Thread Rating:
  • 0 Vote(s) - 0 Average
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Phalanx warfare: Closing of the ranks
#54
Getting back to Phalanx warfare, we have an extraordinarily detailed account of what must be one of the first uses of 'phalanx' tactics in Pausanias' description of the first Messenian war. The Lacedaemonians seem to be using phalanx tactics, but the Messenians perhaps do not, or because of indiscipline, tend to fight individually. Since it is very detailed, I hope readers won't mind if I quote it in full. Comments are mine:-

PAUSANIAS ‘Messenia’ Book IV.8.1-11 Battle between Messenians and Lacedaemonians 738 BC.

"[1]Such were the words of Euphaes. When the leaders on either side gave the signal, the Messenians charged the Lacedaemonians recklessly like men eager for death in their wrath, each one of them eager to be the first to join battle. The Lacedaemonians also advanced to meet them eagerly, but were careful not to break their ranks.

[The Lacedaemonians are clearly in 'phalanx' formation in ranks, while the Messenians seem not to be, or perhaps ill-discipline leads to individual actions, since Messenian 'ranks' are referred to later.]

[2] When they were about to come to close quarters, they threatened one another by brandishing their arms and with fierce looks, and fell to recriminations, these calling the Messenians already their slaves, no freer than the Helots; the others answering that they were impious in their undertaking, who for the sake of gain attacked their kinsmen and outraged all the ancestral gods of the Dorians, and Heracles above all. And now with their taunts they came to deeds, “mass thrusting against mass”/othismos.
[This is a mis-translation, for as we have seen, the word does NOT mean this at all. A better translation is: ]  (in a body/close order came to close quarters) especially on the Lacedaemonian side, and man attacking man. [or man setting upon man
What we have here, despite the use of the word 'othismos' is quite clearly individual combats, not co-ordinated shoving]

[3] The Lacedaemonians were far superior both in tactics and training, and also in numbers, for they had with them the neighboring peoples already reduced and serving in their ranks, and the Dryopes of Asine, who a generation earlier had been driven out of their own country by the Argives and had come as suppliants to Lacedaemon, were forced to serve in the army. Against the Messenian light-armed they employed Cretan archers as mercenaries.
[Both sides have light-armed troops but they play no part in the battle. See post]

[4] The Messenians were inspired alike by desperation and readiness to face death, regarding all their sufferings as necessary rather than terrible to men who honoured their country, and exaggerating their achievements and the consequences to the Lacedaemonians. Some of them leapt forth from the ranks, displaying glorious deeds of valor, in others fatally wounded and scarce breathing the frenzy of despair still reigned.

[5] They encouraged one another, the living and unwounded urging the stricken before their last moment came to sell their lives as dearly as they could and accept their fate with joy. And the wounded, when they felt their strength ebbing and breath failing, urged the unwounded to prove themselves no less valorous than they and not to render their death of no avail to their fatherland.
[Something of a heroic 'topos' here....]

[6] The Lacedaemonians refrained from exhorting one another, and were less inclined than the Messenians to engage in striking deeds of valor. As they were versed in warfare from boyhood, they employed a deeper formation and hoped that the Messenians would not endure the contest for so long as they, or sustain the toil of battle or wounds.
[So a battle of attrition takes place....]

[7] These were the differences in both sets of combatants in action and in feeling; but on both sides alike the conquered made no appeals or promises of ransom, perhaps in their enmity despairing of getting quarter, but mainly because they scorned to disgrace their previous achievements. The victorious refrained alike from boasting and from taunts, neither side having yet sure hopes of victory. The most remarkable was the death of those who tried to strip any of the fallen. For if they exposed any part of their bodies, they were struck with javelins or were struck down while intent on their present occupation, or were killed by those whom they were plundering who still lived.
[ the use of the word for thrown weapons 'akontizon' indicates that as on the Chigi vase, the hoplites carry two spears, one to throw.....]

[8] The kings fought in a manner that deserves mention. Theopompus rushed wildly forward to slay Euphaes himself. Euphaes, seeing him advancing, said to Antander that the action of Theopompus was no different from the attempt of his ancestor Polyneices; for Polyneices led an army from Argos against his fatherland, and slaying his brother with his own hand was slain by him. Theopompus was ready to involve the race of the Heracleidae in pollution as great as that of the house of Laius and Oedipus, but he would not leave the field unscathed. With these words he too advanced.

