Kardakes or Cardaces
AtG Designer's notes by Jeff Jonas

“There was one battle where a stationary line [of infantry] was broken by cavalry, and therefore no question of a gap arises; Alexander’s charge at Issus. Opposed to him were the Persian archers, and behind them the Persian troops called the Cardaces. The Cardaces are supposed to be an attempt by the Persians to form a professional infantry, but even if this be the case nobody knows how they were armed; conceivably they were peltasts, and the Persian horse at Cunaxa had already ridden through peltasts. But even if they were hoplites, there is no question of Alexander charging an unbroken spear line, for he drove the archers back onto them and this must have thrown them into confusion.”
W.W. Tarn Hellenistic Military and Naval Developments, page 65

 “Darius meanwhile was deploying his infantry behind a screen of cavalry and light infantry. In the center he placed his best infantry, the Greek mercenaries, perhaps 20,000 in number since 14,000 escaped from the battle.  (2000 escaped with Darius, and two groups of 8000 and 4000 escaped independently).  On either side of them the Cardaces, supposedly heavy infantry but, as they were screened by archers, probably light armed troops.”
J.R. Hamilton Alexander the Great, page 68-69

“The infantry were Greek mercenaries, flanked on each side by Persian ‘Cardaces’, equipped like the mercenaries but having also bow and arrows. They were in an unusually deep phalanx.” 
N.G. L. Hammond,  The Genius of Alexander the Great, page 89

“There has been some debate over the armament of the Kardakes when they were called out to fight at Issos, since an eyewitness, Ptolemy (quoted by Arrian) calls them hoplites, Kallisthenes (in Polybios) peltasts. Most modern scholars deduce from this that they were an attempt to produce a native Persian close fighting infantry to support the mercenary Greek hoplites against the Macedonian phalanx….. The absence of specific reference to them carrying bows at Issos may have been because they did not carry them into battle, or may have been simply because the speed of the Macedonian advance gave little time for their use. Arrian does mention the need to close rapidly with Persian archers at Issos, and while these are usually assumed to be a screen in front of the main line, they may well have been the Kardakes as the original light infantry screen seems to have been withdrawn.”
Duncan Head, Armies of the Macedonian and Punic wars, page 88

“According to Strabo (XV,iii,18-19) the Cardaces were young Persians trained to use bows and javelins, who were also employed on planting trees, making armour, and other useful work,; they would appear to have been a kind of Hitler Youth.  From the age of twenty they served in subordinate positions in the army, and could fight either on foot or mounted. All but certainly they were not hoplites, but, as Callisthenes says, ‘peltasts’ (Polybius, XII, 17) Had they been hoplites, it is highly improbable that Alexander would have charged them with his cavalry.”
J.F. C. Fuller, The Generalship of Alexander the Great, page 155 footnote 2

The problem

When I approached creating statlines for troops for Warhammer Ancient Battles: Alexander the Great, I knew where many of the trouble spots would be. The Hypaspists for sure, the Iphicratean ‘hoplites’, Indian chariots, and the kardakes Persian infantry at Issus would be another area of contention. I will try to detail all of these in web articles (although of these it seems I hit the hypaspists best on the mark, or at least there have been fewer discussions of my errors with these :)

Of these the kardakes were the most confusing.  As can be seen from the above quotes it is difficult to find much agreement among any of the experts. This is mainly caused by variable and contradictory sources available to us. In my confusion I turned to Duncan Head for aid and he sent me a number of excellent bits of help, but the following advice was based on his current theory as expressed in the Achaemenid Persian Army published by Montvert Publications, which is currently out of print. I read the Montvert, but borrowed a copy from Allen Curtis (thanks) as I could not get a copy for myself during my three years of research and writing.

Were the kardakes infantry at Issus armed as hoplites such as these Foundry 28mm figures, or as peltasts, or both?

A solution:

I asked Duncan Head for advice and he wrote back:

“Ah, have you not read the Montvert Persian book? I address this issue there. Basically I don't think that Alexander did charge headlong into the kardakes, so the problem doesn't arise.

