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Was the Macedonian phalanx more effective than hoplites?

Was the Macedonian phalanx more effective than hoplites?


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Was the Macedonian phalanx, with their long spears and small shields, really more effective than the hoplites?

What was the incentive for Philip II to radically change the way infantry fought back in those days? Is there any good source to read about the reasons the Macedonians used the phalanx instead of the classic hoplites way of fighting?

I know Alexander the Great conquered the known world with the phalanx, but I think to give the credit to the phalanx would be false here. The Romans seemed to outfight the Macedonian phalanx pretty easily.


At its heyday the phalanx was the most advanced heavy infantry formation of its time. The Romans were able to beat it (at the battle of Pidna, for example) because their manipular legion was more flexible while enjoying a strong cohesion just as the phalanx did. So you can say perhaps that the legion out-phalanxed the phalanx.

Mind also that the victory was not easy at all - the Macedonians first had the upper hand at Pidna but their formation broke when they started pursuing the Romans on uneven ground. Here's wikipedia's telling of the story:

The two centers engaged at about 3pm, with the Macedonians advancing on the Romans a short distance from the Roman camp. Paullus claimed later that the sight of the phalanx filled him with alarm and amazement. The Romans tried to beat down the enemy pikes or hack off their points, but with little success. Unable to get under the thick bristle of spikes, the Romans used a planned retreat over the rough ground.

But as the phalanx pushed forward, the ground became more uneven as it moved into the foothills, and the line lost its cohesion, being forced over the rough terrain. Paullus now ordered the legions into the gaps, attacking the phalangites on their exposed flanks. At close quarters the longer Roman sword and heavier shield easily prevailed over the short sword (little more than a dagger) and lighter armor of the Macedonians. They were soon joined by the Roman right, which had succeeded in routing the Macedonian left.

As for the origins of Philip's reforms, I'm not an expert but at least I can point out that he probably took the idea from the reforms of Epaminondas at Thebes, where young Philip had been a hostage. The main idea was to slant the formation, keeping back one wing of the phalanx to envelop the enemy. Liddell Hart has all the details.

Another thing to note is that Alexander's great successes were due in part to his mastery of combined arms operations - he usually relied on his phalanx to pin the enemy troops while he took them in the flank with heavy cavalry. He also employed judiciously and to great effect light infantry and archers. The phalanx on its own would not have been as effective, as Cyrus the Younger had learnt the hard way.


Your contention that "Romans seemed to outfight Macedonian phalanx pretty easily" is not really true. The critical source for you to read here is Plutarch's life of Paulus Aemilius, the Roman general who conquered Macedonia and was the victor at the key battle of Pydna (168 BC). You may also want to read the Wikipedia article on the battle.

If you read Plutarch, you will find that at the beginning of the battle the Roman army was shattered on the phalanx. The Wikipedia article downplays this, but at the time it was a serious setback. Paulus lost a large number of men for no losses to the enemy at all and was in great danger. Eventually Paulus won by waiting for the phalanx to move into hilly terrain and attack in the spaces in between their ranks.

Now, you may ask, why could not hoplites do the same? There were three key factors that aided Paulus:

(1) Plain old soldier strength. The Macedonian empire was very old and rich, and its soldiers weakened by luxury. When Paulus conquered Macedonia, he took immense riches and booty. The Macedonians had ruled the whole Middle East since the time of Alexander and had grown rich and fat. It's a small factor, but do not discount it.

(2) Signalling. The Romans had developed a very elaborate system of signals that allowed them to do complex maneuvers. They used both trumpets and flags to direct men around. For example, mounted officers could race on horseback with a new message from the commander with a flag and direct a maniple to move in a certain way. Without this capability Paulus would not have had the control he needed at Pydna. The hoplites lacked such a system.

(3) Erosion of the Macedonian Cavalry Advantage. Economy grows better over time. As you are able to grow fodder more cheaply, it becomes cheaper and easier to have horses. In Alexander's time Macedonia had a big advantage in that they were an equestrian culture and usually had a larger cavalry than their opponents. This is very important for the phalanx, because the cavalry protects the phalanx's weak spots and acts as a scout for it. The cavalry is also required to chase the enemy and deliver the crushing blow. If the enemy has greater or equal cavalry the phalanx is weaker. This is exactly what happened at Pydna. The Romans had an equal cavalry, and using their signalling systems used their cavalry better. This was what let them find and exploit the weak spots in the phalanx.

Comeback of the Phalanx

In Medieval and Renaissance times there was a comeback of the basic form of the phalanx as "pikemen". The key invention was to put hooks and wide, forged blades on the pikes to fight horses. If the pikemen could take down horses easily, they became very powerful, just like the old phalanx. An example is the Battle of Falkirk in 1298. There was a military genius named Bertrand du Guesclin (1320 - 1380) who was famous for using massed pikemen.


Question:
Was the Macedonian phalanx, with their long spears and small shields, really more effective than the hoplites?

How do you measure "more effective"? In a 1-1 battle their isn't much reason to believe the Macedonian phalanx would outperform the more traditional Greek phalanx consistently, and even less reason to suspect it would do so on all terrains. The Macedonian phalanx unlike the traditional Greek Hoplite phalanx was not engineered to defeat its enemy all by itself. The Macedonian success was not due to their phalanx's superiority (with the sarissa pike). The Macedonian phalanx advantage was protection, but it had disadvantages. Although the larger spears required two hands to hold and reduced the size of the shield the Macedonian could wield, it's length also allowed five rows of spearmen to contribute to the defense of the formation. Any infantryman or rival phalanx attempting to battle such a formation would be out ranged and outnumbered by the spear tips of the Macedonian formation. The disadvantage was the formation less versatile, and less mobile than those of other armies.(-1-). So while the Macedonian Phalanx was more defended unless the enemy infantry was willing to throw themselves upon the spear tips of the Macedonians it was not really capable of closing with the enemy consistently to make it a reliable offensive threat. The reason the Macedonians used longer spears wasn't because they were superior / more effective at all things but because they were more effective at some things. The Macedonians asked different things of their phalanx(heavy infantry) than did the Hoplite greeks, and so the longer spears helped the phalanx achieve their particular role in the Macedonian battle tactics. Because the Macedonians had light infantry, light calvary and heavy calvary to complement their phalanx, the Macedonian phalanx was designed to hold the enemy, and control space while these more mobile specialized troops destroyed the enemy by flanking or the use of projectile weapons. The Macedonians under Philip and then Alexander utilized an army of mixed components where few others did and fewer still had developed the tactics which made these mixed component armies so lethal.

The innovation which made the Macedonians so formidable wasn't their Phalanx, most of their Greek antagonists fought with phalanxes. Philip of Macedon, who built and trained Alexander's army, primary innovations were:

  • A full time professional army which nobody else had except for perhaps Sparta.
  • Philip of Macedon unlike most of the Greeks whom he would conquer, had an army of mixed units.
  • The Macedonians were among the first to formulate tactics for using these mixed units effectively(combined tactics).

All of these innovations Alexander the Great inherited from his father Philip.

Where as most Greek Armies were made of only one type of Unit, like the Spartans of the time only used the Phalanx, The Macedonians had many types of units. They could use different units depending upon which kind of enemy troops they faced and the properties of the terrain they were fighting on. If it was wooded or rocky terrain, phalanx were dangerous to use because they would be forced apart and thus become vulnerable. They could also bog down and become very slow moving as the phalanx struggled to stay together. The Macedonians mixed units could better exploit these difficulties and counter with light infantry, horse archers or heavy calvery. The Macedonians typically had several versions of each specialized type of unit and this gave them options which few armies in antiquity could counter.

The Macedonian army
The Macedonian army was one of the first military forces to use 'combined arms tactics', using a variety of specialised troops to fulfill specific battlefield roles in order to form a greater whole. Although it did not succeed in every battle, the army of Philip II was able to successfully adopt the military tactics of its enemies, such as the embolon (i.e. 'flying wedge') formation of the Scythians.[104] This offered cavalry far greater manoeuvrability and an edge in battle that previously did not exist in the Classical Greek world.[104]

Philip's Army included

  • Heavy cavalry
    • The Companion cavalry
    • Thessalian cavalry
    • Other Greek cavalry
  • Light cavalry
    • Prodromoi/Sarissophoroi (cavalry unit)
    • Paeonian cavalry
    • Thracian cavalry
    • Horse archers
  • Heavy infantry
    • The Foot Companions (Macedonian phalanx)
    • Hypaspists
    • Greek hoplites
  • Light infantry
    • Peltasts
    • Archers
  • They also had engineers with siege weapons and artillery which was used against enemy formations and not just during seiges.

.

Artillery Alexander the Great appears to have been one of the first generals to employ artillery on the open field of battle, rather than in a siege. He used massed artillery to fire across a river at a Scythian army, causing it to vacate the opposite river bank, thus allowing the Macedonian troops to cross and form a bridgehead.

The Greek Hoplite Phalanxes used Spears too, they used the doru, or dory(spear) as well as the Hoplite sword. Where the Greeks used the phalanx to destroy enemy armies, the Macedonians would ask their phalanxes to hold the enemy in front of them, as other units could pelt them with arrows, or flank them with horses archers or heavy calvary could smash into them. The longer spears were better at defending the phalanx and holding the enemy setting them up for the other units. The Macedonian phalanx was not called to fight apart from the rest of the army. With the superior tactics the Macedonians employed their phalanx was an integrated component of their army. That was the Macedonians under Philip and Alexanders great innovation.

