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    Roman Maniple vs. Macedonian Phalanx

    The Roman Maniple vs. The Macedonian Phalanx

    Polybius, The Histories, Book XVIII, Chapters 28-32:


    In my sixth book I made a promise, still unfulfilled, of taking a fitting opportunity of drawing a comparison between the arms of the Romans and Macedonians, and their respective system of tactics, and pointing out how they differ for better or worse from each other. I will now endeavor by a reference to actual facts to fulfil that promise. For since in former times the Macedonian tactics proved themselves by experience capable of conquering those of Asia and Greece; while the Roman tactics sufficed to conquer the nations of Africa and all those of Western Europe; and since in our own day there have been numerous opportunities of comparing the men as well as their tactics, it will be, I think, a useful and worthy task to investigate their differences, and discover why it is that the Romans conquer and carry off the palm from their enemies in the operations of war: that we may not put it all down to Fortune, and congratulate them on their good luck, as the thoughtless of mankind do; but, from a knowledge of the true causes, may give their leaders the tribute of praise and admiration which they deserve.

    Now as to the battles which the Romans fought with Hannibal and the defeats which they sustained in them, I need say no more. It was not owing to their arms or their tactics, but to the skill and genius of Hannibal that they met with those defeats: and that I made quite clear in my account of the battles themselves. And my contention is supported by two facts. First, by the conclusion of the war: for as soon as the Romans got a general of ability comparable with that of Hannibal, victory was not long in following their banners. Secondly, Hannibal himself, being dissatisfied with the original arms of his men, and having immediately after his first victory furnished his troops with the arms of the Romans, continued to employ them thenceforth to the end. Pyrrhus, again, availed himself not only of the arms, but also of the troops of Italy, placing a maniple of Italians and a company of his own phalanx alternately, in his battles against the Romans. Yet even this did not enable him to win; the battles were somehow or another always indecisive.

    It was necessary to speak first on these points, to anticipate any instances which might seem to make against my theory. I will now return to my comparison.

    Many considerations may easily convince us that, if only the phalanx has its proper formation and strength, nothing can resist it face to face or withstand its charge. For as a man in close order of battle occupies a space of three feet; and as the length of the sarissae are sixteen cubits according to the original design, which has been reduced in practice to fourteen; and as of these fourteen four must be deducted, to allow for the weight in front; it follows clearly that each hoplite will have ten cubits of his sarissa projecting beyond his body, when he lowers it with both hands, as he advances against the enemy: hence, too, though the men of the second, third, and fourth rank will have their sarissae projecting farther beyond the front rank than the men of the fifth, yet even these last will have two cubits of their sarissae beyond the front rank; if only the phalanx is properly formed and the men close up properly both flank and rear, like the description in Homer:

    So buckler pressed on buckler; helm on helm; And man on man; and waving horse-hair plumes In polished head-piece mingled, as they swayed In order: in such serried rank they stood. [Iliad, 13.131]



    And if my description is true and exact, it is clear that in front of each man of the front rank there will be five sarissae projecting to distances varying by a descending scale of two cubits.

    With this point in our minds, it will not be difficult to imagine what the appearance and strength of the whole phalanx is likely to be, when, with lowered sarissae, it advances to the charge sixteen deep. Of these sixteen ranks, all above the fifth are unable to reach with their sarissae far enough to take actual part in the fighting. They, therefore, do not lower them, but hold them with the points inclined upwards over the shoulders of the ranks in front of them, to shield the heads of the whole phalanx; for the sarissae are so closely serried, that they repel missiles which have carried over the front ranks and might fall upon the heads of those in the rear. These rear ranks, however, during an advance, press forward those in front by the weight of their bodies; and thus make the charge very forcible, and at the same time render it impossible for the front ranks to face about.

    Such is the arrangement, general and detailed of the phalanx. It remains now to compare with it the peculiarities and distinctive features of the Roman arms and tactics. Now, a Roman soldier in full armor also requires a space of three square feet. But as their method of fighting admits of individual motion for each man---because he defends his body with a shield, which he moves about to any point from which a blow is coming, and because he uses his sword both for cutting and stabbing---it is evident that each man must have a clear space, and an interval of at least three feet both on flank and rear if he is to do his duty with any effect. The result of this will be that each Roman soldier will face two of the front rank of a phalanx, so that he has to encounter and fight against ten spears, which one man cannot find time even to cut away, when once the two lines are engaged, nor force his way through easily---seeing that the Roman front ranks are not supported by the rear ranks, either by way of adding weight to their charge, or vigor to the use of their swords. Therefore, it may readily be understood that, as I said before, it is impossible to confront a charge of the phalanx, so long as it retains its proper formation and strength.

