Jump to content
UNRV Ancient Roman Empire Forums
  • Time Travel Rome

Sign in to follow this  
Maximus_Superbus_Bongus

Roman Cohort versus a Macedonian Phalanx.

Recommended Posts

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

 

Yeah.

 

Didn't the Romans conquer the Hellenistic world? Why exactly is this such a pressing debate?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I think the romans would win, read about the battle of Pydna and you will understand ;)

 

Yeah.

 

Didn't the Romans conquer the Hellenistic world? Why exactly is this such a pressing debate?

I would say because the Romans were never able to conquer Persia and the other Asiatic countries as Alexander III did, and because of the clash of national prides; the Greeks never let the Roman forget it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I would say because the Romans were never able to conquer Persia and the other Asiatic countries as Alexander III did, and because of the clash of national prides; the Greeks never let the Roman forget it.

 

Ok, but - and please don't think this sarcasm is directed personally at you, because it is not - but since the Romans conquered the Hellenes, including Macedonia, isn't the original question a bit like asking:

 

What would have happened if only Brutus had stabbed Caesar? Assume Brutus had a sharp dagger. Assume a level terrain on the Senate floor. Assume Caesar had no missle support standing by.

 

 

I've been moderating this forum for 3 years. This question comes up again and again (as someone mentioned), and far from being the grand question in classical history, it seems like the most useless one.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
What would have happened if only Brutus had stabbed Caesar? Assume Brutus had a sharp dagger. Assume a level terrain on the Senate floor. Assume Caesar had no missle support standing by.

 

I've been moderating this forum for 3 years. This question comes up again and again (as someone mentioned), and far from being the grand question in classical history, it seems like the most useless one.

 

Ah, yes, the lay out of the Senate floor is crucial, evidently.

 

I think this discussion is actually good fun. But then I haven't been bored to death yet by it for 3 years.

;)

 

Formosus

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Why exactly is this such a pressing debate?

 

Because the Romans never faced a competently led phalanx "in its prime." The same way as people ask who was better, Marciano or Ali. Busby's babes or Ferguson's treble winners. Superman vs the Hulk.

 

I don't think it's a pressing debate though. It's just a bit of fun.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ali, of course. He was The Greatest. Didn't he tell us so Himself ?

 

Those Busby Babes wouldn't have had a chance against a Macedonian phalanx 'in its prime'.

Ali, on the other hand ....

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would it depends on what era of Roman soldier you are talking about. Marian/Caesar era, I would say the Cohort would have won. The Roman legion was structured down to the common foot soldier. The phalanx had structure, but not that far down. With the cohort having an elastic quality as someone mentioned, I think a section of the cohort could have easily outflanked the phalanx on the weaker right side. Remember, the phalanx needs to act and think as one. You couldn't have guys flipping that sarissa backwards while some pointed forward. The whole formation would fall apart. The Roman pilum could harass the Macedonians from the front while the smaller unit broke off and harassed the flank. Hands down, the cohort would win. It has speed, mobility, and adaptability. The phalanx relied heavily on the heavy cavalry. That is what made it so destructive. It was literally a moving wall of sharp points. It worked primarily off of the anvil/hammer principle. In essence, it only had one direction; forward. Cohort, hands down!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I would it depends on what era of Roman soldier you are talking about. Marian/Caesar era, I would say the Cohort would have won. The Roman legion was structured down to the common foot soldier. The phalanx had structure, but not that far down. With the cohort having an elastic quality as someone mentioned, I think a section of the cohort could have easily outflanked the phalanx on the weaker right side. Remember, the phalanx needs to act and think as one. You couldn't have guys flipping that sarissa backwards while some pointed forward. The whole formation would fall apart. The Roman pilum could harass the Macedonians from the front while the smaller unit broke off and harassed the flank. Hands down, the cohort would win. It has speed, mobility, and adaptability. The phalanx relied heavily on the heavy cavalry. That is what made it so destructive. It was literally a moving wall of sharp points. It worked primarily off of the anvil/hammer principle. In essence, it only had one direction; forward. Cohort, hands down!

As it was, the Macedonian phalanges were utterly defeated by pre-Marian legions.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I would it depends on what era of Roman soldier you are talking about. Marian/Caesar era, I would say the Cohort would have won. The Roman legion was structured down to the common foot soldier. The phalanx had structure, but not that far down. With the cohort having an elastic quality as someone mentioned, I think a section of the cohort could have easily outflanked the phalanx on the weaker right side. Remember, the phalanx needs to act and think as one. You couldn't have guys flipping that sarissa backwards while some pointed forward. The whole formation would fall apart. The Roman pilum could harass the Macedonians from the front while the smaller unit broke off and harassed the flank. Hands down, the cohort would win. It has speed, mobility, and adaptability. The phalanx relied heavily on the heavy cavalry. That is what made it so destructive. It was literally a moving wall of sharp points. It worked primarily off of the anvil/hammer principle. In essence, it only had one direction; forward. Cohort, hands down!

