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Flexibility of various Greek/Hellenic phalanxes.
#1
I'm making this thread for the express purpose of having a source to draw upon for knowledge of the phalanx's flexibility. I don't know about other people, but I deal with many people - online and in real life - who talk about the ancient world's battles under the guise that the phalanx was an unmanageable sledgehammer that would shatter the instant it was flanked. I think the phalanx is very misunderstood - partly due to people who have enough knowledge to sound like an authority, but have not actually examined the evidence or original sources, and partly due to dumbed-down ideas of the phalanx, such as how it is depicted in the Total War games.

We know that both the hoplite and sarissa phalanxes have good to great records for success. The Greeks won the majority of their battles in the Persian Wars, and it seemed that, with exceptions like Sphacteria, the only way to beat a phalanx conventionally is with a better phalanx. During and after Alexander's time, the sarissa phalanx proved itself as being flexible, nigh-unbreakable in the worst of circumstances, and capable of operating in jungles, mountainous terrain, and during badly inclement weather.

Many people compare the hoplite/sarissa phalanx against Rome's legions, and point to a few key differences. My personal belief is, in a nutshell, that while Rome very often was unable to break the phalanx in battle, they were ultimately able to out-strategize their phalanx-equipped enemies through better generalship, greater resources, and better ability to sustain losses. However, a few points keep coming up, which I will paraphrase below, and am asking those of us here to rebut.

1. The phalanx is unmaneuverable! Get around it and the pikemen are mincemeat. And getting around it should be a piece of cake, as it takes a level of coordination that the average Hellenic pikeman doesn't have to be able to turn a phalanx without breaking up.

2. The pike is an unwieldy weapon. Roman shields protected more or less all of the legionary, and he could reasonably get past a pikeman, maybe even a few. Once he's past the pike's head, it's a done deal.

3. The phalanx only works on even, cleared terrain. If a pike block makes its way through terrain that would necessitate splitting into multiple smaller groups, then enemies wielding more easy-to-use weapons should have an easy time winning.

4: On the contrary, the Roman legionary is able to operate effectively in far more diverse terrain, and can support himself without the need for other legionaries to constantly be at his side. Pikemen are good only in one scenario, when they are shoulder-to-shoulder.

5. Sarissa pikemen carried very small shields, and thus are vulnerable to missile weapons. The heavy Roman pilum would go right through their shield and whatever cuirass the pikeman might be wearing, if any. Horse archers or other skirmishers could pick apart the slow phalanx with easy.

Anyone care to lay out exactly why these points are wrong, or what truth their might be to them? I have ideas, but I want to hear it from RAT first.

And one final note from myself, I have read that the phalanx of the Diadokhi's time, and most hoplites through the era, never received any training and most Greeks subscribed to the idea that a man could fight if only you gave him his panoplia. How true is this, and if it is true, what difference does it make?
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#2
Read the answer from someone who would have seen both in his life, a military man who understood the subject and saw battle first hand.

Polybius, Hist., Book 18.28-32
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#3
I am inclined to take Polybius' analysis very seriously indeed; the basic fact that the legion was more module and flexible must be an important reason for its success. Nonetheless, two points are worth making

1) In the VERY small number of battles between legions and Macedonian pike phalanxes, the record is more mixed than it might seem. Pike phalanxes won two major battles (Heraclea and Asculum), the legions four (Beneventum, Cynoscephalae, Magnesia and Pydna). Enough to handily win a World Series, but when one looks closely, we know that even in victorious battles, the legions suffered serious setbacks: the near defeat of Flamininus' left wing at Cynoscephalae, the route of L. Scipio's right wing at Magnesia (here by heavy cavalry charge), and the initial Macedonian successes against Paullus' legions at Pydna, driving them back to within a few hundred meters of their camp. Never did a legion mop up a phalanx in the manner with which, say, the American M1 tanks smashed the Iraqi armored force during the First Gulf War.

