Henry Parker  in Ancient Ceylon writes


With the aid of references in Indian and Greek works to the soldiers employed in early India, we may form some idea of the armament and organisation of the military forces of Ancient Ceylon. The regular troops were probably very  far being an undisciplined body. Although the wooded nature the country did not lend itself to the free use of  chariots or cavalry, there can be no doubt that the services of both were utilised to some extent. Elephants were also employed, and there were several classes of foots soldiers.


The  chariots used in war were probably drawn by two horses, like those illustrated in the Sanchi carvings; three or four -horse chariots were, however, to be found in India,  may have been used by the richer classes in Ceylon, though  perhaps not in battle. Following the Indian fashion, some may have been decorated with leopard skins. Each  chariot carried a driver, and one or two  combatants [ Rig Veda, vi, 20,9. Ancient India as described by Megasthenes and  Arrian, by McCrindle, pp. 89, 90] who were armed with bows  and swords, and had bucklers. All the occupants, and possibly to some extent the horses, were protected by mail [The Jataka, No. 529 (Translation, Vol. v, p. 133) .or leather armour. We have no representation of the appearance of these cars of Ceylon; according to the Greek description, those used in India had sitting accommodation for their occupants but at Sanchi the persons  shown in them are standing. King Maha-Naga of Tissa is described  in the Dhatuvansa as presenting Mahakala, the son of wealthy man, with  car suitable for four Persons, Satara deneku Yedu  rathayak. There must have been seats in such a carriage.


The carving at the lsurumuniya temple proves conclusively that in early and possibly pre-Christian times an organised force of cavalry was in existence  the men having a showy helmet with long plumes which hung down the back like those of the Greeks. Some also may have worn the ‘shining armour, or breast-plate [ The Jataka, no. 213 {Vol. ii, p. 232]that was used in lndia. Leather armour was provided for the horses[ The Jataka, no. 23 [Vol. i, p. 61], and in India a high hair plume was fixed on the head of each, between the ears, In the second or third century BC the men rode without saddles, a skin rug being perhaps employed instead ; one  at Amaravti is riding bare-back, however (Slab No-,41). In the second century A D padded saddles were clearly represented at Amaravati, and probably would be used in Ceylon.

The horse was controlled, by single reins held by the left hand, and fastened to a head stall to which an iron bit was attached, having in the time of Arrian short spikes fitted in a disk at each end outside the rips, a but not so delineated at Sanchi or Amaravati, or  Anurddhapura. The riders apparently carried bucklers, and were armed with a sword and bows[ The Jataka, no. 529 [Vol.v, p. 132] ; some may ‘have been lancers , as in India.  Part of this cavalry force doubtless constituted the king’s body-guard.


The Archers formed the chief branch of the regular foot-soldiers and the mainstay of the army. In India their bodies were protected by mail or leather armour, and Some at least carried a straight swords at their left side[ The Jataka, no.522 {Vol.V, p. 67], enclosed in a leather scabbard, and strung by a scarf or belt which passed round the right shoulder. They  also had shields, some of which, like 549 those in India, may have been narrow and elongated, The Sakya kings would be likely to give special attention to the archery, and Arrian’s remarks on the efficiency of the Indian bow-men may have been to some extent applicable to those of Ceylon, as we see by the account in the Mahavansa of the prowess of Phussa-deva, the champion archer of Duttha-Gamifri.  Arrian said, ‘ there is nothing which can resist an Indian archer’s shot-neither shield nor breast-plate, nor any stronger defence  if such there be.’ [ McCrindle Ancient India p 221]

In Ceylon this force probably consisted chiefly of Vaeddas. As they lived at Anuradhapura in such numbers that the early annalist made special reference to their share in the residential arrangements of the city, it is extremely likely that their services as archers would be utilised by the early Sinhalese sovereigns in their military forces, just as at a later time Parakrama-Behu I employed them. They must  have formed a great part of the army with which Pandukabhaya gained the throne, or their chiefs would not have afterwards occupied the prominent position accorded to them by that monarch. Malalu vaeddan, ‘Archer Vaeddas ‘ are mentioned in the fifteenth century.


