The Macedonian Phalanx


The Macedonian phalanx (and the earlier Hoplite phalanx) was a mass military formation in the shape of a rectangle. A variant of the defensive shield wall, the phalanx was also a fearsome offensive tactic to be reckoned with in the ancient world from around the 3rd-century B.C., to the rise of Rome around the 2nd-century B.C.

Basically, a large group of hoplites line up in columns and rows. Armed with small shields and insanely long spears, the phalanx would march into battle, slaughtering any melee combatant foolish enough to attempt an approach.

A gallery of awesome-looking depictions of the phalanx formation follow below:

Phalanx1

Phalanx2

                 Image from P. Connolly, The Greek armies, 1978

Phalanx3

Phalanx4

The Sarissa was the spear of choice for phalanx assaults. Measuring around 5.5 metres (18 feet) long, the sarissas of the first several rows of men would jut out through the front line, creating a wall of piercing death.

Behold the size comparison to puny, soft-fleshed human victims below:

 Sarissa1   Sarissa2

                    Sarissa images from University of Canterbury

And if you don’t think all that sounds scary, imagine yourself as a tribal warrior, armed with your puny broadsword (a mere 1.8 metres or 6 feet long) and wearing only war paint, magical wards and your own courage for armour, charging face first into a dozen spearpoints with a pathetic battle cry.

The outcome, in DotA speek: “MEEEEEEEEGA KILL!!!”

Compare to the later Roman Testudo (tortoise) formation where interlocked shields protect the top and every side.

                     Testudo

Less scary looking, and more defense oriented for such uses as getting close to the enemy walls during a siege. (I recall the Uruk Hai using this formation in order to get a battering ram to the side gate during the siege of Helms Deep in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers film.)

Back to the phalanx: This marching wall of doom had several weaknesses, however. It was bulky and unagile, for one, unsuited for use on uneven terrain.

It was slow moving, allowing ranged attackers to gradually wither down the soldiers from afar. Siege weapons such as catapults and ballistae, normally too inaccurate for use against infantry, would have devastated the easy target of the large, nearly-immobile mass of men.

The sides and back of the formation were especially vulnerable – turning and wheeling would have been like trying to park a lorry. Pike walls are a counter to cavalry charges, but fast moving cavalry could bypass the front of the phalanx and strike the flanks.

Thus, the phalanx often fared better when supported by light infantry and cavalry to counter the opponent’s flexibility.

So as time passed and Warfare evolved, the phalanx eventually became outdated as more adaptable tactics were adopted. But the tactic continued on in different forms, such as in combination with musketeers as in the 16th- and 17th-century Spanish Tercio.

And of course, the phalanx remains a popular battle formation in strategy games featuring the glorious ages of ancient warfare. (Although sometimes inaccurately depicted.)

Phalanx5

        Shields up! Heads down! Spears forward… Advance!

And here’s some shots of the Spartan hoplite phalanx as portrayed in the cinematic battle-fest film, 300 (no larger size available even if you click them):

     300Phalanx1

     300Phalanx2

     300Phalanx3

     300Phalanx4

     300Phalanx5

     300Phalanx6

The film portrayal clearly shows the tactical advantage that well-drilled professional soldiers with thick, strong spears and heavy bronze shields have against inexperienced conscripts (called ‘an army of slaves’ by the Spartans) armed with light weapons and wicker shields.

Fan spliced music video of battles in 300 at Youtube here.

The barechested hoplites of the film are not exactly accurate, however (though it makes for macho comic book and movie posturing). The real hoplites were heavily armoured, more like this:

HopliteGear

An earlier film about the Battle of Thermopylae, the 1962 release The 300 Spartans has its history more accurate and much less sensationalized.

             The300Spartans1962

And finally… An editorial cartoon playing on the War on Terror (Iraq campaign) from Cox and Forkum:

300CoxForkum


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71 Responses to “The Macedonian Phalanx”

  1. required Says:

    good good I liket he romans

  2. Altair Says:

    “good good I liket he romans”

    Dude, Macedonians Where not Romans

    Beautifull War Formations

  3. jimmy Says:

    i still think that the spartans had better formations, they created it, they were the best at the, the romans modified it with the huge heavy shields

  4. Paul Says:

    Great explanation. Great blog.

  5. Björn Says:

    what the f*ck. A phalanx ain’t made out of spears. That’s something you got the game Rome: Total War. It is a wall out of shields that is suporting each other. Like if one got a problem the guys next to can help with his shield. And so on. So they can support each other. Thats the strength of the phalanx formation.Not to have big pikes. Sure that is a very devestating part of it to. But that ain’t the phalanx. The shields are the phalanx. And the Roman testudo. Was actully made out of woodenshield and that’s not what they use in Rome: Total War and that’s wrong. It was made of wooden shield becuse of steel ones would the arrows bounce. And hit a vital part of a soldier. But anyway i think you got a good blog here. And a good place att google. That’s it for me.

