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Roman Cohort versus a Macedonian Phalanx.

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Well, the Roman style of warfare came after the Phalanx as the Romans could use their speed and mobility to break up the Hellenes. Over flat terrain the Roman would win all day long as it has the space to manouvre but if they were faced with the phalanx defending a bottle neck then the phalanx' longer reach would win.

That was indeed the conclusion of Polybius, given an even distribution of human and material resources. In practice, there were naturally additional factors that affected the battle's outcome, like the leadership, cavalry support and even the Roman elephants. In any case, the phalanx was routed by the legion in almost any battle across this period (Pyrrhus was another story).

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Very well said matt. When an army has a phalanx formation it is only prudent to have either cavalry and/or light infantry on the flanks. Alexander the Great was a master at utilizing the phalanx. I do wonder if you take Alexander the Greats best army and put it up against say Pompey's best or Caesars what the outcome would be.

 

Tough question but one worth careful thought.

 

Alexander as we all know was one of (some consider THE) the greatest generals of all time, however, I personally believe that Alexander and his phalanxes was never truly tested in Persia and as such do not deserve, for the lack of better word, some of the recognitions accorded to them. Darius never truly tested Alexander not the way the Gaul's tested Caesar, particularly in Alesia. The Persians were fragmented, Darius never having full control of the army.

 

My personal thought would be that if you were to put Alexander and his phalanxes (including veterans he inhereted from his father, Philip II, and generals like Antipater) against Caesar and his legions (including veterans from Gaul) and both legions have equal cavalary support I do not doubt Caesar will emerge victorious despite Alexander and having his companion cavalary.

 

Both Caesar and Alexander are masters at exploiting the opposition's weaknesses (Alexander twice broke through Persian ranks to get to Darius, Caesar's turning the tables on the Gauls in Alesia) but any general will be hard pressed to find a weakness in Caesar's legions, but Alexander's army, the simple fact that the phalanx was not as flexible as the Roman legions will work against him.

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As Napoleon said "Yes, I'm sure he's a great general, but is he lucky?"

 

There is a tendency to see battles as a game of chess between commanders. This simply isn't so. Battlefield commanders in the ancient world could only see what was in line of sight, had no substantia means of communication to individual formations, and in fact often gambled on a plan decided on beforehand and agreed with subordinate commanders. It wasn't always the tactics on the day that swung it, but the position of the sun, the restrictions and effects of terrain, and since the ancient world had a love affair with the ambush, very much one of superior situational intelligence.

 

That said, the phalanx wasn't really intended as a solitary formation. The idea was a remorseless advance across a broad front by solid ranks of men that would very literally push the enemy back with rows of pikes. Cavalry - as usually deployed - would protect the flanks. In fact, the cavalry actions were often the first of the day, and in many cases decided who would eventually win the battle. We also need to realise that cavalry were in short supply for much of the period. Horses were expensive and not as common as later periods.

 

For all its advantages though the phalanx was an inflexible formation - the very reason for it's decline as the importance of securing the flanks escalated - because the phalanx made that necessary. It was therefore, a step in an arms race. Invent a better way of advancing on the enemy, then find a better way to get around it.

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There is a tendency to see battles as a game of chess between commanders. This simply isn't so. Battlefield commanders in the ancient world could only see what was in line of sight, had no substantia means of communication to individual formations, and in fact often gambled on a plan decided on beforehand and agreed with subordinate commanders. It wasn't always the tactics on the day that swung it, but the position of the sun, the restrictions and effects of terrain, and since the ancient world had a love affair with the ambush, very much one of superior situational intelligence.

 

 

I agree .

In addition, commaders started battels after a long period of pre fighting and fighting . Let us take Zama, it is too simple to say that Scipio smashed Hannibal . There were 16 years of figthing before the battle, 16 years that changed everything. Hannibal's army was not the army of 218-215 . His government manuverd him to a situation that he would never enterned by his own will . I consider Scipio's (less famed) successes in 210-203 not less important than his victory at Zama .

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There is a tendency to see battles as a game of chess between commanders. This simply isn't so. Battlefield commanders in the ancient world could only see what was in line of sight, had no substantia means of communication to individual formations, and in fact often gambled on a plan decided on beforehand and agreed with subordinate commanders. It wasn't always the tactics on the day that swung it, but the position of the sun, the restrictions and effects of terrain, and since the ancient world had a love affair with the ambush, very much one of superior situational intelligence.

 

I agree .

