enjoying citizenship.
    Polyandreion (GR): mass grave.
    Porpax (GR): arm-band of a shield.
    Proknèmis (GR): greave.
    Prodomata (GR): pay in advance.
    Prodromos (GR): ‘someone who has run ahead’; (1) scout ; (2) Macedonian light cavalryman.
    Promachos (GR): ‘front fighter’; heavy armed soldier fighting ahead of the light armed missile troops.
    Prometoopidion (GR): chamfron; horse armour for protection of the head.
    Pronomè (GR): foraging expedition.
    Prootostatès (GR): front-ranker.
    Proptoosis (GR): levelling of spears to the front of the battle-line.
    Prosentaxis (GR): flank position.
    Protaxis (GR): skirmishing line; covering force.
    Psilos (GR): light equipped soldier; skirmisher.
    Pteryges (GR): ‘wings’; linen or leather strips used to decorate or protect the upper arms and lower body.
    Pyknosis (GR): close-order formation.
    Pylè (GR): gate.
    Pylooros (GR): gate keeper.
    Pyrgos (GR): tower.

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    R


    Rhipsaspia (GR): the discarding of the shield; common practice for those wishing to leave the fighting in a hurry.
    Rhomphaia (GR): slashing blade; falchion.
    Rhoomaios (GR): Roman.

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    S


    Sagaris (GR): battle-axe.
    Salpinktès (GR): trumpeter.
    Salpinx (GR): trumpet.
    Sarissa (GR): pike; Macedonian heavy thrusting spear used by both mounted troops and infantry.
    Sarissophoros (GR): ‘pikeman’; (1) soldier armed with a sarissa (GR); (2) alternative title for Macedonian prodromos (GR).
    Saurootèr (GR): butt-spike.
    Schèma (GR): disposition; formation.
    Sèma (GR): standard.
    Sèmeiophoros (GR): standard-bearer.
    Sitarchia (GR): ration allowance.
    Sitèresion (GR): ration allowance.
    Skène (GR): tent; barracks building.
    Skeuophoros (GR): baggage-carrier; servant.
    Skolops (GR): palisade stake.
    Skytale (GR): ‘stick’; (1) broken half of a stick used to verify the origin of a message; (2)Spartan ‘dogtags’ made of a wooden identification sign.
    Skytalis (GR): ‘little stick’; Spartan ‘dogtags’ made of a wooden identification sign.
    Soomatophylax (GR): ‘body guard’; (1) elite Macedonian infantry guard; (2) senior Macedonian general.
    Soomatophylax basilikos (GR): ‘royal bodyguard’; elite Macedonian infantry guard soldier.
    Spara (PE): shield.
    Sparabara (PE): ‘shield-bearer’; Persian soldier.
    Spartiatès (GR): Spartan member of syssition entitled to full citizen rights.
    Speira (GR): military unit.
    Sphagia (GR): pre-battle sacrifice.
    Sphendonetès (GR): slinger.
    Spolas (GR): type of soft body armour; either a leather or linen corselet or a thickly woven tunic.
    Stasis (GR): civil strife; civil war.
    Stephanos (GR): (1) garland; (2) helmet crest.
    Stichos (GR): (1) row; (2) file.
    Stoma (GR): front of a formation.
    Stratègika (GR): generalship.
    Stratègion (LA): commander's tent.
    Stratègos (GR): general; commander.
    Strateuma (GR): military campaign.
    Strateusis (GR): military campaign.
    Stratia (GR): army.
    Stratiootès (GR): soldier.
    Stratiootika (GR): (1) military affairs; (2) military service.
    Stratopedeusis (GR): naval formation.
    Stratopedon (GR): (1) army; (2) military camp.
    Styrax (GR): butt-spike.
    Syllochismos (GR): deployment by file.
    Symmachia (GR): alliance.
    Symmachos (GR): ally.
    Synaspismos (GR): locked shields formation.
    Syngenès (GR): ‘relative’; Persian guard cavalryman.
    Synoomotia (GR): file; squad.
    Syntagma (GR): ‘building block’; military unit; battalion.
    Syntagmatarchès (GR): batallion commander.
    Synthèmaton (GR): watchword.
    Syskènion (GR): ‘tent party’; Spartan military mess association.
    Syskènios (GR): ‘tent partner’; Spartan member of military mess association.
    Syssition (GR): ‘dining group’; Spartan military mess association.
    Syssitios (GR): ‘dining companion’; Spartan member of military mess association.
    Systasis (GR): light infantry platoon.
    Syzeuxis (GR): parallel formation.

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    T


    Tagma (GR): military unit.
    Tagos (GR): Thessalian commander-in-chief.
    Taka (PE): light shield.
    Takabara (PE): ‘shield-bearers’; Persian peltastès (GR).
    Taphros (GR): ditch; moat.
    Tattoo (GR): to array; to deploy.
    Taxis (GR): (1) battle order; (2) military unit; regiment.
    Taxiarchès (GR): officer.
    Taxiarchos (GR): officer.
    Teichos (GR): wall.
    Telamoon (GR): carrying strap.
    Telos (GR): military unit.
    Tetrarchia (GR): unit of four files.
    Tetrarchès (GR): commander of four files.
    Thalamax (GR): rower on lowest rowing level of a galley; alternative term for thalamios (GR).
    Thalamios (GR): oarsman on lowest level of a trireme.
    Thanvabara (PE): archers; bowmen.
    Thèrarchia (GR): elephant unit
    Thoorakitès (GR): soldier wearing body armour.
    Thoorax (GR): body armour.
    Thranitès (GR): upper level rower on a trireme.
    Thyreos (GR): shield.
    Thyreophoros (GR): ‘shield-bearer’; skirmisher equipped with large shield.
    Tiara (GR): characteristic Persian headgear; hood.
    Toxeuma (GR): missile; projectile.
    Toxon (GR): bow.
    Toxotès (GR): archer.
    Tresantès (GR): coward.
    Triakas (GR): military unit.
    Triakontoros (GR): thirty oared war ship.
    Triboon (GR): Spartan cloak.
    Trièrarchos (GR): (1) captain commanding a trireme; (2) wealthy citizen providing a trireme at his cost.
    Trièraulès (GR): flute player governing strike rate of oarsmen.
    Trièrès (GR): trireme; oared warship with three levels of rowers.
    Tropaion (GR): trophy; commemorative victory sign erected to mark the turning of the tide of battle.

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    X


    Xenagia (GR): 'foreign legion'; military unit.
    Xenagos (GR): mercenary commander.
    Xenos (GR): ‘foreigner’; mercenary.
    Xiphidion (GR): (1) shortsword; (2) dagger.
    Xiphos (GR): sword.
    Xyelè (GR): curved dagger; sickle.
    Xyston (GR): spear.
    Xystophoros (GR): spearman.

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    Z


    Zeugitès (GR): ‘owner of span of oxen’; citizen owning enough to serve as a hoplite.
    Zooiarchos (GR): elephant commander.
    Zygios (GR): middle level oarsman on a trireme.
    Zygon (GR): rank.

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    This page was composed by Sander van Dorst.

    Copyright by S. van Dorst 2000.