  6. Scott Thong Says:

    Wait, what did I get wrong?

    According to Wikipedia (and yes, I know anyone can edit it – but crappy edits won’t stay long)…

    Phalanx = men in mass formation with long pointy weapons. Comes from the Greek word phalangos, meaning finger – reference to the long pointy weapons it uses.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phalanx_formation

    Methinks a formation of shields with no long pointy weapons is pretty solid defence, until the attackers realize that using their own long pointy weapons can easily defeat the slow formation while keeping out of short stabby weapon range.

    You’re right about the wooden shields though: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoplon

    Never played Total War series btw, just watched 300 and read up on the phalanx.

  7. Björn Says:

    U’re sure?. I’ve read the book of Leonidas u see :D. and the book never mentioned that they had spears. And also in the movie. Does it looks like they got any long pikes. But anyway you got me “doubting” – (don’t know if it’s right spelled) about the shield thing. Becouse in old scrips you seen old walls of spears but they was uselly put into the ground. Becouse the pikes what to heavy to manuevrate quickly. So they had pikes infron of them, and sword (or spear) and shield behind.

    That testudo picture is from Rome: Total War

  8. Björn Says:

    anyway I like this blogg. alot of work I see :D

  9. Scott Thong Says:

    Yeah. the testudo pic is from that game. I do know that the preferred equipment for the ancient Greek hoplites was a shield and a one-handed spear.

    The later Macedonian phalanx troops used super-long spears/pikes that gave them greater reach than enemy foot soldiers. At least according to the Wikipedia and other sites I browsed…

  10. Björn Says:

    okey… well i guess so.. i only read about Leonidas. So it is greak hoplites not macidonians. you may be right

  11. hutchrun Says:

    Whenever I see that word `hoplite` it makes me think of beer: hop-a-lite

    Anyway, yes they did have good formations in those hand-to-hand combat situations. But sticking the spear in the sand was more when the the other side had cavalry, to keep the horses away – a sort of abatis.

  12. Scott Thong Says:

    Haha… Well, you’re still better than most of us who have only the Internet and the 300 film as our education…

  13. low rider Says:

    good

  14. lekhya Says:

    whatever kind of sucky kind of cool but realy”educational”

  15. PsyGothic Says:

    those pictures are kinda wrong (except the second one), the spears were much too heavy to weild in 1 hand
    RTW does have the smaller shields , but doesn’t use 2 hands……
    though even those shield aren’t really right, should be attached to the arm, not held in the hand…
    then there’s nothing about the difference from the greek phalanx: size of the shields, lenght of the spears, and the way of weilding them…

    Björn Says: “Becouse in old scrips you seen old walls of spears but they was uselly put into the ground.”
    that’s while fighting (macedonians, greece i don’t know bout) both sides of the spears were pointy: handy when the front broke, or when attacked at the back. but also kinda dangerous for people behind you, so only the front lines held them up, and the back lines plunged them into the ground (except when attacked from the bakc of course)

    still very good….

    maybe when attacked by fast moving cavalry they put them into the ground, to withstand and reflect the huge impact a cavalry charge causes, but the they couldn’t stab at enemies, so that would have been useless.

    still, i don’t see why the romans could defeat them so easily.
    yeah, they aren’t flexible, but you can’t defeat them from the front.
    yeah, when broken they’re dead, but how to break them??? get around them??? how…. they’ll turn around, that’s even possible with a phalanx, not fast, but fast enough….

  16. Scott Thong Says:

    True point, PsyGothic, most of the images aren’t very accurate – but correct portrayals are hard to find.

    The problem with the phalanx is that it is slow and unwieldy. It’s not like in a game where all the men turn as one to face the enemy… It’s a whole sardine can of spears and heavy shields, against fast horses that run past you faster than you can blink.

    Add to that likely simultaneous pummeling by enemy archers (another thing phalanxes hate), and the more flexible Roman legion eventually superceded the phalanx.

  17. Björn Says:

    then I have to say. I am not that into this about phalanxes. But i got i mind of it when i read The Book of Leonidas. And they never said anything about spears. but i supose i have to trust you. And such a nice reply you got PsyGothic. Well i guess i just have to give it up :P..

  18. Scott Thong Says:

    Bjorn, tell us about this Book of Leonidas… He’s one of my fave historical warriors now, I’d like to know the book is about :)

    PsyGothic, the phalanx is a mighty bwattle formation – but it is slow and not flexible. By shooting at them with ranged weapons, retreating, and repeat, a mxed-forced enemy could wear them down.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phalanx_formation#Demise

    Rough terrain would also have made it difficult to keep formation.

    In my imaginining, I couldn’t see how Roman centurions could get past the spears and engage in clsoe combat. But this Wikipedia article gives one way, aty the battle which broke the Macedonian power:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Pydna

    The Romans tried to beat down the enemy pikes or hack off their points, but with little success. Unable to get under the thick bristle of spikes, the Romans were beaten back, and some of their allies abandoned the field.

    But as the phalanx pushed forward, the ground became more uneven as it moved into the foothills, and the line lost its cohesion. Paulus now ordered the legions into the gaps, attacking the phalangites on their exposed flanks. At close quarters the longer Roman sword and heavier shield easily prevailed over the short sword (little more than a dagger) and lighter armor of the Macedonians.

    If a gap appears in the phalanx line, a fast opponent can rush in between the spears and shields. Suddenly, it’s like you have a bee inside your armour plating – you can’t swat it!

    Btw, adding some shots of the Spartan hoplite phalanx as portrayed in the movie 300 :)

  19. vince Says:

    the reason the macedonian phalanx was so effective was because it was used in conjuntion with the vanguard (the elite cavalry unit later to be lead by alexander) in which the phalanx would create a wall to hold back any advance from the enemy ( strategicly known as the hammer) and the cavalry would wheel round the back and force the opposing army onto the spears of the phalanx (the hammer). this is the tactic that alexander used in most of his battles as it was the most effective way to exploit the advantages of cavaly and phalanx. but this is a very good site like the use of DOTA language wc3 rocks :D

  20. BusE Says:

    Yeah, I’m Macedonian and i know everything of Macedonian Phalanges and Alexander, this is my idol :)Only really strong mans can operate whit that weapons. Alexander’s Phalanx never to be forgotten!!! Macedonia never to be forgotten!!!

  21. hutchrun Says:

    The Greek phalanx was a column formation of heavy infantry carrying long spears, or pikes, and swords. The pikes were six to twelve feet long, much longer than spears of the past. Men in the phalanx carried a round shield called a hoplon, from which the infantry took their name, hoplites. The hoplites wore metal armor on their chests, forearms, and shins at least, plus a metal helmet that covered the head down to the neck. The addition of armor classified the hoplites as heavy infantry, as opposed to light infantry that wore little or no armor. A typical phalanx unit was ten men across the front rank and ten men deep, but many such units were combined into one larger unit.
    [ ]
    Despite much evidence that the phalanx was at a disadvantage when facing skirmishers and surrounded by cavalry, the concept of the phalanx was too important a fixture of their culture. The phalanx had won the Persian war, with the help of the navy, and Greek heavy infantry served with distinction as mercenaries in surrounding lands. It took a clear demonstration of the system’s weakness to bring it to an end. That demonstration was carried out by invaders from Macedonia under the leadership of Philip, father of Alexander the Great

    http://digilander.libero.it/tepec/falange.htm

  22. csaunders4z Says:

    Hi there. Thought I would weigh in on this, since my degree was in ancient military history… might be able to offer some insight here. The phalanx was always utterly dependent on the spear, having been developed (many believe) as a massed response by peasantry against mounted attackers That is, a cavalryman’s horse will not charge a row of spears — at least, not successfully.

    The shield was the other half of the equation for soldiers of the early Greek poleis, as was heavy armor (which was missing from “300”).

    Around the time of “300,” the hoplite soldier (something of a redundancy, but I hope you’ll understand) was an armored colossus of a man, wearing dozens of pounds’ worth of heavy armor and carrying a prodigious shield, as has already been pointed out.

    Later, however, Philip and Alexander downplayed the heavy shield in favor of increased mobility and greater striking power. That’s why you see the later Macedonian-style phalanx adopting longer spears and lighter defenses.

    Other phalanxes, right up until the time of field gunpowder, continued to rely on the heavy shield. Usually, these were specialist units, and were generally no match for quicker, more flexible units — including the Macedonian-style phalanx and the Roman maniple.

    Later,
    Chris

  23. Chuck Says:

    OK people, this blog has a boatload of opinions, so I’m sticking mine in. Now, 1st off, I don’t think the ‘300’ phalanx was very accurate. It was, as previously said, lacking the heavy armor that hoplites used. Second, hoplites and phalanxes and legions are completely different. Hoplites were the original Greek phalanx like formation, used until Phillip reformed the Macedonian military. Hoplite units had light armor, short spears, and huge-ass circular bronze shields called hoplons, thus, HOPLITE.

    After Phillips reforms, the shield was shruken down to a little-bitty thing and the spears were made into huge pikes. The size of the units increased as well. Thus, the phalanx DID rely on over-blown spears, not the previous large shields.

    Now we come to the testudo and roman legions which were the very thing that made phalanxes outdated. Legions, when in testudo formation, had the frontline form a shield wall, while the rest formed an overhead defence, and in some cases, rear and flank walls were used as well. Also, romans never used wooden shilds. They were people of steel. Anyhow, the link that Scott Thong posted talks about hoplons, and rather inaccurately might I add, not roman legions. Anyway, that’s my 2 cents. Chuck out. : )

  24. Chuck Says:

    Sorry for the double post but I must compliment those pictures. They’re pretty sweet. And, BTW, Rome: Total War is my Favorite Game EVER! Nice blog. Chuck Out. ; )

  25. Scott Thong Says:

    Lol thanks Chuck! Truth is, my knowledge of ancient warfare is solely Net based. Not just Wikipedia mind you, but still not academically professional.

    Btw, your heavy armour comment made me remember another, more accurate depiction of the Battle of Thermopylae. I’ve added it to the post, the 1962 film The 300 Spartans.

  26. slider52 Says:

    Lol im doin a report thanks for the pic

  27. eric Says:

    scotty,
    you are amazing! this for this website!!! it helped me a lot with decorating my room. my parents are satisfied. even though they are world war 2 and civil war fans.

    love always,
    christopher

  28. Broman Says:

    this websight is for nerds like me with nothing better to do but sit at home and leave blogs on a fucking Greek war websight.
    Scott, u really suck. And Christopher or eric or whoever u are… ur such a fag.

    Bye,
    broman pussy licker

  29. da shit(MVbaby) Says:

    oh my goddddddddddd this website is so amazing i loved the pics and creativity if i didnt find this web site idk what i would have done.

    THX- 4 ever thing scotty, and last night was amazing
    ps- i like it in the ass

  30. eric Says:

    hey yall,

    this is getting irritating. everyday i walk on here i learn new things. now i cant get on because of the language being used. its one thing for my mom to hold me back from going on here. but its another thing if someone else holds me back. im 12 and im about to turn thirteen. i live in wilmington, NC. i have living on king street for around 15 years. probably when i turned 4. theres this store down the street thats greek. i like it but there has been drug and gang violence started there. i can relate that to this website.

    I love you guys,
    christopher

  31. NOON Says:

    Hi youse,

    Great website Scott, you got some good stuff here. In answer to your question about the legion vs. Phalanx, it was not just in that battle that the superiority of the legion was proved. The Legions could (theoreticly) beat a phalanx any day of the year. It was mostly in the pila, their javelin. Unlike in Rome Total War (great game), the legionaries did not through all the pila at once. What they did do was a charge/volley system, where the first two ranks would through their pilla and then charge. The seccond two ranks would wait a few secconds, through and charge, followed by the third two ranks (This was mostly in legions in the late repub/early empire). When the first volley hit the enemy, the enemy were usually prepaired (sheilds up), so they did not cause much damage. At this point, however, the hoplites had all theise heavy javilins stuck in thier sheilds, weighing them down and messing with thier movement. At this point, your hoplites had one of two choices, try to pull the spear out of his shield, or drop it. That was the nasty thing about pila, the point had a length of soft lead behind it. That way the pila would still have enough force to punch through shields and armour, but would bend once they hit thier targets or the ground, making it hard for the enemy to remove them and imposible for the enemy to through the pila back. Any way, the hoplite is trying to pull the pila out of his shield, and that is when the seccond volley hits. That couses tons o damage and breaks the formations up a bit. Then the third volley hits, driving the formation into dissarry and causing massive damage to the front ranks, the ranks that really mater in a phalanx.About that time that first two ranks of legionaries hit, and the gladus (roman sword) is far better than the pike in close combat. And the thing about volleys is, there are hundreds of pilla flying through the air at you. Think of the “arrow rain” scene in 300, except with spears! That, of course is in a perfect scenerio, and that dosen’t happen too much in war. The legions had other advantages too: moral, disipline, but that is a post for another day.

    If you want a good book with phalanx(ezs, an, ise I don’t know the plural) read the Illiad, by Homer. It is teh shiznet.

    Any way great site. Im glad I found it.

    NOON

    p.s. Sorry for longness & spelling

  32. Scott Thong Says:

    Wow, TOTALLY excellent info NOON dood! Hit us with some more of your pilas of knowledge any time!

  33. philip Says:

    ok to clear the shield issue, i read a book a year ago on the roman army and it said the the shield was made of wood and covered with thin hide and metal to allow arrows to stick in but not through and not to bounce off, also if it was all mteal it would weight about 20kg making the legions very ineefective. found this on wiki to support.

    ‘the thickness at the rim being a palm’s breadth. It is made of two planks glued together, the outer surface being then covered first with canvas and then with calf-skin. Its upper and lower rims are strengthened by an iron edging which protects it from descending blows and from injury when rested on the ground. It also has an iron boss (umbo) fixed to it which turns aside the most formidable blows of stones, pikes, and heavy missiles in general…the Curved, rectangular scuta were constructed largely of strips of overlapping bentwood, possibly set in place by steaming over a curved form (in much the same way as a modern plywood chair is made) although no direct evidence survives to prove this. This meant the shield was strong and yet light enough to be carried over long distances…The curved shape of the shield allowed it to absorb (and deal) heavy blows, while the sides sloped away from the attacker, allowing arrows and enemy blows to glance off without transmitting the full force of the impact to the legionary sheltering behind it. The boss in the centre of the shield (the umbo), constructed either from copper alloy (brass or bronze) or iron, was itself used offensively, being heavy and dense enough to stun or wind an opponent (easing the legionnaire’s subsequent strike with his gladius).’

