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Thread: Qin Pike Square vs Macedonian Phalanx

  1. #61
    Senior Contributor Triple C's Avatar
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    It's been speculated that medieval steel crossbows were of a limited draw length because it reduces the risk of catastrophic stave failure. I suppose organic composites could be more dependable--drawing those must have been quite a job.
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  2. #62
    Senior Contributor Monash's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by zraver View Post
    The phalanx wasn't just to pin, it was to push. You have 10 men deep each guy bracing the back of the guy in front of him and that is a lot of force pushing against you. If you can't find a way to split the phalanx it will push you backwards and trying to engage in melee against guys whose weapons keep you from reaching him while being pushed backwards over your buddies is the definition of suck. Add in cavalry pushing in from the sides and compressing the battle field even more....

    Also missiles were over rated against heavy infantry. If massed Persian recurve bows and mercenary Greek slingers couldn't stop a phalanx, crossbows wont either.
    Yes it could 'push' as well as 'pin' depending on the immediate tactical needs of the armies commander but as noted by yourself previously "to beat the legion, the phalanx had to fight on ground of its choosing". This is a severe limitation on its utility in battle, at least when compared to Roman formations. You could of course get round this limitation by the skillful use of combined arms in a manner similar to Alexander but over time the Successor States seem to have become overly dependent on pikes as the primary fighting weapon to the exclusion of other troop types, with disastrous consequences once Rome arrived on the scene. So as you yourself noted you really only maximize the utility of pike formations when you have other troop types fighting along side them in significant numbers.

    Which leads me to missile troops. Well before Roman times most phalanxes had of course discarded heavy armor and large shields so a missile barrage, even if it didn't inflict major casualties could force that part of the line under attack to slow down or even stop its advance. This in turn would/should have a roll-on effect across the rest of the phalanx as it tried to advance - at least until other troop types were brought into play to drive off the attackers. So I don't think its a case of missile troops destroying a phalanx. They only have to have the same effect that a patch of rough ground or other obstacle somewhere along the phalanx's line of line of advance would have i.e. create potential opening that could be exploited by others and their job would be done.
    Last edited by Monash; 06 Aug 18, at 03:26.
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  3. #63
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    Quote Originally Posted by Monash View Post
    Yes it could 'push' as well as 'pin' depending on the immediate tactical needs of the armies commander but as noted by yourself previously "to beat the legion, the phalanx had to fight on ground of its choosing". This is a severe limitation on its utility in battle, at least when compared to Roman formations. You could of course get round this limitation by the skillful use of combined arms in a manner similar to Alexander but over time the Successor States seem to have become overly dependent on pikes as the primary fighting weapon to the exclusion of other troop types, with disastrous consequences once Rome arrived on the scene. So as you yourself noted you really only maximize the utility of pike formations when you have other troop types fighting along side them in significant numbers.

    Which leads me to missile troops. Well before Roman times most phalanxes had of course discarded heavy armor and large shields so a missile barrage, even if it didn't inflict major casualties could force that part of the line under attack to slow down or even stop its advance. This in turn would/should have a roll-on effect across the rest of the phalanx as it tried to advance - at least until other troop types were brought into play to drive off the attackers. So I don't think its a case of missile troops destroying a phalanx. They only have to have the same effect that a patch of rough ground or other obstacle somewhere along the phalanx's line of line of advance would have i.e. create potential opening that could be exploited by others and their job would be done.
    Even if Phalangites had heavy armour and large shields, what was the expected number of casualties per bolt against Han formations? My initial thought is that if that rate was non-zero, then given the power and number of Han crossbows, it would have a significant impact on the Phalanx.

  4. #64
    Senior Contributor Monash's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hboGYT View Post
    Even if Phalangites had heavy armour and large shields, what was the expected number of casualties per bolt against Han formations? My initial thought is that if that rate was non-zero, then given the power and number of Han crossbows, it would have a significant impact on the Phalanx.
    I don't think its really a matter of weapon power or even weapon type. I think sheer volume would be the key. If research is correct a phalanx could partially protect itself from incoming missile fire by using its pikes to deflect/block incoming missiles. (I say partially because I have no idea how effective this tactic was and as far as I am aware I don't think anyone does.) I suspect such a tactic if it was really used would be far more effective against larger missiles like spears and javelins than against smaller ones like arrows/bolts or sling shot. Coincidentally this may have been one of the reasons the legions had trouble dealing with frontal assaults by or on phalanx formations.