Alexander's Phalanx
Alexander did not use the phalanx as the decisive arm in his battles, but instead used it to pin and demoralize the enemy while his heavy cavalry would charge selected opponents or exposed enemy unit flanks, most usually after driving the enemy horse from the field.[44] Polybius (18.31.5), emphasises that the phalanx required flat open places for its effective deployment, as broken country would hinder and break up its formation.

Rome vs Macedonia

I don't think the premise that the "Macedonians had grown soft due to all the booty sent back by Alexander" is a reasonable answer. The timeline doesn't support that, nor do the events which lead to the fall of Macedonia. Namely 4 separate Wars with Rome spanning five decades, 5 wars if you count the Seleucid War all accusing centuries after Alexander's death. It's like blaming Napoleon's defeat on King Louis XIV's wealth. It's just not supportable given the time and differences occurring over that time. Also it's not like Macedonia was entirely outclassed by Rome, Macedonia actually came away with a draw in the first war. All this happened 130 years after Alexander died and ended about 200 years after Alexander.

Paraphrased from The Macedonian Wars

  • 323 BC Alexander the great died
  • 214 - 205 BC The First Macedonian War with Rome ends indecisively with the Treaty of Phoenice.
  • 205 BC Five year old Ptolemy IV ascends to the throne of Egypt resulting in civil war. This weakens Egypt and makes if vulnerable to attack by Macedon and Seleucids alliance
  • 200 - 196 BC The second Macedonian War, Rome comes to the aid of Greek city states which fear the growing power of Macedonia. ends in the battle of at the Battle of Cynoscephalae a Roman victory, which forces Philip the V to abandon his conquests. After which Rome withdraws and leaves Greece.
  • 192 - 188 BC Seleucid War, with Macedonia and Egypt weakened the Seleucids move to take them. Rome responds and defeats the Seleucid Armies at the battles of Thermopylae and the decisive Battle of Magnesia, (First Roman Army to invade Asia).
  • 172 - 168 BC Third Macedonian War, Philip V died and his son Perseus of > Macedon, tries to reconstitute Macedonians strength, resulting in Rome coming back and addressing them again. Ends in Rome victory, Rome's permanent occupation of Greece, and Macedonia being broken up into 4 Roman client republics.
  • 150 to 148 BC Fourth Macedonian War, Macedonia tries to reform their old kingdom, Rome responds.

So why did Rome defeat the Macedonians. Because after Alexander died, the Macedonians returned to fighting like all the other greeks did. They again grew overly dependent upon the phalanx. This weakness wasn't well understood when it was occurring because all the greeks uses single formations armies and thus could not well exploit the weakness of the post Alexander Macedonians. When the Macedonians fought Rome however, Rome did have a mixed formation army which is ultimately how they won. Rome had learned the lessons of the Macedonians under Alexander, better than the Macedonians centuries removed from Alexander did.

**Why Macedonia Lost to Rome **
Following the fragmentation of the empire of Alexander, Macedon became an independent kingdom once again. The military forces of this successor state, the Antigonid Macedonian army, retained many features of the armies of Philip and Alexander. The Hellenistic armies of the other Macedonian successor-states of the Diadochi period, which followed the death of Alexander, also displayed a continuation of earlier Macedonian equipment, organisation and tactics. Towards the end of the period, however, there was a general decline in the use of the combined arms approach, and the phalanx once more became the arm of decision. The phalangites were armed with longer pikes and as a result the phalanx itself became less mobile and adaptable than it had been in Alexander's era.[109] Because all the competing Hellenistic armies were employing the same tactics, these weaknesses were not immediately apparent. However, the Hellenistic armies were eventually faced by forces from outside the successor kingdoms, such as the Roman and Parthian armies, composed of differing troop types using novel tactics. Against such foes the Hellenistic-era phalanx proved vulnerable. The phalanx finally met its end in the Ancient world when the more flexible Roman manipular tactics contributed to the defeat and partition of Macedon in the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C

(-1-)
The reason why the Sarissa Pike requires larger formations was because of it's length. It was twice as long as a normal hoplite spear(Dori). In a typical phalanx any foe approaching the phalanx would be faced with layers of spear tips to contend with. The longer spear's advantage was in part due to more layers. The longer spear meant people in the fifth row could use their spear tips against a closing enemy. But this required their be a fifth row of spearmen. Larger base formations meant slower overall units, which were less flexible, more susceptible to difficulties with terrain, but they were also heavier, better protected, and better able to smash smaller enemy units matched against them on even terrain, if they could close, which was challenging. The larger unites with heavier spears were also slower than normal phalanxes. What they excelled at was eating up space, controlling the battlefield. They were essentially a mobile fortification which could roll up on any battlefield and become the fulcrum for the numerous other Macedonian unites to leverage.


Just wanted to add an observation in some research on the Macedonian and Greek armies…

  1. The Hoplite was a standard infantryman of all Greek nations, also the in Macedonia under Philip and Alexander. All free men (citizens) were by law trained and own Hoplite equipment.

  2. Philip added the pikemen first as a specialist addition to the heavy infantry. They would occupy the center to hold and pin the enemy in place. All pikemen were essentially Hoplites trained and equipped as pikemen. Thus those who served as pikemen were quickly considered some sort elite or of superior training than most others.

  3. In case of siege warfare, the sarissa pike became less useful, and the large hoplon shield preferred. In field battle the sarissa and the smaller shield could effectively pin down normal Hoplites. But the formations would be far more rigid and slow, thus dependent on other units to cover their flanks and rear.

  4. Alexander liked how the pikemen worked and expanded their use. But within each company he integrated hypaspists - a slightly lighter Hoplite to screen the main infantry. For example, regarding the battle of Gaugamela, Alexanders heavy infantry numbers 31,000 - but this number again doesn't mean 31,000 men armed with sarissas. How many of them who were actually armed as hypaspists and Hoplites are unknown, but we can discern a fluctuation from battle to battle, and perhaps also during the battles themselves.


The assumption that Philip of Macedon made radical changes seems questionable. The Macedonian sarissa was longer than the hoplite version, which would give it an advantage over a phalanx with shorter weapons. Certainly with these, and the Macedonian Cavalry, Philip managed to subdue all of Greece aside from Sparta, who also gave him little trouble. Of course, the fact that Macedon was larger than each Greek state might also give them an advantage when taking each city in isolation.

The longer spear remained in use for the phalanx in subsequent wars, so there's no sign that any disadvantage versus the hopite phalanx was ever found.

I'm not sure why you don't credit the phalanx when fighting the Persians. Both types showed well versus Persians, from Xenophon and his long retreat to Alexander and his long advance. Since the Persians did not have good heavy infantry, the superiority was vital when fighting large forces. But this isn't of any relevance to your question.

Finally, the Legion beat the phalanx fairly handily, and it got easier with practice. By the end of the period Rome was thumping successor armies with almost no losses. But, again, there's little reason to think that a hoplite phalanx wouldn't be as easy to beat for them.


The problem Macedon had when facing Rome was manpower - Rome was a world power and could put many men in the field - up to 500,000. Macedon, by the time of Phillip II's death, was a world power whether Athens and all the city states liked it or not. Macedon alone could put into the field 50,000 men, not including their Allies. Their Cavalry was easily the most effective mounted force in the Ancient World. Rome never had such a high class cavalry… ever.

Comparing the Roman Legions in the Macedonian wars to those Legions which served Rome against Pyrrhus is chalk and cheese. Rome suffered defeats against Pyrrhus and, in spite of what the Roman accounts said, had considerable trouble dealing with the Phalanx. Finally, Rome also experienced a lot of trouble with Hannibal. The one battle Macedon should have won was Cynoscephalae where Phillip V mismanaged his army after initial successes. He deserted the high ground… Nutter!

The Phalanx properly supported by its Cavalry and light forces with an Alexander or Phillip II would probably overwhelm the Legions who at the time were more akin to the Greek Hoplites. If I had a choice, I know which army I would like to be in!! The Macedonian army was a professional army, highly organised particularly in the Alexandrian age. It had engineers, doctors and scientists enrolled in it. Finally, it had two great advantages: 1) It had siege engines and could besiege/take towns and, 2) Its Logistics system was highly effective.

Hope this helps.


After reading some of the responses hear I have to say that everyone who stated that a phalanx equipped with sarissas is superior to a classical hoplite phalanx is categorically wrong. The only advantage the Macedonian phalanx had over the hoplite phalanx was it's use of calvary. In fact there are numerous battles that shown when an unsopported phalangite phalanx meet a hoplite phalanx hoplite would chew their lines ranging from battles that Philip had with the Greeks, to the Persians employing Greek hoplite mercenaries, to the Romans having Greek hoplite allies. A sarissa equipped phalanx could not defeat a hoplite phalanx. Hoplites were to heavily armored in comparison.


Macedonian Phalanx: 5 Things You Should Know

By the very intrinsic nature of the Greek lands and topography, large-scale cavalry forces were never an option for most burgeoning city-states of Greece. This was especially due to the rough nature of the terrain that was not exactly conducive to the trotting of unshod horses. In essence, their relative geographical position made Greeks the ‘men of the spear’ – a military tactic that preferred tight formations over extensive battlefield maneuvering. This ‘tradition’ of hoplites ultimately made way for the famed Macedonian phalanx and their Greek successor states – thus dominating the battlefield for the next century after Alexander the Great’s death.

