Talk:Phalanx formation

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Copyright issue with content?[edit]

First, apologies if I'm inserting this improperly. I really need to take some time and figure out the formalities of wikipedia. However, I came across this book, | A Handbook of Military Strategy and Tactics - Michiko Phifer and I'm hoping I got the link right so you'll land on the paragraph -- which appears to be block and copied into the article with little if any change. I'm under the impression that this is frowned on.

The paragraph which attracted my attention begins "Historians have not arrived at a consensus about the relationship between the Greek formation and these predecessors of the hoplites..." Paragraph 6 from the top. --Glenn Hefley 05:22, 27 June 2015 (UTC)

Just a thought that occured to me -- it is not clear, since this book I discovered is copyright 2012 -- who is plagiarizing who. It appears the whole (of which ever was first) was copied straight to the other.

--Glenn Hefley 05:27, 27 June 2015 (UTC)

 — Preceding unsigned comment added by Ghefley (talkcontribs)  

Revial formations[edit]

Have removed the reference to a revival under Napoleon as l'ordre profond has no real similarities to phalangial warfare, similarly I'm removing the reference to modern riot control. A unit that manouvres in clos columns to maximise the effect of thrusting weapons is not necessarily a phalanx, nor is formation that possesses shields for mutual defence necessarily a phalanx (I'm actually surprised nobody included Roman Legions as a phalangial revival). I would tend to remove the schiltrom and swine array as well but don't know enough to conclusively say whoever included them is wrong, and am only leaving pike formations in on sufferance as they have significant differences.Inane Imp 11:37, 19 April 2007 (UTC)

Isn't 'A unit that manouvres in clos columns to maximise the effect of thrusting weapon" the definition of a phalanx? :/ 01:28, 13 September 2007 (UTC)

Are there any sources for the use of the formation by Roman legions in the east? I'm not so sure that that's right... SpartanGlory1983 (talk) 06:55, 29 March 2008 (UTC) SpartanGlory1983

French Article[edit]

Even though the tag is at the top of the page, I think it good to repeat that there is in fact a French article. There are only a few active translators at the moment, but there are small amounts of good English information not found on the actual English page. I am asking anyone interested to take a look at the work-in-progress at Messedrocker's page (, and merge anything into this article that is unique to the French one. Thanks!

-ExNoctem 23:26, 10 December 2006 (UTC)

copyright stuff on illustration[edit]

The legal stuff from the official website seems to indicate that screenshots from the game can be used for non-profit, educational or research purposes, so long as sufficient legal acknowledgement is given to The Creative Assembly, and a license for the game has been purchased.

I have also tried contacting them via email to get express permission, but after several tries, and no response from them, I've given up.


I've removed the image. Much though I love RTW, and more historically accurate than most popular strategy games though it may be, it's still lacking in realism. RTW's portrayal of phalanx is wrong—phalangites held the sarissa with both hands, not just one, to start with. And the ranks were much deeper, and the units were far wider. —Simetrical (talk) 02:17, 23 Feb 2005 (UTC)

i would like to add that Rome total war doesnt portray the phalanx correctly because formations were much larger, running a game with 3-5 thousand troops in total creates lag especially when quality is high, thus it is a scaled down version. and i do believe when engaging in combat they use both hands, only 1 hand is used when they are at ease

I disagree, This article is intended to merely provide an outline of the key properties of a phalanx formation - something that I think the illustration helps with - not to discuss hoplite phalanges specifically.
Granted, phalanges are a hallmark of Hellenistic warfare, but they are far from exclusive to that period/region, if the reader is looking for the kind of specificity that you mention, he would be better served by reading the article on Macedonian phalanges.
Secondly, even when discussing the properties of Hellenistic phalanges, such broad-brushed statements as 'phalangites held the sarissa with both hands, not just one' are quite misleading. The length of the sarissa cannot be known with absolute certainty because of the vagaries of different regional units of measurement (every damn village seemed to have it's own idea of how long a cubit was), but it is largely agreed that the length of spear varied throughout history from as little as 8 to as many as 21 feet in length (W. W. Tarn covers this very well in some of his books on the topic) and for most of that time, the spear was short and light enough that it was used single handed, and with a shield in the other. It is because of that kind of confusion that I backed out some of my earlier edits and tried to keep this page very general.
In short, I think your decision was a little premature; I think that the reader is best served by some kind of illustration so that they might gain a better understanding of exactly what a phalanx looked like, and the screenshot taken from RTW is the best that I can think of in which the copyright issue is at least reasonably clear. Perhaps the image should be restored, but with a caption stating that the formation tended to be of considerably greater depth and bredth?
I will wait to hear from you before taking any action.
ChrisU 00:46, 2 Mar 2005 (UTC)
While the length of a cubit may have varied, the sarissa was never eight feet long. There were other polearms of that length that were used by various kinds of non-Macedonian phalanxes, but those weren't sarissas (at least, not in the common sense—perhaps some scholars use the term differently). In any case, the screenshot you posted was clearly of a long pike, which would have been impossible to hold in one hand in the matter portrayed. —Simetrical (talk) 02:51, 4 Mar 2005 (UTC)
Fine, whatever. My point was that the purpose of this article and of the illustration is to convey the key properties of what a phalanx is. Specific examples of armies that employed phalanges are better covered elsewhere and linked to from this entry.
Needless pedantry about spear length, helmet style, shield weight, color of greaves, Steel, Bronze, Iron, pointy-twig, Greek, Macedonian, Korean, Algerian, outer-Mongolian, Timbuk-Tooian, whilst certainly important elsewhere, are wasted in this forum and benefit nobody. ChrisU 03:17, 4 Mar 2005 (UTC)
Your point is taken. I'm restoring the image with more complete copyright information and a description noting a few main inaccuracies. I might replace it with an RTW picture with the phalangites arranged sixteen ranks deep and lots of ranks long later. —Simetrical (talk) 22:06, 6 Mar 2005 (UTC)
Cool, it's nice when a good compromise can be reached. I did fiddle about with screenshots of much wider phalanges, but I found that the more men in the picture, the more the detail was lost in the resultant forest of spears. Please feel welcome to replace the picture with a better example if you can, though. ChrisU 23:07, 10 Mar 2005 (UTC)
To me, the image looks a little tacky, and the caption more so. The Finnish Site's images look fine to me. Bluring of real history and video game history makes me a bit uncomfortable. However realistic a video game might be, it was still made to look cool and make money. Kyle543 09:01, May 16, 2005 (UTC)
Video game or not, the image is a pretty accurate representation of a Macedonian phalanx. The Finnish phalanx images look a lot tackier to me, personally. The only reason to use the Finnish images is to avoid possible marginal copyright issues, IMO. Any other opinions? —Simetrical (talk) 00:41, 17 May 2005 (UTC)
The first picture from the Finnish page is a pretty good representation of a phalanx, the second doesn't tell the reader anything. I've read and re-read the copyright stuff for R:TW and am convinced that there is no issue - they are actually extraordinarily generous when it comes to any kind of educational or research use of the software.
I know I'm restating myself here, but I think that if we are going to change the illustration, it's more important that we select something that clearly represents the properties of a phalanx, rather than something that is an accurate historical representation. Although I don't feel that the R:TW image is ideal, my vote is for leaving it as is for now. ChrisU 16:21, 17 May 2005 (UTC)
I my game information it says that the hoplites held the sarissa in both hands and that the sheild in the game is supposed to be buckled on, i have conducted an edit saying that the shield may have been buckled(inaccurate graphics i guess)

