Peltasts on the Tomb of Payava (circa 360 BC), around the time of Iphicrates. They are equipped with the exomis, the pilos with crest and cheekpiece, and the round pelte shield, and are depicted thrusting overarm with a long spear.[1][2]
Peltasts on the Tomb of Payava (circa 360 BC), around the time of Iphicrates. They are equipped with the exomis, the pilos with crest and cheekpiece, and the round pelte shield, and are depicted thrusting overarm with a long spear.[1][2]

Iphicrates (Greek: Ιφικράτης; c. 418 BC – c. 353 BC) was an Athenian general, who flourished in the earlier half of the 4th century BC. He is credited with important infantry reforms that revolutionized ancient Greek warfare by regularizing light-armed peltasts.[3]

Cornelius Nepos wrote that Iphicrates was such a leader, that he was not only comparable to the first commanders of his own time, but no one even of the older generals could be set above him. He had a deep knowledge of military tactics, he often had the command of armies and he never miscarried in an undertaking by his own fault. He was always eminent for invention and excellence that he not only introduced much that was new into the military art, but made many improvements in what existed before.[4]


The son of a shoemaker of the deme of Rhamnous,[5] he was later married to the daughter of the Thracian King Cotys and had a son with her.[3] His son was named Menestheus (Μενεσθεύς), after the legendary King of Athens during the Trojan War.[3] Iphicrates' other son, who was also called Iphicrates, was sent as the Athenian ambassador to the Persian court sometime before 335 BC. He was captured by Alexander the Great along with the Persian court and other Greek ambassadors in the aftermath of the Battle of Issus. Alexander treating him with special honour both from friendship to the city of Athens and from recollection of his father's glory, when he died from an unknown disease Alexander paid for the transportation of his body to his homeland.[6][7]

When Eurydice I of Macedon asked Iphicrates (the elder) to protect her sons after the death of Amyntas III of Macedon, he took them under his protection.[8]

Plutarch wrote that Iphicrates thought that the mercenary soldier might well be fond of wealth and fond of pleasure, in order that his quest for the means to gratify his desires might lead him to fight with greater recklessness.[9][10]

Iphicratean reforms

He owes his fame as much to the improvements he made in the equipment of the peltasts or light-armed mercenaries (named for their small pelte shield) as to his military successes. Historians have debated about just what kind of "peltasts" were affected by his reforms; one of the most popular positions is that he improved the performance of the Greek skirmishers so that they would be able to engage in prolonged hand-to-hand fighting as part of the main battle line, while another strong opinion posits that he worked his changes upon the mercenary hoplites that were an important factor in late 5th and early 4th century B.C. Greek land warfare.

A third possibility is that his reforms were limited to hoplites serving as marines on board ships of the Athenian navy.[11]

He also, made soldiers' boots that were easy to untie and light. These boots called afterwards, from his name, Iphicratids (Greek: Ἰφικρατίδες).[12][13][14]

Before Iphicrates, the infantry soldiers used very large shields, short spears and small swords, while Iphicrates introduced the smaller and lighter pelte shields, which helped them be more active in movements and encounters, doubled the length of the spears and made the swords longer. In addition, he gave them linen Cuirasses instead of the bronze armor, this made the soldiers more active because they had an equipment which would equally protect the body and be light.[4] By these changes he greatly increased the rapidity of their movements, the longer weapons, combined with the lighter armor and shield, helped his troops to take a more aggressive approach in tactical situations.