Brief summary:

- Yes, Xenophon says that the kardakes used bows and javelins, for hunting and policing

- Nepos' Life of  Datames mentions kardakes serving in the army, armament unspecified but also "slingers of the same origin"

- At Issos, Arrian says that there were 60,000 kardakes hoplites to the flanks of the Greek mercenaries

- Polybios (quoting Kallisthenes) describes peltasts next to the mountains on the inland flank

- Curtius describes two separate bodies of infantry, one of 20,000 "barbarians" and one of 40,000, both apparently to the left of the Greeks.  

Since Curtius' two bodies add up to 60,000, they match Arrian's kardakes in numbers and Kallisthenes' peltasts in position. This is the key to resolving the problem. Both Arrian's and Kallisthenes' testimonies go back to eye-witnesses and it seems unlikely that any Greek would mistake hoplites for peltasts, or vice versa. Therefore, I suggest there were two bodies of infantry, not one; one force (probably the 40,000, though it's hard to be sure) armed as peltasts, the other as kardakes hoplites. Alexander would have charged the peltasts. (Given that the Nepos quote suggests there may have been such a thing as kardakes slingers, "kardakes" may mean an origin rather than a style of armament, so it is conceivable that the peltasts were "kardakes" too.) Sekunda* takes the "barbarian" bit of Curtius' description to mean non-Persian as well as non-Greek, which is partly why he thinks that the kardakes were new "barbarian" mercenary regiments.

cheers, Duncan

*The Persian Army 560-330BC, Nick Sekunda (Osprey Elite1992),

I post this because Duncan so ably condenses the issues (since he has been grappling with the same dilemma now for longer than I can remember!).  This is the direction I then decided on for these troops in  AtG… they are either hoplite style troops or peltast units. However I goofed up when I allowed them to be mixed either way using the combined formation rules.  Ultimately the OOB at Issus is another issue that muddles the interpretation, but after consulting with Duncan the only logical way of dealing with such troops was to give them multiple possibilities. At Issus the kardakes are labeled both hoplites and peltasts by the sources, so we need to allow for both. It is also serendipity that we are told that Alexander charged into the kardakes’ flank extending into the hills. Based on the above supposition, such a wing would have been the ‘peltast’ kardakes of Polybios/Kallisthenes description, while the Hypaspists would have taken on the kardakes hoplites supporting the Greek mercenaries left flank.   Given that the Persian numbers are wholly inflated by the sources it is reasonable to believe the kardakes front could have been covered by both the Companions and hypaspists alone*.

(*I plan on dealing with the Issus OOB issues and how to convert into a WAB game in the near future as well, so I won’t dwell on OOB issues here, all I can say is that I feel the Curtius and Arrian versions seem to be comparable in numbers as Duncan states. Curtius places all the kardakes in their inflated numbers to the left of the Greeks, Arrian splits them on either side. Either way this does not adversely affect the notion that both kardakes were both hoplites and peltasts on either or just one wing. In fact it makes the Polybios/Kallisthenes version more plausible.)


There seems some convincing evidence that the kardakes were formed in both heavy hoplite units and units of peltasts such as the one pictured. This composite 28mm unit made up of Foundry, Essex, Old Glory, and Battlestandard figures.

Some further thoughts:

In hindsight I could have been clearer, as I could have delineated the types better and not jumbled together in the same section with Persian foot at all. Oh well, such is print, solid and irrevocable. I have stated that I would wish that the kardakes WS would be 2 instead of 3, but faced with the unpopularity of such a revision I think I should revise this to only reducing troops armed with bows and javelins to WS2 for a -1 point cost would be better, and fit the opposing AtG lists better.

Something more like this:


                               M  WS BS   S     T   W    I     A   Ld   Pts

Kardakes hoplites   4    3    3     3    3    1     3    1     6       6
Kardakes  peltasts   4    2    3     3    3    1     3    1    6        5

Equipment: Kardakes Hoplites are armed with sword, shield, and thrusting spears. May have light armour +2 pts. Large shields may be substituted for +1 pt.  Kardakes Peltasts are armed with sword, buckler, and javelin.  Bows may be added +2 pts. Slings may replace javelins (free), unless bow armed. Bucklers may be upgrade to shield +1 pt.