I've removed the image. Let's all take a deep breath and step back. An image from a video game, any video game, DOES NOT BELONG IN AN ARTICLE ABOUT HISTORY. That's just STUPID. I swear to god I think you people just do things just to generate drama. What's wrong with you? If you want to revert the image, go ahead. But know this: you, as a person who thinks "video games = real history!!1", you are clearly still in middle school. And I am 20 and unemployed as hell, so I have all the time in the world to revert your edits. Your move, Peggy.

sigh I don't even know where to begin with this one. Discarding an illustration simply because of the context from which it was drawn seems to be stupid in the extreme to me. The only thing stupider is threatening to camp on an article and revert any edit without listening to arguments contrary to your (misplaced, IMO) beliefs simply because, as you say, you've got nothing better to do.
Nobody was claiming that "video games = real history!!11one OMGLOL", what they were claiming was that the illustration provided a reasonably accurate representation of what a phalanx would look like. Secondly, this isn't an article on history, it's an article on what a phalanx formation is, that point has been done to death already if you'd just read the discussion page before jumping in.
I've left the article unchanged, the very idea of going head to head with an unemployed 20 year old with midschool-level reading comprehension terrifies me. I'll let the others decide what to do about it.
Image restored. We've been over this before but I'll repeat it for the guy who arbitrarily removed it and then flew into a rant: an illustration benefits the article and it's readers, although I'm not wild about the source either it's the best (most informative) that we've got in which the copyright issues are at least reasonably clear. If you can come up with anything better, I'd love to see it.
Also, to reinforce the point made in the earlier reply to your rant above, this article doesn't pretend to be an historical article, merely a description of what a phalanx formation was/is; FWIW, though, the game in question has been used in a number of historical documentary series presented by the history channel, so the usage/source of the illustration is not without prescident.
If you disagree with me, fine, we'll discuss it and perhaps reach a compromise but your previous attempt at discourse was far from constructive. ChrisU 09:22, 10 October 2005 (UTC)

I am relatively new to wikipedia, yet I have also my part to say on this (controversial?) article.

Many of the battles you mention seem to have been inspired by the game as well, as if you were simply telling the story of a virtual campaign you faught there. I would not mind if this information was actually true, but I believe a better statement could be written. I would also site more sources. This article merely sounds extremily ambiguous.

For instance, the information you provided on the battle of Battle of Pydna appears to be incorrect. Although I have not checked any trustworthy sources yet, the Battle of Pydna article (which, unlike yours, states its sources) informs us that the Roman and Macedonian cavalry were approximately of the same size (4,000 men). Even more surprisingly, this article tells us that the Roman cavalry played a minor role, and was accused of cowardice, as the roman infantry defeated most of the Macedonian phalanxes. Thus, it seems that this battle was NOT won because of any "flanking" by the cavalry, like your article would suggest. I have not changed or edited the article, unlike some here who seem to take this debate a little too personally. Yet if this information is false, I suggest we remove it as quickly as possible.

Also, I believe that to refer to a video game in order to complete an encyclopedic article is very unacademic, unprofessional and somehow a disgrace to any encyclopedia. As wikipedians I believe we are responsible for making every article as good as it can be, and to be honest, this article does not appear as trustworthy. This is not a documentary from the History Channel. When I first saw this article, I was not attracted seeing video game screenshots. What does that have to do with such an old military concept such as the phalanx? I would rather post a sketch, or a real illustration, as it has been proposed before in the finnish article.

Thanks for considering my reply, remember I'm only posting my views. Keep up the good work, Mr. Chris --Ludvig 17:53, 27 December 2005 (UTC)

Furthermore, I believe your screenshot does not properly show the rectangular aspect of the phalanx formation - it rather shows endless lines of soldiers succeeding each other.
This picture, that does not appear to be copyrighted, would make a better illustration (unfortunately, it won't fit this page): phalanx formation
Again, I strongly suggest you change your picture and include more academic references. --Ludvig 18:15, 27 December 2005 (UTC)

I added the comment that the sarissa was probably held over the shoulder, rather than under, as this is what I was taught in a class on the Alexandrian period at Uni. I believe I read an article which said this aswell - with great pictures - but can't remember the article's name.Hegar 12:04, 15 February 2006 (UTC)

The sarissa was far too long to be held overhand. SpartanGlory1983 (talk) 07:04, 29 March 2008 (UTC) SpartanGlory1983


It might also be worth mentioning that the spears used in Hellenistic phalanges had a spike on the butt. The men at the back of the phalanx (those with their spears pointing upwards) would use the buttspike to finish off wounded enemies laying on the battlefield as the phalanx advanced over them, or as a backup if the spearpoint at the front broke.