He also paid special attention to discipline, drill and maneuver. Cornelius Nepos mentions that he commanded the army with so much strictness that no other troops in Greece were ever better disciplined or more obedient to the orders of their leader than Iphicrates troops.[15]

The Iphicratean reforms are considered to have been one of the leading influences on Philip II of Macedon, when he created the sarissa-armed Macedonian phalanx. His son, Alexander the Great, used this new infantry formation in his many conquests.[16]

Corinthian War

When Iphicrates invaded the territory of Phlius, the men from the city came out against him in an unguarded way, but Iphicrates had set an ambush and his troops killed many of them.[17]

Iphicrates and his troops invaded many districts of Arcadia, they plundered and they even made attacks upon the walled towns, but the hoplites of the Arcadians did not come out from their walls to meet them because they were scared of the Iphicrates peltasts.[18]

With his troops Iphicrates dealt the Spartans a heavy blow in 392/390 BC by almost annihilating a mora (a battalion of about 600 men) of their famous hoplites at the Battle of Lechaeum near Corinth. Following up success, he took city after city for the Athenians during the Corinthian War; but in consequence of a quarrel with the Argives he was transferred from Corinth to the Hellespont, where he was equally successful.

Thrace - Seuthes

After the Peace of Antalcidas (387 BC) he assisted Seuthes, king of Thracian Odrysae, who was an ally of the Athenians,[15] to recover his kingdom, and fought against Cotys, with whom, however, he subsequently concluded an alliance.

Egyptian campaign

Iphicrates was part of the Achaemenid campaign of Pharnabazus II against Egypt in 373 BC.
Iphicrates was part of the Achaemenid campaign of Pharnabazus II against Egypt in 373 BC.

In about 378 BC, he was sent with a force of mercenaries to assist the Persians to reconquer Egypt, but a dispute with Pharnabazus led to the failure of the expedition. On his return to Athens he commanded an expedition in 373 BC for the relief of Corcyra, which was besieged by the Lacedaemonians.

Thrace - Cotys

After the peace of 371 BC, Iphicrates returned to Thrace and somewhat tarnished his fame by siding with his father-in-law Cotys in a war against Athens for the possession of the entire Thracian Chersonese. Iphicrates, however, refused to besiege the Athenian strongholds and fled to Antissa.[19]

Social War

The Athenians soon pardoned him and gave him a joint command in the Social War against some of their allies from the second Athenian Empire. He and two of his colleagues were impeached by Chares, the fourth commander, because they had refused to give battle during a violent storm.

Iphicrates was acquitted but sentenced to pay a heavy fine. Afterwards, he remained at Athens until his death in about 353 BC (although according to some he retired to Thrace).


  2. ^ The Numismatic Chronicle. Royal Numismatic Society. 2005. p. 83.
  3. ^ a b c Sears, Matthew A. (March 2013). Athens, Thrace, and the Shaping of Athenian Leadership. Cambridge University Press. p. 65. ISBN 978-1107030534.
  4. ^ a b Cornelius Nepos: Life of Iphicrates, § 1
  5. ^ del Hoyo Toni, Ñaco (December 2017). War, Warlords, and Interstate Relations in the Ancient Mediterranean, Series: Impact of Empire, Volume: 28. BRILL. p. 118. ISBN 9789004354050.
  6. ^ Habicht 1998, p. 38.
  7. ^ Arrian, Anabasis, 2.15.4
  8. ^ Cornelius Nepos: Life of Iphicrates, § 3
  9. ^ Plutarch, Galba, Gal.1.1 - GR
  10. ^ Plutarch, Galba, Gal.1.1 - EN
  11. ^ Ueda-Sarson, Luke, The Evolution of Hellenistic Infantry, Part 1: The Reforms of Iphikrates
  12. ^ Schachter, Albert (May 2016). Boiotia in Antiquity: Selected Papers. Cambridge University Press. p. 262. ISBN 978-1107053243.
  13. ^ "Diodorus Siculus, Library, 15.44.3". Archived from the original on 2018-06-12. Retrieved 2018-06-09.
  14. ^ A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890) William Smith, LLD, William Wayte, G. E. Marindin, Ed., calceus
  15. ^ a b Cornelius Nepos: Life of Iphicrates, § 2
  16. ^ Mattew, C. (2015) An Invincible Beast: Understanding the Hellenistic Pike Phalanx in Action, Pen and Sword. p. 119
  17. ^ Xenophon, Hellenika, 4.4.15
  18. ^ Xenophon, Hellenika, 4.4.16
  19. ^ Demosthenes, Against Aristocrates