    Why is it then that the Romans conquer? And what is it that brings disaster on those who employ the phalanx? Why, just because war is full of uncertainties both as to time and place; whereas there is but one time and one kind of ground in which a phalanx can fully work. If, then, there were anything to compel the enemy to accommodate himself to the time and place of the phalanx, when about to fight a general engagement, it would be but natural to expect that those who employed the phalanx would always carry off the victory. But if the enemy finds it possible, and even easy, to avoid its attack, what becomes of its formidable character? Again, no one denies that for its employment it is indispensable to have a country flat, bare, and without such impediments as ditches, cavities, depressions, steep banks, or beds of rivers: for all such obstacles are sufficient to hinder and dislocate this particular formation. And that it is, I may say, impossible, or at any rate exceedingly rare to find a piece of country of twenty stades, or sometimes of even greater extent, without any such obstacles, every one will also admit. However, let us suppose that such a district has been found. If the enemy decline to come down into it, but traverse the country sacking the towns and territories of the allies, what use will the phalanx be? For if it remains on the ground suited to itself, it will not only fail to benefit its friends, but will be incapable even of preserving itself; for the carriage of provisions will be easily stopped by the enemy, seeing that they are in undisputed possession of the country: while if it quits its proper ground, from the wish to strike a blow, it will be an easy prey to the enemy. Nay, if a general does descend into the plain, and yet does not risk his whole army upon one charge of the phalanx or upon one chance, but maneuvers for a time to avoid coming to close quarters in the engagement, it is easy to learn what will be the result from what the Romans are now actually doing.

    For no speculation is any longer required to test the accuracy of what I am now saying: that can be done by referring to accomplished facts. The Romans do not, then, attempt to extend their front to equal that of a phalanx, and then charge directly upon it with their whole force: but some of their divisions are kept in reserve, while others join battle with the enemy at close quarters. Now, whether the phalanx in its charge drives its opponents from their ground, or is itself driven back, in either case its peculiar order is dislocated; for whether in following the retiring, or flying from the advancing enemy, they quit the rest of their forces: and when this takes place, the enemy's reserves can occupy the space thus left, and the ground which the phalanx had just before been holding, and so no longer charge them face to face, but fall upon them on their flank and rear. If, then, it is easy to take precautions against the opportunities and peculiar advantages of the phalanx, but impossible to do so in the case of its disadvantages, must it not follow that in practice the difference between these two systems is enormous? Of course, those generals who employ the phalanx must march over ground of every description, must pitch camps, occupy points of advantage, besiege, and be besieged, and meet with unexpected appearances of the enemy: for all these are part and parcel of war, and have an important and sometimes decisive influence on the ultimate victory. And in all these cases the Macedonian phalanx is difficult, and sometimes impossible, to handle, because the men cannot act either in squads or separately.

    The Roman order on the other hand is flexible: for every Roman, once armed and on the field, is equally well-equipped for every place, time, or appearance of the enemy. He is, moreover, quite ready and needs to make no change, whether he is required to fight in the main body, or in a detachment, or in a single maniple, or even by himself. Therefore, as the individual members of the Roman force are so much more serviceable, their plans are also much more often attended by success than those of others.

    I thought it necessary to discuss this subject at some length, because at the actual time of the occurrence many Greeks supposed when the Macedonians were beaten that it was incredible; and many will afterwards be at a loss to account for the inferiority of the phalanx to the Roman system of arming.

    Source:

    From: Polybius, The Histories of Polybius, 2 Vols., trans. Evelyn S. Shuckburgh (London: Macmillan, 1889), pp. 226-230.

    Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton. Prof. Arkenberg has modernized the text.
    http://www.barca.fsnet.co.uk/army-maniple-phalanx.htm

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    The Mecedonian Phalanx was creation of Philip II father of Alexander though some traces it's begining to Epaminodas of Thebes where he lived in childhood as a hostage. The few important things is that it was made(designed or evolved) in a way to allow for new recruits being deployed withought much training. That was a kind of RMA comparable to one at the time of Nepolion.
    So this made possible to feild Large armies(of the time) in such a short period in which they were feilded. Still it was a professional army in comparison to the other contemporary armies which were not professional. Yet the role of the phalanx was never supposed to be decisive in the battle. The battles of Alexander owe their victories to Companion Cavalry. The role of the phalanx was to pin and hold the enemy center or to shape it so the cavalry can role over the flank or break through a weak point or gap. The decisive component was always CAVALRY and never phalanx other than giving a finishing touch. Moreover there were light troops used to fill the gaps in the phalanx during movement.
    In short the Mecedonian phalanx was a part of a combined arms army not a kind of army in itself. When it was being used alone this fact came to the surface. like at the Battle of Pydna where cavalry did nothing and the phalanx was simply rolled over the flanks and even broken through the gaps not filled by the light troops.
    Moreover Alexander's quick conqest depended a lot on the fact that due to his professional army he had a lot more strategic mobility than his contemporaries.
    The phalanx evovled as the possibility to raise a big professional army with little training, while roman legions on the other hand were very well trained professionals. The structure and role of phalanx was such that more training would not be of more utility either. Yet the roman owe much of their victories to their rivals using phalanx in isolation and not as a component in the spectrum of combined arms approach.

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    Shakari, did you get your name from Star Trek?

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    No, I took it from the title of the Emperor "Shakari" Chandragupt Vikramaditya. A famous and legendery Emperor of Gupta Dynasty in India known as the benchmark of justice.

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    Ok, just wondering.

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    The phalanx was always used by the greeks- alexander in particular- as an anvil to the cavalrys hammer.

    Therefore, it was EVERY BIT as indispensible as the cavalry itself.

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    Sniper is correct. (Thanks for making this thread by the way, and speaking of which I'm going to re-read my polybius...) The infantry was what made Alexander the conquerer of Asia. It put the 'Great' in his name.

    Without the coehsive force of the infantry nearly all of Alexander's victories would have been impossible. His defeat of Darius was not due to cavalry, but becuase of his phalanx.

    The Battle of Granicus for example:

    The battle started with a cavalry and light infantry feint from the Macedonian left, from Parmenion's side of the battle line. The Persians heavily reinforced that side, and the feint was driven back, but at that point, Alexander led the horse companions in their classic wedge-shaped charge, and smashed into the center of the Persian line. The Persians countercharged with a squadron of nobles on horse, and accounts show that in the melee, several high-ranking Persian nobles were killed by Alexander himself or his bodyguards, although Alexander was stunned by an axe-blow from a Persian nobleman. Before the noble could deal a death-blow, however, he was himself killed by Cleitus the Black. Alexander quickly recovered.

    The Macedonian cavalry then turned left and started rolling up the Persian cavalry, which was engaged with the left side of the Macedonian line after a general advance. A hole opened in the recently vacated place in the battle line, and the Macedonian infantry charged through to engage the poor quality Persian infantry in the rear. At this, both flanks of the Persian cavalry retreated, seeing the collapse of the center. The infantry also routed, with many being cut down in the rout.

    Total casualties for the Macedonians were anywhere between 100 and 200. The Persians had 2000 infantry captured, roughly 1,000 cavalry and 3,000 infantry killed, mostly in the rout.


    Here it is shown that it was the infantry that carried the day. So, its not that either the infantry or the cavalry were better or more important than the other, its rather that both were supremely well trained and effective troops that Alexander used in concert to turn his campaign into victory. The two units complimented each other in battle.
    ----

    Onto the subject of the post. Here Sniper, you can see why it is that I said the Roman tri-line was so effective against a phalanx and superior to it. Its flexibility. It was this that allowed the Romans to win so many victories.
    [Wasting Space]

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    Quote Originally Posted by M21Sniper
    The phalanx was always used by the greeks- alexander in particular- as an anvil to the cavalrys hammer.