  34. BOTHEWOEOFTHEKOE Says:

    Alright, Noone, you are so wrong that a Legion could beat a Phalanx! Oh and its pilum not ‘pila.’ But to the point… First, yes the gladius could outfight a Greek pike/spear in close combat…But…. how would they get past the spears? Awnser is they wouldn’t! The long spears would be virutally impossible to be hacked of by a stabbing sword. Imagine a Legionary trying to hack of a spear while about 4 spears would be raipidly stabing and trying to run the stupid Roman through! Even if the Roman did get close its stupid to think that the Hoplite wouldn’t have a Xiphos (short sword) that was stabbing edge AND double edge….. The Roman legionary proabably couldn’t get past the spears any way. Oh, and also the Roman Legions weren’t trained with a ton of disciplne anyway. The Roman Century could only beat a light militia type phalanx. Think about this…. how long was a full time Hoplite trained? 13 years I beleive! And my rant isn’t over yet! Who held Themopylae for 2 almost 3 full days?!?! GREEKS!!!!! Who fought the ingenious battle of Salamis? GREEKS!!!!! Where was Alexander and Phillip from?!?! GREECE!!!!! The Romans didn’t even have good leader aside from Julius and Octavian (better known as Augustus)!!!! Only 2!!!! The greeks had many smart, famous (for a reason), powerful, and amazing people, but the stinking Romans had many leader….. only 95% of them were drunk idiots who had no more brains than Michael Jackson!!!!! Ok I’m done…..NOOOOO!!!!!!! Where are the Phalanxs in the Illiad?!?!?! THERE AREN’T ANY!!!!!! AND IT’S PILUM NOT ‘PILA!’ YAGHHHHHH!!!!!!

    Sincerly BOTHEWOEOFTHEKOE

    P.S. GREEKS RULE AND ROMANS DROOL!!!!

  35. UGAMUGA Says:

    Alright, Noone, you are so wrong that a Legion could beat a Phalanx! Oh and its pilum not ‘pila.’ But to the point… First, yes the gladius could outfight a Greek pike/spear in close combat…But…. how would they get past the spears? Awnser is they wouldn’t! The long spears would be virutally impossible to be hacked of by a stabbing sword. Imagine a Legionary trying to hack of a spear while about 4 spears would be raipidly stabing and trying to run the stupid Roman through! Even if the Roman did get close its stupid to think that the Hoplite wouldn’t have a Xiphos (short sword) that was stabbing edge AND double edge….. The Roman legionary proabably couldn’t get past the spears any way. Oh, and also the Roman Legions weren’t trained with a ton of disciplne anyway. The Roman Century could only beat a light militia type phalanx. Think about this…. how long was a full time Hoplite trained? 13 years I beleive! And my rant isn’t over yet! Who held Themopylae for 2 almost 3 full days?!?! GREEKS!!!!! Who fought the ingenious battle of Salamis? GREEKS!!!!! Where was Alexander and Phillip from?!?! GREECE!!!!! The Romans didn’t even have good leader aside from Julius and Octavian (better known as Augustus)!!!! Only 2!!!! The greeks had many smart, famous (for a reason), powerful, and amazing people, but the stinking Romans had many leader….. only 95% of them were drunk idiots who had no more brains than Michael Jackson!!!!! Ok I’m done…..NOOOOO!!!!!!! Where are the Phalanxs in the Illiad?!?!?! THERE AREN’T ANY!!!!!! AND IT’S PILUM NOT ‘PILA!’ YAGHHHHHH!!!!!!

    Sincerly UGAMUGA

    P.S. GREEKS RULE AND ROMANS DROOL!!!!

  36. UGAMUGA Says:

    sorry for double post……… =d

  37. Scott Thong Says:

    Yeah, but then… How come the phalanx kept losing to the legion and eventually got phased out, leaving the legion to conquer the known world for the Romans?

    Maybe all those years and years of training in just one battle formation meant:

    1) Fewer soldiers were produced,
    2) Other tactics were not explored,
    3) More versatile mixed forces would beat them (e.g. launching missiles, retreating, repeat until the heavy walkers got worn down)

  38. UGAMUGA Says:

    Did I say militia? And the Legion would single out about 500-2000 men in 1 battle against 5,200. For the last part the Greeks had themselves peltests, calvary and (not many) swordsmen, ballistas. As I recall the Romans got sacked by Vandals, even German Mercenaries once (i forget the name of the band of them ill get back to you guys on that one). And the hoplite was an elite force and not many were able to get into a real phalanx

  39. UGAMUGA Says:

    and also the dis organization from after Alexanders death left no clear heir and was split up into seperate warring empires fighting for control…. Thats another reason there.