2) The pike phalanx has reappeared several times during history, including the ferocious Swiss pikemen. Despite many attempts (most notably Maurice of Nassau, with the aid of the scholar Justus Lipsius), no post-Roman force has successfully recreated the manipular legion.
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#4
My opinion on the matter is that the hellenistic pike phalanx was indeed a superb tool for field battles. The examples of its use against the Roman Republican system are not really few and in most, if not all, it proved superior as far as the head on collision of the two phalanxes in a formed condition is concerned. It required an even terrain to operate, but that must be judged by Greek standards and not by the English term itself. What Greeks mean(t) by "even terrain" has nothing to do with what most Europeans understand with the term. The battlegrounds where it operated in Greece, Anatolia, even in Italy were very rugged by the standards of most people here and these were the exact terrain it was invented and utilized for, so it makes absolutely no sense to form an army for a type terrain that practically does not exist in the area it was used in... To me, this is important to know when judging the words of Polybius in his comparison between the two systems. Cynoscephalae, Pydna, Sellasia and Chaeronea are all very good examples of what "even terrain" meant to Greeks.

Now to your points :

1.The pike phalanx was not unmaneuverable. It was able to do all maneuvers required by line infantry, it could turn, slowly like all infantry line phalanxes, it could open, it could face about and everything. But it was still infantry trying to keep their positions and no skirmishers to run around. The Romans are described to have used a more fluid system that was more maneuverable in a different sense. They were supposedly trained in fighting retreat, which was not a normal option for other systems that required head on attack to push the enemy back (as a line, not necessarily physically) and break them. The Romans could diffuse that pressure, but NOT without heavy losses anyways. They were also used as ekdromoi hoplites. This means that the Romans would more easily fight outside the lines, in a more skirmish fashion, which was less important on the battlefield, but very important to win a war, as Polybius also stresses, since wars are not only fought on battlefields, but in many forms and occasions. Winning battles and losing because the enemy can take or hold all heights, attack your supply lines and generally skirmish better than you was not at all strange.

So, the pike phalanx was not unmaneuverable for a line phalanx, it was less maneuverable, though, than the multi-purpose Roman army.
And getting around it was as difficult as getting around any other phalanx. Once done, the odds would shift, morale would drop and things would not look good for any such force, Romans included.

2. The pike was a fierce weapon that had very good penetrating capablilities. It was very difficult for any Roman to get passed them and for others to exploit such gaps. One or two Romans being able to somehow exploit a small opportunity and go among the pikes would be not that rare, but defensive measures would have been taken for this situation and attacked from all sides would place them at a disadvantage anyways. For a sizable gap to form, more pressure would have been necessary and that would be as difficult to attain as a similar gap in any other type of phalanx, if not even more difficult. If it were easy to just push the sarisae aside and advance towards the Greek first rankers, the Romans would have easily defeated them in their head on assaults, which never happened. Instead, it was the Romans who were easily pushed back (partly because their own system was based on the ability to retreat in order) with many casualties.

Also, keep in mind, that the Romans, when fighting in line, would also be required to hold their positions. What happened in Pydna, that is the Romans actively trying to exploit all gaps and weak spots of the enemy phalanx was done only after the general rode along the lines ordering them to do so. This clearly shows, that the Roman system was also not one to seek a violent, unorderly melee but one based on its soldiers keeping their relative places. However, exactly like the Greeks did with their ekdromoi, like in the examples provided by Xenophon, the Romans did have the ability to exit the line and return as a tactic, something that was not done by the phalangites, who were not as well equipped for fighting outside the line.

3-4. Again, this has to do with the definition of difficult terrain and gaps. No, it would not be a problem for a good phalanx (untrained levies would be weak for any type of troop and fighting) to fight in such terrain and measures were taken accordingly (read the description of the battle of Sellasia for exactly how this could be done). However, this does not mean that there would never be a fatal failure because of the terrain, but again, this was nothing particularly seen as a weakness of this type of phalanx, but as a weakness of line infantry battle formations in general. However, if the terrain would become particularly rugged, then the phalanx (any phalanx) would start to shatter and a more skirmishing mode of fighting would be adopted, which would make the phalanx very vulnerable to the superior individual armament of the Romans. All generals would try to avoid unfavorable terrain, but still, sometimes, this was not possible or achieved,

So, here the phalangite was at a disadvantage because of his equipment and training, but this was not a "flaw" of the phalanx, rather than the ability of the Romans to perform better in less orderly situations, a great advantage as long as your line can hold itself against the enemy.