    As far as we are aware even after they discarded heavy bronze armor and shields well equipped phalangites still wore armor in the form of the linothorax (which modern research seems to indicate was surprisingly effective against missile fire, plus small shields and if they were lucky some form of head protection - metal helmets?? Given these two issues I believe the sheer volume of fire would be what counted.

    A high volume of small missiles would IMO be likely to score far more hits than a small volume of larger missiles. Consequently the change of killing or wounding someone in the line would be higher. Hell even a lead or fired clay sling pellet would be deadly if it hit the head. Of course one hit by say a Roman pilum would do lethal damage while an arrow might only wound but in many instances that wound would be enough to cause a phalangite to drop out of the line, which achieves your objective as much as killing him does. So IMO saturation would be the key issue.

    At closer ranges the Han crossbows you are referring to might well be more effective than contemporary bows (depending on the draw strain of course) but at long to medium ranges I doubt the impact of say 1000 Han crossbowmen firing at a given portion of a phalanx would be any more or less effective than a similar number of bow equipped Roman archers - notwithstanding any increase in range increments achieved by the more powerful of the two weapons.
    Last edited by Monash; 15 Aug 18, at 11:17.
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  5. #65
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    Quote Originally Posted by Monash View Post
    I don't think its really a matter of weapon power or even weapon type. I think sheer volume would be the key. If research is correct a phalanx could partially protect itself from incoming missile fire by using its pikes to deflect/block incoming missiles. (I say partially because I have no idea how effective this tactic was and as far as I am aware I don't think anyone does.) I suspect such a tactic if it was really used would be far more effective against larger missiles like spears and javelins than against smaller ones like arrows/bolts or sling shot. Coincidentally this may have been one of the reasons the legions had trouble dealing with frontal assaults by or on phalanx formations.

    As far as we are aware even after they discarded heavy bronze armor and shields well equipped phalangites still wore armor in the form of the linothorax (which modern research seems to indicate was surprisingly effective against missile fire, plus small shields and if they were lucky some form of head protection - metal helmets?? Given these two issues I believe the sheer volume of fire would be what counted.

    A high volume of small missiles would IMO be likely to score far more hits than a small volume of larger missiles. Consequently the change of killing or wounding someone in the line would be higher. Hell even a lead or fired clay sling pellet would be deadly if it hit the head. Of course one hit by say a Roman pilum would do lethal damage while an arrow might only wound but in many instances that wound would be enough to cause a phalangite to drop out of the line, which achieves your objective as much as killing him does. So IMO saturation would be the key issue.

    At closer ranges the Han crossbows you are referring to might well be more effective than contemporary bows (depending on the draw strain of course) but at long to medium ranges I doubt the impact of say 1000 Han crossbowmen firing at a given portion of a phalanx would be any more or less effective than a similar number of bow equipped Roman archers - notwithstanding any increase in range increments achieved by the more powerful of the two weapons.
    If I understand you correctly, you're saying that protection performed on an all-or-nothing basis, that if a missile hit a protected area, it had null effect. I don't think that's necessarily true. To exemplify, if those record Han crossbow test data are to be believed, a crossbow bolt could penetrate a wooden shield and hit an unarmoured part of the body.

  6. #66
    Senior Contributor Monash's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hboGYT View Post
    If I understand you correctly, you're saying that protection performed on an all-or-nothing basis, that if a missile hit a protected area, it had null effect. I don't think that's necessarily true. To exemplify, if those record Han crossbow test data are to be believed, a crossbow bolt could penetrate a wooden shield and hit an unarmoured part of the body.
    Not really, what I am saying is that the volume of fire is what counts because phalangites would almost always have shields and body armor (plus the pike deflection technique). Given these facts obviously not every 'shot' fired at a phalanx is going to count. Some would miss outright, some would be absorbed/deflected by shield and armor, some would injure the phalangite and of course some would kill. However since the strength of a phalanx lay in the units co-ordination that becomes your real target, not individual soldiers. You want as many hits as possible to disrupt the phalanx.

    Bows and slings simply give you more shots and are harder for a phalanx to defend against than spears or javelins.
    Last edited by Monash; 16 Aug 18, at 03:25.
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