Macedonian phalanx

Macedonian phalanx

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The Macedonian phalanx is an infantry
Infantry
Infantrymen are soldiers who are specifically trained for the role of fighting on foot to engage the enemy face to face and have historically borne the brunt of the casualties of combat in wars. As the oldest branch of combat arms, they are the backbone of armies...

 formation developed by Philip II
Philip II of Macedon
Philip II of Macedon "friend" + ἵππος "horse" — transliterated ; 382 – 336 BC), was a king of Macedon from 359 BC until his assassination in 336 BC. He was the father of Alexander the Great and Philip III.-Biography:...

 and used by his son Alexander the Great to conquer the Persian Empire and other armies. Phalanx
Phalanx formation
The phalanx is a rectangular mass military formation, usually composed entirely of heavy infantry armed with spears, pikes, sarissas, or similar weapons...

es remained dominant on battlefields throughout the Hellenistic period, although wars had developed into more protracted operations generally involving siege
Siege
A siege is a military blockade of a city or fortress with the intent of conquering by attrition or assault. The term derives from sedere, Latin for "to sit". Generally speaking, siege warfare is a form of constant, low intensity conflict characterized by one party holding a strong, static...

s and naval combat as much as field battle
Battle
Generally, a battle is a conceptual component in the hierarchy of combat in warfare between two or more armed forces, or combatants. In a battle, each combatant will seek to defeat the others, with defeat determined by the conditions of a military campaign...

s, until they were finally displaced by the Roman
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

 legions
Roman legion
A Roman legion normally indicates the basic ancient Roman army unit recruited specifically from Roman citizens. The organization of legions varied greatly over time but they were typically composed of perhaps 5,000 soldiers, divided into maniples and later into "cohorts"...

.

Development


Philip II spent much of his youth as a hostage at Thebes
Thebes, Greece
Thebes is a city in Greece, situated to the north of the Cithaeron range, which divides Boeotia from Attica, and on the southern edge of the Boeotian plain. It played an important role in Greek myth, as the site of the stories of Cadmus, Oedipus, Dionysus and others...

, where he studied under the renowned general Epaminondas
Epaminondas
Epaminondas , or Epameinondas, was a Theban general and statesman of the 4th century BC who transformed the Ancient Greek city-state of Thebes, leading it out of Spartan subjugation into a preeminent position in Greek politics...

, whose reforms were the basis for the phalanx. Phalangites were professional soldiers, and were among the first troops ever to be drilled, thereby allowing them to execute complex maneuvers well beyond the reach of most other armies. They fought packed in a close rectangular formation, typically eight men deep, with a leader at the head of each column and a secondary leader in the middle, so that the back rows could move off to the sides if more frontage was needed.

Equipment


Each phalangite carried as his primary weapon a sarissa
Sarissa
The sarissa or sarisa was a 4 to 7 meter long spear used in the ancient Greek and Hellenistic warfare. It was introduced by Philip II of Macedon and was used in the traditional Greek phalanx formation as a replacement for the earlier dory, which was considerably shorter. The phalanxes of Philip...

, a double-pointed pike
Pike (weapon)
A pike is a pole weapon, a very long thrusting spear used extensively by infantry both for attacks on enemy foot soldiers and as a counter-measure against cavalry assaults. Unlike many similar weapons, the pike is not intended to be thrown. Pikes were used regularly in European warfare from the...

 over 6 m (18 ft) in length. Before a battle the sarissa were carried in two pieces and then slid together when they were being used. At close range such large weapons were of little use, but an intact phalanx could easily keep its enemies at a distance; the weapons of the first five rows of men all projected beyond the front of the formation, so that there were more spearpoints than available targets at any given time. The secondary weapon was a shortsword.

Formation


Neither Philip nor Alexander actually used the phalanx as their arm of choice, but instead used it to hold the enemy in place while their heavy cavalry
Cavalry
Cavalry or horsemen were soldiers or warriors who fought mounted on horseback. Cavalry were historically the third oldest and the most mobile of the combat arms...

 broke through their ranks. The Macedon
Macedon
Macedonia or Macedon was an ancient kingdom, centered in the northeastern part of the Greek peninsula, bordered by Epirus to the west, Paeonia to the north, the region of Thrace to the east and Thessaly to the south....

ian cavalry fought in wedge formation and was stationed on the far right; after these broke through the enemy lines they were followed by the hypaspists, elite infantrymen who served as the king
Monarch
A monarch is the person who heads a monarchy. This is a form of government in which a state or polity is ruled or controlled by an individual who typically inherits the throne by birth and occasionally rules for life or until abdication...

's bodyguard, and then the phalanx proper. The left flank was generally covered by allied cavalry supplied by the Thessalians
Thessaly
Thessaly is a traditional geographical region and an administrative region of Greece, comprising most of the ancient region of the same name. Before the Greek Dark Ages, Thessaly was known as Aeolia, and appears thus in Homer's Odyssey....

, which fought in rhomboid
Rhomboid
Traditionally, in two-dimensional geometry, a rhomboid is a parallelogram in which adjacent sides are of unequal lengths and angles are oblique.A parallelogram with sides of equal length is a rhombus but not a rhomboid....

 formation and served mainly in a defensive role.