    Therefore, it was EVERY BIT as indispensible as the cavalry itself.
    Greek did not use Cavalry as a hammer AFAIK. It was Phillip II and Alexander. As I said the phalanx evolved due to the situational need and that way it's role was defined.
    BTW if you have a choise what will you choose, a hammer and an anvil or two hammers. Cavalry's value was never fully used in ancient time more because of socio-economic stucture than the said lack of stirrups or weaker horses.
    Why Battle of Adrianople is considered end of ancient era? Because the superiority of Cavalry was decisively established. Why Roman Armies fell to the barbarions again and again after that?
    Cavalry ALWAYS had superiority which was proven by Companion Cavalry several times BREAKING THROUGH the infantry lines or better example will be Battle of Carrhae .
    That is why I said phalanx was not even meant to be used alone to smash variety of enemy force. It kept going because in greek cities where other rivals were also only using phalanx. When they faced a different army organization they fell down like a castle of cards.
    Though Roman army organization was better and more flexible, it originated from the availabity of a soldier class and a lot of time to train and organize. Then we'll realize that why in early days even legions had linear organization sometimes called "phalanx legions" when the soldiers were not so professional.

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    Quote Originally Posted by shakari
    Though Roman army organization was better and more flexible, it originated from the availabity of a soldier class and a lot of time to train and organize. Then we'll realize that why in early days even legions had linear organization sometimes called "phalanx legions" when the soldiers were not so professional.
    The romans as a whole didn't really have any soldier class, other than when it came to officers such as tribunes and generals, who where pratrician. To my knowledge early roman armies had no such organization as a phalanx legion. Show me a source for this information perhaps?

    Thank the Gods for Marius then, or else we'd have all ended up with Phalanx legions...
    [Wasting Space]

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    Quote Originally Posted by shakari
    Greek did not use Cavalry as a hammer AFAIK. It was Phillip II and Alexander.
    Alexander wasn't a greek?

    Quote Originally Posted by shakari
    BTW if you have a choise what will you choose, a hammer and an anvil or two hammers.
    That's still a hammer and anvil attack. It's called a 'swinging' anvil or most popularly, a 'pincers attack'.

    Cavalry is a supporting arm to infantry. It always has been, it always will be.

    BTW, many of the Greeks were professional soldiers.
    Last edited by Bill; 30 Mar 06, at 16:02.

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    Quote Originally Posted by M21Sniper
    Alexander wasn't a greek?
    Your're telling me my 6th grade teacher was lying to me?! OMG!

    That's still a hammer and anvil attack. It's called a 'swinging' anvil. Cavalry is a supporting arm to infantry. It always has been, it always will be.
    Quite true *nods*

    BTW, many of the Greeks were professional soldiers.
    The name Sparta comes to mind...
    [Wasting Space]

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    Alexander wasn't a greek?
    well in phillip's day, macedonia was considered at best semi-civilized, and at worst, outright barbarians. the other greeks wouldn't have considered him a greek.

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    Quote Originally Posted by astralis
    well in phillip's day, macedonia was considered at best semi-civilized, and at worst, outright barbarians. the other greeks wouldn't have considered him a greek.
    Ah, what do they know? I mean they're only...Greek...

    Nah, the reason Alexander is considered Greek, is because he spread Hellenistic culture all over central asia and the known world. So therefore is Greek. Even if the Greeks didn't feel like he was. But in my opinion, that's just because they got their asses handed to them by both his father and him.
    [Wasting Space]

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    Quote Originally Posted by astralis
    well in phillip's day, macedonia was considered at best semi-civilized, and at worst, outright barbarians. the other greeks wouldn't have considered him a greek.
    If he wasn't a Greek than neither was Leonidas....

    Phillip and Alexander unifed Greece. So maybe in reality they're the first real greeks.

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    to all

    I don't post frequently on any forum I'm member of, I prefer to read. Anyway there had been some remaarks on the statements I wrote so here are the replies, though might not be very well written.


    The romans as a whole didn't really have any soldier class, other than when it came to officers such as tribunes and generals, who where pratrician. To my knowledge early roman armies had no such organization as a phalanx legion. Show me a source for this information perhaps?

