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Legion Versus Phalanx

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Tiglath View Drop Down
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    Posted: 08 Feb 2021 at 05:58
Though we know that the legion won, I think the more interesting question is why. 

Also, phalanx armies featured also hoplite contingents, and according to historian Fred Ray, the legion suffered worse casualties against the hoplite units than against the phalanx pikemen.  That seems counter-intuitive since only 1-2 spear-points protruded from a hoplite line, versus 5 pike-points in a sarissa phalanx.  

The phalanx and the legion met in six famous battles, and then many more, the study of which is not only entertaining but also revealing.... if you like this sort of thing. 

 
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caldrail View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote caldrail Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 Feb 2021 at 00:25
Have a go. Could be interesting.
http://www.unrv.com/forum/blog/31-caldrails-blog/
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Tiglath Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 Feb 2021 at 05:04
I'll try to paraphrase what I've learned from relevant books, mostly from Fred Ray and Myke Cole, and ancient sources mostly Dionysius, Plutarch, and Livy. I will not add individual attributions apart from these above, unless the narrative calls for it. 

The two pinnacles of ancient military formations the legion and the phalanx, were born from the old Greek hoplite battle line, which early Romans adopted against Etruscans and Gauls. While Greek city states fought each other in battles of two hopelite formations pushing against each other, and then briefly against the Persians, the Romans encountered a different kind of enemy in the Gallic warbands that descended on Italy, a ferocious kind of fighting against which their static hopelite style battle lines didn't fare too well, with the culmination of the sack of Rome. Consummate fast learners as the Romans were, they adapted tactics to need and created more flexible formations able to respond to contingencies in the battlefield rapidly. The legion and its maniples were to replace the Greek style formation forever. The Hellenistic phalanxes the legion fought derived also from the old hopelite phalanx. The Greek general Iphicrates, reformed the traditional hoplite formation, giving it lighter armor and a longer spear, which in turn was adopted by Phillip II of Macedonia and his son Alexander III, the Great with great success. The long spear, now called sarissa, was a two-piece pike with points at both sides and a length of 16-foot at first (Alexander) and up to 21-foot in later Hellenistic formations. The main difference from the hopelite spear was that it was a two-hand, underhand weapon of defensive character. The shorter hopelite spear was a one-hand, overhand weapon, better suited for attack than the long, underhand piike. 

The battles I will recount had a hybrid phalanx with both units of pikemen and spearmen, which had different effects on the Roman maniples. In the next post I will describe the Battle of Heraclea between the Roman army and the combined forces of the Kingdom of Epirus.  Enjoy!  
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Feb 2021 at 12:55
From what I understand, the battle of Pandosia marked the end of Greek expansion into Southern Italy, and from the barbarian victory (whose name I forget), Rome learned how to counteract the Greek phalanx.  I am vague on the details, so you might check for yourself.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote caldrail Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Feb 2021 at 22:15
That had more to do with enviroment than tactics and equipment. Alexander of Epirus had deployed on three adjoining hills but because rainfall had flooded the lowland none of these deployments were able to support the other. Also the Lucanians attacked by suprise, which reduced the effectiveness of the phalanx considerably. Although there has to be reasons for the Roman legion ascendance over the Greek phalanx, Pandosia does not demonstrate them. Or does it? Actually, in a way, it does. I'm having second thoughts. 

Edited by caldrail - 10 Feb 2021 at 22:16
http://www.unrv.com/forum/blog/31-caldrails-blog/
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Feb 2021 at 02:34
I am just vaguely remembering a post on Pandosia that gave three reasons for why it was so significant.  One is the end of the winning streak of the Greeks, another is Roman inspiration of how to defeat the Greek phalanx, the third escapes me....  So, my understanding is not very good either.  I don't mind your second thoughts, or third if you have them:)
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote caldrail Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Feb 2021 at 10:09
Well, the thing is, the phalanx relies on rigidity for its effect. A mass of pikes is one thing, but if they interlock in thick body of men who really can't manoever internally, then attempting to force into the phalanx or drive it apart might well be futile - you simply run into the next line of sharp points. 

Now that's fine on a flat landscape. But how easy is the phalanx to maintain when you advance over rough ground? Wet ground?. By dispensing with the rigid formation the Romans immediately have a more terrain friendly approach. Disruptions are easier to absorb because with no need to interlock, a space can be filled by free movement 

Perhaps that's a simplistic point. I note the battle of Leuctra 371BC which featured a Spartan phalanx line being attacked by the Theban phalanx line right flank refused (Diagonal with left side leading). Here's the thing. Both sides deployed cavalry as a screen but because the Thebans had left a way out as the two phalanx line closed, they could retreat whereas the Spartan cavalry, kept in place by melee with their Theban opposites, had nowhere to go. If nothing else, it demonstrates how effective a phalanx could be if you got in the way of the sharp end - at Leuctra, you would be unable to withdraw and your own formation would be forcing you into contact with the approaching enemy.

So is there any value in being able to withdraw? Well, yes, because you might want to entice the enemy into a trap, or pause to recuperate, and you might think of other reasons. The phalanx is relentless. Not uncontrollable, but very limited in manoever.

Aside from the waffle, what I see is the old weapon/mobility/defence triangle again. You cannot have maximum in any of the three aspects without losing the other two, yes? So a military formation or vehicle is a compromise. The phalanx emphasises weaponry for optimal damage to the enemy. The Romans opted for mobility to retain initiative and tactical opportunity. So the question is not so much how the forces are arrayed, but how they deployed on the available terrain (besides any other factors influencing the fight)

Greek and Roman Warfare by John Drogo Montagu goes into these points in some detail (besides being a cracking good read), and his analyses of the ancient battlefields tells us that human factors, circumstance, and enviroment are as important as tactics and forces. Indeed, it's clear that the more savvy ancient commanders were well aware of this. In an era of almost no dynamic control over an army in battle, commanders frequently went to some effort to stage the battle where and when it suited them. Marius did this successfully for a long time, making a virtue of it, refusing all manner of challenges from aggressive gallic enemies until he felt his army had the advantage he was waiting for.

Surely then, in a microcosmic fight between a Greek phalanx and Roman legion. the mobility of the legion allows them more options provided they don't get caught in a situation they cannot move out of?
http://www.unrv.com/forum/blog/31-caldrails-blog/
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