  40. hutchrun Says:

    Goths

  41. philip Says:

    pila is the plural to pilum. only caesar and augustus, they are not the only ones, scipio aficanus, pompey, sulla, sertorius, marius (remember he was the one with the concept of proffessional armies). as stated earlier the pilum were used to dessimate the ranks of the hoplites causing disorder and destorying the effectiveness of the phalanx, phalanxs were slow movin so we can assume the roman could have thrown both, they could then either attack the phalanx from the front taking advantage of the gaps, or attack from the flanks or behind with cavalry and then send in the troops. next you say the hoplites had 13 years of trainin, bull shit, most hoplites were a militia force, selected spartans were full time soldiers, and they were elite, most hoplites were recruited middle class, merely with several days trainin a year, i do not believe they would be better soldiers than full time romans, this also restricted the greeks to seasonal warfare. the romans could also fight anywhere at anytime because there troops were so flexiable whereas to have an advantage greeks needed to fight in large, open flat fields, and even if these were available the romans did not have to confront them, they could bypass and attack greek cities, forcding the greeks to leave their strong position. the hoplites did have swords, but in close combat the romans had an advatge because they could hide behind their shield and then stab with their short sword.

    dont be narrow minded about your view of ancient history, the greeks were cool, but they were conquered, there is a reason for that. the romans between around 250bc and 150 ad were clever and adaptive, after this they became stagnate with their ideas and their empire crumbled because they could not afford their large army, their economic structure was based effectivey on conquer and booty.

    go read a decent history book.

  42. UGAMUGA Says:

    Ill leave it at that even though you are very wrong.

  43. "Felix" who is wrong Says:

    Wikipedia may very well be the devil, along with 300.

    What needs to be ascertained in this argumentative chat room thingy is that most people are stupid and everybody is always wrong (especially in relation to this website). Everything, all knowledge I think is unattainable knowledge in the eyes of many brilliant philosophers, not including a very few axioms which I happen to subscribe to. I repeat again.

    Wikipedia may very well be the devil, along with 300.

    P.S. which is not actually post script, for the rant always continues..

    Go fuck a tree, it doesn’t talk much (unless you happen to be on acid) and it’s a good exfoliator.

  44. ... Says:

    nerds

  45. Simon Thong Says:

    Finally watched THE 300 SPARTANS. The end was lame.

  46. konstantinos Says:

    Macedonia is Greek…Skopians you are Slavik.You came in Balkans at 600…Everyone knows it…You are thiefs of history…but you will never be macedonians….

  47. JUstin Says:

    It seems people are arguing about different tactics and not considering that the tactics changed over time on both sides. The Phalanx didn’t always incorporate long spears and/or large shields.

    For those who say “How did the legions defeat the “spear wall””? – go have a look at the first 5 minutes of “Gladiator”. The Pilum Throw is missing from the infantry charge in the movie, but look at what else is going on. The Romans have ballistae hurling greek fire/napalm/naptha/whatever the hell it was, archers firing volleys of flaming and non-flaming arrows, plus an armoured & highly manouverable cavalry. This is the key to the Greek defeats: mixed weapons, working in unison will usually defeat a static force.

    I read a book called “One Bullet Away” by a Marine Lieutenant during the invasion of Iraq, and he criticises the US army for NOT using mixed weapons effectively, and grudgingly praises the Iraqis for pinning the Marines down with a ZSU, then walking in mortars – and excellent modern example of the “hammer and anvil” tecnhique described above.

    The Romans were able to get in past the long spears by hammering them from a distance with overwhelming firepower, then attacking the flank with cavalry. Once the phalanx was wavering/faltering, the legionnaries would hurl the pila and then get in amongst it with the gladius.

    I once saw a historian on TV say “If the Phalanx was a pincushion, then the tortoise was a buzz-saw”. That’s how effective the tortiose was WHEN COMBINED WITH THE OTHER ELEMENTS. On it’s own, I doubt they would have been able to defeat a phalanx.

    I didn’t know about the lead shaft on the pilum – that’s a great one. I knew it was designed to be armour piercing but the soft lead to render it useless – that’s a stroke of brilliance!!

  48. Syntagma Says:

    The Pezhetairoi are heart of the military machine of all the Diodachoi kindgoms. They are well disciplined and highly motivated pikemen that are armed and armored to the teeth. They are armored in a linen cuirass, a Thraikian cap, a bronze greave on the left leg, stout boots, good bracers, and reinforced shoulder pads made from hardened linen (due to their experience with the deadly curved swords of Thrace). They have Illyrian style round shields attached to their bodies by leather straps that help support the weight of the shield and keep their hand free to grasp the long and unwieldy sarissa. They are defensive infantry par excellence and are the anvil of the two part Makedonian system of warfare, the heavy cavalry being the hammer. They should be used to anchor enemy soldiers while the Theurophoroi harass the flanks and the heavy cavalry smashes into the flanks and rear.