    Thank the Gods for Marius then, or else we'd have all ended up with Phalanx legions...
    The soldier class I was talking about is AFTER Marius Reforms when the landless peasants were mainly turned to PROFESSIONAL soldiers. As for the source I had a link to some militery site of USA but apparently US is doing SOMETHING to remove information regarding militery from internet. 2 years ago googling "US army feild manuals" or "Vietcong boobytraps" used to give link to sites having downloadable pdf versions of field manuals or Lessons Learnt bulletins. Things have changed now I don't even have pdf of Strategy Manual nor could I get it. Some online libraries(Peterson online library for instace) that were free access are now restricted.
    Though a bit of googleing could have given you some source if you would have looked for it, I have done that on your behalf but could not find much info.

    The evolution of legion followed the chain
    Phalanx Legion
    Manipuler Legion
    Cohortal Legion

    The only relevent link I could find is
    http://people.cohums.ohio-state.edu/...0/midterm1.htm
    look at "Lecture 9. WAR IN THE ROMAN REPUBLIC"
    it just gives the title though, but sorry! I'm unable to get a detailed link.

    That's still a hammer and anvil attack. It's called a 'swinging' anvil or most popularly, a 'pincers attack'.

    Cavalry is a supporting arm to infantry. It always has been, it always will be.

    BTW, many of the Greeks were professional soldiers.
    What I meant by entire cavalry army is what I tried to quote from the example of Battle of Carrhae
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Carrhae
    LOOK AT THE ARMIES STRENGTH AND CASUALTIES
    "The Parthians, although outnumbered, used 1000 heavily armed and armored horsemen, called "cataphracts," in conjunction with 9000 horse archers to defeat the Roman heavy infantry. The horse archers shot repeated volleys of arrows into the densely packed formation of the Roman legionnaires, reportedly literally pinning many of their feet to the ground and shields to their arms. To sustain their barrage, the Parthians employed camels to carry additional loads of arrows.

    When the Romans attempted to charge the horse archers, the Parthians followed their custom of feigning retreat, turning suddenly and shooting arrows at the enemy while fleeing (known as the "Parthian shot"), wheeling back, and then trampling the enemy with their cataphracts. If the Romans tried to form into a protective testudo, the cataphracts would charge them and the legionnaires would be unable to fight effectively due to their tight formation. Although the Romans' large scuta gave them some measure of protection against the volleys of arrows, many soldiers eventually collapsed from thirst and heat exhaustion even if otherwise unwounded due to the exertion required in attempting to defend themselves from the seemingly endless fullisades of Parthian arrows. The Parthian arrows were devastating, "When Publius urged them to charge the enemy's mail-clad horsemen, they showed him that their hands were riveted to their shields and their feet nailed through and through to the ground, so that they were helpless either for flight or for self-defence." (Plutarch, Life of Crassus, XXV)"

    Thats what is masterpiece of Tactical Mobility. And this is what happened when the FLEXIBLE Roman Legions, Battle Hadened and time tested faced a GOOD Cavalry army.


    The phalanx was always used by the greeks- alexander in particular- as an anvil to the cavalrys hammer.

    Therefore, it was EVERY BIT as indispensible as the cavalry itself.
    NO WAY. In the Macedonian hammer and anvil tactic(http://www.dean.usma.edu/history/web...il_tactics.gif) it may be the case but
    Cavalry can fight successfully without infantry, infantry CAN NOT fight swuccessfully without cavalry. In Greece the case was different since the opposing forces both comprised heavily of infantry only. The Phalanx is inherently rigid the needed flexibility can only be givel by cavalry.

    Originally Posted by M21Sniper
    Alexander wasn't a greek?
    This has been discussed already and you have already said that whatever be the case you believe he was Greek so what can be said.
    So he united Greece and hence he was real Greek!
    Analogy
    British rule united India so British were ture Indians.

    Anyway
    I always envisioned the best army as comprizing entirely of cavalry which was truely attained only by Great Khan.
    What do you think of if the legions would have faced army of Great Khan or Subedai Bahadur.
    The Crack Knights did not perdo very much facing Subedai Bahadur.
    Battle of River Mohi
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Mohi
    Thats where the beauty of light cavalry's ingenious can be seen. The Dead bodies of the Knights were spreaded over the distance of 2 days journy. In fact the same kind of thing happenned at Carrhae.
    Battle of Legnica
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Legnica
    Nothing special
    look at the numbers.

    Will try to write more when get time.
    Last edited by shakari; 09 Apr 06, at 13:10.

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