Romans and the Classical Greek Hoplite

Jan 2019
10
CA, U.S.A.
Did the Romans ever encounter a Classical Greek hoplite phalanx in battle? I know that they fought the Macedonian pike phalanx multiple times in battles such as Pydna and cynoscephalae. I’m curious if the “shoving” and shorter spears of the older Greek phalanx would have been a different challenge for the Roman legionaries.
Would it also be safe to say that when the Romans themselves used a hoplite phalanx, that their experience with fighting the Gauls, and losing, would be enough of an example as to why they never bothered to continue using that formation?
 

aggienation

Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
9,787
USA
The Romans, early in their history as a kingdom and then in the Early Republic, fought as a hoplite force. Not identical to the city states of Greece, in that there were infantry classes within the Legions that were using non-aspis type shields, etc, but still very similar. It was only sometime in the 4th Cent BC, for unknown reasons, that they reformed and began deploying their infantry in a multiple line formation of separate infantry classes organized in separate maniples, instead of a single phalanx.
 
Jan 2019
10
CA, U.S.A.
Yes, but did the Romans ever fight a classical hoplite phalanx while using their manipular, or cohort, legion?
 

aggienation

Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
9,787
USA
Yes, but did the Romans ever fight a classical hoplite phalanx while using their manipular, or cohort, legion?
Yes. The Samnites at least heavily used hoplite shields, though whether or not they fought in a phalanx is unknown. Various Italic peoples and Magna Graecia city states in central to southern Italy, Sicily, and North Africa stil fought as hoplites when Rome warred with them.

Note, the Roman manipular system was an evolutionary system, not a strict organization and doctrine that existed unchanged for hundreds of years.
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,882
Australia
A phalanx is just a shield wall. There is nothing fancy or special about it. The only thing that is a little different about the Greek shield wall is that the shield was optimised for close-formation fighting.
 
Mar 2018
837
UK
Kind of dodging the question, but what exactly do you mean by "classical" and "hoplite"?

Generally, spearmen fighting in a close order shield wall was a very common method of fighting in the Mediterranean basin pre-Rome (and indeed, everywhere for most of history), the pike formations only replaced it in the successor states. I believe that when Julius Caesar thought the Helveti he described them as forming a phalanx. If you're a purist, did Pyrrhus use spear+hoplite phalanxes or just sarissa ones? I also believe that lots of Greek mercenaries thought in the traditional hoplite formation, the Romans simply must have encountered them in southern Italy or Sicily, or when fighting the Punic wars.

Now if you define a classical hoplite to be precisely the equipment used in Greece pre Peloponnesian War, then the Romans might not have encountered them. But they definitely thought often against foes that were fighting in an almost identical way.
 

aggienation

Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
9,787
USA
A hoplite is a very specific infantry type defined by use of spear and aspis shield while fighting in a phalanx, developed by the Greeks and borrowed by others of the Mediterranean area. While phalanx can mean any shield wall, a hoplite phalanx does not.
 

HackneyedScribe

Ad Honorem
Feb 2011
6,536
The usage of an aspis is heavily indicative that they fought in a phalanx (shield wall). It's not that good a shield when it comes to open-order fighting, because then you'll have a large portion of the shield on the left that's not protecting anyone, but the extra weight of the shield is still going to be there.
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,882
Australia
A hoplite is a very specific infantry type defined by use of spear and aspis shield while fighting in a phalanx, developed by the Greeks and borrowed by others of the Mediterranean area. While phalanx can mean any shield wall, a hoplite phalanx does not.
So what is so special about the hoplite? They used the same weapons, wore the same kinds of armour, and adopted the same tactics as everyone else who fought in shield walls. The only difference is the shield, which did not change the way they fought, it only made them marginally more effective. The Romans treated them no differently to everyone else.
 
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aggienation

Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
9,787
USA
So what is so special about the hoplite? They used the same weapons, wore the same kinds of armour, and adopted the same tactics as everyone else who fought in shield walls. The only difference is the shield, which did not change the way they fought, it only made them marginally more effective. The Romans treated them no differently to everyone else.
The same thing that made the Mycenaeans in your book different from anybody else. Culture, style, technology, mindset, etc.