Sunday, April 23, 2017
Well, it took a while. . . partly because I don't plow through one book at a time. . . and partly because the Butterfly Brain gets distracted by all sorts of topics both historical and contemporary. . . and partly because An Invincible Beast is a bit of a dense read. I'm a big fan of Dr. Matthew's combination of research into primary sources with physical recreation, ballistics testing and re-enactment, but it is not exactly summer beach-reading.
On page 399, Dr. Matthew summarizes (sorta):
Diodorus declared that 'Macedonian spears had conquered Asia and Europe.' The organization of of Hellenistic pike formations onto units and sub-units, combined with an elaborate and symmetrically distributed command structure, made the pike-phalanx a very ordered instrument of war - one that was mutually supporting, offensively and defensively strong, and adaptable to the varied tactical requirements of the ancient battlefield. Phalangite formations, for example, could be deployed to different depths, with the most common being that of sixteen ranks deep, but could also be arranged in deeper or shallower configurations depending upon the terrain, the size of the opposing force, the decisions of those in command and the situation of the day.
It seems that pike phalanxes were in a more open order than usually depicted, to make room for 5 ranks of deployed pikes, and the great length of the pikes were generally used to hold the opposing forces at bay.
This allowed the pike-phalanx to effectively pin an enemy formation in place as part of the standard tactic of pike-phalanx combat - that of the hammer and anvil. Across the entire Hellenistic Period this tactic of using the pike-phalanx in the center to hold an enemy formation (or part thereof) in position while other, more mobile troops swept around to strike from the flanks remained unchanged. This in itself demonstrates the integral part that the pike-phalanx played in the conflicts of this time period.
While the functionality of the phalangite remained little changed cross the Hellenistic Period, the tools and strategies of war constantly developed in attempts to overcome the advantages held by the pike-phalanx, particularly during the time of the Successors following the death of Alexander the Great in 323BC when pike-phalanx fought pike-phalanx and a decisive tactical advantage of some kind was required to secure victory. Consequently the sarissa (pike) itself became longer to outreach an enemy armed in similar fashion, and beasts such as elephants were more regularly employed to try and smash an opposing formation apart. Many of these tactical 'experiments' met with mixed results; the pike could only be increased in length until a point was reached where it was almost impossible to wield, and contingents of elephants could be countered with other elephants, a solid wall of pikes, missile troops or other measures. As a result, the phalangite, and the pike-phalanx, retained its position of supremacy on the battlefield.
Yet for all its advantages, the pike-phalanx did have its limitations. This was mainly the potential for gaps to open in the line - due in part to the phalanx being comprised of semi-independent units and sub-units. If such gaps could be exploited by a more mobile opponent, one who could get inside the rows of projecting pikes, this was when the pike-phalanx was most vulnerable as the long sarissa made the phalangite a very ineffective individual combatant, and larger units were incapable of turning to meet threats from the sides once their pikes had been lowered. It was the ability of the Roman legionaries to take advantage of this inherent weakness in the Hellenistic pike-phalanx which ultimately led to the formation's demise.
Sounds like DBA to me : )
If you want to know how the Romans defeated the pike-phalanx, or exactly how it was organized, or when and where it was first developed, and by who, you'll have to read the book.
I stumbled onto another book when looking up the author John Ferling, some of whose work about the Revolutionary War I have read - but I was not familiar with A Wilderness of Miseries, which is about the "warriors" of colonial America. Its sociological angle immediately drew me in. I AM "plowing" through this one!
I'll have some more F&IW terrain to show soon, as well as some thoughts on rules for the period I am considering.