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Macedonian infantry shields

Started by Duncan Head, November 24, 2015, 03:14:35 PM

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Duncan Head

#45
Quote from: RichT on December 03, 2015, 09:52:24 AMThe only Achaean phalangite shields I know about are the Macedonian ones given to them by Doson - what the rest carried is unknown (to me) - though the Corinthian 'shield bowls' might suggest more widespread adoption.

Achaian shields:

- At Polybios IV.69 we are told that Antigonos Doson had armed the Megalopolitan exiles with chalkaspides for Sellasia (222). At II.65 the Megalopolitans are "armed in Macedonian style" at Sellasia, and at V.91 the Megalopolitans are still "chalkaspides" in 217.

- When we hear of Philopoimen re-arming the rest of the Achaians with pikes in 208, Plutarch (Phil.9) simply says he taught them to use an aspis. Pausanias specifically says it was an Argive aspis. Personally I don't put too much weight on this; it only matters if the word "Argive" was in the common source of Plutarch's and Pausanias' accounts (which is probably Polybios' lost life of Philopoimen) and deleted by Plutarch, rather than being added by Pausanias; or if Pausanias had independent testimony. I am inclined to suspect that Pausanias might not have understood the difference between Argive and Macedonian shields - they're both round and bronze-faced, and he was writing centuries after both had fallen out of use - and just added the adjective for archaic local colour.

- Ptolemy gives the Achaians "6,000 sets of bronze arms for peltasts", "hexakischilia men hopla chalka peltastika" (Polyb. XXII.9.3) - not literally "shields" as in the Loeb translation, though the fact that they're bronze panoplies may imply bronze-faced peltai. This seems to be about 187 BC; note from the description of the battle of Corinth http://soa.org.uk/sm/index.php?topic=450.0 that the Achaian phalanx seems to be already divided into clipeati (hoplitai?) and caetrati (peltastai) in 197, so if some Achaian phalangites had bronze peltai it doesn't mean they all did.

- There are Hellenistic terracotta model Argive shields from Corinth, but I don't think they are closely enough dated to be reliably associated with the Achaian pike phalanx: some suggested dates put the finds before Corinth even joined the Achaian League, let alone Philopoimen's reforms.

- The "Macedonian shield bowls" from Corinth have been thought to be inspired by the shields of Macedonian troops in garrison there at various dates, or from trophies, rather than from Achaian shields, so they may have no significance for the Achaian League's troops.
Duncan Head

RichT

Generally I'm inclined to agree on Pausanias' 'Argolic' - though this is one of those cases where those who argue for Argive shields will fall on this with glee as corroborating evidence, while those who doubt them will have no qualms dismissing such a late, non-technical source (I expect I would do so myself). If this was the only evidence for Argive sheilds I probably wouldn't give it much thought, but taken with the other scraps, I'm more inclined to think it might be true.

On peltasts and 'clupeati' (which is also what Livy calls chalkaspides) - another speculation, given the Boeotian evidence for young men being enrolled in the peltophoroi, and the description of the Peltasts at Pydna as the 'selected youth', and Bar Kochva's speculations about Seleucid Argyraspides (who may be Peltasts), is that Peltasts were the youngest age classes (so more fit and agile), who would go on to serve in the main phalanx when they got older and had slowed down a bit.

Duncan Head

Quote from: RichT on December 03, 2015, 01:59:13 PMOn peltasts and 'clupeati' (which is also what Livy calls chalkaspides)

The clupeati/peltast division in the Achaian army does seem to be a direct copy of the Antigonid institutions - after all the two were firm allies at the time Philopoimen introduced the pike.

Quote- another speculation, given the Boeotian evidence for young men being enrolled in the peltophoroi, and the description of the Peltasts at Pydna as the 'selected youth', and Bar Kochva's speculations about Seleucid Argyraspides (who may be Peltasts), is that Peltasts were the youngest age classes (so more fit and agile), who would go on to serve in the main phalanx when they got older and had slowed down a bit.

Age eligibility is given in the Macedonian Conscription Diagramma inscriptions (like the hypaspists in a previous post, this was also discussed in an article in the current Ancient Warfare mag): eligibility for service is from the ages of 15 to 60, but you only serve in the field army from 20 to 50; the young and old are reservists, unless there is no-one else eligible in the household. Service in the peltasts was only up to age 35, and there was a wealth qualification as well, so it's not purely on age-classes but is limited to rich young(ish) men. In the agema they served till 45, or 50 if still fit - so although the agema is described by Polybios as the elite battalion of the peltast corps, it's not limited to young men in the same way as the other peltasts. See for instance http://www.persee.fr/doc/crai_0065-0536_2000_num_144_2_16165. I don't know what happens to a peltast after 35 - does he transfer to the agema, or to the "line" phalanx?
Duncan Head

RichT

Ah so not exactly the youngest, but younger at any rate. And evidently it's time I re-read Hatzopoulos.

Jim Webster

If I remember correctly wasn't the idea, at least for the Seleucids,  that service in the 'Peltasts'/Silvershields supposed to be a period of training and building personal loyalty to the King. The idea being that the man would go home after so many years, take his place in the local phalanx battalion and in time his son would join the Silvershields

Andreas Johansson

#50
Quote from: Jim Webster on December 07, 2015, 09:49:11 AM
If I remember correctly wasn't the idea, at least for the Seleucids,  that service in the 'Peltasts'/Silvershields supposed to be a period of training and building personal loyalty to the King. The idea being that the man would go home after so many years, take his place in the local phalanx battalion and in time his son would join the Silvershields
That's Kochva's thesis. From what I recall of his book, there's no direct contemporary evidence for it.