[9] Thereupon the battle, though the combatants had wearied, everywhere broke out again in full force. Their strength was renewed and recklessness of death heightened on both sides, so that it might have been thought that they were engaging for the first time. Finally Euphaes and his men in a frenzy of despair that was near to madness for picked Messenian troops formed the whole of the king's bodyguard, overpowering the enemy by their valor, drove back Theopompus himself and routed the Lacedaemonian troops opposed to them.
[ 'broke out again in full force' probably indicates that there were lulls in the combat, which obviously could not be continuous for long periods]
[10] But the other Messenian wing was in difficulties, for the general Pytharatus had been killed, and the men, without a commander, were fighting in a disorganized and confused manner, though not without heart. Polydorus did not pursue the Messenians when they gave way, nor Euphaes' men the Lacedaemonians. It seemed better to him and his men to support the defeated wing; they did not, however, engage with Polydorus' force, for darkness had already descended on the field;

[11] moreover, the Lacedaemonians were prevented from following the retiring force further not least by their ignorance of the country. Also it was an ancient practice with them not to carry out a pursuit too quickly, as they were more careful about maintaining their formation than about slaying the flying. In the center, where Euryleon was commanding the Lacedaemonians, and Cleonnis on the Messenian side, the contest was undecided; the coming of night separated them here also.

[12] This battle was fought principally or entirely by the heavy-armed troops on both sides. The mounted men were few and achieved nothing worth mention; for the Peloponnesians were not good horsemen then. The Messenian light-armed and the Cretans on the Lacedaemonian side did not engage at all; for on both sides according to the ancient practice they were posted in reserve to their own infantry.
 [Unusually, there were no 'preliminaries' by the light troops, and the battle was conducted purely by the Hoplites, with the light armed in the rear....]
[13] The following day neither side was minded to begin battle or to be the first to set up a trophy, but as the day advanced they made proposals for taking up the dead; when this was agreed on both sides, they proceeded to bury them.”
 
Footnote: The paradox with this passage is that there is no supporting evidence of the use of the phalanx in Greece at that time [738 BC]. Anthony Snodgrass defined "the hoplite revolution," which included both the use of the phalanx in Greece and standardization of a "hoplite panoply" of arms and equipment. The panoply consisted of artifacts adapted from previous models: corselet, greaves, ankle guards, closed "Corinthian" helmet, large round shield with a band for the arm and a side grip, spear, longish iron sword. Each element except the greaves is dated to 750-700 BC, perhaps earlier, and since these lend themselves to ‘phalanx’ tactics it is likely that the ‘phalanx’ emerged around this time also.
The paradox is that they are first depicted together on Proto-Corinthian vases of 675 BC for the panoply and the phalanx around 650 BC, much too late for the First Messenian War. The only supporting evidence for the phalanx therefore is dated to the time of the Second Messenian War, not the First. However, this is proof from a deficit. The vases may only demonstrate that depictions of phalanx warfare began at that time, not that phalanxes did. Pausanias on the other hand is positive evidence, and seems to have had good sources whom he names as Rhianus of Brene [3 C BC] and Myron of Priene, and both these and Pausanias himself relied on Aristomenes, a Messenian. The detail given in the account demonstrates a detailed source in turn. Pausanias gives a critique of these sources [ IV.6.2]. Moreover, attempts to discount or select out what he says often create other problems. He is a vital part of all the evidence for the period.
"dulce et decorum est pro patria mori " - Horace, ODES
(It is a sweet and proper thing to die for ones country)

"No son-of-a-bitch ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country" -GeorgeC Scott as General George S. Patton
Paullus Scipio/Paul McDonnell-Staff
Reply


Messages In This Thread
RE: Phalanx warfare: Closing of the ranks - by Paullus Scipio - 09-15-2016, 03:21 AM

Possibly Related Threads…
Thread Author Replies Views Last Post
  [split] Phalanx warfare: use of the spear JaM 247 63,651 12-03-2016, 02:39 PM
Last Post: Bryan

Forum Jump: