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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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    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 02:26.
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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 10:17.
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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 02:25.
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    When it comes to getting the prods to support both heavy draws and long powerstrokes, the answer is simple. You just make the prod larger. Check this out:

    http://sweb.cz/hawkwind/crossbow1.JPG

    Note the thickness. You can also just tie two composite bows or longbows together, and if they're properly aligned, you essentially get two bows pushing at the same time, but in practice, you'll never have ideal alignment.

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    I've been thinking, if shield walls were so good, why did the Western Roman and Byzantine heavy infantry evolve to be pole-arm centric? Why didn't the Sassanids just crush them with shield walls?

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    Quote Originally Posted by hboGYT View Post
    I've been thinking, if shield walls were so good, why did the Western Roman and Byzantine heavy infantry evolve to be pole-arm centric? Why didn't the Sassanids just crush them with shield walls?
    Shield walls can be flanked.

  10. #70
    Senior Contributor Monash's Avatar
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    Mainly because the Sassanids relied predominantly on their Cataphract's (or heavy cavalry) as shock troops to win victory. Sassanid armies (like the Parthian's before them) relied predominantly on mounted troops to win battles. Infantry were primarily poorly trained levies drafted from cities within the Empire or otherwise hired auxiliaries. The Byzantines adopted the Cataprhract from the Sassanids after encountering this troop type in battle and since for most of their history they were constantly fighting invasions from the East or else expanding in that direction they tended favor troop types that suited the open terrain of the Middle East vs the closed terrain of southern Europe. Therefore, just like their opponents the primary striking arm of their armies were cavalry. And on those occasions when they deployed large numbers of infantry in the field they were equipped to repel cavalry - i.e. as massed spear/pike formations supported by missile troops. In summary the Sassanid's never deployed heavy infantry in large numbers, hence shield walls were never an issue.
    Last edited by Monash; 08 May 19, at 13:39.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Monash View Post
    Mainly because the Sassanids relied predominantly on their Cataphract's (or heavy cavalry) as shock troops to win victory. Sassanid armies (like the Parthian's before them) relied predominantly on mounted troops to win battles. Infantry were primarily poorly trained levies drafted from cities within the Empire or otherwise hired auxiliaries. The Byzantines adopted the Cataprhract from the Sassanids after encountering this troop type in battle and since for most of their history they were constantly fighting invasions from the East or else expanding in that direction they tended favor troop types that suited the open terrain of the Middle East vs the closed terrain of southern Europe. Therefore, just like their opponents the primary striking arm of their armies were cavalry. And on those occasions when they deployed large numbers of infantry in the field they were equipped to repel cavalry - i.e. as massed spear/pike formations supported by missile troops. In summary the Sassanid's never deployed heavy infantry in large numbers, hence shield walls were never an issue.
    But why did the Western Roman army also evolve in the same way when they faced Babarians?

  12. #72
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    Western Roman is a matter of debate,since it is timeframe connected.If you mean 3d century,you still have a variation of the legionary organisation and tactics.If you mean 4th,after Diocletian and Constantine,you get reinforced cohorts renamed legions,while manpower wise you get it increasingly not Roman.
    If you go to the early 5th,you get an army large on paper,since there is the Notitia Dignitatum that details every single unit of the army,but there is not enough major combat during the Germanic invasion of 406. While in the later version of the Notitia dignitatum you get a smaller army even on paper.

    You get the battle of Adrianopole,in which the destruction of an army large in numbers but relatively modest on paper is seen as a major disaster.Julian the Apostate,fights a major battle a few years earlier,but what should have been tens on of thousands of Romans,given the paper strength is a mere 11000,which are vastly outnumbered by barbarians.

    There is a trend and the direction it goes is to a decreased ability of the army to maintain numbers in practice.So you have either desertions,lack of payment,whatever.This mathematical issue leads to a bigger morale problem.Morale does not mean only fortitude in actual battle,which is a very short period of the actual length of service for a soldier,but willingness to endure the rigors of service and training.

    Lack of morale and lack of training means that they had to do with the simplest and easiest to train tactics,which is a phalanx.
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  13. #73
    Senior Contributor Monash's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hboGYT View Post
    But why did the Western Roman army also evolve in the same way when they faced Babarians?
    Lots of reasons. For a start vastly different terrain (closed) as opposed to the realtivly open terrain of the East. Secondly and as noted before the Eastern Romans faced large (often exclusively) horse armies on a regular basis the Western Empire had to deal with a more 'mixed' armies with fewer horse and more infantry. Then the days when the Romans battled hordes charging, poorly armored Celtic tribesman had long passed. Now they faced waves of invading Germanic troops who were were at least in part as well armed and equipped as they were if not as well organized. And their enemies now had armored horsemen equipped with lances and backed up by infantry of various types armed with axes, bows and javelins.

    I would argue that massed spear walls and pole arms simply didn't suit their needs as often as they did the Byzantines. In fairness I should also point out that at the time the Western Empire fell the Eastern Roman armies ground troop mix was not all that different to the West's. They had a mix of troop types including late period legionnaires. The shift to spear/pike came gradually over the next couple of centuries as they fought with and were defeated on several occasions by the Sassanids and other horse armies that did not use a lot of conventional heavy infantry.
    Last edited by Monash; 13 May 19, at 23:21.
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