Special Rules: Kardakes peltasts are Light Infantry. Every second unit may be kardakes hoplites.

In an Issus recreation (or at player’s discretion) this special rule should be used:
Kardakes must roll a special ‘leadership’ test if they charge or are charged by the enemy. If they pass there is no effect. If they fail they fear the enemy and count as ‘levies’ immediately and for the rest of the game. (This will be added to the upcoming
Issus scenario.)

I wanted to give the player a bit of freedom of choice when arming kardakes but feel I have given a bit too much freedom and not enough guidance in the list, and am still upset about missing the Weapon Skill 2 light infantry issue upon final review, as I most certainly did not want to create a WS 3 peltast type of troop that would compete with Greeks.

Historians in the past concluded that the kardakes could not be hoplites because they were screened by archers. In fact the archers may have themselves been kardakes.  Whatever the armament Alexander smashed into these units with his cavalry and routed them. The massed levies fled as well adding to the human stampede exiting the battleground.

I hope that the above sheds some light on the various issues, or at least explains how I muddled things up.

At least the gamer can now have some guidance as to how to arm his kardakes in WAB, you are safe if you arm a unit of kardakes peltasts alongside a unit of kardakes hoplites, don’t combine them and don’t give the hoplites bowmen in the back ranks as that is anachronistic. Luckily, except for the reduction of WS to 2 for the ‘peltast’ type, the above combinations can be gleaned from the printed list.

Thanks to Duncan Head for his kindness in allowing me to reprint this for this discussion. Sorry to continue the muddle the list in AtG, but sometimes distance gains a better view of things, of course the player can make of this what he wishes and may ignore these ramblings entirely, but  it is possible to use the AtG presentation and get close to a reasonable presentation of these troops.

Jeff Jonas




Did the kardakes put up any fight at all? This seems unlikely even though as hoplites they seem to be well armed. If Alexander flanked the heavy kardakes by knifing through the lighter armed peltasts then with the hypaspists in front they would be doomed. Odds are that even the heavy kardakes fled allowing Alexander to charge Darius III's command center and rout it off, securing a quick victory.


Further reading and sources:



The following is excepted from Arrian from:


The Battle of Issus

[Arrian, The Anabasis of Alexander, together with the Indica, E. J. Chinnock, tr. (London: George Bell and Sons, 1893), bk II, 6-14]

8. Alexander then ordered his soldiers to take their dinner, and having sent a few of his horsemen and archers forward to the Gates to recon noitre the road in the rear, he took the whole of his army and marched in the night to occupy the pass again. When about midnight he had again got possession of it, he caused the army to rest the remainder of the night there upon the rocks, having posted vigilant sentries. At the approach of dawn he began to descend from the pass along the road; and as long as the space was narrow everywhere, he led his army in column, but when the mountains parted so as to leave a plain between them, he kept on opening out the column into the phalanx, marching one line of heavy armed infantry after another up into line towards the mountain on the right and towards the sea on the left. Up to this time his cavalry had been ranged behind the infantry; but when they advanced into the open country, he began to draw up his army in order of battle. First, upon the right wing near the mountain he placed his infantry guard and the shield-bearers, under the command of Nicanor, son of Parmenio; next to these the regiment of Coenus, and close to them that of Perdiccas. These troops were posted as far as the middle of the heavy-armed infantry to one beginning from the right. On the left wing first stood the regiment of Amyntas, then that of Ptolemy, and close to this that of Meleager. The infantry on the left had been placed under the command of Craterus; but Parmenio held the chief direction of the whole left wing. This general had been ordered not to abandon the sea, so that they might not be surrounded by the foreigners, who were likely to outflank them on all sides by their superior numbers.

