Historum - History Forums  

Go Back   Historum - History Forums > Themes in History > War and Military History
Register Forums Blogs Social Groups Mark Forums Read

War and Military History War and Military History Forum - Warfare, Tactics, and Military Technology over the centuries


Reply
 
LinkBack Thread Tools Display Modes
Old May 17th, 2018, 05:27 PM   #1
Historian
 
Joined: Jul 2013
From: USA
Posts: 2,504
Why didn't Hoplites cheaper lighter shields? Why not Manipular system earlier?


Title


Why did the Hoplites use Hoplon as opposed to lighter shields. Also why did they use strapped shields as opposed to centergrips?



The Hoplites of Italy where defeated and replaced by the Manipular system borrowed from the Samnites. Why wasn't such system discovered earlier? Was it just an offensive vs defense thing? (late Roman Comiates would reintroduce the shieldwall and Hasta spear, and Viking era armies fought in the shieldwall)
Mrbsct is offline  
Remove Ads
Old May 17th, 2018, 05:40 PM   #2
Historian
 
Joined: Jul 2016
From: USA
Posts: 5,047

Culture.

Supposedly the term hoplon isn't accurate, it more accurately called an aspis. The Greeks didn't ditch them completely until very late in the BC period, even Roman officers were using them up until Augustus and beyond (at least according to some modern historians). But the Greeks did largely replace them throughout the 2nd Cent BC period and onwards with the thureos "Door stone" shield, which is the basic type class same as the scutum, only their version wasn't as tall, wide, stout, and was flat, not curved; however, the Romans would still classify the Greek version also as a scutum.

Its not wise to compare fighting style to fighting tactics. The Romans supposedly got the manipular system from the Samnites (at least certain ancient sources attest to it), but iconography of the Samnites shows that they were still widely using Aspis/Clipeus type shields long after the Romans had largely abandoned them for the scutum. So its possible that manipular tactics could have been used with the aspis shields, and that thureo/scutum like shields could have been used for hoplite phalanx tactics.

The defining characteristics of the manipular system is organization, infantry is broken down into manageable "handfuls" each with their own commanders and co-commanders (centurio and optione), but more so in the division of infantry classes into separate lines, with gaps between maniples that might have been kept even during battle. The Greeks were pretty into the idea of staging their infantry lines into greater depth if they had the numbers, whereby the central Italians favored thinner lines of infantry (Michael Taylor says 3-6 ranks deep was typical of mid to late Republican battle lines), but multiple lines, one of them dedicated as a reserve, which the Greeks and Hellenic kingdoms rarely used.
aggienation is offline  
Old May 17th, 2018, 06:32 PM   #3

Spike117's Avatar
Archivist
 
Joined: Sep 2017
From: United States
Posts: 193

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mrbsct View Post
Title


Why did the Hoplites use Hoplon as opposed to lighter shields. Also why did they use strapped shields as opposed to centergrips?



The Hoplites of Italy where defeated and replaced by the Manipular system borrowed from the Samnites. Why wasn't such system discovered earlier? Was it just an offensive vs defense thing? (late Roman Comiates would reintroduce the shieldwall and Hasta spear, and Viking era armies fought in the shieldwall)
A few things.

The hoplites most likely preferred the hoplon/aspis because it was very effective for phalanx warfare. It was wide, thick, and could overlap and form impressive shield walls. A strapped shield is more secure and sturdy than a grip shield (a main reason I switched my scutum from a horizontal grip to a strap grip).

That being said, like aggienation already pointed out, should the entire Roman army still be carrying hoplons it wouldn't have mattered tactically. Now, the transition from spear to gladius is moreso, but still, manipular organization is about the grouping and movement of units.

It may seem obvious to switch to a system, but from our point of view were all of it has been discovered for us everything seems obvious. Just because we know that the Earth revolves around the sun and that there is no such thing as 'bad blood' doesn't make us any smarter than previous humans; it just means that we were fed the information.

Using this thought process, it's easy to see why hoplite warfare stayed dominant for so long. It worked well for centuries; if every day you take the same route to work and its fast and efficient you probably aren't looking for shortcuts all the time.