    Historically, the Pezhetairoi are the classic Alexandrian phalanx. They were used to great effect against the Persai, Medoi, Baktrioi, Indoi, Phoinikoi, and many, many others. They are an effective force and have not changed much over the centuries. The Romaioi were able to defeat them as easily as they did for two main reasons. One, the Romaioi army was at a high state of readiness and tactical prowess after defeating the Karchedoi. Two, the heavy cavalry arm of the Diodochoi armies had degenerated to the point where they were no longer able to field significant numbers to fulfill their part of the hammer and anvil tactic of Alexandros. There were also many lesser reasons, numbering among them the misuse of the Thureophoroi, the under use of Peltastai, and the lax state of warfare that the Diodachoi states were used to. In any case, the phalanx was not as anachronistic or inflexible as widely believed; it was simply misused and under-supported. In the thirteenth century and onwards, pikemen in similar formations were able to work wonders with more capable generals and a better cavalry arm. Do not under appreciate pikemen, for they are still a war winning force. ————-This is all true believe it or not. Syntagma

  49. Michael Says:

    @ JUstin

    The Romans very rarely used the testudo, and never against the Makedonian Phalanx, it was purely to protect from ranged weapons, nor did the Romans field large amounts of cavalry.

    The Makedonian phalanx could have beaten Romans hands down, but the hammer is missing in this hammer and anvil tactic- as in, the Successors of Alexander (Those who used to Phalanx) had deteriorated to the point that they could not afford the heavy cavalry to crush the enemy pinned by the phalanx. If the Greeks had the cavalry, the romans would have had a MUCH harder time. On another note, the pilum used by romans would probably have a hard time hitting many of the phalangites as they had their spears in a wall, protecting them from missiles.

    Phalanx can mean “Hoplite Phalanx” (Like what you see in “300”. Or it may mean “Phalangite Phalanxe” which has the 256 men in formed in a box with the first five rows pointing their spears forward, to make an almost impregnable wall of spears.

  50. matty Says:

    **haha, just before I posted the following I noticed that this discussion is almost a year old. It’s still a good piece so I might as well post my comment anyway***

    Ugamuga,
    Actually outside of Sparta the Greek hoplite was a citizen soldier – a craftsman, farmer, politician, whatever. Any able-bodied male over 18 wealthy enough to purchase his own armor. They barely trained and were rarely in the field for an extended period. Socrates was a hoplite for Athens into his 40’s… and he was a chubby little dwarf. There were Greek generals who considered it a waste of time for hoplites to develop martial skill outside of marching in phalanx and not panicking. Check out Western Way of War by Hanson.

    That said, the now-trendy Spartans were a completely different story. They were elite and they did train extensively. That’s why virtually every time they took the field with other Greeks (ie against the Persians) they held the vital far right position. Of course they were also a blatantly oppressive, anti-democratic police state who practiced eugenics in a way that would make Nazis blush.

  51. justine Says:

    HEY SOMETHING IS LOST THERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WHAT ABOUT THE 300 SPARTAN LAST BATTLE FORMATION? THE LIKE….. THE CIRLE OR: O

  52. Scott Thong Says:

    I think it was along the lines of testudo. Or else ‘beetle about to be squashed’ formation.

  53. William Says:

    Scott,
    You have the phalanx. It is a group of soldiers massed with spears. The Macedonians indeed modified the phalanx with the sarissa. Again it required support and this type of warfare resulted in few losses of life since the opponent was pushed or ran off the field of battle.

    The Romans conquered the phalanx really by accident and then modified tactics thus making the phalanx obsolete in most cases. The Roman maniple formation was more flexible unlike the phalanx which required even, unobstructed terrain.
    I couldn’t finish reading all of the comments, so I decided to post this.

  54. max Says:

    hi,

    to the rest of world:

    greece was never a country up to 1820. (thanks to British). it was a turkish province for 500 years. before were just a bunch of small sity states, with no real culture, but sodomas and ghomorras and idiot Gods. and they say is birth place of democracy.
    NO!!!!! is a cradle of terror, violence, crime, peadophile, robbery and lies. all the evil in the world. proud of it…
    you are stilling Macedonian history and culture.
    shame on you.
    lie, lie, lie… thats all you are good at

  55. Scott Thong Says:

    Uh, okay… Me very sorry, Aleksander. Me know there will never be a Aleksander like you.

    PS. Your mom is hot, especially in Tomb Raider.

  56. burp Says:

    Despite the numerical advantage of the Persians, the hoplites proved devastatingly effective against the more lightly armed Persian infantry, routing the wings before turning in on the centre of the Persian line.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Marathon

    Irt was a strategic move by the Athenians by weakening the Centre (from 10 deep into 4 deep) and reinforcing the right & left flanks. The Persian main strength -Immortals – had no difficulty in penetrating the centre.

    Unfortunately, for the persians, the right & left flanks (mainly concripts and mercenaries) were easily vanquished by the Athenians who thus created a classic double pincer and fell on the “victorious” persians.

    The persians lost heavily.

  57. isabelle Says:

    OMG!
    how many infos are there

  58. yuew@aol.com Says:

    I guess I’m coming to the discussing late, however, I do have a couple of minor points to add.

