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Legions and Phalanxes

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    Posted: 07-Apr-2005 at 21:25
What was it that made the Roman Legion so vastly superior to Greek phalanxes? Also, did the phalanx formation vary from polis to polis? For example, was the phalanx that Sparta used more effective than the one used by Corinth?
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  Quote Lannes Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07-Apr-2005 at 22:29

Originally posted by Sargon_Metis

What was it that made the Roman Legion so vastly superior to Greek phalanxes?

Well, the phalanx has a tendancy to lose order and certainly wasn't as flexible as the legion, but I would actually say that a phalanx army that had more of cavalry element than those of later days (it seems that later Hellenistic commanders reverted back to the old ways of using the phalanx as a nearly exclusive offensive unit in their army) would be capableod dealing with a legion army.  Alexander I the Molossi certainly had some success against the manipular legion in his brief Italian campaign.

Also, did the phalanx formation vary from polis to polis?

To an extent, yes.  For example, the Boeotians had used a very deep phalanx as early as 424BC (Battle of Delium).  And of course, there was the oblique advance used by the Boeotians.  There are various other examples of abnormal phalanx formations.



Edited by Lannes
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  Quote RED GUARD Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 08-Apr-2005 at 07:23
       It was just that the Roman legions much better organised than the Greek planax and can move easily. Plus, legions were divided into smaller groups controlled by other officers. A planax however, they had to hold there spears towards the enemy at all times, which can inflict some friendly fire.
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  Quote Imperator Invictus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 08-Apr-2005 at 22:30
The Phalanx was a superior infantry formation on flat ground head on clash, but it has three main problems: 1) It had trouble keeping formation on rough ground, 2) It had trouble doing quick maneuvers when in panic, and 3) It had to be heavily supported by light troops and cavalry. Often times, the Phalanx was destroyed because its support units of cavalry and light infantry were routed. When this happens, the Phalanx is not flexible enough to change formations quickly or protect its flanks. This was precisely what happened at Magnesia, where a larger Phalanx army was routed by the Romans when its support got destroyed. With this said, the Phalanx also took more skill to command because it relied more on combined arms than the legion.

But how the Legion proved to be more reliable than the Phalanx is not the whole story of why Rome conquered the Greeks and Macedonians.
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  Quote EvilNed Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15-Apr-2005 at 16:31

The phalanx was only one brick in the game. If the cavalry or light infantry did not support the phalanx, it could only hold it's ground for so long. I can't remember the name of the battle, but it was fought by Perseus of Macedon. He did not commit his cavalry to the battle, and the light infantry was away, fighting in the flanks instead of in the gaps that they were supposed to (I'm talking about the macedonian phalanx). Thus, the phalanx got defeated by romans who managed to get past the pikes and into gaps in the phalanx. Had the light infantry been deployed there (to fill in the gaps), as it should have, that would have been impossible, or at least much more difficult. Now it wasn't, and the phalanx fell.

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  Quote cavalry4ever Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24-Apr-2005 at 20:22

Phalanx was a line formation that could move and fight forward and only forward. Roman legion with its formation based on a square could fight in any direction and could protect itself from all sides. It could also split in the smaller units and move in any direction. If enemy got behind falanx or on its flank, whole falanx would unravel. This is why cavalry was so important to protect flanks and prevent enemy from outflanking the falanx.

In the case of the legion or smaller Roman formation, it would stand its ground, often surrounded by the enemy, until relieved.

 

 

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  Quote TheodoreFelix Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-May-2005 at 20:50
I remember having a duscussion with someone in another forum who would win. Alexander and his army versus Caesar and his legions Ultimately pointless and serves as nothing more then empty headed speculation, however my point in the whole thing was that the legions job deferred from that of a phalanx(Mace phalnax). If you look at Alexander's battle youll see that the phalanx served as a weapon to hold in the enemy in place. It was not used to defeat the enemy the cavalry did that. Alexander's cav was spectacular and was able to always smash the enemy and thus hitting the rest from an open flank. Im using Alex ofcourse because he is by far the best example of a proper use of a Macedonian phalanx and its use during its height. He only had about 15,000 phallangites with him. So it shows that it was not the center of the battle. A proper phalanx, as stated above, NEEDS good backing. Crappy cavarly wont do it. Alex had soem of the best cavalry around with him(The legendary Companion) and tons of Thracing,Illyrians etc who served as a way to back them up. This ultimately becomes faulty as this is not always around. A proper phallanx army rarely has just phallanx and cavalry. Its is actually a very diverse army. While the legion isnt nearly to that level. The legion used allies simply as a means to fill up ranks. It could fight anything by itself. It was built to accomandate the crappy cavalry Rome had(which would always be beaten by the far more numerous and stronger Hellenistic cavalry). Therefore the legion was one machine which could take on anything with minimal support.  Aside from this the whole cohorts thing, and need for even ground for a phallanx has been mentioned and I really feel lazy now. 