Additionally, it is (comparatively) easy to train hoplite-style warriors; it's human nature to clump up in formation and it isn't that hard to train warriors to push forward, hold the shield up and stab with the spear compared to remaining in small units and having to maneuver with them.

Also, while a phalanx might only need a small amount of commanders to keep cohesion and order for a whole army, each maniple needs a competent captain and effective was to coordinate with other maniples.

This means that developing such tactics would've been foreign to hoplite armies and against established, effective formations and training practices. Until, of course, someone pioneered the way (Samnites I think); after that, of course it seems obvious!

And no, it wasn't just an 'offensive versus defensive' thing. A Roman cohort could hold line very well and a phalanx could launch a powerful attack. That being said, the late Roman army did become transitioned towards defense and their tactics changed to accommodate (but that's not necessarily the whole reason equipment changed).

Late Roman comitatenses (along with their limitanei counterparts) adopted the spatha, spear (not sure if same design as the hasta from the triarii days), clipeus, and plumbata for a variety of reasons. They didn't reintroduce the shieldwall. Every Roman legionary to ever live could've helped form a shieldwall; for a shieldwall all you technically need is a good sized shield and a guy next to you with one too. More accurately, maybe, is a reintroduction of a spearwall, though legionaries had used their pila for this (Caesar did it somewhere for sure) and I think some auxiliaries/foedarti still carried spears.

The change in the late Roman army were economical, changes in their enemies' tactics, diversity in their own ranks, and training efficiency oriented. The spear largely came back because the 'barbarians' had started using heavy cavalry more and more and spears are great against cavalry. Clipeii(?) worked better with spears then scutums did due to their flat, rounded shape. Clipeii also were better for individual fighting a lot of the time but could still be used in formation (the reason I cut my scutum into a clipeus), and fit the spatha, the longer gladius that was better at open line fighting and attacks at extremities and at longer range (reasons I switched my gladius for a spatha).

The plumbata were very effective at piercing armor, could be thrown pretty far, were able to be arced down on opponents heads easily, but most importantly, were far easier to carry and could be carried in larger quantities. A Roman soldier could carry 4-5 plumbata compared to 1-2 pila, and clip it on the inside of their shields.

The scutum/gladius style of fighting required a lot of training, discipline, and cohesion, and was adept at offensive (though again was still powerful defensively). A spear and clipeus was a lot easier to train a soldier effectively with and use in formation without as much coordination.

As for the viking shieldwall, I am not very well researched on viking warfare so I can't comment here. I think vikings were offensive though and as such the shieldwall wasn't for defensive uses (tactically), and I don't think battles were conducted in such a way to warrant use of maniples (I always wonder about using one system of tactics like the maniples in another period though), and not that they could effectively be organized that way anyway.

EDIT: Realize a lot of this was referencing my kit lol. I used to run a legionary kit with scutum and gladius and pilum, but have since switched to the spatha and clipeus and plumbata along with a spear.

Last edited by Spike117; May 17th, 2018 at 07:15 PM.
Spike117 is offline  
Old May 17th, 2018, 07:02 PM   #4

Duke Valentino's Avatar
Historian
 
Joined: Jul 2017
From: Australia
Posts: 1,213
Blog Entries: 1

Quote:
Originally Posted by Spike117 View Post
... though legionaries had used their pila for this (Caesar did it somewhere for sure)
I wouldn't say in a shieldwall, but at Pharsalus he is supposed to have instructed his hidden fourth line to charge the Pompeian horse with their pila instead of their swords.

Quote:
Originally Posted by aggienation View Post
...but multiple lines, one of them dedicated as a reserve, which the Greeks and Hellenic kingdoms rarely used.
An interesting topic I discovered whilst reading Delbruck's Warfare in Antiquity. It's commonly referenced that one of the only occasions we find a proper reserve line in the history of the Hellenic kingdoms is Alexander's second line at Gaugamela. This reserve line is usually accepted as Alexander's Greek allies. However, Delbruck postulates the possibility that the Greek allies weren't present at the battle, and that Arrian's terminology and description may describe merely the Macedonian phalanx doubled in depth.