Other forces — skirmisher
Skirmisher
Skirmishers are infantry or cavalry soldiers stationed ahead or alongside a larger body of friendly troops. They are usually placed in a skirmish line to harass the enemy.-Pre-modern:...

s, range troops, reserves of allied hoplite
Hoplite
A hoplite was a citizen-soldier of the Ancient Greek city-states. Hoplites were primarily armed as spearmen and fought in a phalanx formation. The word "hoplite" derives from "hoplon" , the type of the shield used by the soldiers, although, as a word, "hopla" could also denote weapons held or even...

s, archers
Archery
Archery is the art, practice, or skill of propelling arrows with the use of a bow, from Latin arcus. Archery has historically been used for hunting and combat; in modern times, however, its main use is that of a recreational activity...

, and artillery
Artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

 — were also employed. The phalanx carried with it a fairly minimal baggage train, with only one servant for every few men
Man
The term man is used for an adult human male . However, man is sometimes used to refer to humanity as a whole...

. This gave it a marching
Marching
See also: Loaded marchMarching refers to the organized, uniformed, steady and rhythmic walking forward, usually associated with military troops.Marching is often performed to march music, and often associated with military parades....

 speed
Speed
In kinematics, the speed of an object is the magnitude of its velocity ; it is thus a scalar quantity. The average speed of an object in an interval of time is the distance traveled by the object divided by the duration of the interval; the instantaneous speed is the limit of the average speed as...

 that contemporary armies
Army
An army An army An army (from Latin arma "arms, weapons" via Old French armée, "armed" (feminine), in the broadest sense, is the land-based military of a nation or state. It may also include other branches of the military such as the air force via means of aviation corps...

 could not hope to match — on occasion forces surrendered to Alexander simply because they were not expecting him to show up for several more days. Phalangites were drilled to perform short forced marches if required.

Drawbacks


The armies of the early Hellenistic period were equipped and fought mainly in the same style as Alexander's. Towards the end, however, there was a general slide away from the combined arms approach back to using the phalanx itself as the arm of decision, having it charge into the enemy lines much like earlier hoplites had. This left the formation fairly vulnerable — though near invincible to forwards assault, phalanxes like other infantry formations were fairly prone to flanking
Flanking maneuver
In military tactics, a flanking maneuver, also called a flank attack, is an attack on the sides of an opposing force. If a flanking maneuver succeeds, the opposing force would be surrounded from two or more directions, which significantly reduces the maneuverability of the outflanked force and its...

, and worse still tending to break up when advancing quickly over rough ground. So long as everyone was using the same tactics these weaknesses were not immediately apparent, but with the advent of the Roman legion
Roman legion
A Roman legion normally indicates the basic ancient Roman army unit recruited specifically from Roman citizens. The organization of legions varied greatly over time but they were typically composed of perhaps 5,000 soldiers, divided into maniples and later into "cohorts"...

 they proved fatal in every major engagement, the most famous being the Battle of Pydna
Battle of Pydna
The Battle of Pydna in 168 BC between Rome and the Macedonian Antigonid dynasty saw the further ascendancy of Rome in the Hellenic/Hellenistic world and the end of the Antigonid line of kings, whose power traced back to Alexander the Great.Paul K...

, as the Romans were able to advance through gaps in the line and easily defeat the phalangites once in close.

Advantage


The Macedonian phalanx was not very different from the Hoplite phalanx of other Greeks states, save it was better trained, armed with the sarissa enabling it to outreach its competitors and stave off enemy cavalry, and wore far lighter armor enabling longer endurance and long fast forced marches, including the ability to sprint to close and overwhelm opposing positions and archers. In essence, the range of their counter-weighted sarissa
Sarissa
The sarissa or sarisa was a 4 to 7 meter long spear used in the ancient Greek and Hellenistic warfare. It was introduced by Philip II of Macedon and was used in the traditional Greek phalanx formation as a replacement for the earlier dory, which was considerably shorter. The phalanxes of Philip...

, allowed them superior mobility as well as superior defense and attack abilities despite the encumbrance disadvantages of the longer weapon once trained up to handling it in formation. Centuries later, the Canton organized militia of Swiss Pikemen enjoyed similar advantages over less well trained contemporary militaries which were identically equipped, which emphasizes the importance of training and unit cohesion in the scheme. In Phillip's and Alexander's time, the Macedonian phalanx had clear technical superiority.

Attempts for revival in the Roman period


Some Roman emperors were great admirers of Alexander of Macedon and attempted to imitate the Macedonian Phalanx. This is attested by Cassius Dio, Herodian
Herodian
Herodian or Herodianus of Syria was a minor Roman civil servant who wrote a colourful history in Greek titled History of the Empire from the Death of Marcus in eight books covering the years 180 to 238. His work is not entirely reliable although his relatively unbiased account of Elagabalus is...

 and the Augustan History
Augustan History
The Augustan History is a late Roman collection of biographies, in Latin, of the Roman Emperors, their junior colleagues and usurpers of the period 117 to 284...

. Emperor Caracalla
Caracalla
Caracalla , was Roman emperor from 198 to 217. The eldest son of Septimius Severus, he ruled jointly with his younger brother Geta until he murdered the latter in 211...

(2nd-3rd c. AD) had formed a Macedonian phalanx of 16,000 men all born in Macedonia and commanded by officers bearing the names of Alexander's officers . Also Severus Alexander (3rd c. AD) had an imitation of the Macedonian phalanx of 30,000 "phalangarii" and with this he won many victories in the Persian wars.