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Pisces Axxxxx

Phalanx the "most terrifying thing" Battle-Hardened Legions

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I already posted this on the forums when it was down. ButI wish to continue the discussion.



I remembered in reading The Western Way of War Victor Hanson, that when the Romans fought the Macedonian Phalanx in their invasion of Greece, many soldiers described it as the "most terrifying thing they ever witnessed".


This really fascinates me. These Roman soldiers were battle-hardened warriors of earlier wars and fought against different enemies including Elephant Cavalry, blood-thirsty Gauls, and shock cavalry. In addition their formations and tactics were HEAVILY MODELED after the Greek Phalanx.


Yet when they fought the Phalanx of the Macedonians and Greeks, they thought it was more frightening than anything they ever fought.


I understand a wall of spears and shields is terrifying no matter who you are. But I am curious why Roman Legions who fought in earlier wars including seemingly more frightening opponents such as Elephants and heavy cavalry thought the Macedonian and Greek Phalanx was the most terrifying thing they ever faced in the battlefield!


You can find the quotes here.



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Yes, this is an interesting topic. Macedonian phalanx was probably the best attack formation in ancient era. Alexander the Great was able to destroy whole Persian empire with his phalanx troops. Phalanx formation had massive attack strength, but not mobility. This was big issue for Macedonians.

And we have to compare differences between Greek and Macedonian phalanx. Greeks used bigger shields (named hoplons, so fighters were hoplites) and spears about 2,5 metres in length. Macedonians used only small shields if any. So they shouldn't be called "hoplites", right? But their spears were very long, about 6-7 metres. Few rows of Macedonians could create strong defense with lot of spears.


I wonder why Romans didn't use Macedonians - or Macedonian phalanx formation, in their east military campaigns. I don't know. My memory is not very good about this, but I think I read article, where Romans were the most successful when they used some phalanx formations against Parthians. Maybe Traianus? Really I don't remember. I need to more study about Roman - Parthian/Persian conflicts.

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Roman soldiers experienced fear just the same as any other army. There are accounts of them fleeing or expressing fear. Libianus for instance tells us that "Roman soldiers bear any trial except look a Persian in the face" Caesar recalls how he ranged behind the line in Gaul, forcing men back into formation. One standard bearer was stopped and handed the standard to Caesar before running off. Another threatened Caesar with the sharp end of the pole and ran off with the standard. Plutarch tells us that at one battle, MArius fell asleep under a tree before it began and his somewhat concerned officers were only able to wake him as Roman soldiers were starting to flee the battlefield. There are others if you look for them.

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