Quote:
3. Just as the formation of troops behind the two wings has been conceived of as a second echelon, so too has the "double phalanx" in the center been pointed out as a formation in two echelons. Reservations concerning this concept were already expressed by H. Droysen in Heerwesen (p. 120), and certainly rightly so. Primarily there arises the question of what kinds of troops were posted here; it would after all be extremely curious that they would not be mentioned at all, while otherwise every small unit is named for us, and all the more so in that these troops execute an independent movement—that is, they drive off the enemy forces that have broken into the camp. Niese has surmised that the Greek allies that are not named elsewhere might very well have been stationed here, but it is probable (Köhler, Sitzungsberichte der Berliner Akademie, 1898) that these troops did not participate in the battle at all, and the whole idea of a second echelon must be abandoned. We shall have occasion later to discuss the significance and the character of the formation in several echelons; at Gaugamela the use of this formation is not only not adequately proved but is in fact absolutely impossible because of the account of the splitting of the phalanx and the penetration through this breach by the enemy cavalry. The interval between two echelons can probably not amount to less than 100 paces; the two echelons move independently. If the first line breaks, something that can happen very easily, then the second echelon, unless it should by chance happen to break just at the same place, is there to fill the breach or perhaps to take care of those enemy soldiers who break through. A similar function was also supposed to be exercised in case of need by the reserve troops behind the flanks, who fall short of forming a second echelon only in that they are not deployed. In the center, behind the phalanx, however, there was even less chance of the existence of a second echelon; otherwise the enemy horsemen would not have broken through so easily. The double phalanx, consequently, is to be understood only as one that has been doubled in depth, the rearmost units of which have been ordered to face about in case of necessity.

Delbruck, Warfare in Antiquity, 217.
Thoughts??
Duke Valentino is offline  
Old May 17th, 2018, 07:13 PM   #5

Spike117's Avatar
Archivist
 
Joined: Sep 2017
From: United States
Posts: 193

Quote:
Originally Posted by Duke Valentino View Post
I wouldn't say in a shieldwall, but at Pharsalus he is supposed to have instructed his hidden fourth line to charge the Pompeian horse with their pila instead of their swords.
Yes, this was what I meant. I didn't mean full hoplite style, just that they could employ their pila as spears when faced with cavalry (I mean maybe infantry too? Never handled a real pilum so I don't know how wieldy it is)
Spike117 is offline  
Old May 18th, 2018, 05:53 AM   #6

Matthew Amt's Avatar
Historian
 
Joined: Jan 2015
From: MD, USA
Posts: 2,422

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mrbsct View Post
Title


Why did the Hoplites use Hoplon as opposed to lighter shields. Also why did they use strapped shields as opposed to centergrips?
The aspis is ideal for phalanx warfare. There is still much debate over the weight--it undoubtedly varied, and we often read about hoplites whining about the weight, but careful reconstructions are often not all that bad. But a nice solid shield is a *good* thing, in that sort of combat! The strap and handle system also allows it to be carried easily, and it's easy to brace the shoulder behind it for strength. Bottom line, it worked for them!

Cost was not a factor when the aspis first came into use, since it was the upper classes who used it. For a wealthy man, high cost is actually a *benefit*--who wants a cheap Rolls Royce? It took major changes over time in the entire social structure of the military system to see other types of shield replace the aspis.

Quote:
The Hoplites of Italy where defeated and replaced by the Manipular system borrowed from the Samnites. Why wasn't such system discovered earlier? Was it just an offensive vs defense thing? (late Roman Comiates would reintroduce the shieldwall and Hasta spear, and Viking era armies fought in the shieldwall)
As others have pointed out, organization is not the same thing as equipment. The phalanx was in fact composed of smaller units (e.g. lochos, enomotia, mora) which lined up to form the battle line, comparable to the maniples in a legion. All of that develops over time due to how the society is structured, and that society's needs and priorities. Changing suddenly from a phalanx to a maniple had all kinds of social and political ramifications.

Finally, remember that it was VERY rare to blame a defeat on how one's troops were equipped, and rightly so. There were many other factors in any battle, and poor leadership or bad discipline or a lack of communication or simple bad luck would typically have FAR more influence in a defeat than what sort of shields your infantry had.