Anyway, this is mostly why Rome beat Macedon so easily. Macedon had been in decline for a while then and could not support the quality army it had before.  Add poor lleadership to this(often horrible) and you have a clear victory for the Romans.  

(Note I mentioned the Macedonian Phallanx as that was the Phallanx Rome had to really contend with, the old one had gone practically out of use exept for a few occasions such as the Lybian Mercs of Hannibal)



Edited by Iskender Bey ALBO
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  Quote strategos Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-May-2005 at 22:43

Originally posted by Iskender Bey ALBO

I remember having a duscussion with someone in another forum who would win. Alexander and his army versus Caesar and his legions Ultimately pointless and serves as nothing more then empty headed speculation, however my point in the whole thing was that the legions job deferred from that of a phalanx(Mace phalnax). If you look at Alexander's battle youll see that the phalanx served as a weapon to hold in the enemy in place. It was not used to defeat the enemy the cavalry did that. Alexander's cav was spectacular and was able to always smash the enemy and thus hitting the rest from an open flank. Im using Alex ofcourse because he is by far the best example of a proper use of a Macedonian phalanx and its use during its height. He only had about 15,000 phallangites with him. So it shows that it was not the center of the battle. A proper phalanx, as stated above, NEEDS good backing. Crappy cavarly wont do it. Alex had soem of the best cavalry around with him(The legendary Companion) and tons of Thracing,Illyrians etc who served as a way to back them up. This ultimately becomes faulty as this is not always around. A proper phallanx army rarely has just phallanx and cavalry. Its is actually a very diverse army. While the legion isnt nearly to that level. The legion used allies simply as a means to fill up ranks. It could fight anything by itself. It was built to accomandate the crappy cavalry Rome had(which would always be beaten by the far more numerous and stronger Hellenistic cavalry). Therefore the legion was one machine which could take on anything with minimal support.  Aside from this the whole cohorts thing, and need for even group for a phallanx has been mentioned and I really feel lazy now. 

Anyway, this is mostly why Rome beat Macedon so easily. Macedon had been in decline for a while then and could not support the quality army it had before.  Add poor lleadership to this(often horrible) and you have a clear victory for the Romans.  

(Note I mentioned the Macedonian Phallanx as that was the Phallanx Rome had to really contend with, the old one had gone practically out of use exept for a few occasions such as the Lybian Mercs of Hannibal)

It woudl also be nice to add that the phallanxes could be very effective against charging horses, that is if it was from the front, not flanking them from sides or behind. Byut, how effective was legions against horses charging, because I dont think short swords would of cut it.

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  Quote TheodoreFelix Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-May-2005 at 22:51

 Very good actually. In fact Caesar used this to his advantage against the battle with Pompey(why did I forget the name?). He took cohorts from the rear and positioned them to back his cavalry, since Pompey beat him cavalry wise due to numbers(and in infantry numbers). Because they were taken from the rear, Pomepy was not able to see this because it was from the rear. When Caesars cavalry met with Pompey's cav it was beaten as expected however when Pompey's cavalry began to chase it was beaten by Caesar's infantry and then the very cohorts proceeded to flank Pompey's legions, who were already engaged with Caesar's legions    . Cavalry does not like to go straight into a heavy block of men, plus the legion was mobile enough to create formations to fit the occasion. Ofcourse this is talking about a frontal attack. A cavalry would never think of such stupidity.

(PS: I mean't ground not group at the end of my last post. I have corrected it now I just wanted to mention it for those who already read it)



Edited by Iskender Bey ALBO
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  Quote vulkan02 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04-May-2005 at 14:44

the Romans learned how to fight in Legions from the Samnites. Prior to the battle of Lautulea (i think) which was a victory for the Samnites the Romans fought just like the other Greeks in phalanx formation. They saw however that this wouldn't do much good in mountanious terrain so they decided to adopt the Samnite battle formation.

 

The Samnites were valiant warriors and well organized. Like many nations, then and even now, they had their own army, and a nucleus of chosen warriors forming a special corps. This was called Legio Linteata, a devotio, in reference to the Samnites's Olympus Gods whereas, after a special ceremony, a caste of warriors vowed their extreme sacrifice in order to defend its people. Titus Livius narrated in his Annales the induction ceremony regarding this special corps.
Even tough some of the archaelogical reperts found recently do not guarantee its autenticity. This is how Livius wrote about the induction into the Legio Linteata:

  Vaso del Pittore della Libagione - Capua - V sec. a.C.