1) A Force NOT Inspired by Either Spartans or Athenians –

The Spartans were dealt a stinging defeat at the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC, by not their long-term rival Athenians, but rather by the ‘upstart’ city-state of Thebes. This ensured a brief period of Theban military supremacy in the 360s, with its influence and primacy reaching the northern Greek states of Thessaly and Macedon. Suffice it to say, an impressionable man named Philip (who was the youngest son of Macedonian king Amyntas III) took note of the great Theban general Epaminondas and his fascinating tactics – one of which involved the so-called Sacred Band, an elite military force that was often specified as having 150 pairs of homosexual ‘lovers’. Now while explicit evidence of Macedonian pederasty in their military is still not found, there are literary anecdotes on how such relationships played their larger role in political affairs in Philip’s time.

However, beyond sexuality, it was the scope of advanced battlefield tactics of the Thebans that was seriously inspirational to Philip and his Macedonian phalanx. And, as the saying goes – “necessity is the mother of all inventions”. By the time Philip assumed the reign of the nascent Macedon, the state’s army was all but vanquished – with their earlier king and many of the hetairoi (king’s companions) meeting their gruesome deaths in a battle against the invading Illyrians. In essence, Philip had to tread carefully and take advantage of both delicate diplomacy and military innovation in order to keep his state and kingship intact. As Diodorus of Sicily explained –

The Macedonians because of the disaster sustained in the battle and the magnitude of the dangers pressing upon them were in the greatest perplexity. Yet even so, with such fears and dangers threatening them, Philip was not panic-stricken by the magnitude of the expected perils, but, bringing together the Macedonians in a series of assemblies and exhorting them with eloquent speeches to be men, he built up their morale, and, having improved the organization of his forces and equipped the men suitably with weapons of war, he held constant maneuvers of the men under arms and competitive drills. Indeed he devised the compact order and the equipment of the phalanx, imitating the close order fighting with overlapping shields of the warriors at Troy, and was the first to organize the Macedonian phalanx.

2) Macedonian Phalanx Was Originally Composed of Semi-Nomadic Herders –

The Macedonians had one significant advantage over other southern Greek city-states, and that ironically related to ‘simple living’. In other words, the Greek hoplite was essentially a farmer who was tied to his land, and such made up the bulk of the middle class of his society’s economy. This resulted in more stringent campaigning seasons since the hoplites couldn’t be too far away from their agricultural lands. However, as for the developing state of Macedon, most of its male population took part in simpler economic activities, like herding animals (based on seasons). So, during times of war, when such conscripted men campaigned far and wide, their economics tasks could also be alternatively handled by older men, women and even (in certain cases) children.

Essentially, manpower was never a problem for the Macedonian kings, with the kingdom’s burgeoning population spread across numerous villages, as opposed to being concentrated in urban centers or poleis. These simple yet hardy folk were given the incentive for better economic benefits (read ‘plunder’) that could have supplemented their meager incomes. And thus the factor that limited other Greek city-states, allowed Macedon to field a ‘professional’ phalanx army which was properly motivated and prepared. As Alexander the Great made it clear to his troops, during the mutiny at Opis (as mentioned in Arrian’s Anabasis) –

Macedonians, my speech will not be aimed at stopping your urge to return home as far as I am concerned you may go where you like. But I want you to realize on departing what I have done for you, and what you have done for me. Let me begin, as is right, with my father Philip. He found you wandering about without resources, many of you clothed in sheepskins and pasturing small flocks in the mountains, defending them with difficulty against the Illyrians, Triballians and neighboring Thracians.

He gave you cloaks to wear instead of sheepskins, brought you down from the mountains to the plains, and made you a match in war for the neighboring barbarians, owing your safety to your own bravery and no longer to reliance on your mountain strongholds. He made you city dwellers and civilized you with good laws and customs. Those barbarians who used to harrass you and plunder your property, he made you their leaders instead of their slaves and subjects.

3) A Standard Phalanx Comprised Light-Armored Infantrymen –

According to Polyaenus’ account of Macedonian military training, the infantrymen of the phalanx were traditionally armed with helmets (kranos), light shields (pelte), greaves (knemides) and a long pike (sarissa). Now on closer inspection, we can comprehend that the armor is conspicuously missing from this list of items. Going forward to a period 100 years after the death of Alexander the Great, there are accounts of Greek successor states’ phalanx functioning without any sort of heavy armor. From such literary sources, one can surely put forth this conjecture – the Greek and Macedonian armies completely abandoned their unwieldy bronze cuirass. Instead, most of their military forces adopted the much lighter linothorax, an evolved armor system made from glued layers of linen.

Interestingly, one of the accounts of Polyaenus (in Stratagemata) records how Alexander spitefully armed his men who had previously fled the battlefield with the so-called hemithorakion – a half armor system that only covered the front part of the body. This punitive experiment made sure that the soldiers wouldn’t turn their backs on the enemy. Lastly, in terms of practicality, heavy metallic breastplates would have been unnecessary for the well-drilled soldiers in the rear-end ranks of a guarded phalanx. This must have been a tactical (and practical) advantage that was welcomed by the kings who were usually short in funds and military equipment. This in turn led to a non-uniform nature of a phalanx – which is surely a far cry from the incorrect ‘heavy’ depictions of Greeks and Macedonians in popular media.

4) The Phalanx Was More Trained Than Comparable Greek Hoplites –

While the traditional Greek hoplite espoused the bravery and lofty ideals of the citizens of a Greek polis, the Macedonian phalanx could be seen as a tight formation of soldiers specifically ‘engineered’ for war and survival. In essence, the sense of professionalism was more widespread in the Macedonian phalanx, where the troops preferred better army formation over individual prowess of a soldier, thus foreshadowing the evolution of the future Roman legions.

Such tactical factors could only be perfected on an actual battlefield when supported by a rigorous training regimen. To that end, according to Polyaenus, Philip passionately drilled his soldiers by sometimes forcing them to march over 300 stades (30 miles) in a single day! This was done with the fully adorned equipment of the phalangite, including his unwieldy sarissa spear that was designed as an 18-ft long pike made of cornel wood (during Alexander’s time).

And, in spite of the seemingly rigid formation of the phalanx on the battlefield, Philip preferred the mobility of his army when in the marching phase. This led to the curtailing of many facilities for the officers and soldiers, including the reduction in servants for each man. This might have resulted in a single servant for ten to sixteen troops, while the soldiers were expected to additionally carry their rations for 30 days. By Alexander’s time, such ‘efficient’ features were complemented by a slew of exercises, drills, and simulated maneuvers – all achieved on a large scale within the training grounds.

Interestingly, one of the ostentatious parade-ground drills was expertly demonstrated by the army of Alexander the Great in an actual battlefield, in a bid to both impress and intimidate the opposing forces of Illyrians in 335 BC (according to Arrian’s Anabasis) –

Then Alexander drew up his army in such a way that the depth of the phalanx was 120 men and stationing 200 cavalry on each wing, he ordered them to preserve silence, in order to receive the word of command quickly. Accordingly he gave the signal to the heavy-armed infantry in the first place to hold their spears erect, and then to couch them at the concerted sign at one time to incline their spears to the right, closely locked together, and at another time towards the left. He then set the phalanx itself into quick motion forward, and marched it towards the wings, now to the right, and then to the left. After thus arranging and re-arranging his army many times very rapidly, he at last formed his phalanx into a sort of wedge, and led it towards the left against the enemy, who had long been in a state of amazement at seeing both the order and the rapidity of his evolutions.

5) Members of the Macedonian Phalanx Were Subject to Harsher Discipline –

According to Polyaenus, one particular incident related to how a Tarantine cavalry officer was dismissed from Alexander’s army just because he took a bath in warm water. The simple enough reason was – “…for he did not understand the way of the Macedonians, among whom not even a woman who has just given birth bathes in warm water”. The members of the Macedonian phalanx were also subject to similar codes of conduct, and as such the ultimate power of endowing judgments rested with the king (as opposed to more ‘democratic’ means in other Greek armies). Such disciplinary actions and punishments, of course, varied in accordance with the nature of the crimes committed. For example, simple insubordination often required the soldier/s to stand in an attentive posture for extended time intervals while wearing his full war panoply – thus mirroring our modern-day military.

However, in some cases relating to the violation of dress-codes and inadequate maintenance of weapons, the soldier was required to pay a fine. These monetary sums were specified in accordance with the type of equipment that was deemed to be in an ‘inappropriate’ condition during the routine inspections. But beyond fines and simple chastisements, there was a dark brutal side to the Macedonian army – especially when the times were tough.

In that regard, the protection of property was a big deal, with the accumulated plunder being divided and specifically allocated to each soldier based on his rank. Oddly enough, the ambit of loot and property also included women, and as such those who were carried off as booty were often perceived as the common-law wives of the soldiers. More intriguingly, the punishments were very strict for seducing women (and thus property) of other soldiers – sometimes even resulting in death sentences. Gruesome forms of executions were also reserved for mutineers – with punishments ranging from being stoned to death, being hurled into rivers, to even being trampled by elephants.

Book References: Alexander the Great at War (Edited by Ruth Sheppard) / Macedonian Warrior (by Ryan Jones, Waldemar Heckel) / Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Age (by Peter Green).


