Romans and the Classical Greek Hoplite

Mar 2018
837
UK
No its a fair counter question. Sorry for the lack of clarity. I am referring to the hoplite as it was prior to the Peloponnesian War. Another follow on question to throw into the mix would be, did other cultures treat their shieldwalls in the same way the greeks did (i.e. the pushing match/othismos)?
It's not at all clear how the greeks used their shieldwall. The idea that all 8+ ranks on both sides would be pushing forward with their shields like some sort of metallic rugby scrum is clearly ludicrous. The people in the middle would just get crushed. The battles also lasted for hours, and you simply cant push with your shield/stab with a spear continuously for that amount of time is also beyond the believable. AFAIK, very little is actually certain about how fighting worked for an individual inside a phalanx. There's huge debates about even very simple things, like if the spear was used overarm or under harm.
 
Mar 2018
837
UK
I'm not sure! I guess by the pushing being slightly metaphorical. We've been discussing in another thread, how melee fighting would actually happen.

My guess is as that it seems to the deeper phalanx would have a morale advantage that makes it more aggressive. Think of balanced fighting between phalanxes as "take a half step forward, stab with the spear, take a half step back" being done by small segments of the front line on both sides. If one side is more aggressive, or if having more ranks means that it's harder to take a step back (because the space gets taken up immediately), then one side does more "take a half step forward, stab with the spear, take a quarter step back". This raises the intensity of the fighting such that the opposing phalanx, unless they are supremely confident, will start doing "take a quarter step forward, stab with the spear, take a half step back". This way, the whole line moves in a slightly undulating way, going back and forth, but with a net overall movement of the deeper phalanx making ground.

So the pressure the phalanxes make isn't a physical force applied by one to another. It's a combination of a psychological fear or having a spear point jabbed in front of your face, having the wiggle space behind you to avoid getting hit, and the motivation to move forward to try and hit the other guy. Again, I'm not saying that's necessarily true or the full picture. But the idea that you could have a column of 12 guys all pushing the one in front colliding with another such column going the other way result in a slow push one way or another is bonkers. Get some friends, go to a park and try it out. Either the people towards the collision point will fall and get crushed underfoot, or they'll keep their footing and get crushed between pairs of shoulders.
 
Oct 2019
20
Near the dogbowl
For clarity,
the Romans fought both classical hoplite style phalanxes and "Macedonian" pike style phalanxes. Their manipular formations evolved as a result.
 

Matthew Amt

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
2,984
MD, USA
How then would the winning tactic employed in the battle of Leuctra make sense?
There are no less than 6 ancient descriptions of the Battle of Leuktra, more than any other action, and NONE say that the 50-rank deep phalanx simply rolled over the Spartans. Rather the opposite! The Spartans were caught in the middle of extending their right to outflank the Thebans, something they did often and were quite good at. The Spartan cavalry was defeated and driven back into the Spartan infantry. Then the Thebans charged in, led by the Sacred Band but apparently backed up by that 50-shield-deep block. And they were stopped cold. "A furious fight broke out." And it raged on for quite a while before the Spartans were smashed.

I *suspect* that the 50-rank-deep phalanx was designed more to counter that Spartan "right hook", preventing the Theban left from being rolled up. In which case, it worked just fine! For all we know it was a much narrower column than we usually think, or even more of an L shape. Don't know! We do know that very deep formations like that were only used once or twice more in the next couple decades of warfare. So it was NOT some ultimate weapon that everyone copied. And it clearly wasn't just meant to push like a steamroller, or it wouldn't have slowed down for the Spartan line.

Just a note, a depth of 8 ranks is often thought of as "standard" or somehow typical, but there was a LOT of variation. Eight is the depth mentioned more than any other, but out of all the citations of phalanx depths, as I recall more than half are something other than 8. As few as 3, as many as 12 (I think?), aside from the 25- and 50-rank deep formations that show up only 2 or 3 times.

Matthew
 
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