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Roman Cohort versus a Macedonian Phalanx.

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"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."


I'll have a stab at answering this one. Though we should first note that this was not a legion v phalanx battle. It wasn't completely a rout either, but I'll come to that.


Basically Perseus had his army all drawn up near Tempe in Thessaly waiting for the Romans to come to him. Crassus had a hellish time getting his troops through the mountains and took so long arriving that Perseus came looking for him.(Perseus spent a lot of this war wondering where the Romans were and what they were doing. Military intelligence was not his strong suit.)


He caught up with Crassus at Callicinus, a few miles from Larissa. Because of the broken ground around the Roman camp, neither side deployed its heavy infantry, with both phalanx and legions kept in reserve. The battle was mainly light-to-medium foot and cavalry - about 12,000 per side. So rather than Roman v Macedonian this battle was Thracian and Gallic irregulars v Peltasts, and Macedonian v Greek and Roman cavalry.


The Greeks were unenthusiastic allies in the first place, and a direct charge by the Macedonian companion cavalry did not make them feel any better about being there. After losing about 2000 men the Greeks legged it for camp, and their retreat was covered by Thessalian cavalry which held formation. The next day Crassus pulled his army to more secure quarters over the river Peneaus.



That was Callicinus. I'd say a better example might be the crushing of a legion under Iuventius Thalna by Andriscus in 149. It was definitely a legion in action here, and it was virtually wiped out. Regrettably, the Romans are generally a bit vague about battles in which they got thumped (apart from claiming their allies let them down), and the sources for this period are poor anyway (e.g. no Livy, Polybius in fragments). If anyone does have excellent sources for this battle please don't tell me. I've just done 80,000 words on the Macedonian wars and it's too late to change anything.

That our Romanophile sources were utterly trying to belittle a significant victory of Perseus is clear from the hard evidence of the huge military and political consequences of Callicinus:

- the immediate retreat of Crassus' two "super" legions (6000 effectives each one of them) and multiple allies, from an enemy force of roughly the same size;

- the loss of the whole Thessaly for several months;

- the enthusiastic reaction of the Greek sympathizers of Perseus;

- the sending of the Aetolians to Rome to answer for the defeat;

- and of course the delay of the definitive invasion of Macedon for another 3 years.

Livy himself acknowledged an atypically unfavorable casualty figure for the Romans from this battle.


Interestingly, JM Kistler pointed out the presumably significant absence of the Numidian Elephant squad on the Roman side in Callicinus, a unit that was active across virtually all major Roman victories from both the II and III Macedonian Wars, obviously including Phalanna and Pydna. The Roman Elephant factor might have actually played a more relevant role than usually acknowledged.


Regarding the IV Macedonian War, the use of Phalanges is far from certain, because this war was in all likelihood a popular rebellion and Andriscus the Pseudo-Philip has only

Edited by sylla

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