Was the Macedonian phalanx more effective than hoplites? - History

Both formations the foundations of western warfare

The organization from Homeric style hero warfare to tightly packed hoplite warfare was world changing. This powerful Hellenic formation allowed the ancient Greeks to hold off the powerful Persian invasion and spread Hellenic culture throughout the Mediterranean. The Macedonian phalanx took the concept of cohesive group warfare to another level with the sarissa armed phalangites and under Philip and Alexander, steamrolled every opponent in front of them.
While Alexander’s empire grew and fragmented, The Romans were busy with their arduous task of conquering Italy. Initially adopting a hoplite style phalanx due to influence from Southern Italian Hellenic colonies, the army eventually transformed into the flexible manipular legion. This transformation was likely a result of the Samnite wars fought in the varied mountainous terrain of central Italy where the Romans needed a more adaptable formation. The Roman manipular legion and the Macedonian phalanx were each pivotal factors in the successes of their states, but was one formation actually better than the other?
The best descriptions of the formations come from the historian Polybius. Raised in ancient Greece, Polybius fought in Hellenic battles before being sent to Rome as a hostage, though he was given great freedoms during his stay. In Rome Polybius studied Roman warfare and so had experience with both phalanx and maniple style warfare.


In his histories, Polybius directly address the strengths and weakness of both formations. For the phalanx, the sixteen-man deep formation had the first five ranks with their spears extending out of the formation while the remaining ranks held their spears upright or at an angle to deflect missiles. The tight formation with the average phalangites taking up a frontage of three feet meant that, theoretically, the average soldier, who needed twice the frontage to operate with sword or spear, faced a total of ten spear points.
Not purely a defensive formation, the phalanx could advance forward with pikes churning through virtually any opponent with ease. Polybius states that the biggest weakness of the phalanx is its uselessness in rugged terrain, but we know that under competent leadership the phalanx had won victories even while crossing rivers.


The Roman manipular formation was quite a unique layout. With three lines, one behind the other the Romans deployed in separate maniples with each line having a maniple-sized gap between units, with those gaps covered by the next line back creating a checkerboard formation. The exact method of this formation engaging in battle has been questioned due to the large gaps, but it seems that the gaps remained while engaged to allow the rear lines through to support when needed.
There are several key differences in the formations. The maniple was fluid, with each maniple led by centurions who were encouraged to take initiative and lead by example. The phalanx was much more rigid, but overwhelmingly powerful in a frontal assault. The individual soldier of the phalanx was tied to the cohesion of his unit, but had the safety of multiple spearheads between the front row and the enemy.
The individual Roman had more room to operate, with a large shield and effective sword allowing them to confidently engage and defend individually and as a group by locking shields. The javelins thrown by the maniples were also an effective formation breaking tool used to lessen the impact of enemy charges or create holes to exploit with their own charge.
The two formations actually met in battle a handful of times with varied results. The first combats were during Pyrrhus’ invasion of Italy in 280 BCE. Three major battles were fought with the first two being Pyrrhic victories for Pyrrhus. At Heraclea and Asculum the tried and true Macedonian phalanx faced the Roman maniple that had only been established 40-100 years before.

Pyrrhus won these battles but the maniples put forth a valiant effort and caused heavy casualties. At the battle of Beneventum a few years later the Romans finally prevailed, with help from Pyrrhus’ elephants which charged back into his own lines. Details for these battles are scarce but while it seems that though the phalanx did indeed steamroll through the Romans, it was done with great difficulty and at Beneventum the flexibility of the maniples allowed them to seize the openings made by the rampaging elephants to cause a rout.
After Pyrrhus’ invasion, the Romans fought titanic wars against Carthage that brought them to superpower status in the Mediterranean. Barely after wrapping up the second Punic war, the Romans invaded Macedon to take the fight to Philip V, who had been an ally of Carthage and was now harassing Roman-allied Hellenic cities. The armies of Rome and Philip’s phalanx army met at Cynoscephalae, with a large hill separating the two camps.
Philip decided to take the initiative and marched out first with the right half of his phalanx, so that they could take the hill and attack downhill. As the Roman left met them and held firm, the Roman right marched up the hill in order to deny the rest of Philip’s army the downhill advantage. While advancing an unnamed officer noticed that they were marching right past the vulnerable rear of the Macedonian right phalanx and peeled off a large enough force to flank the engaged phalanx and quickly rout them.
Meanwhile, the remaining Roman right wing advanced up the hill and met the rest of Philips army as they were arriving in bunches. The flexibility of the maniples allowed them to surround and destroy each unit until the rest of Philip’s forces fled. This battle shows the ingenuity and freedoms allowed to Roman officers to enable them to make a battlefield decision that profoundly influenced the outcome.
The last great example of maniple and phalanx battle is found at the battle of Pydna during the third Macedonian war between Rome and Perseus. The decisive battle happened on flat ground not too far from the site of Thermopylae. The Macedonians outnumbered the Romans about 44,000 to 29,000 but both forces were equal in cavalry.
The two armies lined up, each splitting the cavalry on the wings and the Macedonian phalanx advanced. The Roman infantry met the phalanx and did not break, but were steadily forced back towards the broken ground behind them. As the long phalanx line pushed forward, they began to break formation as some areas pushed forward more than others and the uneven ground began to break the formation.


In small groups at first, the Romans dove into these narrow gaps in the lines and fought to widen them. As gaps grew, more, presumably fresh, men from the rear lines were fed through to completely infiltrate dozens of segments of the phalanx and the Macedonians soon broke. The cavalry fight was even but as soon as the infantry ran the cavalry followed suit.
This last battle shows the small unit tactics for which the maniple was built towards but also shows how well the maniple fit the Romans as a people. Romans were fiercely brave, and it took quite a feat of bravery to be among the first to jump into an enemy formation bristling with spears to open up gaps for your fellow soldiers.
The battles certainly showcase the manipular legion’s flexibility over the powerful but stiff Macedonian phalanx, but it would have been impossible with all the different variables to find a perfect battlefield matchup of the two formations. Each of the battles mention featured varying skill and experiences for the commanders and the armies in general.
The Macedonian phalanx continued to be used from Germany to Egypt and did prove to be effective. Even a minimally equipped and trained phalanx was still a forward moving force to be reckoned with.
The pliability of the Roman maniple allowed them to fight in any size group from whole legion advances to the individual soldier, ready for any occasion on the battlefield with two javelins, a large shield, and an effective gladius.


Contents

The earliest known depiction of a phalanx-like formation occurs in a Sumerian stele from the 25th century BC. Here the troops seem to have been equipped with spears, helmets, and large shields covering the whole body. Ancient Egyptian infantry were known to have employed similar formations. The first usage of the term phalanx comes from Homer's "φαλαγξ", used to describe hoplites fighting in an organized battle line. Homer used the term to differentiate the formation-based combat from the individual duels so often found in his poems. [1]

Historians have not arrived at a consensus about the relationship between the Greek formation and these predecessors of the hoplites. The principles of shield wall and spear hedge were almost universally known among the armies of major civilizations throughout history, and so the similarities may be related to convergent evolution instead of diffusion.

Traditionally, historians date the origin of the hoplite phalanx of ancient Greece to the 8th century BC in Sparta, but this is under revision. It is perhaps more likely that the formation was devised in the 7th century BC after the introduction of the aspis by the city of Argos, which would have made the formation possible. This is further evidenced by the Chigi vase, dated to 650 BC, identifying hoplites armed with aspis, spear and panoply. [1]

Another possible theory as to the birth of Greek phalanx warfare stems from the idea that some of the basic aspects of the phalanx were present in earlier times yet were not fully developed due to the lack of appropriate technology. Two of the basic tactics seen in earlier warfare include the principle of cohesion and the use of large groups of soldiers. This would suggest that the Greek phalanx was rather the culmination and perfection of a slowly developed idea that originated many years earlier. As weaponry and armour advanced through the years in different city-states, the phalanx became complex and effective. [2]

The hoplite phalanx of the Archaic and Classical periods in Greece (c. 800–350 BC) was the formation in which the hoplites would line up in ranks in close order. The hoplites would lock their shields together, and the first few ranks of soldiers would project their spears out over the first rank of shields. The phalanx therefore presented a shield wall and a mass of spear points to the enemy, making frontal assaults against it very difficult. It also allowed a higher proportion of the soldiers to be actively engaged in combat at a given time (rather than just those in the front rank).

Battles between two phalanxes usually took place in open, flat plains where it was easier to advance and stay in formation. Rough terrain or hilly regions would have made it difficult to maintain a steady line and would have defeated the purpose of a phalanx. As a result, battles between Greek city-states would not take place in just any location, nor would they be limited to sometimes obvious strategic points. Rather, many times, the two opposing sides would find the most suitable piece of land where the conflict could be settled. Typically, the battle ended with one of the two fighting forces fleeing to safety. [3]

The phalanx usually advanced at a walking pace, although it is possible that they picked up speed during the last several yards. One of the main reasons for this slow approach was to maintain formation. The formation would be rendered useless if the phalanx was lost as the unit approached the enemy and could even become detrimental to the advancing unit, resulting in a weaker formation that was easier for an enemy force to break through. If the hoplites of the phalanx were to pick up speed toward the latter part of the advance, it would have been for the purpose of gaining momentum against the enemy in the initial collision. [4] Herodotus states of the Greeks at the Battle of Marathon, that "They were the first Greeks we know of to charge their enemy at a run". Many historians believe that this innovation was precipitated by their desire to minimize their losses from Persian archery. The opposing sides would collide, possibly severing many of the spears of the row in front and killing the front part of the enemy army due to the bone-breaking collision.

The spears of a phalanx had spiked butts. In battle, the back ranks used the spikes to finish fallen enemy soldiers.

Pushing Edit

The "physical pushing match" theory is one where the battle would rely on the valour of the men in the front line, whilst those in the rear maintained forward pressure on the front ranks with their shields, and the whole formation would consistently press forward trying to break the enemy formation. This is the most widely accepted interpretation of the ancient sources thus when two phalanx formations engaged, the struggle essentially became a pushing match. Historians such as Victor Davis Hanson point out that it is difficult to account for exceptionally deep phalanx formations unless they were necessary to facilitate the physical pushing depicted by this theory, as those behind the first two ranks could not take part in the actual spear thrusting. [5]

No Greek art ever depicts anything like a phalanx pushing match, so this hypothesis is a product of educated speculation rather than explicit testimony from contemporary sources and is far from being academically resolved. The Greek term for "push" was used in the same metaphorical manner as the English word is (for example it was also used to describe the process of rhetorical arguments) and so does not necessarily describe a literal physical push, although it is possible that it did.

For instance, if Othismos were to accurately describe a physical pushing match, it would be logical to state that the deeper phalanx would always win an engagement since the physical strength of individuals would not compensate for even one additional rank on the enemy side. However, there are numerous examples of shallow phalanxes holding off an opponent. For instance, at Delium in 424 BC, the Athenian left flank, a formation eight men deep, held off a formation of Thebans 25 deep without immediate collapse. [6] It is difficult with the physical pushing model to imagine eight men withstanding the pushing force of 25 opponents for a matter of seconds, let alone half the battle.

Such arguments have led to a wave of counter-criticism to physical shoving theorists. Adrian Goldsworthy, in his article "The Othismos, Myths and Heresies: The nature of Hoplite Battle", argues that the physical pushing match model does not fit with the average casualty figures of hoplite warfare nor the practical realities of moving large formations of men in battle. [7] This debate has yet to be resolved amongst scholars.

Practical difficulties with this theory also include the fact that, in a shoving match, an eight-foot spear is too long to fight effectively or even parry attacks. Spears enable a formation of men to keep their enemies at a distance, parry attacks aimed at them and their comrades, and give the necessary reach to strike multiple men in the opposite formation. A pushing match would put enemies so close together that a quick stabbing with a knife would kill the front row almost instantly. The crush of men would also prevent the formation from withdrawing or retreating, which would result in much higher casualties than is recorded. The speed at which this would occur would also end the battle very quickly, instead of prolonging it for hours.

Shields Edit

Each individual hoplite carried his shield on his left arm, protecting not only himself but also the soldier to the left. This meant that the men at the extreme right of the phalanx were only half-protected. In battle, opposing phalanxes would try to exploit this weakness by attempting to overlap the enemy's right flank. It also meant that, in battle, a phalanx would tend to drift to the right (as hoplites sought to remain behind the shield of their neighbor). Some groups, such as the Spartans at Nemea, tried to use this phenomenon to their advantage. In this case, the phalanx would sacrifice its left side, which typically consisted of allied troops, in an effort to overtake the enemy from the flank. It is unlikely that this strategy worked very often, as it is not mentioned frequently in ancient Greek literature. [8]

There was a leader in each row of a phalanx, and a rear rank officer, the ouragos (meaning tail-leader), who kept order in the rear. The hoplites had to trust their neighbors to protect them and in turn be willing to protect their neighbors a phalanx was thus only as strong as its weakest elements. The effectiveness of the phalanx therefore depended on how well the hoplites could maintain this formation in combat and how well they could stand their ground, especially when engaged against another phalanx. For this reason, the formation was deliberately organized to group friends and family close together, thus providing a psychological incentive to support one's fellows, and a disincentive, through shame, to panic or attempt to flee. The more disciplined and courageous the army, the more likely it was to win – often engagements between the various city-states of Greece would be resolved by one side fleeing before the battle. The Greek word dynamis, the "will to fight", expresses the drive that kept hoplites in formation.

Now of those, who dare, abiding one beside another, to advance to the close fray, and the foremost champions, fewer die, and they save the people in the rear but in men that fear, all excellence is lost. No one could ever in words go through those several ills, which befall a man, if he has been actuated by cowardice. For 'tis grievous to wound in the rear the back of a flying man in hostile war. Shameful too is a corpse lying low in the dust, wounded behind in the back by the point of a spear.

Hoplite armament Edit

Each hoplite provided his own equipment. The primary hoplite weapon was a spear around 2.4 metres (7.9 ft) in length called a dory. Although accounts of its length vary, it is usually now believed to have been seven to nine feet long (

2.1–2.7 m). It was held one-handed, with the other hand holding the hoplite's shield (aspis). The spearhead was usually a curved leaf shape, while the rear of the spear had a spike called a sauroter ('lizard-killer') which was used to stand the spear in the ground (hence the name). It was also used as a secondary weapon if the main shaft snapped or to kill enemies lying on the ground. This was a common problem, especially for soldiers who were involved in the initial clash with the enemy. Despite the snapping of the spear, hoplites could easily switch to the sauroter without great consequence. [10] The rear ranks used the secondary end to finish off fallen opponents as the phalanx advanced over them.

Throughout the hoplite era, the standard hoplite armour went through many cyclical changes. [11] An Archaic hoplite typically wore a bronze breastplate, a bronze helmet with cheekplates, as well as greaves and other armour. Later, in the classical period, the breastplate became less common, replaced instead with a corselet that some claim was made of linothorax (layers of linen glued together), or perhaps of leather, sometimes covered in whole or in part with overlapping metal scales. [12] [13] Eventually, even greaves became less commonly used, although degrees of heavier armour remained, as attested by Xenophon as late as 401 BC. [14]

These changes reflected the balancing of mobility with protection, especially as cavalry became more prominent in the Peloponnesian War [15] and the need to combat light troops, which were increasingly used to negate the hoplite's role as the primary force in battle. [16] Yet bronze armour remained in some form until the end of the hoplite era. Some archaeologists have pointed out that bronze armour does not actually provide as much protection from direct blows as more extensive corselet padding, and have suggested its continued use was a matter of status for those who could afford it. [17] In the classical Greek dialect, there is no word for swordsmen yet hoplites also carried a short sword called the xiphos, used as a secondary weapon if the dory was broken or lost. Samples of the xiphos recovered at excavation sites were typically around 60 cm in length. These swords were double-edged and could therefore be used as a cutting and thrusting weapon. These short swords were often used to stab or cut at the enemy's neck during close combat. [18]

Hoplites carried a circular shield called a hoplon (often referred to as an aspis) made from wood and covered in bronze, measuring roughly 1 metre (3.3 ft) in diameter. It spanned from chin to knee and was very heavy (8–15 kg). This medium-sized shield (fairly large for the period considering the average male height) was made possible partly by its dish-like shape, which allowed it to be supported with the rim on the shoulder. This was quite an important feature of the shield, especially for the hoplites that remained in the latter ranks. While these soldiers continued to help press forward, they did not have the added burden of holding up their shield. But the circular shield was not without its disadvantages. Despite its mobility, protective curve, and double straps the circular shape created gaps in the shield wall at both its top and bottom. (Top gaps were somewhat reduced by the one or two spears jutting out of the gap. In order to minimize the bottom gaps, thick leather 'curtains' were used but only by an [unknown] percentage of the hoplites, possibly mostly in the first row only since there were disadvantages as well: considerable added weight on an already heavy shield and a certain additional cost.) These gaps left parts of the hoplite exposed to potentially lethal spear thrusts and were a persistent vulnerability for hoplites controlling the front lines. [19]

Phalangite armament Edit

The phalanx of the Ancient Macedonian kingdom and the later Hellenistic successor states was a development of the hoplite phalanx. The 'phalangites' were armed with a much longer spear, the sarissa, and less heavily armoured. The sarissa was the pike used by the ancient Macedonian army. Its actual length is unknown, but apparently it was twice as long as the dory. This makes it at least 14 feet (4.3 m), but 18 feet (5.5 m) appears more likely. (The cavalry xyston was 12.5 feet (3.8 m) by comparison.) The great length of the pike was balanced by a counterweight at the rear end, which also functioned as a butt-spike, allowing the sarissa to be planted into the ground. Because of its great length, weight and different balance, a sarissa was wielded two-handed. This meant that the aspis was no longer a practical defence. Instead, the phalangites strapped a smaller pelte shield (usually reserved for peltasts, light skirmishers) to their left forearm. Recent theories, including examination of ancient frescoes depicting full sets of weapons and armor, claim that the shields used were actually larger than the pelte but smaller than the aspis, hanging by leather strap(s) from the left shoulder or from both shoulders. The shield would retain handling straps in the inner curve, to be handled like a (smaller) aspis if the fight progressed to sword-wielding. Although in both shield size assumptions this reduced the shield wall, the extreme length of the spear kept the enemy at a greater distance, as the pikes of the first three to five ranks could all be brought to bear in front of the front row. This pike had to be held underhand, as the shield would have obscured the soldier's vision had it been held overhead. It would also be very hard to remove a sarissa from anything it stuck in (the earth, shields, and soldiers of the opposition) if it were thrust downwards, due to its length. The Macedonian phalanx was much less able to form a shield wall, but the lengthened spears would have compensated for this. Such a phalanx formation also reduced the likelihood that battles would degenerate into a pushing match.