In addition, commaders started battels after a long period of pre fighting and fighting . Let us take Zama, it is too simple to say that Scipio smashed Hannibal . There were 16 years of figthing before the battle, 16 years that changed everything. Hannibal's army was not the army of 218-215 . His government manuverd him to a situation that he would never enterned by his own will . I consider Scipio's (less famed) successes in 210-203 not less important than his victory at Zama .

 

Partially agree with your comments and Caldrail's but before I address Caldrail's and your comments directly I wish to highlight on point from your comment above (and no doubt a few will disagree with me). A lot of Hannibal's success against the Roman can only be partially attributed to his talents. With the exception of Cannae most of Hannibal's battles was against badly led Roman legions. As for Scipio he faced an already battered and bruised Carthaginian army so I agree with you on your point.

 

Which brings me to my next point: the key to a army is the general. History tells us of generals who overcame all odds against (at most time) a much larger army - Phyrus, Alexander, Caesar, the Crusader army under Bohemond I, Aetius' victory over Attila just to name a few.

 

There has also been cases of numerically superior armies who have been routed because of bad generalship: Xerxes' and Darius' Persian armies, Crassus in Carrhae, Roman legions in the war against Hannibal just to name a few.

 

Don't be too quick to dismiss the importance of the general in the army. Whilst the troops do bulk of the work, the general has the hardest take: the planning and deployment. Alexander showed us what a good general can do at the Battle of Issus and Valens showed us what the outcome will be if led poorly at the Battle of Adrianople.

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Hello. I am new to these fourums so if my question is out of place please tell me.

I was always facsinated with this question. Now one on one. 1 cohort of Legionnaires versus 1 unit of silver pikemen. Who has the advantage? Now the cohort has mobility and the phalanx has reach. With no cavalry to support the cohort can they overcome the Phalanx? What do you think? And I am talking late republic cohorts.

 

I agree with one or two other comments, that historically the legion wins. Pydna demonstrated a number of pitfalls in the Macedonian method. However it's worth pointing out that one of the major benefits of the phalanx, especially when facing an less diciplined force than a Roman legion was that it was an absolutely terrifying spectacle. Paullus admitted late in life that this was the most frightening thing that he had ever beheld. Nevertheless, in true Roman style, he rode up and down the ranks of his men without shield or armour to show contempt for the enemy and encourage their spirits accordingly.

 

The battle itself, started in a confused way when skirmishing was provoked across a stream. This led the Macedonians to deploy too quickly and not into the proper positions. Eventually, one of the main problems with the phalanx was exposed, literally. When a single close order block of pikemen advances over any distance on anything less than flat ground, there was a tendency for the unit to break up leaving gaps in the order. At Pydna, the exposed flanks resulting from this were exploited with ruthless efficiency by the maniples. Individual Centurions could order their units into the gaps where their incomparable prowess with the short sword won the day. The sarrisii of the phalanx became useless and many of the Macedonians abandoned the weapon and employed their swords, but to little effect.

 

The phalanx was flawed when placed against the flexibility of the Roman legion. Hellenic forces had been content to continue with the format in their internal wars such as those of the Diodochi, because their mindset accepted that conflict would be concluded by negotiation rather than the out and out victory of one side or the other. Phalanx against phalanx would rarely render a decisive military result. The Romans, however, did not view a war as concluded until they had a clear victory and the vanquished became clearly subordinate. Had the Macedonian strategy been different, they may have had the motivation to adapt the system to meet more diciplined and flexible opponents such as Rome.

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Phalanx against phalanx would rarely render a decisive military result.

Oh? Why? Do you imagine two opposing phalanxes 'pushing pikes' in a sort of military rugby scrum? That may have occured, but generally that wasn't how the phalanx fought. It was a remorseless advance by weight of numbers employing a wall of sharp points to persuade the enemy to go away. The front ranks can't stop because they've met the enemy pikes. The weight of men behind them will push them onward.

 

You therefore might have seen a phase where both sides are impaling the other, and if both sides continue (by no means a sure thing) then the ranks might reach the stage of being inside the enemies reach (but the enemy is also inside theirs) at which point the push of pikes results in the vague stalemate you infer. However, the previous contact phase is actually very crucial and there's no guarantee a phalanx won't collapse into disorder.

 

The Romans, however, did not view a war as concluded until they had a clear victory and the vanquished became clearly subordinate.

Not entirely true. The Romans were pragmatic about warfare and concluded peace settlements just like anyone else if it suited their purposes. Caledonia for instance. Had Domitiain allowed Agricola to finish the conquest of the British Isles the victory may have been clear, but the threat from the north remained in place throughout the Roman occupation. Only Antoninus Pius authorised another territorial campaign and that may have only been to establish miltiary credibility of his reign.

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Phalanx against phalanx would rarely render a decisive military result.
Oh? Why? Do you imagine two opposing phalanxes 'pushing pikes' in a sort of military rugby scrum?

In fact, most combats from the endless Diadochi Wars were macedonian inter-phalanges battles.

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Hello. I am new to these fourums so if my question is out of place please tell me.

I was always facsinated with this question. Now one on one. 1 cohort of Legionnaires versus 1 unit of silver pikemen. Who has the advantage? Now the cohort has mobility and the phalanx has reach. With no cavalry to support the cohort can they overcome the Phalanx? What do you think? And I am talking late republic cohorts.

 

I think the romans would win, read about the battle of Pydna and you will understand :)

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Phalanx against phalanx would rarely render a decisive military result.
Oh? Why? Do you imagine two opposing phalanxes 'pushing pikes' in a sort of military rugby scrum?

In fact, most combats from the endless Diadochi Wars were macedonian inter-phalanges battles.

 

Yes indeed they were and the mirror image tactics led to some of the successor generals developing exotic weapons to break the deadlock. Further to this, the break up of Alexander's empire diluted the resources available to each kingdom and by the time that we get to the Macedonian and Syrian wars, the forces deployed lacked the balance and cutting edge at the disposal of Philip II and Alexander.

 

For the phalanx to really work, as pressure was applied to the enemy centre, a lightening attack by cavalry would carry the day. Alexander's ratio of infantry to cavalry was six to one. By the late third or early second century the ratio at best was ten to one in the successor kingdoms. The phalanx therefore, was increasingly relied upon in Hellenic deployments and so the forces encountered at, for example, Pydna and Magnesia, were far clumsier than those in the Pyrrhic wars. The shortcomings of the phalanx, as it was increasingly deprived of cavalry support were ever more exposed. It was by this time tactically out of context, rather like going to work as a carpenter with a hammer, a vice and no saw.

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Well, the Roman style of warfare came after the Phalanx as the Romans could use their speed and mobility to break up the Hellenes. Over flat terrain the Roman would win all day long as it has the space to manouvre but if they were faced with the phalanx defending a bottle neck then the phalanx' longer reach would win.

 

Well, the maniple and the phalanx co-existed for a while, but you are certainly correct. This explains why the Macedonian wars lasted as long as they did - basically the mountain passes into Macedonia were a series of such bottlenecks and the Romans could not get past the phalanx in such situations. It took some remarkably hare-brained exploits by Marcus Philippus to finally get round these defensive obstacles, and an even more idiotic response by Persues of Macedon not to win the war immediately afterwards.

 

My source for the above information is 'Roman Conquests: Macedonia and Greece' Pen & Sword 2009. A book I heartily recommend. :D

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To address the inflexibility of the phalanx in this context: I think (and I stand to be corrected) that the Macedonian formations at the time of DogsHead (cos I can't spell Cyconcephale or however it goes) and the other later battles had lengthened the the sarissa to ludicrous extremes. Admitedly, it wasn't ludicrous when facing other phalanxes because size mattered.

 

But I think that Philip and Alexander's formations were much different - the old combined arms approach and the "hammer and anvil." In later times, the phalanx evolved into the primary weapon, something it wasn't in earlier days. I'm preaching to the converted here - but the Alexandrian phalanx held the enemy in place whilst the cavalry administered coup de grace. That wasn't the case at the time of Cyconcephalae.

 

If Alex had gone west instead of east, we'd all be speaking Anglo-Hellenic or something. For Romanophiles, it hurts to admit, but I can't see an early legion matching Alexander and his chums in anyway shape or form.

 

It's the best debate in Ancient History, this. And a never ending one - there must be a thousand posts on this board alone about it *lol*

 

Cheers

 

Russ

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To address the inflexibility of the phalanx in this context: I think (and I stand to be corrected) that the Macedonian formations at the time of DogsHead (cos I can't spell Cyconcephale or however it goes) and the other later battles had lengthened the the sarissa to ludicrous extremes. Admitedly, it wasn't ludicrous when facing other phalanxes because size mattered.

