The Horsemen of Classical Athens. Some Considerations on Their Recruitment and Social Background

David M. Pritchard 2018, Athenaeum 106, 439-53


Classical Athens took into the Peloponnesian War 1000 horsemen and 200 mounted archers. Elite young citizens were legally obliged to serve in the cavalry-corps. Athenian democracy may have subsidised their military service. But it still cost them about 10 times what hoplites had to pay. In order to meet the corps’s significant time-demands horsemen also needed to be men of independent means. It is thus unsurprising that they represented only 5 percent of those in their age-band. A young horsemen who had been drafted could ask for an exemption on the grounds of poverty. In classical Athens horsemanship was viewed as proof of an individual’s elitemembership. Consequently asking for such an exemption came at a high social price; for it called into question a family’s claim to be wealthy. The state subsidised a lot more the corps-membership of the mounted archers. This confirms that they were not part of the elite from which the horsemen certainly came.

Corresponding author




This article was written when I was, from mid-2015, on a yearlong research fellowship at l’Institut d’e´tudes avance´es de l’universite´ de Strasbourg. Sincere thanks go to E. Foster, M. Golden, A. Jacquemin, D. Lenfant, L. Pernot, P.J. Rhodes, B. Zimmermann and especially E. Pischedda for discussing with me, during this fellowship, the armed forces of classical Athens. This article is much the stronger for the excellent suggestions of «Athenaeum»’s three anonymous referees. It draws heavily on my forthcoming Athenian Democracy at War ; it does so courtesy of Cambridge University Press. All the article’s translations are my own.