Sciritae

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The Sciritae or Skiritai (Greek: Σκιρῖται Skiritai) were a people subject to Sparta, whose status is comparable to that of the Perioeci. They lived in Skiritis, a mountainous region located in northern Laconia on the border with Arcadia, between the Oenus and the Eurotas rivers.

According to Stephanus of Byzantium and Hesychius of Alexandria, the Sciritae were of Arcadian origin. Their way of life was essentially rural: they mostly lived in villages, of which the biggest were Oion and Caryai. Their territory was inhospitable, but was of strategic importance for Sparta since it controlled the road to Tegea, which explains why it rapidly fell in Spartan hands. Their status was to that of the Perioeci, but Xenophon keeps them distinguished.

In war the Sciritae formed an elite corps of light infantry, a lochos (battalion) of about 600 men, which were used as a complement to the civic army. According to Thucydides (v. 67), they fought on the extreme-left wing in the battle-line, the most threatening position for the hoplite phalanx: "In this battle the left wing was composed of the Sciritae, who in a Lacedaemonian army have always that post to themselves alone". At night, they were placed as sentinels ahead of the army (Xenophon, Constitution of the Spartans, xii. 3) and acted as scouts to open the way for the king, whom they only could precede.

In the Cyropaedia (IV, 2), Xenophon compares them to the Hyrcanian cavalry, used by the Assyrians as rear-guard.

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