I tried fitting a sentence or two in at various points, but everything I tried seemed to break the flow of the article or seemed like a digression. ChrisU 23:07, 10 Mar 2005 (UTC)

Hoplon vs. Aspis[edit]

Great article, although I wouldn't mind if it went on and on, particularly into strategy. I like the historical references a lot. Anyhow, I don't believe that the Hoplite's shield is actually called a hoplon, or that the name is derived from it. I could be wrong, but I believe the shield is properly referred to as an "aspis", and that "hoplon" is a somewhat generic term for weaponry or military equipment, thus making the hoplite a sort of "man at arms". If I'm right and it is an error, it seems to be a popularly reproduced one at least.

If that is what you feel, then you are free to add a mention of that fact. We must keep in mind, however, that "hoplon" helps provide a neat (if ahistorical) classification of shields by way of contrasting it with the oblong thureous and the smaller pelte carried by both later phalangites and the peltasts proper. 16:21, 24 December 2005 (UTC)

This article seems inconsistent with

"An aspis (Ancient Greek Ασπις, IPA [aspis]) is the generic term for the word shield. The aspis, which is carried by Greek infantry (hoplites) of various periods, It is referred as hoplon"

hoplite drift[edit]

I've removed this sentence because a google search of "hoplite drift" reveals only one result: wikipedia


Makedonia,this edit of yours is without any edit summary. I would appreciate it if you could give a reason for it. My revert was accompanied with an edit summary which I think was fully informative of why I reverted you. Your reversion was not, so I am asking you here. Why did you revert back with no explanation? Just to keep some consistency, I include the edit summary which you did not care to answer:

no dude, the Macedonian Phalanx was a later modification to the phalanx formation that sought to take advantage of the sarissa length.

I stick to this edit summary, the phalanx was first devised in mainland Greece, and later the Macedonians adapted it to take advantage of the very long pike that they used (the sarissa). This is also mentioned in the body of the article. Could you please discuss this so as to avoid a revert war? --Michalis Famelis 20:59, 20 April 2006 (UTC)

Not that way[edit]

Roman legionaries facing a Greek phalanx formation, as portrayed in the Rome: Total War computer game, copyright 2004 Creative Assembly and Activision.

The Roman never would have dared to attack. A Phalanx only could be breaken up with the assistance of bowmans and other help. I wouldn't use the picture without further comment. Foreigner 09:40, 31 May 2006 (UTC)

I believe the image is strictly to be taken as an abstract image rather than a historical view, barring the fact that the Romans didn't exactly encounter Greek phalanges very often. There are occasions where Romans have attacked phalanges and won by breaking through the formation (eg. the fall of Macedon), so the situation isn't exactly impossible either. In any respect, let the article do the talking. --Scottie theNerd 11:03, 31 May 2006 (UTC)
Having archers from Crete, elephants and Numidian cavalry the Romans could dare, for sample in the Battle of Cynoscephalae. The situation as shown in the picture is absolutly impossible, eher wird ein Österreicher bundesdeutscher Bundeskanzler. Leinwand. Foreigner 13:10, 31 May 2006 (UTC)
They wouldn't need to attack with legionary ground forces - any roman commander would withdraw his flexible, fast legionaries to the wings and fill up the centre with javilineers and skirmishes. this forces the phalanx to advance or retreat. If they advance, they forfeit the advantage of total defensibility and can be drawn onto more difficult terrain or bottlenecked. If they stand still, they risk being cut down by the skirmishers. If you add cavalry to th equation, it becomes more complicated, but a sensible roman infantry commander holds all the cards and has all the initiative in this situation. Malastare

Revisions and Additions[edit]

I think thats a little bit better but needs some revision and editing to become truly unbiased - also, some of my prose is a little clunky in this article trying to address too much at once. Some more opinions are needed on the sections about society and culture (which I think should be mentioned in any article on the phalanx) and obviously anything apocryphal needs to be addressed.Malastare

when you actually think about it with their shields, if the sarrissa is inpaled on the shield then they are able to push, breaking it or making it useless and then attacking with swords,

Right foot or Left foot forward?[edit]

The image depicts the soldiers having their right foot foward. However, having your left foot foward while thrusting with your right hand affords greater stability (like in boxing or MMA). Also, the body would face to the right, supporting the claim that the formation would naturally drift right. 03:57, 11 August 2006 (UTC)

It's not which method works best, it's which method they used. KnightHospitaller 17:33, 17 June 2007 (UTC)

"A Spartan Hoplite in distinctive uniform panoply" image.[edit]

This image is from "Warfare in the Classical World" by John Warry. According to the credits, the color figures (of which this image is one) are by Jeff Burn, copyright Salamander Books, Ltd. The ISBN for the book is: 0-8061-2794-5, and the copyright is 1980.

New Spartan Hoplites[edit]

i modified rome total war to portray realistic spartan hoplites. i uploaded the image on this article.


and left foot forward as they needed to raise their shields

The term "Hellenistic"[edit]

This article seems to misuse the term "Hellenistic" incorrectly, even according to the Wikipedia article on "Hellenistic". The term refers to a period of Greek history after the conquest of Greece by Alexander the Great and before the conquest of the Roman Empire. But, the phallanx was used in the Classical Period (the period before Alexander's conquest). Herodotus details at length the various uses of the phallanx in the Persian War in the 5th C. BCE. - Ivan Richmond, BA Classics, Reed College

Changes and corrections[edit]

I took the liberty of changing up some things in the article. Such changes included re-wording and removing citations to certain battles.

An example of this was the removal of Chaeronea as an example of cavalry breaking a phalanx. Quite simply, there is no evidence of the Companions--or any other Macedonian cavalry--being used in that capacity against the Sacred Band. The extant sources describe Alexander as leading the attack on said formation--but not what forces he himself was leading. The unfounded conclusion that Alexander attacked at the head of the Companions is one of many popular ideas that surround the phalanx, ones that nonetheless do not survive close scrutiny.