5. No, this is just not the case. First of all the shields of the phalangites were enough to shield them from missiles and I really doubt the theory (found in the sources) that the raised pikes of the front ranks would also sufficiently serve as a wall against missiles. However, there is no evidence that the pike phalanx had real problems against any type of field missiles, arrows, javelins or pila. Casualties from such weapons were low as usual in cases of armored infantry phalanxes.

As for horsearchers, well... the problem with them was the fact that they could not be pinned. All infantry would have problems against them or any type of ancient cavalry as they would be skirmished against. To counter such attacks, an army needed its own skirmishers and cavalry. If stripped from such support, all line formations had problems against a skirmishing enemy (countless examples here).






In all, the pike phalanx was, IMHO, superior to the Roman system in head on collisions in an average terrain but it was inferior in other roles. For those roles, the Greeks would employ different types of troops, better suited for such fighting and also important to win a battle and a war, which you might want to compare to the Roman legionaries to get a fuller picture. Eventually, the pike phalanx was a highly specialized troop type suited for a specific role, whereas the Romans made their infantry more role-flexible.
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#5
Paul McDonnell-Staff wrote a good article about Sellasia in Ancient Warfare Magazine, Vol. II, Issue 2. He says the battle was fought in a saddle, between two hilltops, which means it was good ground for two sarissa armed phalanx to fight one another. Since both were organized identically, neither could exploit the other when it came to any issues with terrain.

Using Cynoscephalae, Pydna, and Chaeronea as other examples of phalanx being able to fight effectively on rough terrain doesn't work.

At Cynoscephalae, no mention is made of the ground on the Macedonian right, other than the Macedonians were attacking downhill, which gave them the weight on their right flank to drive the Roman left downhill.

"With his right wing, then, Philip had the advantage, since from higher ground he threw his entire phalanx upon the Romans, who could not withstand the weight of its interlocking shields and the sharpness of its projecting pikes; but his left wing was broken up and scattered along the hills" Plutarch, Flaminus, 8

So the Macedonian left was broken up and scattered along hills, which is why they had couldn't resist the Roman right. Ie. they couldn't operate on rough terrain.

The first stages of the battle of Pydna were fought on a plain, the Macedonian camp was in the east, where the terrain is almost flat, that's close to where the battle started. It wasn't until the phalanx drove the Romans back into the foothill of their camp, situated in the western part, in hilly terrain, that the phalanx's disorder created significant gaps that allowed the Romans to fight their way into the phalanx and rout them.

The battle of Chaeronea (338) is known to have been fought in the open plain, between a mountain on one side, a river on the other. And its not even certain that Philip's phalanx were even armed with the sarissa at that stage. So terrain matters not at all in this battle.

Lastly, soldiers organized and equipped similar to Romans could launch a frontal assault on a sarissa phalanx. It wasn't a smart thing to do, attacking a phalanx head on can be a bit hazardous to one's health, but the Paeligni at Pydna did it, though they were also the ones who suffered the majority of the Roman deaths in the whole battle (80-100).

"The Romans, when they attacked the Macedonian phalanx, were unable to force a passage, and Salvius, the commander of the Pelignians, snatched the standard of his company and hurled it in among the enemy. Then the Pelignians, since among the Italians it is an unnatural and flagrant thing to abandon a standard, rushed on towards the place where it was, and dreadful losses were inflicted and suffered on both sides." Plutarch, Aemilius Paulus, 20.1

I like this gif, to demonstrate locked shield infantry having to cross difficult terrain:

[img width=400]https://static.dyp.im/wPE2vX7vv5/7f8cb9ae220b7a847a277c14e86b123d.gif[/img]


Another interesting passage from Plutarch is this one:

"But the ground was uneven, and the line of battle so long that shields could not be kept continuously locked together, and Aemilius therefore saw that the Macedonian phalanx was getting many clefts and intervals in it, as is natural when armies are large and the efforts of the combatants are diversified; portions of it were hard pressed, and other portions were dashing forward. Thereupon he came up swiftly; and dividing up his cohorts, ordered them to plunge quickly into the interstices and empty spaces in the enemy's line and thus come to close quarters, not fighting a single battle against them all, but many separate and successive battles." Plut. Aem. 20.4

Another example that gaps and intervals were normal in battle and that they weren't commonly exploited. That even within the phalanx, their line could open up and not be exploited. Or even if it did, it didn't always matter:

'The interval between the "caetrati" and the divisions of the phalanx was filled up by the legion, and thus the enemy's line was interrupted. The "caetrati" were in their rear; the legion were fronting the shieldmen of the phalanx, who were known as the "chalcaspides." L. Albinus, an ex-consul, was ordered to lead the second legion against the phalanx of "leucaspides"; these formed the centre of the enemy's line. On the Roman right, where the battle had begun, close to the river, he brought up the elephants and the cohorts of allied troops. It was here that the Macedonians first gave ground.

So even with the Romans entering the interval/gap between light/medium infantry and the phalanx, they still couldn't exploit the situation.
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#6
Bryan.. I am Greek, I have walked the battlegrounds and I know perfectly well what level of ruggedness they represent. If you just make the effort to research the battlegrounds of Greece, you will understand what I mean by saying that what was "even" for the Greeks in a terrain has nothing to do with what others mean with the word. The same applies to terms like hills and hillocks. What we are calling hills in Greece is mountains to most members here. You should understand that the perspective from which one narrates and the meaning of his words have to do with much more than an English translation.

As far as the battle of Cynoscephalae is concerned both Polybius and Plutarch are of the opinion that the terrain was unfavorable for arraying the phalanx, however, Philip did array and almost won. As for their left wing, they were attacked while still in marching column and unformed as Polybius clearly describes. It is a clear example of a decision of a living commander to fight in terrain that was "unfavorable" even for Greek standards. And the formed phalanx, even then, defeated the Romans in a front to front engagement. The fact that the Romans won the battle has nothing to do with the fact that the formed phalanx performed very well in such terrain.

The "plains" of Greece are so small, narrow and filled with ditches, streams, hillocks, swamps etc, that really flat terrain was always filled with orchards and fields just because it was so scarce. If one follows the roads leading into Eurotas and Sparta and sees the terrain around Sellasia (3 proposed battlegrounds and I have a proposal for a fourth I have been researching), if one, even today, with all the modern works having taken place and the swamps having been drained for decades, walks around the "plains" near ancient Pydna, one will understand exactly what I mean.
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#7
Well said George, well said.
Joe Balmos
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#8
Macedon wrote:
Bryan.. I am Greek, I have walked the battlegrounds and I know perfectly well what level of ruggedness they represent. If you just make the effort to research the battlegrounds of Greece, you will understand what I mean by saying that what was "even" for the Greeks in a terrain has nothing to do with what others mean with the word. The same applies to terms like hills and hillocks. What we are calling hills in Greece is mountains to most members here. You should understand that the perspective from which one narrates and the meaning of his words have to do with much more than an English translation.

I never wrote or implied that the battlefields in question were parade ground manicured lawns and perfectly flat. What I am describing comes from the sources. If they chose a word that could be mistranslated, that's one thing. If they spend an entire paragraph describing the terrain, and it disagrees with your interpretation, then sorry, I'm taking the original source and its translation over your word.

Besides that, I know how to read a topographical map, which contain contour lines to describe relief features in the ground. If the contour lines are really close together, then it means steep. If they aren't close together, it means its a gentle slope. I like to spend time looking up the sites of ancient battlefields and comparing the descriptions of the battles with modern maps (as land is today). You seriously want to argue that those maps are wrong too? If necessary, I post screen shots from Google Maps with terrain features added, and will show the exact location of every single battle being discussed in this thread. Then we can discuss the difference between mountain and plain. Is that what you want? Because its not going to help your argument in the least.