As it was, the Macedonian phalanges were utterly defeated by pre-Marian legions.

Sylla is quite right to point out this fact that I think has become well estyablished on this thread. From the First Macedonian War onwards it is an empirical fact that the legions were superior. This being fact, I think, is why the more recent posts were, in referring to earlier encounters with, for example Pyrrhus, trying to establish the relative merits of the legion against the phalanx in it's near prime just post Alexander.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
What would have happened if only Brutus had stabbed Caesar? Assume Brutus had a sharp dagger. Assume a level terrain on the Senate floor. Assume Caesar had no missle support standing by.

I tend to agree with Donald Earl: "Caesar... projected an invasion to Rarthia. Had he lived to carry out this design, the result would almost certainly have been total defeat for the Roman Armiy".

I've been moderating this forum for 3 years. This question comes up again and again (as someone mentioned), and far from being the grand question in classical history, it seems like the most useless one.

As the whole historic fiction literature; for the record, we entirely agree.

Ah, yes, the lay out of the Senate floor is crucial, evidently.

I think this discussion is actually good fun. But then I haven't been bored to death yet by it for 3 years. :)

Formosus

That's a good point too.

Because the Romans never faced a competently led phalanx "in its prime."

Now that is an open question.

Out of fiction, Romans actually came very close of fighting the Hellenistic King Alexander when he invaded Italy ... Alexander Molossus of Epirus, the quasi-Macedonian uncle and brother-in-law of the contemporary homonymous Great King of Macedonia.

H even attacked the Samnites (at almost the same time than the Romans did) and signed a treaty with the Senate. The available evidence suggests that Alexander Magnus has left the western conquests for his Epirote relatives; Roman historians were well aware that they were at the brink of facing phalanges in its prime when Molossus was opportunely killed by a solitary assesin, as predicted by the Zeus oracle in Dodona if we believe in Livy, who unsurprisingly adds Molossus would have been defeated had he faced the Romans.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
What would have happened if only Brutus had stabbed Caesar? Assume Brutus had a sharp dagger. Assume a level terrain on the Senate floor. Assume Caesar had no missle support standing by.

I tend to agree with Donald Earl: "Caesar... projected an invasion to Rarthia. Had he lived to carry out this design, the result would almost certainly have been total defeat for the Roman Armiy".

I've been moderating this forum for 3 years. This question comes up again and again (as someone mentioned), and far from being the grand question in classical history, it seems like the most useless one.

As the whole historic fiction literature; for the record, we entirely agree.

Ah, yes, the lay out of the Senate floor is crucial, evidently.

I think this discussion is actually good fun. But then I haven't been bored to death yet by it for 3 years. :)

Formosus

That's a good point too.

Because the Romans never faced a competently led phalanx "in its prime."

Now that is an open question.

Out of fiction, Romans actually came very close of fighting the Hellenistic King Alexander when he invaded Italy ... Alexander Molossus of Epirus, the quasi-Macedonian uncle and brother-in-law of the contemporary homonymous Great King of Macedonia.

He even attacked the Samnites (at almost the same time than the Romans did) and signed a treaty with the Senate.

The available evidence suggests that Alexander Magnus had left the western conquests for his Epirote relatives; Roman historians were well aware that they were at the brink of facing phalanges "in its prime" when Molossus was opportunely killed by a solitary assassin, as predicted by the Zeus oracle in Dodona if we believe in Livy, who unsurprisingly adds Molossus would have been defeated had he faced the Romans.

If Alex had gone west instead of east, we'd all be speaking Anglo-Hellenic or something.

Highly unlikely; the Romans that eventually conquered the West were as hellenophiles as the Macedonians, if not even more.

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?

Now with Pyrrhus (Alexander Magnus' cousin) we certainly have a phalanx "in its prime"; he was not "easily" defeated at all; the added forces of Rome and Carthage (the Western Mediterranean superpowers) plus minor allies were required. Each of both Superpowers could easily outnumber any army that Epirus and its Greek allies would have been able to levy. That Pyrrhus was eventually routed when he exhausted his resources, by Dentatus or anyone else, was no surprise; the amazing fact is that so many years were required.

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.

I have still to see any objective military analysis that effectively documents such downward evolution.

As usual when we try anachronic comparisons, the conclusions are up even before the questions were asked. Such comparisons are heavily biased by the value judgements of later sources; it is unquestionably stated in advance that Alex III was a winner and Phil V was a loser.

Edited by sylla

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

All that said, the original question was quite specific:

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.

On the overall comparison of the military perfomance of those two tactical units, I would think the unqualified general consesus has overly favoured the Legion from the very first moment.