I would recommend that interested parties take the time to note that accuracy in quoting a source does not necessarily correlate with accuracy in identifying a flaw inherent in the phalanx.

Case in point: where Cynoscephalae is concerned, Polybius, the phalanx's critic himself, describes the phalanx not only assaulting over difficult terrain (Cynoscephalae), but doing so successfully at that. Flamininus' left flank was being defeated by Phillip V's right flank; the decisive factor of the battle was Phillip's decision to launch his attack with only 50% of his forces. That enabled Flamininus to send his unoccupied right flank to assault the other half of Phillip's forces. Again, Polybius tells us that the Roman forces prevailed because these Macedonians were still in marching column and absent of any leadership at the head of their lines. They broke, according to him, in the face of his elephants' charge.

Ultimately, one could accurately state that Polybius believed the phalanx to be unable to operate on rough terrain... but that is different from accurately stating that the phalanx was unable to operate on rough terrain.

Similarly, there are instances where contigents within the larger "Hellenic" army is attributed with roles that simply are not shown in the extant record. Example: skirmishers and light infantry being used to plug in gaps in the phalanx's line. There are few times when such armies have been described as fielding multiple echelons/lines of battle. Alexander III fielded a secondary line behind his Macedonian phalanx at Gaugamela, but these were hoplites--not light infantry or skirmishers. Perseus at Pydna did not have a second line; his light infantry, mercenaries, skirmishers, etc., are specifically listed as being on his flanks (and only one of those, IIRC), along with his cavalry. There was no mistake of the light infantry failing to plug in those gaps because that was never the intent.

Another thing: the illustration showing the types of phalanx advance are not correct. To begin with, the "standard" phalanx advance shows the two "elite" elements clashing head to head. Shown properly, each "elite" element would have been squaring off against the opponent's weakest element. Also, the oblique advance did not necessarily require the weakened flank to retreat; it more often than not was simply refused. As it was a diagonal line of advance, the weakened wink might, theoretically, never come into contact with the enemy. The whole point of the oblique was striking at a desired location along the opponent's line with the advantage of overwhelming localized superiority.

Also, could someone point to the reference that states Spartan hoplites were issued their panoply? That, and a few other absolutist ("only Spartans wore their hair long in pre-Alexandrian times") and presumptive ("beards were popular as a means to cushion the helmet") strike me as suspect. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Phoebus Americanos (talkcontribs) 12:36, 6 January 2008 (UTC)

I will later review the article myself but I have to say some things on the matters touched here.

I completely agree with the fact that we do not know whether it was the charge of the Hetairoi that broke the Theban Sacred Band at Cheronea, It is though a very possible assumption, supported by many historians and as such, an assumption, should be mantioned. Although even Alexander himself did not assault enemy infantry phalanx, the description of the cavalry usage of Alexandros at one of his latest battles against the Malli given by Arrian clearly depicts that, a phalanx could be driven to panic and thus perish if assaulted from the rear or the flanks, since at the same time the Thebans are supposed to have been in close quarters with the Macedonian infantry. The effect on morlae of a cavalry assault (never a charge as did the Normans...) against the rear is very evident in Polybius' description of the battle at Cannae and of course should not be mistaken for a brutal melee.

I also believe that the Macedonian phalanx had small problems in rough terrain. We should not forget that it was devised for use in Greece and the Balcans, so it had to be efetive in rough terrain since it had to be used against Illyrians, Thraces and other tribes prefering to stay on rough terrain. Of course its cohesion was in danger if the line was too long and its order too if the terrain was too rough, but this is where the larger depth was used. To keep order, since a deeper phalanx can hold and reform the line easier. This is why Philip V arrayed his phalanx 16 deep at Cynoscephale while Alexander arrayed it 8 deep in his battles that took place in open terrain. And of course we should not forget that the Macedonian phalanx never lost a battle from a frontal assault. In Cynoscepahalai the Romans attacked a forming phalanx and assaulted the rear of the Macedonian right flank, a clear mistake of Philip who was too eager to give this battle, in Pydna the Romans of Aemilius Paulus were easily driven back onto the hill and only won because the Macedonian cavalry mysteriously fled the battle, after Perseas did, allowing the Romans to assault its flanks (I know it sounds too Braveheart but this is what happened!), Magnesia is another example. On the whole, the Macedonian phalanx was only frontally beaten by other Macedonian phalanxes and never by the legion or any other enemy.

Skirmishers and light infantry was not regularly used to fill gaps in the line unless these gaps were intentionally left for chariots or elephants to pass through (as Scipio explicitly did in Zama) first of all becasue there were no gaps in a macedonian phalanx. Contraty to what many games depict or the movie of Oliver Stone, there was no gap in the Macedonian line from left to right, as there was no gap in a usual hoplite or even legionary battle formation. There are though some ancient tacticians who talk of formations such as entaxis, parentaxis or ypotaxis which means to place skirmishers among the lines (either vertically or horizontally) or behind the phalanx. These terms were also later used by the Byzantine tacticians too to describe the exact same tactics as used in their own times (see Aslcepiodotus (Techne Tactice), Arrian (Techne Tactice), Maurice (Strategikon), Leo VI the Wise (Tactica)). As for multiple lines, this is a tactic clearly not used by the Greeks and the Macedonians as surely as it was a must for Roman and Byzantine armies. But ypotaxis is one thing and forming a double phalanx (difallangia) or deploying in two separate phalanxes is another. To set two lines of archers behind 6 or 8 ranks of heavy infantry is not the same as what Alexander did in Gaugamela to protect the back of the Macedonian phalanx from certain outflanking. Of course Perseas had no second line in Pydna and yes the light infantry had no job to plug any gap between the advancing phalanx of Philip and the forming phalanx.

What do you mean by "properly, each "elite" element would have been squaring off against the opponent's weakest element."? This is not clear to me. Why would that be proper?

About the use of the oblique phalanx, I not only agree but have to say that it did not involve any retreating, only refusing. And if the enemy kept marching normal combat would ensue.

"only Spartans wore their hair long in pre-Alexandrian times" is totally wrong and about "beards were popular as a means to cushion the helmet" I really have never come across such a text but would not regard it as too strange, although helmets were cushioned and of course Alexander made his army shave, because he deemed it dangerous for melee. So, I have to say that I would doubt such an assumtion although not totally excluding it.

GK1973 (talk) 10:17, 28 May 2008 (UTC)


I ask these as they have occured to me whilst reading and I am unaware of where to find the answers.

What is the source for the supposed right foot forwards? Its such a bad approach from a simple mechanical standpoint that I cant imagine it being true.

"There was little chance of survival in escape" This goes against most other sources which state that the majority of the fleeing army survived with casualties only being small %age wise at least.

"It seems likely that both motions were used, depending on the situation." Wasnt the formation too tight to allow you to change the spear from over to under arm, and vice versa.

Also how would you hold a spear vertically with the sauroter facing downwards with an overhand grip? The only way I can see would have made it hard to move the spear and also hazardous to get the spear from vertical to ready.

"If attack was called for, an ... shoulder for maximum stability." It is as easy to hit an unarmoured spot with both under and overarm isnt it, and while you can get more force overarm (apparently anyway) it is more important where and not how hard you hit isnt it?

"However, some Hoptlite reenacters have claimed that holding the spear under-arm would be hazardous for the rank behind ... argue that spears were only used over-arm in the phalanx" While an underarm approach would lead to inadvertant croth stabbing (what an odd phrase) wouldnt an overarm approach be just as likely to cause inadvertant fratricide due to head wounds?

Couldnt a sarissa still be used one handed in combination with an asips if properly balanced?

Couldnt a sarissa still be used overhand if the more obvious (at least to me) approach of strapping the shield to the body (which in turn allows a larger shield) was used? In the same way that medieval pike formations apparently worked (at least as far as im aware).

To answer your questions :

1. "What is the source for the supposed right foot forwards? Its such a bad approach from a simple mechanical standpoint that I cant imagine it being true."

Actually it is not. Although the Greeks wore greaves on both legs, the Romans used to only wear greaves on the left and not right leg, for this was the leg they protruded during combat when swordfighting. Again contrary to what movies depict, Greeks and Romans, as all regular armies, tried to fight holding steady their places in the phalanx. They did not swordfight in a Hollywood manner. Holding the left foot forward was customary for the Greeks as far as I know but Vegetius says

"It must be observed that when the soldiers engage with the javelin, the left foot should be advanced, for, by this attitude the force required to throw it is considerably increased. On the contrary, when they are close enough to use their piles and swords, the right foot should be advanced, so that the body may present less aim to the enemy, and the right arm be nearer and in a more advantageous position for striking.", which seems to be suggesting that this wa the leg that should mostly be protected. Despite that, it seems that legionaries also preferred wearing a single greave on their left and not right leg.

2. "There was little chance of survival in escape" This goes against most other sources which state that the majority of the fleeing army survived with casualties only being small %age wise at least."

Here you are totally wrong... During the actual battle very few casualties were really inflicted. It was during the attempt to flee that the real carnage begun... Fleeing most usually resulted in death or imprisonment, since it is impossible for thousands of people to hide or resist the pursuers. All tacticians suggest that there should always be left an opening for the enemy to flee throuhg, so that he does not remain in battle when his morale fails him. This is why the victors (and especially spear and sarissae bearing phalanxes) have so few casulaties while their opponents are cut down to pieces... Romans, preferring hand to hand combat suffered more casualties even in victory, but still dispropoertionately few in regard with their opponents. (20-50 times less)

Jdowdall, 28/10/2008

Actually I think you will find it is you who is "totally wrong." The extremly well respected P. Krentz, in his article "Casualties in hoplite battles", (1985) collates data from all credible ancient sources relating to hoplite casualties. His study concluded that the average losses for the winning army would be 5%, with 15% being the average losses for the losing side of a hoplite engagement. You are correct to assert that the actual combat would not be where the majority of damage would occur, as it is in the act of disengaging and fleeing which leaves you most vunerable to harm. However, as these statistics (and pretty much any working knowledge of hoplites) shows, armoured formations are poor at chasing down opponants, especially seeing as the losers would generally drop their shields in order to flee, which would make escape almost certain. Your assertion that enemies who face phalanxs are "cut down to pieces" does indeed capture well the result of the armoured and close combat orientated Greeks striking a formation of far lighter equipped troops, but you should not confuse accounts of Greeks defeating large armies as meaning they slaughtered large numbers. An infantry lines ability to hold is dependant above all on psychological factors, and once the hoplites had shown their worth most enemies of the greek world would retreat, and in doing so, restrict the death toll to the 15% suggested above. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Jdowdall (talkcontribs) 19:09, 28 October 2008 (UTC)

3. ""It seems likely that both motions were used, depending on the situation." Wasnt the formation too tight to allow you to change the spear from over to under arm, and vice versa."

No. It could be changed but the trick was to how correctly change the grab.

4. "Also how would you hold a spear vertically with the sauroter facing downwards with an overhand grip? The only way I can see would have made it hard to move the spear and also hazardous to get the spear from vertical to ready."

They did not. The stauroter was held down with the underarm grip, although it seems that the underarm grip was sometimes also used for overhand thrusts too.

5. "If attack was called for, an ... shoulder for maximum stability." It is as easy to hit an unarmoured spot with both under and overarm isnt it, and while you can get more force overarm (apparently anyway) it is more important where and not how hard you hit isnt it?

It depends... It was very difficult to hit the enemy with the spear anyways. Imagine a line of 1.000 first rank hoplites in an 8.000 hoplite phalanx engaged against a similar phalanx. Now imagine how many thousands thrusts will be exchanged. Now from all those thrusts only 10 maybe 20 men would be critically wounded on each side... It seems that what mattered more was the swordfight and the support of the rear rank spears. If the enemy's morale would fail before the spearthrusting phase was over, then the spears would have saved lives by holding the enemy at bay. It was not exactly the same with the Macedonians since the sarissae were not primarily used to kill the enemy (although their thrust was strong) but to push him back, thus making him give way and flee. Now if the enemy was not well defensively equipped, both the spear and the sarissa would be deadly.

