The Persians. . . wore on their heads soft hats and. . . tunics with. . . iron scales [sewn] on them like the scales of a fish. Their legs were protected by trousers, and they bore wicker shields, with their quivers hanging at their backs. Their weapons consisted of a short spear, a bow of uncommon size, and reed arrows. They also had daggers suspended from their belts on their right side.

Herodotus describing the Persian expedition to Marathon, Histories, Book 7.61


Left: Arrowheads, Achaemenid era (550-330 BC), Ecbatana Museum

Early Persian warfare differed sharply from Greco-Roman military tactics, which tended to rely on heavy infantry. By contrast, the forces of the Persian empires were more diverse and made greater use of archers. Persian elites frequently boasted of their  prowess with the bow. For instance, in a late 5th-century Achaemenid inscription, King Darius II depicts himself as an archer skilled with the bow “both on foot and on horseback.”  Greek historians like Herodotus noted how many archers the Persian army could boast – before the famous battle of Thermopylae, Persian arrows were said to be so numerous that they would “blot out the sun.”  

Seleucid and Parthian rulers of Iran oversaw many military innovations. The Parthians drew their military strength almost entirely from cavalry, combining archery and mobility. Instead of lightly armed spearmen or foot archers, the Parthians used a combination of horse archers and cataphracts, horsemen armed with scale armor and lances. The Sasanian army continued to use this combination of traditional archery and  heavily armored cavalry. While Sasanian armies were often smaller than their Roman and Hunnic opponents, they nevertheless succeeded in gaining territory from Afghanistan to Egypt.