Other foot-soldiers were Spear-men, some of whom also carried swords; a third branch of the infantry consisted of those who were armed only with the Keteriya, or the Broad Axe ;  and a fourth was formed of men who carried a straight sword and a buckler or shield. We may picture to ourselves regiments of each of these four classes of foot-men, each bearing its distinctive banner, and possibly even trained to march in step in regular  ranks, and perform evolutions, Like the Egyptian, and Assyrian, and Greek infantry ; they would be commanded by the young chiefs of the country. In later times, and perhaps early times also, the Sinhalese national flag bore the device of a standing lion with its near foreleg raised I have seen, a photograph of a carved stone at Buddha Gaya  with a similar Lion on it; I do not know its age ; that of Madura, according to temple artists, was a cock.

Arrian described the state of the regular soldiers in India as follows; and it is to be remembered that the remarks refer to the very district from which the Gangetic settlers came to Ceylon , The fifth caste among the Indians consists of the warriors, who are second in point of numbers to the husbandmen, but lead a life of supreme freedom and enjoyment. They  have only military duties to perform. Others make their arms, and others supply them with horses and they have others to attend on them in the camp, who take care of their horses, clean their arms, drive their elephants, prepare their chariots, and act as their charioteers. As long as they  required to fight they fight and when peace returns they abandon themselves to enjoyment- pay which they receive from the state being so liberal that they can with ease maintain themselves and others besides” [McCridle ancient India p221].


The Elephants constituted a valuable portion of the Sinhalese army. They were carefully protected by leather armour [Jataka No80(Vol I p 205)]and carried two or three combatants in addition to the driver.These appear to have been armed with the bow and the sword and sometimes the javelin. They wore either mail or leather armour. There is no statement of the number of elephants employed for warlike purposes in Ceylon; it must have been small compared with the immense herds of he Indian armies, in one of which, that of Magadha, Megasthenes reported that nine thousand were used.

The animals were so numerous in Ceylon that in time of war every chief would be called upon to send some to the king for transport purpose if not for actual fighting. The king himself would certainly maintain a large trained force of them in connection with his standing armies well as for ceremonial use in processions, and we find the royal elephant stables of the third century B.C. referred to in the Mahavansa.


While all the  foregoing branches of the permanent army must have practiced a regular drill and been kept in a state of some degree of efficiency, the untrained levies of villagers who called out by the local chiefs in case of war were doubtless  a more or less undisciplined horde, armed with a miscellaneous collection of weapons, such as bows, pikes, billhooks wooden clubs, and stone-bows.

In  the Ummagga Jataka (No 546) we have vivid picture of some of the regular troops of early times Culani, the King Mithila, is represented as being clothed in jeweled armour .He held an arrow in his hand as his symbol of authority (Like the Vaeddas of Ceylon) while he made a spirited address to the army, and issued his orders from the back of his elephant for the capture of his enemy in the battle that was about to commence :-

‘ Send the tusked elephants, mighty, sixty years old, let them trample down the city which Vedeha has nobly built. Let the arrows fly this way and that way, sped by the bow, arrows like  the teeth of calves, sharp pointed, piercing the bones. Let heroes come forth in armour clad, with weapons finely  decorated, bold and heroic, ready to face an Elephant. Spears bathed in oil, their points glittering like fire, stand gleaming like the constellation of a hundred stars. At the onset of such heroes, with mighty weapons clad in mail and armour, who never run away, how shall Vedeha escape, even  if he fly like a bird ?  My thirty and nine thousand , all picked men, whose like I never saw, all my mighty host.” He referred to the ” golden trappings and blood red girths, and the  mailed heroes with banners waving,- and skilled in the use of sword and shield, grasping the hilt accomplished soldiers.’


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