Setting: Achaemenid empire 6-4thc
Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)
* Encyclopaedia Iranica > Immortals online
"IMMORTALS (Gk. athánatoi), name of a corps of 10,000 Persian élite infantry soldiers in Herodotus (7.83.1, 211.1; 8.113.2). The later attestations in Athenaios (q.v.), Deipnosophistai 12.514c (who is quoting Heracleides of Cumae); Hesychius, Lexicon s.v. (with the erroneous definition as a “cavalry detachment”); Procopius (1.14.31); and other sources obviously derive from Herodotus’s usage, whereas Dio Cassius (52.27.1) used athánatoi, with reference to Rome, for a standing army (FIGURE 1).
"All three passages of Herodotus are in connection with Xerxes’ campaign against Greece in 480–479 B.C.E. After having enumerated the generals of the six main corps of the Persian infantry (termed stratoû toû pezoû, 7.82), the historian mentions lastly, and as though in addition, Hydarnes (q.v., OPers. Vidṛna-), son of Hydarnes (the father evidently being identical with one of the six helpers of Darius against Gaumata in 522 B.C.E.), as the leader of the 10,000 select Persian troops called “the Immortals” (7.83.1). He continues, explaining this name with the following words: “When any one of them left the number incomplete, whether by force of death or of sickness, a substitute was appointed, so that they never were more or less than 10,000 men.” That the following information (7.83.2) on the “Persians” and all their gold jewelry, the carriages with their concubines, the large domestic staff, and the separate food transport is especially in regard to those Immortals, is in my opinion not clear from Herodotus’s words.
[....] [A]ll the essential questions concerning this special corps—its origin (the assumption of successive enlargements of a much smaller group is rightly rejected by Gnoli, pp. 270 ff.), their exact tasks, and even their Iranian name—cannot be solved, because authentic sources are missing. As to the name, Pagliaro (firstly, 1943, p. 38; in detail, 1954, pp. 146-51) was of the opinion that Herodotus (or rather his interpreter or informant) committed a mistranslation of the Iranian name, which in Pagliaro’s view was OPers. anušiya- “follower” (plausibly to be derived only from IIr. *ánu-tya- “being behind”), by confusing or associating it with the phonetically similar OIr. *anauša (= Av. anaoša-) “immortal.” However, there are weighty reservations about such an interpretation, especially with regard to the transferred use of athánatos for humans instead of gods in Herodotus (a usage which is not genuinely Greek) or the specialized use of OPers. anušiya-, the usual sense of which is difficult to reconcile with the name of a division of 1,000 or even 10,000 men (see Gnoli, pp. 270 ff.). The problem persists even if one does not take athánatos literally and sees it, rather, as the reflex of the idea of immortality so characteristic of a military society (Gnoli, p. 280)."
* Llewellyn-Jones 2022 249
"[T]he crack fighting team known as the Ten Thousand (or 'Immortals') [was] a division of the army which served as a royal bodyguard. The Immortals (Greek, athánatoi, literally, 'those without death') was the name of an elite corps of 10,000 Achaemenid Persian infantry soldiers. Herodotus called them a 'body of hand-picked Persian troops' and glossed the title 'Immortals' by ascertaining that 'if a man was killed or fell sick, the vacancy he left was at once filled, so that the strength [of the group] was never more or less than 10,000'. In Old Persian this exclusive unit might have been known as anushiya, literally meaning 'being behind' or 'follower'. However, the word is taken from the Avestan aosha, 'death' or 'destruction', and so it is possible that anushiya could be read as 'behind death' or 'deathless', which would make sense of Herodotus' understanding of the concept. The Immortals were regarded as a league apart from the common Persian soldiery. Bona fide Persian sources for the Immortals are elusive, however, although it is generally assumed that the bearded and richly liveried soldiers represented in the beautiful faience tiles from the Achaemenid palace at Susa represent this elite warrior group. And yet there are no references to a corps of Immortals in the Persian written sources, although it is likely that the Achaemenid monarch was accompanied at all times by a special defence force. All in all, there are more questions surrounding this special corps of the Persian army than there are answers. Their exact tasks, and even their genuine Persian name, remain unknown."
* de Souza 2003 p22-24
"The principal soldiers in all Persian armies were usually infantrymen who were Persian by birth and who carried large shields, often made of leather and osier. They fought with a variety of weapons including long spears, axes, swords, and bows and arrows. Their armour was minimal, consisting at most of a padded cuirass of linen and perhaps a helmet, although most images show them wearing caps or hoods. The Persians were organised in regiments of 1,000 which could be grouped together in divisions of 10,000. The most important of these divisions was that of the 'Immortals', so called because casualties were always replaced to maintain the full complement of 10,000. The Immortals contained an élite regiment known as the King's Spearcarriers. This regiment was made up entirely of members of the Persian aristocracy."
* Cole 2021 p431
"Immortals a 10,000-strong elite Achaemenid Persian heavy infantry unit which served as both a tactical unit and a palace guard."
* Mayor 2018 p46-47
"According to Herodotus, (7.83), the elite infantry of ten thousand warriors in the Persian Empire of the sixth and fifth centuries BC called themselves 'the Immortals,' not because they wished to live forever, but because they knew that their number would always stay the same. The assurance that an equally valiant warrior would immediately take the place of each dead or wounded fighter, thereby ensuring the 'immortality' of the corps, fostered a sense of cohesion and pride. The lasting appeal of the concept is evident in the name 'Immortals' taken up by the Sasanid and Byzantine cavalries, by Napoleon's Imperial Guard, and by the Iranian army 1941-79."
* Shepherd 2019 p41 (describing the Greco-Persian war)
"The Persian army was highly organized and, on the Hellene side, only the Spartan army seems to have been as formally structured. The largest operational unit appears to have had a 'paper strength' of 10,000 and this was subdivided into ten units of 1,000, which, in turn, were broken down into 100s and tens (balvarabam, hazarabam, satabam and dathabam) with a hierarchy of officers for each level. This organizational principle is documented in later 4th-century sources, but it is likely it was well established by the beginning of the 5th century, though, in practice probably only the 10,000 royal guards known as 'the Immortals' maintained the arithmetic exactly."
* Llewellyn-Jones 2022 p150
"[T]he Immortals [were] an elite corps of the imperial army, numbering, allegedly, 10,000 men. No other group looked so good. These soldiers, the pride of Persia, wore golden necklaces, uniforms interwoven with gold, and long-sleeved tunics actually studded with precious stones."