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Flexibility of various Greek/Hellenic phalanxes.
On the topic of initiative by Roman officers, tribunes and centurions, I think the answer is that the Roman military system gave subaltern officers tremendous initiative, and this at least was part of the secret for Roman military success. It is notable that the Macedonian military system produced ferocious officer who were able to execute offices, but not generate them (John Ma pointed this out in an excellent REMA article on Alexander the Great's leadership). Roman officers, meanwhile, again and again take action on their own initiative: the anonymous military tribune at Cynoscephalae is perhaps here the exemplar.

I am in fact hoping to public soon on the topic, and I recently linked a "working paper" on this forum (Bryan has kindly made some comments; please pardon a number of typographic infelicities in the draft). The main gist of the paper is that because tribunes, and also centurions, were elected, the former in the comitia, and the latter during the levy itself. Whether or not the people or soldiers made good choices, the very act of election empowered those subaltern officers to make independent decisions when necessary, because their authority came from a source outside from the patronage of the general himself.
I remember reading that it was common for esteemed consulars, who had succeeded in every command position they ever served in, who had triumphed for victories multiple times, to spend their waning military years serving as Military Tribunes. This is amazing, as it would mean a level of command expertise at a lower level that would absolutely be unheard of in any other nation in human history. Not only would it mean having a legion command structure that knew exactly what it was doing, but also that the tribunes were sometimes more senior in dignitas than the commander themselves, which means they would expect a greater level of autonomy and ability to act on initiative. Later, during Caesar's day, the military tribunes seemed to be much younger men, most not even of an age to become Senators, so under 10 years of military experience. Meanwhile, Caesar's legates and centurions might have usurped much of that power previously held by tribunes, which would explain why tribunes are nearly never mentioned in his commentaries, other than their high casualty rates (front line service), while legates and senior centurions seem to be the ones making spur of the moment judgment calls mid-battle.

Michael, how can I read the John Ma paper? Is it online?
The John Ma paper is sadly very difficult to find. REMA is not on JSTOR, and I have only found the article in hard copy; sadly I do not have a copy on hand.
In Alexander's army, were junior officers encouraged to think and act on their own? Particularly in places like Bactria/Sogdiana, where it would be particularly hard for senior officers to quickly relay and get information/orders?
Do you mean during pitched battles or during other military situations? All officers had their tasks and they very rarely had to improvise beyond them during battle. It would be a huge risk that very few dared take. At Cynoscephalae, this unnamed Roman officer did something with the reserves that won the battle and so did the attack of Philopoemen at Sellasia. Had these moves not made the difference, they would both have been punished severely. You just have to clarify what you mean by "thinking and acting on their own", what scale of initiatives are you talking about. For an ouragos to have two of his men before him change places would be within his scope, for one to call for his file to exit the line and run towards a hillock or something would be another issue. For a syntagmatarch to order the pikes raised would be one thing, to take his men, leave his position in the phalanx or reserves and go attack an enemy without having been commanded to do so would not be appreciated unless it was decisively successful...
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George C. K.
῾Ηρακλῆος γὰρ ἀνικήτου γένος ἐστέ
(08-26-2015, 07:34 PM)Bryan Wrote: 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.

I don’t propose to speak on behalf of or defend Macedon; he’s big and (well we won’t say ugly enough) articulate enough to defend himself. These are more my observations.

The location of ancient battlefields is more often than not a matter of ongoing debate. Some are well fixed but others are far from it. Debate still carries on over the exact site of Sellasia for example (about which, more below). Kynoskephalai is just such a case. Pritchett, Kromayer, Hammond, the West Point Academy and others as well as I have all had a stab at it and all are different. I would be most interested in your certainly over this battle’s location.

While on Kynoskephalai…

(08-26-2015, 04:26 PM)Bryan Wrote: 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.

(08-26-2015, 07:34 PM)Bryan Wrote: 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.

The first thing to note is that Plutarch is writing well after the event and is writing biography rather than history. He has used Polybios as the basis of his battle narrative (as did Livy) and is essentially summarising and picking what interests him and suits his purpose / themes. On the battle itself, Polybios – as close to a primary source as you are going to get – is to be preferred.  On the battleground, Polybios (18.22.8-10) is categorical:

Quote:Meanwhile one man after another of the Macedonian reserve ran towards Philip shouting out, "King, the enemy are flying: do not let slip the opportunity. The barbarians cannot stand before us: now is the day for you to strike: now is your opportunity!" The result was that he was induced to fight in spite of his dissatisfaction with the ground. For these hills, which are called Cynoscephalae, are rough, precipitous, and of considerable height; and it was because he foresaw the disadvantages of such a ground, that he was originally disinclined to accept battle there…

This is a description of the entire field – not simply that part that the Macedonian left needed to deploy on.  Needless to say Philip, an experienced commander, summed up the ground as unsuitable and he did not intend to fight here. The escalating nature of the “encounter battle” forced his hand against his much better judgment. Polybios is plain that Kynoskephalai, set of hills that are “rough, precipitous, and of considerable height” did not suit the phalanx.

It might also be noted that Plutarch, contrary to your view, does indeed remark upon the difficult nature of the battlefield (Flam. 8.1-2):

Quote:These are the sharp tops of hills lying close together alongside one another, and got their name from a resemblance in their shape. As was natural on a field so difficult...

We note that Plutarch summarises the whole as "a field so difficult". He does not say simply that the field was only difficult for the Macedonian left. Just as Polybios does not.

Polybios (25.6) goes on to record his reasons for why this battle was lost by Philip:

Quote: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…

The Macedonians, without their king and presumably Nikanor who’d sent up the left, had no one to command them. It was difficult to deploy into phalanx (as it will have been for the right). Lastly – and a point he emphasises at 26.9-10 (below) – the Macedonian left was destroyed because it was still in marching order cresting the ridge.

Quote:As Flamininus was pursuing the fugitives he came upon the lines of the Macedonian left, just as they were scaling the ridge in their attempt to cross the hills, and at first halted in some surprise because the enemy held their spears straight up, as is the custom of the Macedonians when surrendering themselves or intending to pass over to the enemy

Thus, although the Macedonian right had time to deploy into phalanx, the left did not. We also hear of parts of the phalanx that are attempting to join those in combat and some left on the ridge. Time was of the essence and not all the right wing descended to the attack. One or two speirai seem to have been still in the process of closing to the right when Philip took those already so arrayed downhill. Time and the ground will have occasioned this.

In the end, the unsuitability of the ground was a major factor here. It was not the only one though. Time – or the lack of it – played against Philip. It also was not on Flamininus’ side. This was a rush into line and that Flamininus leads only his left is telling.

(08-26-2015, 04:26 PM)Bryan Wrote: 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.

That ignores the fact that this was a battle fought on three frontages. The one you speak of is on the Macedonian left where the ground necessitated the Macedonian phalanx to deployed in double depth “epallelon”.  You forget that there was another phalanx on the Macedonian right. This was deployed in alternating speirai with Illyrian thureophoroi. The reason? The ground was difficult and Doson was utilising one of Pyrrhos’ tacticts (perhaps from his Taktike) to make his phalanx more adaptable to the ground.
Paralus|Michael Park

Ἐπὶ τοὺς πατέρας, ὦ κακαὶ κεφαλαί, τοὺς μετὰ Φιλίππου καὶ Ἀλεξάνδρου τὰ ὅλα κατειργασμένους

Wicked men, you are sinning against your fathers, who conquered the whole world under Philip and Alexander!

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