Matthew
Matthew Amt is offline  
Old May 18th, 2018, 06:14 AM   #7
Historian
 
Joined: Jul 2016
From: USA
Posts: 5,047

Quote:
Originally Posted by Duke Valentino View Post
I wouldn't say in a shieldwall, but at Pharsalus he is supposed to have instructed his hidden fourth line to charge the Pompeian horse with their pila instead of their swords.

An interesting topic I discovered whilst reading Delbruck's Warfare in Antiquity. It's commonly referenced that one of the only occasions we find a proper reserve line in the history of the Hellenic kingdoms is Alexander's second line at Gaugamela. This reserve line is usually accepted as Alexander's Greek allies. However, Delbruck postulates the possibility that the Greek allies weren't present at the battle, and that Arrian's terminology and description may describe merely the Macedonian phalanx doubled in depth.

Thoughts??
I'm not a huge fan of Delbruck, I find most of his ancient warfare historical analysis was only done for the sake of influencing Prussian/German military officer corps in terms of imparting some lessons on them on how they should operate, his biased interpretation of those battles was often used as evidence to follow one of his own theories on warfare (often running counter to the beliefs of senior general staff writers, who were his adversaries in life).

I'm aware of the reserve line at Gaugamela, but it wasn't called used as far as I know during the battle, it probably could have done some good to either stop the cavalry marauding behind his front lines after Alexander purposely opened up massive gaps, or assisted Parmenion's left flank after it was in jeopardy of being encircled. So if they did exist, I wonder why they weren't used. It might make sense that they weren't there then. I don't know why Alexander would double the depth of his Macedonian phalanx though, that is typical for staying power in hard infantry slug fests, but Darius' army at Gaugamela was more light infantry and cavalry, enough so that envelopment was the most serious threat to him (which was a long time Persian tactic). A second line of infantry would have made sense, as it could either directly reinforce the first one, or else it could be moved to a different portion of the line to hold it against a flanking threat (which wasn't done). But who knows what actually happened? One honest contemporary source that survived of Alexander's exploits would have been awesome.

But nonetheless, Greeks really didn't appreciate reserve lines the way the Italians did.
aggienation is offline  
Old May 18th, 2018, 07:19 AM   #8

Duke Valentino's Avatar
Historian
 
Joined: Jul 2017
From: Australia
Posts: 1,213
Blog Entries: 1

Quote:
Originally Posted by aggienation View Post
I'm not a huge fan of Delbruck, I find most of his ancient warfare historical analysis was only done for the sake of influencing Prussian/German military officer corps in terms of imparting some lessons on them on how they should operate, his biased interpretation of those battles was often used as evidence to follow one of his own theories on warfare (often running counter to the beliefs of senior general staff writers, who were his adversaries in life).

I'm aware of the reserve line at Gaugamela, but it wasn't called used as far as I know during the battle, it probably could have done some good to either stop the cavalry marauding behind his front lines after Alexander purposely opened up massive gaps, or assisted Parmenion's left flank after it was in jeopardy of being encircled. So if they did exist, I wonder why they weren't used. It might make sense that they weren't there then. I don't know why Alexander would double the depth of his Macedonian phalanx though, that is typical for staying power in hard infantry slug fests, but Darius' army at Gaugamela was more light infantry and cavalry, enough so that envelopment was the most serious threat to him (which was a long time Persian tactic). A second line of infantry would have made sense, as it could either directly reinforce the first one, or else it could be moved to a different portion of the line to hold it against a flanking threat (which wasn't done). But who knows what actually happened? One honest contemporary source that survived of Alexander's exploits would have been awesome.

But nonetheless, Greeks really didn't appreciate reserve lines the way the Italians did.
Regardless, Delbruck had an impact on military history, specifically the need to cross reference the sources with mathematics and reality. I don't really see a particular problem with Delbruck's argument here. Darius probably had a lot of cavalry - but little infantry (disregarding the claim that he brought mass levies to the field), essentially the Greek mercenaries, the Immortals and household infantry. Alexander didn't need an extended front to face an infantry line. Doubling the depth of his phalanx meant he could not only preserve formation of his army on the advance to a greater degree, as well as prevent any flanking attempts.