Comments

The greek hoplites weren't all that mobile. They had to stay and fight in tight formation too, and actually were much heavier armored than macedonian-style phalangites.

The battle of Pydna is not relevant to this discussion, because it was fought between Rome and Macedon. Early roman legionaries were much more flexible and mobile than classic greek hoplites.

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Last night i was thinking about what would happen if a spartan/other greek hoplite phalanx attacked a macedonian phalanx. the hoplite seems to me like it could be used for both offense and defense but the Macedonian looks purely defensive. so which one would win and how would they fight against each other? also which one do you prefer to use?

Im going to be epirus and i read that they have the macedonian phalanx so i was curious about good tactics to fight the other greeks with :rolleyes:

maybe that could be a research tech?


One thing that i like about the hoplite is the fact that it dont have to have perfect cohesion. as soon as the macedonian phalanx fails then **** hits the fan lol

It's like saying, what's faster, a ferrari or a porsche? Doesn't matter, it all depends who's driving..
BUT, let's say it was on a straight drag race with the same driver - well the ferrari would win.. but then, who the hell races in a straight line..

The greek hoplites weren't all that mobile. They had to stay and fight in tight formation too, and actually were much heavier armored than macedonian-style phalangites.

The battle of Pydna is not relevant to this discussion, because it was fought between Rome and Macedon. Early roman legionaries were much more flexible and mobile than classic greek hoplites.


Edit: Remember the classical Greek hoplite formation was intended for mainly hoplite vs hoplite combat. The Macedonian pike phalanx was originally designed to be used as part of a combined arms approach to warfare.

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Edit: Remember the classical Greek hoplite formation was intended for mainly hoplite vs hoplite combat. The Macedonian pike phalanx was originally designed to be used as part of a combined arms approach to warfare.

I THINK he's speaking of the battle of Marathon. but that was mostly an ATHENEAN victory. so not sure.

OT: Even without cavalry support, unit versus unit, I can't see the classical phalanx win against what's essentially a pikeblock, they can't through that hedge of spears and will be cut down or forced to flee. heck, the inflexibility of their own formation makes countering the Macedonian's phalanx weakness - their flanks - far harder than for most other units. but that's just my opion.


Edit: Remember the classical Greek hoplite formation was intended for mainly hoplite vs hoplite combat. The Macedonian pike phalanx was originally designed to be used as part of a combined arms approach to warfare.

I saw in an old documentary, but couldn't find it on a quick Google search, but I did find this.

I'll admit it's not the greatest source, and doesn't fully explain it, but it's something.

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All in all the greek hopelite is made for hopelite vs hopelite formation but also against other infantry based armies. Now this works well on the narrow rocky terrain in greece but outside greece the terains in asia your in trouble. mobile cavalry, cavalry archers and medium typ infantry will chop a hopelite formation to pieces.

The macedonian hopelite is made for the sole purpose of fighting the persians the long spears made the mainly levied infantry hesitant to engage in combat, and keeps the cavalry far away. Giving Alexanders cavalry the edge to make precision strikes against his enemy. The army thus is made to fight the persians and do so with great effect.
Im not so sure if the clumsy long sarrisa is usefull against legionairs or medium typ infantry. Mostly we see the macedonians fight enemies they know or against levied troops. We all know that conscripts dont have the passion or the training to fight a professional army. And only with pure luck would such a force win.

I saw in an old documentary, but couldn't find it on a quick Google search, but I did find this.

I'll admit it's not the greatest source, and doesn't fully explain it, but it's something.


I forgot to mention that if you used the History Channel as a source (I actually knew you would post that exact video) then I will never be able to take you seriously again

"Conquer, Punish, Enslave" - Words for the would-be Imperialists to live by!

Somewhere on that hill, its gonna get bloody contradictory between us and them real fast. - Anon

I forgot to mention that if you used the History Channel as a source (I actually knew you would post that exact video) then I will never be able to take you seriously again

According to the few books I have on the subject (that is, Osprey's Army of Alexander the Great by Sekunda & McBride), a large part of Philip's rise to power was that while his army of pikemen were subduing the northern tribes (which were consisted of peasant levies and lightly armed), the Greeks were still fighting eachother. On top of this exhaustion, the hoplite equipment had become increasingly focused on speed and mobility, and hence less armour was worn- by the end of the Peleponnesian war the average hoplite equipment were merely sandals (Spartans allegedly marched barefoot), a simple tunic (Spartans preferred red as a type of uniform), the shield, sword if possible, spear and helmet. Chest armour and greaves and bracers became a rarity. Ironically, the book claims, Philip developed his pikemen along traditional hoplite lines, especially the abandoned cuirass, giving them a more durable edge against the hoplites that evolved to being more mobile, but being less armoured. Additionally the author argues that the infantry (re phalanx) no longer needed mobility as it was the cavalry that formed the "corps de rupture", the decisive arm of manouvres in battle. The pike phalanx became what is commonly known as the "anvil", an element of a two-part system of battle, the other being Macedon's cavalry.

The book also makes mention that Philip II controlled considerable resources, such as the "rich mines of Pangaeum, which yielded 1,000 talents annually", with which he spent towards equipping his army in such manner. Previously the army of Macedon was essentially light infantry (re peltasts) but Philip re-organized it along the pike phalanx as stated above. Coupled with a heavy cavalry force this army managed to subdue the northern barbarians, hence solidifying his power, before turning south and conquering the Greeks that were still fighting eachother. The Macedonian phalanx played only one part in this success.

In short the Macedonian infantry under Philip looked lo more like your stereotypical hoplite with full armour than their Greek counterparts at that time, who in turn looked more like what the Spartan Hoplites did in RTW: robe, shield, spear and helmet. Other books have stated (Ruth Sheppard's Alexander the Great at War, also from Osprey) that chest armour made a resurgence after Chaeronea, and presumably the hoplites in Rome2's timeframe would have reverted to the more fully armoured hoplite they are popularly known for. It also mentioned that in a phalanx it was mostly those at the front ranks that wore full equipment, while men in the rear ranks wore either no chest armour or helmet. The book did not state why presumably this may have been due to prioritizing who is geared up with what (that is, those that still have working helmets and thorax shall be positioned in the front), wether it was by circumstances of shortage in equipment and/or the whether the soldiers themselves choose to discard these pieces knowing that they are not at the forefront.

In terms of who is better, it is a challenging question simply because of incompatibilities. The Greek hoplites' gear changed over time because of the appearance of different enemies they face- the majority being other Greeks- and while the Macedonian phalanx was actually designed to deal with hoplites, they were actually not meant to defeat them alone- they were deployed in part to allow the cavalry to make the killing blow. To attempt a hammer-anvil strategy without either a hammer or anvil component means you will fail, or win by sheer luck alone.

I would like to add that Rethmeier's statement is apparently true: while the pike phalanx was composed mostly of peasant levies (freedmen, not voting citizens as Macedon was a kingdom), they were drilled rigorously and were not burdened with the cost of equipping themselves- Philip also employed mercenary generals to help train these men. Years of successful conquest and subjugation of the tribes north of Macedon also allowed the kingdom to grow strong rather than become weary of constant and inconclusive fighting, as what had been occurring among the Greek cities.

An interesting note: this book points out that the term "Companion" is a court title, and separate from the Companion Cavalry. So accounts of Alexander addressing his Companions was a reference to addressing his court officials, some of whom would also be appointed to command parts of the army. Just an interesting tidbit I got.

To answer your question the hoplites will win this hypothetical engagement: while the Macedonian phalanx were designed to engage hoplites it was not designed to defeat them alone. Without cavalry the Macedonian phalanx would be in great peril. Indeed the principle element of victory in battles where Macedonian phalanxes were involved were the proper execution of its cavalry counterpart, and likewise the principle cause of defeat were its poor use or lack of sufficient cavalry, period.


The Legion vs Phalanx

The Roman Legions and the Greek Phalanx were two prominent ancient military formations. Both had their own sets of pros and cons. They did meet in two well documented battles, but first to clear out some issues.

  1. When they fought, it was during the Second and Third Macedon Wars. The traditional Greek City states had lost much of their power and influence. In fact Sparta had become a tiny player, who could barely muster 500 hoplites.
  2. The Romans had started using the Maniple legion. While I do believe the Marian and Imperial Legions were far superior, this was the formation in place at the time.
  3. The main power on the Greek peninusla was Macedonia. Their Phalanx was different from the conventional ones. The infantry carried longer spears (16-20 feet), and had smaller shields than their Greek counterparts. In terms of raw power, they were far stronger than the Greek city-states phalanxes, owing to doubling the spear length.

It would be 100% speculative to imagine say an Athenian or Spartan Phalanx going up against a similar sized Roman Imperial Legion, as the never met. For this purpose, we have documented evidence of the Macedonian Phalanx meeting the Maniple Legion. Both have similar traits to the other variants, and could give us a more general idea of how the other systems would fare against each other.

For information on the Maniple or Polybian Legion, you can see my other blog post on the same. For the Macedonian Phalanx was created by Phillip of Macedon. Under him and Alexander the Great, it was a key component of the Macedonian expansion.