... The Samnites readied themselves for war with great commitments and abundance of shining armors. And invoked their Gods' help for the initiation ceremony taking an oath according an ancient rite. And in the Samnium territory they ordered a conscription with a new important clause whereas those soldiers refusing to answer the call from their commanders or avoiding it, would be subjected to Jupiter's curse. Afterwards, the army would be ordered to meet at Aquilonia's. Almost 60 thousands strong, the best samnites troops, would there assemble.



THE PLACE OF THE LINTEATIS' SWEARING IN CEREMONY.

Here, almost in the center of the camp, they encircled the area, almost 200 feet large, with fences draped with pieces of cloth.
According to what is referred in an old linteo book, this is the place where a sacrifice was offered. A certain middleage priest, named Ovio Paccio seems to have obtained information about this sacred rite from and old samnites' ceremonial, to which his forefathers adhered to, when secretely had deliberated to overtake Capua from the Etruscans.

Samnite warriors of Legio Linteata  

As soon as the sacrifice ceremony ended, the supreme commander would ask an assistant to call up the most nobles for lineage and army endeavors. Each one of them was now introduced. Besides sacred displays to justify religious awe, in the center of the fenced area all around draped, there were altars and bodies of victims, and in a circle, an unit of warriors with drawn swords. More like victims, the inductees were taken before the altars. Each one must had sworn never to reveal anyone what he was about to see or hear in this place. He was then forced to swear an horrific oath to invoke malediction upon himself, his family and his descendants, if he ever would refuse to go and fight when he was so ordered, if he avoided the call, or if he had witnessed somebody deserting and he had not killed him.

Those refusing taking such an oath, were then slain around the altars, their bodies thrown in the heaps of the victims being this a lesson to those thinking of a refusal. When the notables would have pronounced this curse, the supreme commander would then induct 10 linteati and each one was given a choice to select a buddy. And this induction would proceed until they would reach 16000 strong. This legion, appropriately, was called 'linteata" taking the name from the covering of the fences in which this new nobility had been consacrated. To these warriors now were given shining armors and plumed helmets so that they can easily be distinguished. There was also another army of about 20000 men of lesser statute than the linteatis but just very able physically, for achieved glories in the wars, and for the weapons entrusted upon them. This body of men, the heart of the military, took camp around Aquilonia (1).

Another episode taken from the Annales also refers to the Legio Linteata but dated around 309 b.C. The warriors were described as wearing golden or silver armors.

Of the two armies, one used shields made of gold, the other of silver. The following tells us how the shields were made: "The upper part, larger than the rest to protect chest and and shoulders and horizontal at the very top. The lower section, more pointed to facilitate freedom of motion.
In order to protect the chest, they would use armor mesh and wore shin-guards to shield the left leg. Plumed helmets to better emphasize one's height. Multi-colored tunics worn by soldiers wearing golden shield, candid linen instead for those protected by the silver one (2).

  Samnitic warrior - Fresco from Nola - Weege 30

In effect Livius' description of these armies aimed at showcasing their gladiatorial prowesse might be due to the fact the Samnites were reknown as the most deft yet cruel fighters in the arena.
And to evidence even more the special fame attributed to the Legio Linteata, if it ever existed, it seems that Livius underscored the claims and efforts, sometimes purely fictional, of the Romans' morbid desire to destroy this fierce legion.


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  Quote TheodoreFelix Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04-May-2005 at 17:31
While it is true that the Samnites heavily affected Roman warfare. It also was from much of their surroundings. From what I understand. The Romans took the maniple warfare idea from the Smanites, Gladius from the Iberians and the reformed pillum, the heavy chainmail armor from the celtcs, and organization from past Hellenistic influence.
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  Quote vulkan02 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04-May-2005 at 19:14
their helmets were adopted from the Celts too
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  Quote TheodoreFelix Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04-May-2005 at 20:48
right forgot to add. 
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  Quote cavalry4ever Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20-May-2005 at 21:07

[/QUOTE]

It woudl also be nice to add that the phallanxes could be very effective against charging horses, that is if it was from the front, not flanking them from sides or behind. Byut, how effective was legions against horses charging, because I dont think short swords would of cut it.

[/QUOTE]

You are forgetting the Pilum (Roman throwing spear). Romans used two of them: light and haeavy. Heavy one had range of up to 98 feet (more than 30 meters). There is good picture of them in this discussion,

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