An army that by nature must retain utmost integrity, who are literally overlapping each other in certain formations, will naturally have trouble moving through terrain or conditions that make for walking in a straight line difficult. A simple recruit in any army can tell you what happens when a unit marches on a level area and then suddenly encounters uneven terrain. Basic order and cohesion is lost. While this can be prevented largely through actually training for it, marching a unit through unfavorable terrain, eventually a situation will occur that prevents good order and discipline within the ranks and the formation falls apart, despite the discipline and training of the men, and the leadership of the units. The phalangites, or whatever specific term you want to describe them, were notorious for the exceptional amount drill they performed before going into battle. But even the most drilled unit is going to have issues crossing a big ditch, streams, gorges, etc. But those terrain features all exist naturally in battlefields and often can't be avoided, therefore having a primary infantry force that "doesn't do mountains" is a hindrance when fighting an enemy that does.

Macedon wrote:
As far as the battle of Cynoscephalae is concerned both Polybius and Plutarch are of the opinion that the terrain was unfavorable for arraying the phalanx, however, Philip did array and almost won. As for their left wing, they were attacked while still in marching column and unformed as Polybius clearly describes. It is a clear example of a decision of a living commander to fight in terrain that was "unfavorable" even for Greek standards. And the formed phalanx, even then, defeated the Romans in a front to front engagement. The fact that the Romans won the battle has nothing to do with the fact that the formed phalanx performed very well in such terrain.

There is nothing whatsoever in Plutarch's description of Cynoscephalae that would lend to your suggestion that the terrain was similar across the entire battlefield. In reality, he goes out of his way to suggest that the terrain the Macedonian left had to cross was so unfavorable that it caused the phalanx to become, using his own words, "broken up and scattered along the hills". He doesn't say anything remotely similar about the Macedonian right, so the implication is that the terrain favored them forming up and carrying out a violent downhill assault that was more then what the Romans could bare. Plutarch didn't relate this problem to anything at all with forming from marching order to battle array. He specifically mentions the terrain as the reason the left flank faltered.

Here's what Polybius had to say about the Macedonian left:

'The Macedonians having no one to give them orders, and unable to form a proper phalanx, owing to the inequalities of the ground and to the fact that, being engaged in trying to come up with the actual combatants, they were still in column of march, did not even wait for the Romans to come to close quarters: but, thrown into confusion by the mere charge of the elephants, their ranks were disordered and they broke into flight.' Hist, 18.25

As you can see, it was more than just being in the wrong order of battle. So that's two sources that specifically relate that the Macedonian left had significant issues because of the unfavorable terrain.

I notice you like using Polybius as a source for this battle but consistently ignore or discount passages 18.28-32, right smack dab in his description of Cynoscephalae, which describes why the phalanx consistently lose to Romans. Is terrain a major feature in Polybius' description of the failings of the Hellenic phalanx? Yep, read it right here, 18:31.

Also, I didn't use this as an example at all do to the Romans winning, I didn't even mention the Romans aside from that they were driven back on their left, and succeeded on the right. You initially brought up Cynoscephalae as some example of 'what "even terrain" meant to Greeks'. Myself, Plutarch and Polybius all disagree with you.

Macedon wrote:
The "plains" of Greece are so small, narrow and filled with ditches, streams, hillocks, swamps etc, that really flat terrain was always filled with orchards and fields just because it was so scarce. If one follows the roads leading into Eurotas and Sparta and sees the terrain around Sellasia (3 proposed battlegrounds and I have a proposal for a fourth I have been researching), if one, even today, with all the modern works having taken place and the swamps having been drained for decades, walks around the "plains" near ancient Pydna, one will understand exactly what I mean.

What would a geographer call the large area in the southeast, next to the sea, that is colored white, in this map? A plain, right?

Because streams run through it, an orchards, or ditches, that doesn't stop it from neither being a plain, nor a pretty good area to set up an army for battle.

I've never stated microterrain or natural obstructions didn't litter every battlefield throughout history. Battles aren't fought on perfectly flat and empty fields, because those don't exist in nature. However, a plain is called a plain because its a large flat area. Not that it doesn't have ditches, swamps, streams, or small relief features like gentle small hills, a hillock.
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#9
You can interpret the sources exactly the way you want to. I have summarized my opinion for Jack to consider and I have also voiced my warning as to how one should be wary when reading about "open" or "even" terrain. I do not doubt your understanding of "ruggedness', but I do know that when people are discussing "open terrain", they are not always referring to the same terrain conditions.What you mean with that is for you to know. I also do not doubt your ability to read maps as I do not know you, your profession or your skills but I would still warn you to be very careful when reading sources as to the context. I do not have the time or the patience to write long posts analyzing the sources regarding the phalanx and the mentioned battles nor guide you to the relevant passages in a debate that I have done a number of times in the past, but I would advise to not be provocative in your posts as the only effect that it has (at least on me) is to just ignore you.

As for Jack, if there is anything you want me to elaborate on or any references you need regarding the OP, just tell me.
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#10
Two things I'd like elaboration on:
How well trained were the armies of the Diadokhi that Rome fought? Were they better/worse than those during Alexander's time? I think the answer is fairly obvious(Alexander's were better) but how 'soldierly' was the average pikeman in Perseus's army at Pydna? And how good were the Romans they faced?

Another is on a very small level about ancient armies. Most of my practical experience in fighting comes from SCA and Dagorhir(haha, yes, I play with boffer swords). While there are some very fast and good fighters in those games, there are a lot of differences between them and real combat. Still, there's one scenario I keep imagining that I've witnessed in Dagorhir and the SCA that I'm puzzled over how it may have gone down in reality.

Walls of spearmen occasionally form, but when they do, oftentimes one enterprising individual will go after their spears sideways. In other words, s/he will(oftentimes with a shield) run across the front of the line of spears, pushing them all aside at once. It's worked with varying success when I've seen it, but I how may this have gone down historically? I realize this is getting more detailed than most ancient sources go, so if this requires speculation, fire away.
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#11
From what I've read, the quality of various Diodochi phalanx varied. While its hard to actively say they were better or worse than during Alexander's reign, many of Alexander's (and Philips) veterans fought during the Diodochi Wars. Its a counter of drill/training vs. combat experience.

The Romans were also of various quality. For instance, those that fought at Cynoscephalae were largely veterans of the 2nd Punic War, which means they would have been highly experienced, especially at the centurion/tribune/legate level. At Pydna, the Romans actually were having a bit of difficulty in the first couple of years of the 3rd Macedonian War before Aemilius Paulus took command, instilled discipline back into the army and led them to victory at Pydna.

From my own study, Romans of the 2nd Century BC period did little in the way of command mandated drill, it usually occurred when armies or specific legions had performed poorly in previous campaigns. New commanders would assume command and spend the winters drilling their men. The Cornelii Scipii family were known for it, Aemilius Paulus, having served with them and being familiarly linked to them, might also have done it too. He also would have been of age to have served in the 2nd Punic War, so there was likely a continuation of the training/drill methods that Scipio Africanus used in Spain and to train his army for the African campaign. Through Aem. Paul., this is probably where Scipio Aemilianus also learned to be a drill master, who would then pass on his knowledge to noted Romans like Gaius Marius, who with equally skilled peers would make reforms on the Roman military system that would standardize training until the Romans would become famous for it.

I've read about the training some of the hellenic phalanx had, I'll have to dig up some more info, because I'm pretty sure I remember reading about some units that spent many months doing nothing but drilling, with lots of campaign experience to go along with it. I'll have to get back to you about that.

Not to say Romans weren't trained, just that it wasn't formally in any standardized manner. If the men needed to learn anything of particular they were weak at, it mainly feel on the tribunes and centurions to quickly teach them. But Romans tactics at the time were very simple and hardly changed for over a century. The education of boys in propertied households, those who matter who be conscripted for service in the legions, is known to include sword and shield drills, javelin throwing, swimming, hurdling ditches, vaulting horses, use of the sling, and other martial skills. So there was really no need for any sort of any basic training, their upbringing often taught them most what they needed to know.

As to your second question, there is a source, can't remember which one, that says that someone road down the ranks of a phalanx and chopped off the spearheads. But I don't believe this is possible. Based on how a phalanx is formed, the sarissa points would be staggered, so one must get within only a few meters of the men of the front ranks before they'd encounter the final sarissa point. I doubt it would be easy to simply run sideways and knock over all the sarissa, like in this pic.

Plutarch and Polybius are of a mind that they both believed it was near impossible to barge through a wall of pikes frontally. Plutarch actually believed that a sarissa could pierce not only the scutum, but all types of armor worn, which is unlikely unless both sides were running at one another. But it would have been difficult at best. The phalangites deliberately put their best soldiers, classified as officers, in the front ranks, so they would have been the hardest men to kill or break. Everyone would have been well drilled on relieving casualties and filling holes.

It is unlikely that a large amount of Romans could make it past the pikes into the phalangites ranks, all in a close enough area to overwhelm the phalanx's soldiers and cause the unit to crumble. The only times I can think of it happening during a frontal assault were during the first battle of the Pyrrhic War, which saw both Roman and Pyrrhus' forces at a stalemate, with heavy casualties, and at Pydna, when the Paelignians through themselves into the attack to retrieve their standard, that was purposely thrown into the enemy ranks to encourage aggression. The rest of the accounts seem to describe the Romans either being mauled trying, or being driven back with few actual casualties.

Depending on the angle the scutum is held (to better allow spearheads to glance off it), and a willingness to toss it if if the point of a sarissa get's caught in it, and using a sword and bare hands to get past more sarissa points, and depending on whether the phalanx is in open or closed order (number of spearheads one faces), and if both sides are quickly advancing on each other, and how well the phalangites hold up against a massed volley of pila, it may or may not be possible to break through them frontally. If Aemilius Paulus was terrified of the sight of them, it must have been equally daunting for a Roman infantryman being ordered to frontally assault a phalanx that was also advancing on them. Kind of like driving a Prius head on into a dump truck. The dump truck is going to get damaged, but its suicidal to try it. Actual ancient battles saw few casualties before the rout occurred, so its likely that a Roman equipped force wouldn't even try to frontally fight their way through a phalanx. Likely, a few would try and fail, the rest would take the message and throw their pila and retreat in good order.

But that's all assuming that everything goes perfectly from the perspective of the phalanx, which it seldom did. Against outdated infantry like Greek hoplites, against poor infantry like the Persians, or against identically armed units of phalangites, the major flaws of the Hellenic sarissa phalanx might not be apparent enough to exploit and lead to failure. Against Romans, a very mobile and decentralized infantry heavy force, they (meaning experienced officers) will find the flaw and devise a tactic or choose a battlefield site to exploit it.

It should be noted that of the major battles of the Roman vs the various Hellenic kingdoms, at Cynoscephalae and Pydna, the most significant battles where the defeat of the phalanx led directly to a Roman victory, both were chance battles fought on terrain that wasn't chosen by either side, though both favored the Roman army. Other battles, during the Pyrrhic War, the Seleucid War, and the Mithridatic War saw Roman victories as a direct result of non-infantry means, on ground almost always favoring the phalanx. But it wasn't simply a legion vs phalanx that won the battles for Rome. Concepts like leadership, command and signal, ethos of the soldiers themselves, came into play.
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#12
At the time of Perseus, the Macedonian soldiery would not have been nearly as capable as that of Philip II or Alexander. This was mainly so, because the troops of Alexander were already veterans of many wars when they even set their foot in Anatolia. Their level of experience was superb and thus their efficiency was multiplied. With time, new levies were sent to Alexander, but these arrived gradually and did not affect the overall quality of his army that much.