In the end, both sets of formations did help forge empires. Alexander the Great, using his Phalanx as an anvil forged a large empire in a matter of years (its another matter how it all crumbled so quickly). The Roman Legion helped it secure dominance over the Mediterranean and Western Europe and remained a powerhouse for centuries.

The Macedonian Phalanx which was put together by Philip of Macedon, saw men more lightly armed (compared to a traditional hoplite) but with longer spears (pikes). It became the backbone of army.

When they met, it was well after Alexander’s time. Rome had just finished its bloody Second Punic War with Carthage and Macedon wanted to expand itself. The two battles which form the reference are Cynoscephalae and Pydna. Both pitted the two formations against each other.

The Documented Battles

Now at Cynoscephalae, Titus Quinctius Flaminius had chased the Phillip V’s Macedon forces out of the lands of the Aetolian League. The engagement at Cynoscephalae was over a hill with both forces on either side of it. When they vied control of the hill, both commanders decided to unleash their forces. With their cavalry and skirmishers committed, the Macedonians took the upper hand and attacked. Phillip then committed half of his phalanx to attack over the hill, whist the other half was still forming up. It was a battle of two halves of a sort. The Macedonians pushed the Roman left wing (which was fighting in effective order and not breaking), while the Roman right wing defeated the Macedonian left, which was yet to form. A tribune then took 2000 men, and attacked the other Phalanx from the rear. The Phalanx, which cannot fight in multiple directions was slaughtered. Many Macedonians raised their Sarissa (spears), their sign of surrender which was either unknown or ignored by the Romans who gloriously slaughtered them.

The Battle of Cynoscephalae. Philip V marshalled only half his men and attacked the Roman left, while the Roman right, drove back the yet to be marshalled Macedonian left. A tribune took 20 maniples, or 2000 men and attacked the Macedonians from the rear to win the battle.

The next battle was at Pydna. It was during the Third Macedon War. At the battle of Pydna, the Macedonians and Romans faced off. They both were arrayed in a typical manner, with the legions and phalanx occupying their respective centres. While once again the Phalanx pushed the Romans, moment they reached the hills (behind the Roman Camp), the Phalanx lost its effectiveness. Moving in from the side, the Romans were more effective in close combat and took the field. In fact, the Macedonian King, Persues just fled without ever engaging with his cavalry. After this, Macedonian power was shattered permanently, and by that the Greek peninsula was effectively under Roman rule (yeah there were 2 smaller wars, but they were not comparable in size and scale, and the Romans won those with ease).

The starting positions of the Battle of Pydna, where the Legions of Rome would once again triumph.

Verdict

Now, do these documented battles prove that the Legion was superior to the Phalanx? In my opinion yes.

If you love the Phalanx, you would argue but the Romans were pushed back, oh they fought over uneven terrain. However, it does not change the outcome of the results. In fact, the Romans themselves used to use the Phalanx during their initial years. They switched to the legion, when they realised the system could not let them fight on uneven terrain.

At the same time, the Legion is far more flexible. It allows individual officers to make decisions on the spots. At Cynoscephalae, it was the initiative of a tribune who is unknown to us, to take 2000 men and attack the Phalanx from the rear. This also highlighted a major flaw of the unit. In the direction of attack, it is unstoppable. But a flexible opponent or routing of the Phalanx’s wing protection will expose them. Without any support, the Phalanx can be defeated by attacking it from the sides and rear.

Another couple of issues with it. Phalanxes took a long time to assemble. At Cynoscephalae, only half of the Phalanx was marshalled in time, whilst the other half was attacked unprepared. The legions of Rome had been fully marshalled by then. Also, the Phalanx was really manpower intensive. It was an all or nothing attack, as it required all available manpower. The Romans by contrast, kept their third lines in reserve. These men, could then be ordered to whatever area that was needed, and help turn the tide.

While the Phalanx can be unstoppable with a lot of conditions working in its favour, the more flexible legion had chances of winning in different terrain and scenarios. This flexibility allowed Rome to create and maintain a large empire for centuries.

This is why, I believe the legion in any form (Maniple, Marian, and Imperial) would beat any Phalanx, owing to the flexibility that was built into its structure.


Hoplite vs macedonian phalanx

jumped THAts why i read things about the spartans they trained to music thats weird we thought them to be spartans they did this for 3 reasons ONLY 1 marshing formation everybody went in the same tact spartans should get a moment bonus over all other greeks 2 i heard that spartan phalanx could turn around in 5 secounds to face an enemy that because of the music telling how fast each one should be running 3 for inspireing BATTLE music sparta beats everything . learned to play music instruments only because of war how nice!

I just created an account just to reply in the general feeling that in 1vs1 battle mac phalanx was superior to hoplite one.
let's see in which these two formations clashed.
let's start.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_Sacred_War
3 major battles.two were decisive hoplite victories. against Philip!Did you say anything?
last battle ..Battle of crocus field "The battle seems to have been won by superior numbers and by the valour of Philip's cavalry"(diodorus)
After the battle. "He probably intended to follow up his victory over the Phocians by invading Phocis itself,[37] a prospect which greatly alarmed the Athenians, since once he was passed Thermopylae, he could also march on Athens.[26] The Athenians therefore dispatched a force to Thermopylae and occupied the pass there is some debate as to whether other contingents may have joined the Athenians at Thermopylae.[37] Although it might have proved possible to force the pass, Philip did not attempt to do so, preferring not to risk a defeat after his great successes in Thessaly"
We see here that Philip was very reluctant to engage the hoplite phalanx hean on in a locked battle.if it was the way you think,that 6 metre spears win over 3 metres alla arnmies would be armed with spears.

let's continue
battle of chaeroneia.
By all acounts the battle between a hard veteran mac phalanx lead by philip himself against the united militias of three cities.We have to mention the alied side had 3 generals in command each commanding his forces separately.A huge mistake against Philip which was sole commander of his army.
But instead of an easy victory. the left athenian part of the phalanx ROUTED the phallangists.many historians through centuries try to understand what happened.Some say it was on purpose ,some the was a feigned retreat.One have to think that kind of retreat ,feigned by a tide pack of thousand men under battle carrying 6 metres spear it is simply impossible.Thje fact is the hoplites by weight of numbers and armour penetrated the mac phallanx.Athenian "epilektoi" wore heavy armour and were constantly trained by city's funds.At that time they were numbered around 1500 men.At the same battle the sacred band met mac phallanx head on. and it was defeated after they were hit in the rear by alexander himself. So if the phallangists with the logic 6m spear>3 metres spear had an easy time ,Alexander would not had the need to engage the thebans in the rear.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamian_War
three batles again. 2 hoplite victories last one a stalemate http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Crannon..in which. "the Greek infantry was driven back by the more numerous enemy and withdrew to the high ground from where they could easily repulse any Macedonian assault. Seeing their infantry in retreat the Greek cavalry disengaged from the battle, leaving the field and victory in Macedonian hands."
Again the phalangists unable to take head on the hoplites.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Issus
Alexander then saw his left flank and center in trouble, let Darius flee, and crashed into the rear of the Greek mercenaries. The Greek mercenaries broke up.
direct clash between hopite mercenaries and mac phalanx.Easy hoplite victory against the most battle hardened phallangite phalanx of all time.

Through the rest of the years hoplites continued to clash with the phalangists.As said it was the combined arms approach more man power,training and better or better said unified command that sealed the fate of the hoplite armies.As soldiers ,a trained hoplite phallanx with heavy armour as re introduced in the 3rd century it was simply undefeatable head on by any spear formation,in an one vs one engagement.

My conclusion is that by weight of numbers and armour the hoplite phalanx could resist the onslaught of the pike phallanx.As time passed and the battle went on ,the hoplite phallanx cause of "othismos" push and armour slowly was penetrating the pike phalanx.The six metre spear weighted only 1,3 or 2 kg based on modern recontruction.Sarissa was a light spear and after some time it was sure to break of against the heavy "muscular" thorax of the late hoplites.that is my hypothesis .these.


11 Answers 11

Macedonian Phalanx

My First thought was either Samurai (of the Yari and katana variety) or Legionary (gladius/scutum/pila) but both those exemplars may violate the "single system" requirement. So if you only get one weapon, a Sarissa (pike) is the way to go!

Pros: 1:Your style of warfare is defensive*, and the country is mountainous giving way to open country/swamp. This should allow you to anchor one or perhaps both ends of your battleline on terrain features which would prevent the enemy from hitting your phalanx in the flank/rear. As phalanx aren't maneuverable anyway, these sorts of narrow battlefields are perfect for them!

2: A pike phalanx is one of the most effective fighting formations in history, and it shows. Yari ashigaru came to dominate Japanese warfare in the age of samurai, the various ancient Mediterranean armies, the "Pike and shot" era pike blocks. if you're on foot and need to kill the enemy with a weapon you can hold in your hand, the pike is the way to do it! It keeps the enemy at a distance, while also forcing each foe to essentially fight multiple enemies (as the back ranks can stab past the front one).

3: Deep pike phalanx, with the back ranks slanting their pikes forward over the rear ranks, are actually pretty well protected from arrow fire until the range is near point-blank. The arrows largely plink of the forest of pike shafts/tips above your troops, robbing them of most of their penetrative power. Your biggest problem (as the greeks found out) would be javlins, which are themselves heavy enough to knock aside a pike and still kill the man they hit. But as an offensive weapon 20ft pike is > guy with spear/sword and shield (generally anyway). This is important as you don't have anything to suppress enemy ranged weapons short of running over and stabbing them.

