published on 28 April 2011
The Hypaspists ('shieldbearers') were the elite infantry force of Alexander the Great's army. It is widely believed that they utilised the traditional panoply and weapons of the Greek hoplite - thorax or linothorax, greaves, the dory (spear), and xiphos (shortsword). Their name is derived from the 'aspis', the hoplite shield they carried. In this they differed from the line infantry of Alexander's army, the phalangites, who used a smaller shield and carried a 16-18 foot pike into battle - but controversy exists as to whether this difference in equipment actually occurred.
Hypaspists were selected for their fitness, strength and courage. Three thousand Hypaspists accompanied Alexander's army when it crossed the Hellespont into Asia Minor. They were highly valued in sieges, close-combat, and missions requiring physical endurance. They were a versatile infantry force - ancient historians repeatedly emphasise their speed and mobility, even in rough terrain.
A portion of the Hypaspists served in the King's Royal Guard, and veteran soldiers were formed into the argyraspids (silver shields). In battle, the hypaspists were stationed between the regular infantry and the cavalry, and they often followed the cavalry into any breach they had created. They also provided guards for royal banquets and acted as a police force.
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