6. ""However, some Hoptlite reenacters have claimed that holding the spear under-arm would be hazardous for the rank behind ... argue that spears were only used over-arm in the phalanx" While an underarm approach would lead to inadvertant croth stabbing (what an odd phrase) wouldnt an overarm approach be just as likely to cause inadvertant fratricide due to head wounds?"

Yes, it is possible to inflict such injuries but the second rank was very close to the first rank practically supporting his lochagos (first ranker) with his shield and thus his face and body were actually closer to him than the spearbutt. Grab a broom and make a friend touch your back with his chest, then try to use the spear... You might sometimes hit him with the broomstick but never run him through with the butt. And of course a spear is much longer than a broom... The other ranks may have kept a longer distance.

7. "Couldnt a sarissa still be used one handed in combination with an asips if properly balanced?"

No. It was very heavy and if used one armed its thrust would be too soft. The sarissa was not just held but thrusted forward with force.

8. "Couldnt a sarissa still be used overhand if the more obvious (at least to me) approach of strapping the shield to the body (which in turn allows a larger shield) was used? In the same way that medieval pike formations apparently worked (at least as far as im aware)."

Yes it could but there was no need to. The shield was not so small nor needed to be larger. Large shields were very heavy and of course used primarily for hand to hand combat or when being really afraid of enemy arrow volleys. The Macedonians were very well equipped against arrows (the bows back then were not like long or crossbows...) and had no need for a larger shield that would make it more difficult for them to act as they should. The Hoplon or the Scutum could never be used strapped on... they are much larger and heavier than the medieval cavalry shield for example. And of course the pikemen of the medieval times rarely used shields but also usually wore heavy armor.

GK1973 (talk) 11:30, 28 May 2008 (UTC)

Your description are not undisputed. Before you implement them in the article, please remember that it is B class and anything without sources will be deleted (especially extraordinary claims). For the Macedonian phalanx there are also reconstructions that place the aspis tied to the belly. Wandalstouring (talk) 12:42, 28 May 2008 (UTC)


A new image that displays the Macedonian phalanx is needed... old one has been deleted. · AndonicO Hail! 23:40, 10 February 2008 (UTC)

The focus of the article[edit]

IMO, this article seems to be torn between describing the phalanx as a general military concept, and specifically describing the use of the phalanx by Hellenic cultures. I believe it should focus on the latter, with a general statement about phalanxes in the introduction.

I think we also need to face the fact that most historical spear-armed troops are NOT related to the phalanx. To suggest that the use of the Roman pila as hand-held spears on a few occasions is a 'revival' of the phalanx is just not true. The spear is an intuitive (and cheap) weapon, and has therefore been used by many armies in history - but not in Greek-style phalanxes.

I am going to try and edit the article for consistency along these lines. MinisterForBadTimes (talk) 07:30, 15 April 2008 (UTC)

Further to my comments, I have tried to clean up the article for grammar, logical progression, consistency and focus. I have tried not to remove any information which was in the article, except where it was self-evidently erroneous or speculative etc. (e.g. - Hoplites phalanxes running at each other at high speed - unlikely for men dressed in 50-60 pounds of armour)

However, I would suggest that the last two sections ('Hoplites in Greek Society' and 'In Greek Culture') should be moved to the Hoplite article. That article is also a bit of a mess, and I think that these sections will fit nicely there.

I will try and reference both this article and 'Hoplite' more carefully, and try and tidy up the hoplite article. MinisterForBadTimes (talk) 12:32, 16 April 2008 (UTC)

Hello! Just changed a couple of blatant spelling mistakes (the word φάλαγγες in greek needs two γ's and not two λ's). I think that the picture showing the Epameinondean system is wrong. The traditional position of the elite troops was on the right flank of the formation. This was changed by epameinondas. He put the elite troops on the left and he deployed a "stepped" phalanx. On the contrary, the picture shows one of the two traditional deployments w. elite troops on the left. I would welcome your comments on that. Good night! KostasG (talk) 21:34, 7 October 2008 (UTC)

The many problems with that diagram of the Epameinondean system have been pointed out before - but since it does add something to the article, and since we don't have a better one, it's been left in. But really, someone should get round to replacing it with something better!MinisterForBadTimes (talk) 07:17, 8 October 2008 (UTC)
That said, I have just found two better images on Wikimedia Commons, so the old one has now been replaced! MinisterForBadTimes (talk) 07:25, 8 October 2008 (UTC)


The heading of this article asks for citations and sources to improve it. I added a Yale University book on classical weapons (see its review), a scholarly text of historical analysis, not a "Weapons of the Greek Army: Blood & Guts" tome) to the already-existing text (which I did not write) mentioning early Roman use of the phalanx (pre- or early-Republic, I gather). It was promptly deleted, wholesale. I also added a sentence on the mid-Republic use of the phalanx by the triarii in a loosely arrayed (eg. similar to archaic hoplite) phalanx of 'last resort' using hastae (NOT the pilum) as spear weapons. Also deleted, wholesale. I don't see how my adding a source to Roman use of the phalanx in early Roman history on the Italian mainland, on the one hand, or a sentence on its use in the mid-Republic legions (in an admittedly rarely used defensive tactic, but one that still constituted a phalanx), in any way dilutes the preceding text or the focus of the article on the Classical period use of the early hoplite or the later Macedonian phalanx. And I still don't understand why someone would remove a citation to a well-reviewed historical research source without placing a demonstrably superior one in its place. (talk) 15:54, 19 October 2008 (UTC)