As regards the training of the troops at later times, we sadly have very little information as to how or how often it was done. What seems to be the case is that men were issued arms by the state and were responsible for their maintenance in times of peace even as common citizens. This indicates at some basic training in the arms of the phalanx was taking place but I cannot say whether this was regular or just some compulsory military service. I know there were fines for those who had problematic arms during inspections. A part of the army would have been professionals, but still, the overall quality of training would vary as not all Macedonian kings were capable rulers. The best argument in favor of rigorous training of levies during peacetime would, in my opinion, be the case of Philopoemen, who is praised for the reformation and training of the Achaean army and the esteem he was held to by the Macedonians for the reason that he continuously trained his men. This shows that rigorous training of citizens during peacetime was not something unheard of in late 3rd century Greece and I see no reason to doubt that Antigonos did not have similar policies. However, i know of no solid information on a specific recruitment or training system employed by the Macedonians after Alexander.

As for stratagems against the pike phalanx, we do have some, including trying to shove the pikes off with shields, grabbing them or even, as Bryan said, there is also a mention of horsemen riding by to break the spearpoints with the force of their motion, but in the end, it seems that nothing of the sort really worked. Both Polybius and Plutarch talk about the futility of such actions and Polybius explains that it was impossible for the Romans to do anything of the sort, as each first-ranker had to face 10 pikes. In your example, a very courageous individual runs towards the pikes at an angle trying to push them aside with his shield. How far into the serried wall of pikes would he come? One? Two? Even if we assume that he would be able to push aside three ranks of pikes, there would be more behind, stabbing at him as he would come to a halt. And if we are to take the words of the sources verbatim, the Roman thyreoi shields were not particularly effective against the thrust of the sarissa, which would make the effort even more futile.
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#13
Did Roman armies have an advantage in that lower ranking officers were allowed to make decisions on their own? I'd assume most competent leaders of any time would know to designate responsibility to the lowest level of competency.
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#14
I don't think that, at least during the Republic, lower ranked officers would take tactical decisions on their own during battle. They probably had some very small degree of flexibility as to certain aspects within the Roman battle-line system, like when to retreat a bit to keep cohesion with the nearby cohorts or maniples, but nothing extreme. They did not have the freedom to leave their position, maneuver in a different manner than was prescribed in the pre-battle orders or general commands if that is what you are asking. If you are referring to detachment tactics, that would be another issue.

The question would be what you mean by 'making decisions on their own' and 'designating responsibility'?
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#15
Quote:Did Roman armies have an advantage in that lower ranking officers were allowed to make decisions on their own? I'd assume most competent leaders of any time would know to designate responsibility to the lowest level of competency.

It appears the Middle and Late Republic didn't have the level of subunit leaders that Hellenic phalanx possessed (each file having its own leader, closer and other officers. The smallest true unit Roman commander was the centurion, who commanded between 60-100 men, helped by an optio, standard bearer, and guard mount commander. There is no evidence for there being anything similar to a file leader or quasi section tent leader performing any tactical roles, at least not until the Late Empire when traditional Roman and Hellenic warfare seemed to start merging. During the Republic is not even positive that the Romans fought in perfectly dressed rank and files.

Even so, the centurion seems to have had much more leeway than the Hellenic equivalent, especially when Caesar's accounts are included in the discussion (they exercises am almost ridiculous amount of autonomy and initiative). During the mid republic the descriptions of battles rarely mention centurions or maniples and centuries, focusing on the larger level. However the maniple was the primary tactical unit within the pedite of the legion, and those were controlled by centurions, so it's likely that even in the Mid Republic they could exercise very basic levels of autonomy, as long as it was in the framework of the commander's intent and monitored by Tribune's who till the mid 2nd Century BC still included prestigious triumphical ex-consuls, hardly the neophyte adolescent and young adults who later held those positions.

Some of the battle descriptions of the 2nd Punic War couldn't have been possible without giving some initiative to subordinate leaders. Same goes for other wars in Spain (small unit guerilla campaigns that were primarily cohort sized), in Africa against the Numidians, and other wars and campaigns atypical to the massive pitched battles of the wars against the various Hellenic states.
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