 

But I think that Philip and Alexander's formations were much different - the old combined arms approach and the "hammer and anvil." In later times, the phalanx evolved into the primary weapon, something it wasn't in earlier days. I'm preaching to the converted here - but the Alexandrian phalanx held the enemy in place whilst the cavalry administered coup de grace. That wasn't the case at the time of Cyconcephalae.

 

If Alex had gone west instead of east, we'd all be speaking Anglo-Hellenic or something. For Romanophiles, it hurts to admit, but I can't see an early legion matching Alexander and his chums in anyway shape or form.

 

It's the best debate in Ancient History, this. And a never ending one - there must be a thousand posts on this board alone about it *lol*

 

Cheers

 

Russ

 

I think that it's agreed within this and other comments that the phalanx that faced the legions at Cynocaphalae, Magnesia, Pydna and later was the somewhat clumsy block, prone to losing cohesion and without the cavalry support of earlier times. Indeed, if Alexander had turned west, he would have encountered either the last vestiges of the Roman hoplite phalanx that always lacked the essential degree of cavalry support, or the first incarnations of the manipular system copied - almost certainly according to most - from the Samnites. Either way, as you say, things would be markedly different.

 

However there is a little irony in this 'what if?' scenario! Alexander would never have turned west. The perception of Rome by the Hellenic East was of a state that was virtuous in her constitution but bordering on barbarian. They did not consider her worthy of attention until the defeat of Pyrrhus by which time Roman manipular tactics had developed to the point where they could defeat a highly developed Hellenic army based on Phalanx with cavalry and indeed elephant support. Roman losses in the two battles that preceded the final victory were huge but so were those of Pyrrhus.

 

A question worth asking is that if Pyrrhus, noted for being impulsive and not seeing things through, had shared the ternacity of his Roman opponents, could he have won through? If he had been able to withstand the losses, were his tactics still superior to those of Rome?

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To address the inflexibility of the phalanx in this context: I think (and I stand to be corrected) that the Macedonian formations at the time of DogsHead (cos I can't spell Cyconcephale or however it goes) and the other later battles had lengthened the the sarissa to ludicrous extremes. Admitedly, it wasn't ludicrous when facing other phalanxes because size mattered.

 

But I think that Philip and Alexander's formations were much different - the old combined arms approach and the "hammer and anvil." In later times, the phalanx evolved into the primary weapon, something it wasn't in earlier days. I'm preaching to the converted here - but the Alexandrian phalanx held the enemy in place whilst the cavalry administered coup de grace. That wasn't the case at the time of Cyconcephalae.

 

If Alex had gone west instead of east, we'd all be speaking Anglo-Hellenic or something. For Romanophiles, it hurts to admit, but I can't see an early legion matching Alexander and his chums in anyway shape or form.

 

It's the best debate in Ancient History, this. And a never ending one - there must be a thousand posts on this board alone about it *lol*

 

Cheers

 

Russ

Thought I'd help you out with that name :

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

 

I think it was Alexander's plan to come West after he'd conquered the East.

 

Formosus

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To address the inflexibility of the phalanx in this context: I think (and I stand to be corrected) that the Macedonian formations at the time of DogsHead (cos I can't spell Cyconcephale or however it goes) and the other later battles had lengthened the the sarissa to ludicrous extremes. Admitedly, it wasn't ludicrous when facing other phalanxes because size mattered.

 

But I think that Philip and Alexander's formations were much different - the old combined arms approach and the "hammer and anvil." In later times, the phalanx evolved into the primary weapon, something it wasn't in earlier days. I'm preaching to the converted here - but the Alexandrian phalanx held the enemy in place whilst the cavalry administered coup de grace. That wasn't the case at the time of Cyconcephalae.

 

If Alex had gone west instead of east, we'd all be speaking Anglo-Hellenic or something. For Romanophiles, it hurts to admit, but I can't see an early legion matching Alexander and his chums in anyway shape or form.

 

It's the best debate in Ancient History, this. And a never ending one - there must be a thousand posts on this board alone about it *lol*

 

Cheers

 

Russ

Thought I'd help you out with that name :

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

 

I think it was Alexander's plan to come West after he'd conquered the East.

 

Formosus

 

 

I will always stand and be corrected and it seems that my comment was ill informed. It is, I realise now, a widely held belief that Alexander did plan to conquer the arab tribes and move west, certainly against Carthage and Sicily.

 

May I refine my statement and say that I still don't think that he would have moved specifically against Rome and that he did not view her as anything more than one of many western powers and cultures.

 

Thanks Formosus for the correction.

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