Agreed, I checked one of your references (page 182 at Google Books) and it look like a credible and reliable source to me. That said, I'm more interested than informed on the topic, so I can't judge whether this reference is controversial or not.
/ Raven in Orbit (Talk | contribs) 16:40, 19 October 2008 (UTC)
I removed all unsourced material. You have to use inline citations and not just mention some books someplace. Wandalstouring (talk) 17:56, 19 October 2008 (UTC)
I also removed some of your earlier unsourced material. Please note that the phalanx formation, as used by the Romans during the early republic IS the same phalanx formation described in the article. Therefore there is no reason to describe it again in any detail; because it is just the same thing. The survival of the phalanx formation in the triarii is neither here nor there - it is still a phalanx formation, and therefore is adequately covered in the article. MinisterForBadTimes (talk) 18:50, 19 October 2008 (UTC)
I believe I added a respectable text source, complete with page numbers; nevertheless, it was all deleted anyway. The Romans, fighting as hoplites, appear to have adopted the Greek phalanx in the pre-republic (King Servius Tullius) and initially as their sole tactical formation - as a response to all combat situations regardless of circumstances. By the mid-Republic, use of the phalanx was altered to a 'last resort' defensive tactic by the triarii (a distinctive change in usage); undoubtedly this occurred because of experience in combat with differing enemy forces over varying terrain (J.E. Lendon also argues it was partially an acknowledgement of the reality of the temperament of the Roman soldier, but I left that one out as it seemed a bit speculative). Since the subsection involved in the article is the 'Decline' of the once-dominant phalanx, and since presumably readers would want to know all the reasons why it did so, I would argue that the small addition I made is worthwhile and appropriate. Cheers. (talk) 16:37, 20 October 2008 (UTC)

Spears: overarm or underam?[edit]

I am sorry that I cannot proffer any historical source, but the ongoing debate wether spears in the hoplite phalanx were wielded over- or underarm seems largely academic.

From my rich personal re-enacting experience I can tell you that is is almost entirely impossible for the spear to be wielded underam (in the front rows) for two reasons:

a) With the aspis interlocked, there is no space to wedge your spear between them. You either have to open a gap (an unwise decision standing in the front row) or lose the interlocking effect. Likewise, the aspis’ diameter does only allow you to wield the spear at slightly abobe knee-height if used "below" the interlocked shield row.

b) With the spear wielded underhand, the butt spikes pose an extremely serious danger to the health of all people standing in the 2nd and further rows, as it is a natural reflex to "pull back" (for greater length) before a strike –stabbing the guys behind you in the thigs, belly or loins. Extremely disciplined troops might be "brainwashed" (trained) not to do this, but it is a very strong impulse.

And furthermore, the underarm position does only convey more power to the push when the spear is couched to better transfer the momentum of a charge. If standing still, the thrust overarm is at least as strong as the underam-push.

You might want to consider this. Otherwise thanks fpr this great article, best regards J. Kuchenbuch —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 10:21, 31 October 2008 (UTC)

Hoplite Generalities[edit]

This entire section is embarassingly under-referenced and fraught with generalised and inaccurate comments.

Firstly, the majority of statements about the nature of hoplite warfare, including the general movement of the phalanx towards the right and the idea that the shield was used to protect the man next to you and not yourself, are both Thucydides references, but this is not implied or explained. The fact is that Thucydides' comments, along with Diodorus' exaltation to fight "shield to shield" are the ONLY references to the nature of the Hoplite battle we have. Even veterans such as Socrates spoke in such vague terms that the experience of front-line combat is entirely speculative but for these few tanatalizing comments. As such, for the article to place such great weight upon the physical shoving arguement without referencing the two most authoratative ancient sources is ludicrous and mis-leading. I have already inserted a commen counter-arguement, so backing the othismos section up with Diodorus and Thucydides would be a sensible balance.

Moreover, the recent work of Van De Wees in his "Greek Warfare, Myths and Realities" has provided one of the soundest academic arguements for what has already been considered common sense for some time, namely that the hoplon shield DOES protect your entire body if one stands side on (like a fencing stance). The idea that you would fight standing straight on makes little sense when one considers the nature of the equipment. The overarm spear method which is widely accepted as being correct is almost impossible to use comfortabley if you are standing straight, but side-on you not only have a firmer grounding for resisting potential impacts to your shield, but you also get the full arch of your arm for thrusting your spear.

The ancient sources make numerous references to "the belly" of the shield, refering to the concaved interior of the Hoplon, and how a warrior can be protected within this belly. If your aim was to overlap with your neighbours shield, this concave would be a useless addition, as neither would be able to utilize the full "belly", but would instead have only their shoulder braced section to themselves. Moreover, circular shield are clearly not the most ideal shape for overlapping, as you would need to protract very closely indeed to your neighbour to close the gaps above and below the shield curve. See "Hoplites- The Classical Greek Battle Experience", for elaborations on how the practical nature of the equipment does not match the majority of othismos theories.

Finally, it is stated as a casual fact that memebers of the phalanx would be grouped together by family and regional loyalties, the idea being that the man to your left in the phalanx would often be your relative or friend. This is, frankly, wrong. Firstly, there was no common system of hoplite organization. In Sparta you would be organized into groups of 40 or based on age. In Athens you would be called to service by a levy, usually at random. The rest of the hoplites found in the ancient world would almost certainly have also used a levy system, with a healthy dose of voluntary service making up the rest. Secondly, it was very common, espeically in the Peloponessian War, to hire mercenaries, and famous hoplite generals such as Xenophon fought in mercenary groups which hailed from all over Greece. Mercenaries are a classic example of warriors with no family or national ties fighting alongside over nationalist greeks or even Persians if the money was good enough. As such, to state that the phalanx was in some way empowered by a democratic, family loyalty based sense of obligation is inaccurate. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Jdowdall (talkcontribs) 11:32, 31 October 2008 (UTC)