But as soon as Darius was certified of Alexander's approach for battle, he conveyed about 30,000 of his cavalry and with them 20,000 of his light-armed infantry across the river Pinarus, in order that he might be able to draw up the rest of his forces with ease. Of the heavy armed infantry, he placed first the 30,000 Greek mercenaries to oppose the phalanx of the Macedonians, and on both sides of these he placed 60,000 of the men called Cardaces, who were also heavy-armed infantry. For the place where they were posted was able to contain only this number in a single phalanx. He also posted 20,000 men near the mountain on their left and facing Alexander's right. Some of these troops were also in the rear of Alexander's army; for the mountain near which they were posted in one part sloped a great way back and formed a sort of bay, like a bay in the sea, and afterwards bending forwards caused the men who had been posted at the foot of it to be behind Alexander's right wing. The remaining multitude of Darius's light-armed and heavy-armed infantry was marshalled by nations to an unserviceable depth and placed behind the Grecian mercenaries and the Persian army arranged in phalanx. The whole of the army with Darius was said to number about 600,000 fighting men.

As Alexander advanced, he found that the ground spread out a little in breadth, and he accordingly brought up his horsemen, both those called Companions, and the Thessalians as well as the Macedonians, and posted them with himself on the right wing. The Peloponnesians and the rest of the allied force of Greeks he sent to Parmenio on the left. When Darius had marshalled his phalanx, by a pre-concerted signal he recalled the cavalry which he had posted in front of the river for the express purpose of rendering the arranging of his army easy. Most of these he placed on the right wing near the sea facing Parmenio; because here the ground was more suitable for the evolutions of cavalry. A certain part of them also he led up to the mountain towards the left. But when they were seen to be useless there on account of the narrowness of the ground, he ordered most of these also to ride round to the right wing and join their comrades there. Darius himself occupied the centre of the whole army, inasmuch as it was the custom for the kings of Persia to take up that position, the reason of which arrangement has been recorded by Xenophon, son of Gryllus.


Cornelius Nepos, Life of Datames reveals as source of Cardaces being used in campaigns before the time of Darius III.

As seen in total at :

[8] Autophradates, though he was aware of these circumstances, yet thought it better to fight than to retreat with so large an army, or to continue inactive so long in one place. He had twenty thousand barbarian cavalry, a hundred thousand infantry, whom they call Cardaces, and three thousand slingers of the same class. He had besides eight thousand Cappadocians, ten thousand Armenians, five thousand Paphlagonians, ten thousand Phrygians, five thousand Lydians, about three thousand Aspendians and Pisidians, two thousand Cilicians, as many Captianians, three thousand hired men from Greece, and a very large number of light-armed troops. Against this force all Datames's hopes rested on himself and the nature of his ground, for he had not the twentieth part of his enemy's numbers. Trusting to himself and his position, therefore he brought on a battle, and cut off many thousands of the enemy, while there fell on his own army not more than a thousand men; on which account he erected a trophy the next day on the spot where they had fought the day before. When he had moved his camp from thence, and always, though inferior in forces, came off victorious in every battle (for he never engaged but when he had confined his adversaries in some defile, an advantage which often happened to one acquainted with the ground and taking his measures with skill), Autophradates, seeking that the war was protracted with more loss to the king than to the enemy, exhorted Datames to peace and friendship, so that he might again be received into favor with the king. Datames, though he saw that peace would not be faithfully kept, nevertheless accepted the offer of it, and said that "he would send deputies to Artaxerxes." Thus the war, which the king had undertaken against Datames, was ended; and Autophradates retired into Phrygia.




Polybius in his fragments points out flaws in Kallisthenes’ account which has not survived except in other accounts. The main point of Polybius is to refute the space allotted to Darius’ army and point out that 14 stades is impossible,as well as some of the other details. It is from this source that the ‘kardakes peltast’ is most prominent:

As seen in total at :


 Callisthenes, FGrHist. 124, F. 35 (= Polybius 12.17-22)

(7) After this he says they drew up the cavalry along the sea-shore, the mercenaries next them at the brink of the river, and the peltasts next to the mercenaries in a line reaching as far as the mountains.



A nice online description of Issus.
As seen in total at :




A nice Military History magazine online article about Issus.
As seen at :


Upset at Issus

By Harry J. Maihafer for Military History Magazine



Questions or Comments Email: Jeff@AncientBattles.com