He could be wrong, but at the moment I don't see anything wrong with the proposal.
Duke Valentino is offline  
Old May 18th, 2018, 08:29 AM   #9
Historian
 
Joined: Jul 2016
From: USA
Posts: 5,047

Quote:
Originally Posted by Duke Valentino View Post
Regardless, Delbruck had an impact on military history, specifically the need to cross reference the sources with mathematics and reality. I don't really see a particular problem with Delbruck's argument here. Darius probably had a lot of cavalry - but little infantry (disregarding the claim that he brought mass levies to the field), essentially the Greek mercenaries, the Immortals and household infantry. Alexander didn't need an extended front to face an infantry line. Doubling the depth of his phalanx meant he could not only preserve formation of his army on the advance to a greater degree, as well as prevent any flanking attempts.

He could be wrong, but at the moment I don't see anything wrong with the proposal.
For sake of debate only (as I don't believe Delbruck's strength analysis to be anything more than garbage), let's say the bulk of Darius' infantry levies were fictional and weren't there. Then Darius' army is still made up nearly entirely of cavalry, chariots, elephants, light infantry, with the only "heavy infantry" being the Greek mercenaries and Darius' household guards, who the Greeks improperly call Immortals, who actually aren't strictly heavy infantry, whose formation is only shield and spear bearers for the first ranks, while the rest behind them are bowmen (which is actually one of the reforms Alexander later tries to copy).

If that were the case, why is Alexander doubling the phalanx? That is a technique to give a force more staying power in close combat, to prevent a force from retreating by having ranks immediately behind the front to stay backwards movement. These aren't needed for that sort of enemy.

Also, Parmenion did not advance, the left flank was refused. You're saying that Alexander doubled depth of the Macedonian phalanx as a way of ensuring it remained strong on the advance. But it didn't.

The standard manner for an infantry centric army (which Parmenion's portion of the line was) to counter a more mobile enemy force, especially of cavalry, is to extend the line to prevent encirclement. Parmenion didn't do that. He could have doubled files and extended the width of each phalanx (as done at numerous later Hellenic battles), which would have expanded the frontage of the phalanx. But he didn't. Instead he wheeled his wing infantry units around to protect his left flank but even that didn't work all that well, he was still threatened by encirclement, only saved by Alexander's prompt arrival.

The only way Delbruck is right is if somebody screwed up. It makes no sense to double the thickness of infantry in that situation. It makes sense to have a reserve line. But it also makes sense to have used it once Alexander's primary battle line's integrity was destroyed when he split it for his maneuver against Darius' center. At that point the reserve probably should have been committed. It most definitely should have been committed once it was apparent Parmenion was going to be encircled. Or when Darius' cavalry was in Alexander's rear trying to go for his camp. The fact that it did not participate makes me think it either wasn't there, or that if it was, its troops were so poorly trusted that they were purposely denied any crucial role in the battle besides screening a major rout of Alexander's forces should things have gone horribly.
aggienation is offline  
Old May 18th, 2018, 09:38 AM   #10

Murffy's Avatar
Lecturer
 
Joined: Feb 2017
From: Minneapolis
Posts: 287

When I look at a thureos or scutum, they seem like they would be unwieldy with just a single-hand grip, and that they would flop around quite a bit, especially if struck near the top or bottom. What are reenactors' experiences with them like?
Murffy is offline  
Reply

  Historum > Themes in History > War and Military History

Tags
cheaper, earlier, hoplites, lighter, manipular, shields



Thread Tools
Display Modes


Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
The Zulu had metalworking, so why didn't their soldiers use metal armor or shields? PreColonialAfricaFTW Middle Eastern and African History 50 December 28th, 2016 02:42 AM
Why didn't Japan invade British and Dutch Pacific territories earlier? AsdfAsdf General History 12 April 23rd, 2016 11:13 PM
Why didn't more rifles use Straight-Pull system? Wodz Mikolaj War and Military History 4 February 27th, 2016 04:08 PM
Why exactly didn't Russia pursue large-scale industrialization earlier? Futurist European History 33 December 15th, 2015 06:50 PM
Recruitment under manipular system thelistener Ancient History 8 July 24th, 2012 04:35 AM

Copyright © 2006-2013 Historum. All rights reserved.