 

Now, this thread had almost immediately derived to a far more complex issue: why did the Roman Republic defeated the Kingdom of Macedonia?

 

In addition to the legion superiority as a tactical uniy, many advantages were evidently on the Roman side, beginning by the raw numbers; Italy was far more populated than Macedonia.

Rome had also the support of the powerful Numidian kingdom and its army, especiallly from its cavalry and elephant units, essentially the same veteran "mercenaries" from the campaigns of Hannibal.

Many Greek armies (notoriously the Etolian cavalry) fought on the Roman side too.

Probably for the first time, huge auxiliary units share the battlefront with the legions, including the famous Cretan archers and Balearic slingers; even Gaulish hosrsemen were there.

Besides, Rome had the economic and naval support from Egypt and even the subjugated Carthage.

Last but not least, commander's expertise seems to have been predominantly on the Roman side.

 

It should be noted that the armies of some Greek allies, integrated themselves by phalanx units, had a fair performance under Roman command and even defeated the Macedonians on their own more than once.

 

Even so, the Roman victory was hardly as easy as our romanophile sources want us to believe; after all, there was more than half a century between the beginning of Macedonian War I and the definitive conquest of Pella.

 

IMHO, by now a more interesting question would be why the Macedonians were still able to win some significant battles over the Roman legions, notoriously when Perseus routed Crassus at Callicinus.

Edited by sylla

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thats a tough one. Like others here have already said; the out come would depend on many factors beyond unit gear and tactics alone. But my vote, would go to an Army of Phalanx over the Cohort's mobility in a war. My reasoning is the Phalanx unit was also armed with swords. the rear of a phalanx was the weak point but those men who were the back of the unit could turn and fight to hold the frontal formation against rout. If you had several Phalanx units they could form a square around missile units who had taken position on small hill for example and with enough supply, those missile units could stop any cohort or barbarian mobility. The Phalanx however was not limited still and needed heavy cavalry support in rough terrain or wood lands. The cohorts were a great fighting unit not just in mobility but in having darts to throw at an enemy before making contact thus reducing the Phalanx formations ability . But all in all I say the Phalanx wins...Just an opinion.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Thats a tough one. Like others here have already said; the out come would depend on many factors beyond unit gear and tactics alone. But my vote, would go to an Army of Phalanx over the Cohort's mobility in a war. My reasoning is the Phalanx unit was also armed with swords. the rear of a phalanx was the weak point but those men who were the back of the unit could turn and fight to hold the frontal formation against rout. If you had several Phalanx units they could form a square around missile units who had taken position on small hill for example and with enough supply, those missile units could stop any cohort or barbarian mobility. The Phalanx however was not limited still and needed heavy cavalry support in rough terrain or wood lands. The cohorts were a great fighting unit not just in mobility but in having darts to throw at an enemy before making contact thus reducing the Phalanx formations ability . But all in all I say the Phalanx wins...Just an opinion.

 

The phalanx did not win. This is a fact and whether this was the result of the superiority of one system or the other, Roman manpower, the 'hydra' described by Cineas and Pyrrhus or leadership, it remains a fact that the legions prevailed in most cases. It is interesting, in my view, to toy with a few 'what ifs?' such as the possible outcome of an encounter with Alexander but the sum total of actual meetings between legions and phalanx based armies shoe one to be superior than the other.

 

The darts that you refer to - plumbatae - were not a part of legionary weaponry until the late third century AD long after any encounter with a phalanx based adversary.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Regarding the swords - these were carried as weapons once the pikes had become useless for any reason. Pikes after all are somewhat unwieldy because of their length and weight, and the phalanx was designed to make the best use of those attributes. Since a phalanx relies on coherence for tactical advantage (in that you cannot penetrate a wall of sharp objects) it seems a bit ridiculous that a phalanx-man would simply drop his pike and wield a sword.

 

Phalaxes were used on a broad front wherever possible. Literally to bulldoze the opponents aside. Roman maniples were more mobile but if they couldn't outflank the opposing phalanx - they had a big problem.

 

The cavalry on the ancient battlefield was always at a premium because horses were rare and expensive. They weren't used in the same way as later periods (for close-in charges) but as skirmishers or melee fighters. To harass, outflank, or pursue. Where possible, the early ancient cavalryman uses missile weapons and wheels away. He doesn't want to get bogged down in a fight like the armoured crustaceans of the middle ages on heavy warhorses. The mobility of the cavalry was therefore best applied on the wings, to decide who had control of the flanks and quite possibly the battle.

 

The Battle of Leuctra in 371BC demonstrates this. The Thebans advanced on the Spartan lines right flank refused (diagonal holding back on the right). They did this to allow their cavalry to escape at the last moment whilst the Spartan cavalry, lined in front of the phlanxes, found themselves trapped between the enemy pikes and their own. Swords were not considered until after the pikes had done their work.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

  • Map of the Roman Empire

×