    One, games, movies, people’s opinions are entertainment. If you’re really interested about history, go to the library and read what Herodotus, Plutarch and others. Also, visit museums with the artifacts that have been discovered at the battle sites.

    Second, if you’re going to say that you’re an authority–please provide some references for others to check it out on their own. Don’t just say it is so because you say so or because you went to the battle site. List your resources, that’s all.

    Overall, this is a great starting point for those who are looking to start down the road of ancient military history. Just don’t go to the movies and claim that you “know” how a phalanx was formed–that was somebody’s rendition; in other words, not necessarily real.

  59. Scott Thong Says:

    Hehe, okay yuew… But I don’t think anyone reading my blog would assume I carry any weight of authority on the subject.

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  62. War! What is it Good For? | world history writer Says:

    [...] again. Eventually there were two primary rivals in Greece, Athens and Sparta. Conflict between them erupted in the Peloponnesian Wars (461-446 BC and 431- 404 BC). Sparta eventually gained Persian support (it is not uncommon for enemies to become allies, if the interests align!) But after defeating Athens, Sparta was beset by new hostile alliances, and wars continued, which by about 350 BC left Greece largely rudderless. The resulting power vacuum allowed the northern Macedonians to decicively defeat combined Greek forces at the battle of Chaerona in 338 BC, making Philip of Macedonia the de-facto leader of the Greeks. [Graphic: Spartan Hoplite Phalanx as portrayed in film “300.” Source: http://scottthong.wordpress.com/2007/05/21/the-macedonian-phalanx/ [...]

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  67. Robin Strüber Says:

    Interesting debates, and some nice pictures in the article as well. What I find intensely frustrating when reading some of the arguments is that apparently no one has the ability to differentiate between the Macedonian Phalanx and the classical Hoplite phalanx of Greece.

    The Macedonian phalanx was armed with the Sarissa which was an 8m long pike. This regiment did not have large shields as those shields needed to be strapped to there forearm and the pike was wielded with both hands. In this formation, which is being referred to in the original article, the shield was almost unimportant because it was tiny! This is also what is depicted in the pictures and unsurprisingly the shield was not in frequent use as barely anyone made it past the pikes in the first place.

    In the hoplite the shield was significant as the spears were regular and the fighting style relied not on the weapon but more on the shield and the fighting depended on the basic Othismos, basically like the shoves used in rugby. Both sides would stand shield to shield in hoplite battles and try and push the other off the battle field.

    In terms of the roman legion being able to defeat the phalanx. As seen in history, it ultimately happened. However unlike common belief the frontal assault of Roman legionaires wasnt nearly as effective as thought. It was more the fact that the Diadochi relied almost solely on the phalanx unlike Philip II and Alexander the Great. This meant they didnt have enough cavalry and hispatis to protect the flanks. The romans were clever and exploited the instances where the phalanx was drawn apart or just outflanked it.Of course the Roman infantry formation was also skilled and organized, however another key factor here was not the superior ability of each soldier but that the romans had better strategy and organization. The basic roman infantry order allowed the Hastati to attack the phalanx, then pull back when exhausted and allow the Principes to march forward attacking the phalanx and ultimately retreat to allow the triarii to attack. This way the phalanx was worn down just because the roman infantry constantly brought fresh men up while the front row of the Macedonian phalanx was forced to fight throughout the battle. And trust me holding up an 8m pike is not enjoyable over a longer period of time.

    So please its not as simple as having head on battles of Cohortes against Macedonian phalanx. Battles in Greece in that time developed to be far more complicated. Though if Alexander had still been alive I assume with support of the Companion Cavalry roman cohortes would have been badly smashed.

  68. Robin Strüber Says:

    As a tip to all those who are interested in the true mechanisms, refer to Arrian or Herodotus as well as Diodorus as those are among the few that actually recorded information at that time and are still being analyzed by historians today. Particularly Arrian has much information about Macedonia to the time of Philip II and Alexander. Unfortunately, most popular historians that have investigated into this area have long ceased their work but my suggestion would be to look for texts by Minor Markle, particularly the Macedonian Sarissa, Spear and other related armor, Ian Worthingtons Philip II of Macedonia and Archer Jones The Art of War in the Western World. Also the Generalship of Alexander by A. R. Burn is interesting to read.

    Remember however, this is the Macedonian phalanx we are talking about! The Spartans were the best fighters in terms of the traditional hoplite which was also arranged in a phalanx but they never possessed the Sarissa, and quite frankly the Macedonian military would have saughtered them and not only because it had more than 46,000 soldiers by the time Philip died.

  69. Scott Thong Says:

    Thanks for the info!

    I couldn’t see how the Roman legions could ever take on a phalanx and win until I took part in group marching. Whenever we went over even slightly uneven ground, our formation became loose as our steps went out of rhythm and length. Then I understood why phalanxes lost cohesion in uneven terrain. And without cohesion, the phalanx is no longer a solid wall of spears.

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