4: Pikes are generally effective against infantry, and essentially invincible to shock cavalry to their front. Contrary to popular fiction, even a well-trained charger will NOT run itself onto spears just because its rider wants it to. What's more, a rider would NOT want his mount to run itself onto spears! So if your pike phalanx is disciplined what'll happen is the cavalry will charge, stop, and mill about in front of the unbroken wall of pikes for your men to stab to death. Add that to being moderately well protected against arrow fire and you've got about as well-rounded a single-system formation as you can expect in the pre-gunpowder era.

Cons: 1:Hard to control. Once a phalanx gets going in a direction it's hard to change that direction. Which is why positioning is key.

2: Poor pursuit/coverage. This will be true of any mono-heavy-infantry army, but perhaps even moreso with a phalanx. Chasing a running man whilst in armor holding a 20ft spear is. difficult. And if your phalanx disintegrates its extremely hard to cover the retreat. So you'll both have a very hard time turning a victory into a route/massacre (important to make sure the battle is as decisive as possible) and be more likely to suffer a route/massacre if you're beaten.

Given the above, your 5% "special forces" unit should be light cavalry, preferably with bows/javelins and lances. These troops would provide the quick pursuit factor required to turn a win into a massacre, as well as give your beaten forces a screen to retreat behind should the battle go against you. (and lets face it, it's likely to in the face of a solid combined-arms force) They'd also be an okay screen to keep enemy skirmishers off you, but since you'd only have a few of them relative to your overall force it'd probably be wiser to keep them back for a more decisive role.

*By "Defensive" I mean the strategic defensive. Once the army is on the field a phalanx does not (and certainly should not) just stand around as a defensive formation. It needs to press forward and grind down the enemy. Traditionally this grinding was augmented with a cavalry charge into the enemies flanks, but you won't really have that option. Such is the perils of an army equipped identically! Still, the push-of-pike should be enough to get the job done on its own, your losses will just be higher than they otherwise would be.


The Army of Sparta The most famous and fiercest warriors of Ancient Greece were the Spartans. The Spartans were a warrior society. Every man trained to be a soldier from the time he was a boy. Each soldier went through a rigorous boot camp training.

The concept was that a soldier must learn stealth and cunning. At age 20, Spartan men had to pass a series of demanding tests of physical prowess and leadership abilities. Those that passed became members of the Spartan military, and lived in barracks with the other soldiers.


Legion Vs Phalanx: Two Powerhouse Formations of the Ancient World

The organization from Homeric style hero warfare to tightly packed hoplite warfare was world changing. This powerful Hellenic formation allowed the ancient Greeks to hold off the powerful Persian invasion and spread Hellenic culture throughout the Mediterranean. The Macedonian phalanx took the concept of cohesive group warfare to another level with the sarissa armed phalangites and under Philip and Alexander, steamrolled every opponent in front of them.

While Alexander’s empire grew and fragmented, The Romans were busy with their arduous task of conquering Italy. Initially adopting a hoplite style phalanx due to influence from Southern Italian Hellenic colonies, the army eventually transformed into the flexible manipular legion. This transformation was likely a result of the Samnite wars fought in the varied mountainous terrain of central Italy where the Romans needed a more adaptable formation.

The Roman manipular legion and the Macedonian phalanx were each pivotal factors in the successes of their states, but was one formation actually better than the other?

The best descriptions of the formations come from the historian Polybius. Raised in ancient Greece, Polybius fought in Hellenic battles before being sent to Rome as a hostage, though he was given great freedoms during his stay. In Rome Polybius studied Roman warfare and so had experience with both phalanx and maniple style warfare.

By Roman Legionnaires – CC BY-ND 2.0

In his histories, Polybius directly address the strengths and weakness of both formations. For the phalanx, the sixteen-man deep formation had the first five ranks with their spears extending out of the formation while the remaining ranks held their spears upright or at an angle to deflect missiles. The tight formation with the average phalangites taking up a frontage of three feet meant that, theoretically, the average soldier, who needed twice the frontage to operate with sword or spear, faced a total of ten spear points.

Not purely a defensive formation, the phalanx could advance forward with pikes churning through virtually any opponent with ease. Polybius states that the biggest weakness of the phalanx is its uselessness in rugged terrain, but we know that under competent leadership the phalanx had won victories even while crossing rivers.

The Roman manipular formation was quite a unique layout. With three lines, one behind the other the Romans deployed in separate maniples with each line having a maniple-sized gap between units, with those gaps covered by the next line back creating a checkerboard formation. The exact method of this formation engaging in battle has been questioned due to the large gaps, but it seems that the gaps remained while engaged to allow the rear lines through to support when needed.

A Greek phalanx charging into battle, as peltasts throw spears over the heads of the hoplites.

There are several key differences in the formations. The maniple was fluid, with each maniple led by centurions who were encouraged to take initiative and lead by example. The phalanx was much more rigid, but overwhelmingly powerful in a frontal assault. The individual soldier of the phalanx was tied to the cohesion of his unit, but had the safety of multiple spearheads between the front row and the enemy.

The individual Roman had more room to operate, with a large shield and effective sword allowing them to confidently engage and defend individually and as a group by locking shields. The javelins thrown by the maniples were also an effective formation breaking tool used to lessen the impact of enemy charges or create holes to exploit with their own charge.

The two formations actually met in battle a handful of times with varied results. The first combats were during Pyrrhus’ invasion of Italy in 280 BCE. Three major battles were fought with the first two being Pyrrhic victories for Pyrrhus. At Heraclea and Asculum the tried and true Macedonian phalanx faced the Roman maniple that had only been established 40-100 years before.

Pyrrhus won these battles but the maniples put forth a valiant effort and caused heavy casualties. At the battle of Beneventum a few years later the Romans finally prevailed, with help from Pyrrhus’ elephants which charged back into his own lines. Details for these battles are scarce but while it seems that though the phalanx did indeed steamroll through the Romans, it was done with great difficulty and at Beneventum the flexibility of the maniples allowed them to seize the openings made by the rampaging elephants to cause a rout.

After Pyrrhus’ invasion, the Romans fought titanic wars against Carthage that brought them to superpower status in the Mediterranean. Barely after wrapping up the second Punic war, the Romans invaded Macedon to take the fight to Philip V, who had been an ally of Carthage and was now harassing Roman-allied Hellenic cities. The armies of Rome and Philip’s phalanx army met at Cynoscephalae, with a large hill separating the two camps.

Philip decided to take the initiative and marched out first with the right half of his phalanx, so that they could take the hill and attack downhill. As the Roman left met them and held firm, the Roman right marched up the hill in order to deny the rest of Philip’s army the downhill advantage. While advancing an unnamed officer noticed that they were marching right past the vulnerable rear of the Macedonian right phalanx and peeled off a large enough force to flank the engaged phalanx and quickly rout them.

Meanwhile, the remaining Roman right wing advanced up the hill and met the rest of Philips army as they were arriving in bunches. The flexibility of the maniples allowed them to surround and destroy each unit until the rest of Philip’s forces fled. This battle shows the ingenuity and freedoms allowed to Roman officers to enable them to make a battlefield decision that profoundly influenced the outcome.

The last great example of maniple and phalanx battle is found at the battle of Pydna during the third Macedonian war between Rome and Perseus. The decisive battle happened on flat ground not too far from the site of Thermopylae. The Macedonians outnumbered the Romans about 44,000 to 29,000 but both forces were equal in cavalry.

The two armies lined up, each splitting the cavalry on the wings and the Macedonian phalanx advanced. The Roman infantry met the phalanx and did not break, but were steadily forced back towards the broken ground behind them. As the long phalanx line pushed forward, they began to break formation as some areas pushed forward more than others and the uneven ground began to break the formation.

In small groups at first, the Romans dove into these narrow gaps in the lines and fought to widen them. As gaps grew, more, presumably fresh, men from the rear lines were fed through to completely infiltrate dozens of segments of the phalanx and the Macedonians soon broke. The cavalry fight was even but as soon as the infantry ran the cavalry followed suit.

This last battle shows the small unit tactics for which the maniple was built towards but also shows how well the maniple fit the Romans as a people. Romans were fiercely brave, and it took quite a feat of bravery to be among the first to jump into an enemy formation bristling with spears to open up gaps for your fellow soldiers.

The battles certainly showcase the manipular legion’s flexibility over the powerful but stiff Macedonian phalanx, but it would have been impossible with all the different variables to find a perfect battlefield matchup of the two formations. Each of the battles mention featured varying skill and experiences for the commanders and the armies in general.

The Macedonian phalanx continued to be used from Germany to Egypt and did prove to be effective. Even a minimally equipped and trained phalanx was still a forward moving force to be reckoned with.

The pliability of the Roman maniple allowed them to fight in any size group from whole legion advances to the individual soldier, ready for any occasion on the battlefield with two javelins, a large shield, and an effective gladius.



Comments:

  1. Gur

    What suitable words ... great, brilliant idea

  2. Warwyk

    In it something is. I will know, I thank for the information.

  3. Maukinos

    I think this is a delusion. I can prove it.

  4. Kwabena

    there were more of them O_o



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