The material you added is unreferenced. Correct that error first or all you added will be deleted. Afterwards you can provide analyses about hoplites based on sources you have inline references to. Wandalstouring (talk) 10:52, 1 November 2008 (UTC)
As you have said, the article is under-referenced. It is also true that it only presents one theory of how the phalanx worked. However, adding a new theory, without citations, doesn't really help the standard of the article. As Wandalstouring has said, technically everything you have added should be removed if not cited properly. However, in this article, there is a lot which is not cited properly, which doesn't help the situation
If you can help improve this section, by adding alternative theories and by adding citations (including for the 'standard' theory), please do. However, I see you are new to Wikipedia, and it might be an idea to spend more time learning how to perform edits is the approved style, before adding content. Simply telling us (as you have above) where the information is from is not, I'm afraid, the right way to do it. Also, please remember to sign you post on talk pages by typing four tildes (~). Thanks, MinisterForBadTimes (talk) 11:38, 1 November 2008 (UTC)

Ok, so to clarify the case study I added to the article relating to phalanx depth, for which I gave a page reference, is inadeuquete, and only a full qoutation will do? jdowdall, 2 November 2008, (talk) —Preceding undated comment was added at 16:07, 2 November 2008 (UTC).

No, that part is fine, the inline reference is perfect. However, this sentence, for instance: "Such changes reflected the balancing of mobility with protection, especially as cavalry became more prominant in the Peloponessian War and the need to combat light troops became a priority in Persia", which you added, also needs a citation. It may seem like we're being awkward, but there are a lot of 'self-made' theories out there, so it is best to cite your references. Thanks MinisterForBadTimes (talk) 17:15, 2 November 2008 (UTC)

Ok, allow me a day or too to find the appropriate qoutations and delete them if its still not satisfactory. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Jdowdall (talkcontribs) 19:41, 2 November 2008 (UTC)

The Shield[edit]

I am by no means qualified to question the informed contributors to this article, but one aspect has confused me so I'd just like to ask for clarity:

Regarding the line "Individual hoplites carried their shields on their left arm, protecting not themselves but the soldier to the left." Should this be "...protecting not only themselves but the soldier to the left also?.

  • Sure, your formulation is more precise.Wandalstouring (talk) 17:39, 10 December 2008 (UTC)

1. To hold a shield in front of the soldier to your left would need a much greater leverage and muscular strength than if it were held to cover the owner's left side. Surely the left-hand-held shield would half-protect the owner and half-protect the man to the left?

  • Try that with a 8 to 10 kilo weight for several hours.... Every man protected himself first. The shield was 80 to 100 cm (3feet) in diameter with the center covering the owner. So from pictoral evidence you can see that it hardly covered the neighbour, however he couldn't be attacked sideways through the other man's shield, only frontally, limiting the directions from which threats may arise since war was a bloody unfair affair.

2. To protect yourself with your own shield in the heat of battle would be instinctive and instantanious, whereas trying to wholly shield the next man would need extra awareness, concentration and effort.

  • The Romans have also the hoplite warfare as basis for their combat and a man could earn many kudos for saving another man in battle. Look at Alcibiades and Socrates, although it was a cavalry man saving a hoplite they in turn became friends for lifetime.

3. The current illustration for this article doesn't show any coverage of the man to the left.

  • True, that's impossible. It only provides coverage against being attacked by 4 spears instead of 2.

4. One last question on a slightly different subject. Would it be better to describe the front rank shield wall as over-lapping rather than interlocking? Its hard to imagine round aspis interlocking.

  • I know that shield walls are usually described as interlocking, that's probably military jargon. Wandalstouring (talk) 17:39, 10 December 2008 (UTC)

This is my first interaction with Wikipedia - I hope I don't annoy anyone :)FlyingTut (talk) 11:38, 10 December 2008 (UTC)

Yep, "interlocking shields" is military jargon, but "overlapping" is also OK. The precise terminology we use regarding the overlap of the hopla and the later Macedonian peltai is "locked". GK1973 (talk) 19:13, 4 October 2009 (UTC)

name of finger bones derived from name of formation rather than directly from greek for finger...[edit]

...the opening section says. such a circuitous etymology seems a bit unlikely, but possible. it has no citation though. is it correct? --Mongreilf (talk) 21:32, 1 February 2009 (UTC)

No, couldn't find a source for this statement, so I assume it's wrong. Wandalstouring (talk) 13:18, 2 February 2009 (UTC)

diagonal phalanx gif[edit]

Interesting graphic:

Phalange oblique.gif

Can it be used even with the bit in French at the start? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 10:56, 4 October 2009 (UTC)

Actually this has nothing to do with the oblique phalanx. The texts are very descriptive as to what consists an oblique formation and this is not it. This is a graphic depicting (in a rather exaggerated way) the collision of an increased depth phalanx against a normal one. GK1973 (talk) 19:09, 4 October 2009 (UTC)

Phalanx composition and strength[edit]

The page Military rank seems to imply that a Λοχος (lochos) was in charge of 8 men, not 100; the reason I say this is because it talks about files that are 8 people deep, and then says that a lochos was a file leader. I'm posting this comment here because I figure this is where the experts are :).

-- TimNelson (talk) 12:30, 21 October 2009 (UTC)

a lochos in ancient and byzantine texts is usually a single file of usually 8 men, which was the norm. The lochagos was indeed the file leader. You are right. The article in question is totally wrong regarding this and other Greek ranks. GK1973 (talk) 19:48, 21 October 2009 (UTC)

The Crowd-Othismos model[edit]

I added a link to this very influential site on phalanx combat but it was removed. The Crowd-othismos model, which explains how 12 ranks can stand up to 50 for example, should be referred to in the text of this article as it incresingly is in published articles on phalanx combat. At the very least included in the links for further reading. —Preceding unsigned comment added by PMBardunias (talkcontribs) 17:39, 11 October 2010 (UTC)

Romans at the Battle of Marathon, that "They were the first Romans we know of to charge their enemy at a run"[edit]

Romans were not involved in the battle of MArathon, I think someone made a joke by replacing Greeks with Romans throughout the article

Is Phalanx/ Farank?[edit]

I am struck by the possibiity that phalanx may relate to Farank (spear) from which the Frankish people got their name. Lgh (talk) 21:52, 29 July 2011 (UTC)