ETA: Which isn't to say that I'm against it or anything, only that it relies on inference and informed speculation rather than explicit statements by ancient authors.
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Mark G

If it's kochva, I'm already dubious.

Jim Webster

the problem is that as far as I know, there is nothing explicit from the ancient authors :-[

RichT

So far as I know there is nothing explicit in the literary sources. There are conscription rules for the Antigonid kingdom as Duncan points out above. I think Bar Kochva's speculation seems reasonable, but it is only speculation. It doesn't seem to be how things were done by the Antigonids but then they were in a much smaller geographical area.

RichT

Resurrecting this thread to mention that I'm now reading Christopher Matthew's An Invincible Beast, which has some discussion of these issues.

Unfortunately I don't think he has anything very convincing to say - he seems firmly committed to all Macedonian phalanxes using a pelte of 8 palms width, and doesn't consider any alternatives (anyone not using a pelte must be a Classical-style hoplite). He sees the ochane as a handgrip, effectively replacing the antilabe, though at least he doesn't think it is a neck strap. He seems to be saying that this panoply was invented by Iphicrates, and adopted by many including Alexander II in Macedon. He doubts Philip's invention of the Macedonian phalanx, thinking instead that Philip inherited the phalanx and his modification was just to add hoplites (Hypaspists) alongside it (!). He believes that Classical hoplites used the one cubit, 18" closest order, and that Macedonian phalangites not only did not but could not (because the sarissa was carried at the same height as the shield, so there had to be gaps between shields). He then wraps himself in knots trying to account for the tactical manual's references to the one cubit formation (either they are describing hoplites, or a defensive formation against missiles in which the sarissas are held vertically).

I've only dipped into the book so far looking for passages relevant to these issues, but so far it seems characteristically eccentric.

Duncan Head

I was rather expecting some of that from what he said in his translation of Ailian. Thanks - haven't got that book myself yet, but I'll get round to it in time.
Duncan Head

Patrick Waterson

Probably before I do: thanks for the summary of the essentials, Richard.
"Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened." - Winston Churchill

RichT

You're welcome! One small correction to myself though having read more carefully - he does think the ochane is a neck strap, but that it also functioned as a hand grip (so he has a porpax like a hoplite's only narrower, and an ochane as a strap/rope around the neck with a loop grasped by the hand at the shield's edge). He has done a reconstruction but overall I'm disappointed that he doesn't really discuss his findings from this. 

Patrick Waterson

Again thank you, Richard: I wonder if you would consider doing a review of this book for Slingshot.

It is curious how Christopher Matthew, following the routes of re-enactment and what he believes to be applied archaeology, has come to a conclusion opposite to that which we would regard as the norm.  General understanding, or belief, is that hoplites fought on a 3' individual frontage and phalangites on an 18" frontage; some reservations have been expressed in each case, but this is the basic picture.  Christopher M turns this around and has hoplites on an 18" frontage and phalangites on a 3' frontage.

To me, CM's approach seems to be based on plausible misjudgements.  Having seen his arguments for an 18" hoplite frontage, which appear to centre on shields being held edgeways to the opposition and spears being used underarm, I have yet to see him provide an adequate explanation for Thucydides' 'right-hand drift' described in Thuc. V.71 and for hoplite armies advancing to the attack dromon, i.e. at the run, both of which imply a 3' individual frontage.  He also adduces underarm thrusting from armour bearing upward-slanting score marks, but these could just as easily have been inflicted by overarm thrusts against a falling or prone opponent.

Conversely, he seems to think that the sarissa must have been held at about the level of the centre of the shield rather than, say, at the 7 o'clock position (looking from ahead).  My own admittedly limited and improvised experimentation suggests that the phalangite shield would need some form of sling/strap over the shoulder for weight distribution and use on the march and a form of porpax or similar which holds the forearm from elbow to wrist (both exclusive), positioning the wrist at the perimeter of the shield and leaving the left hand free to grasp the weapon shaft, but most importantly requiring the sarissa to be held about level with the base, not the centre, of the shield.  This incidentally permits - even encourages - shield rims to overlap and hence to regulate both spacing and the rate of advance (pressure on your shield rim from the man on your right provides a cue that you need to speed up a bit; lack of pressure indicates you should slow down a little), helping to preserve an even line during the advance.

Any thoughts on this from anyone?
"Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened." - Winston Churchill

Duncan Head

Quote from: Patrick Waterson on January 08, 2016, 10:07:36 AM
To me, CM's approach seems to be based on plausible misjudgements.  Having seen his arguments for an 18" hoplite frontage, which appear to centre on shields being held edgeways to the opposition and spears being used underarm, I have yet to see him provide an adequate explanation for Thucydides' 'right-hand drift' described in Thuc. V.71 and for hoplite armies advancing to the attack dromon, i.e. at the run, both of which imply a 3' individual frontage.  He also adduces underarm thrusting from armour bearing upward-slanting score marks, but these could just as easily have been inflicted by overarm thrusts against a falling or prone opponent.

You may be misremembering. CM argues that hoplite phalanxes could fight both in a close 18" frontage with overlapping shields (certainly not held edgeways), and in a looser 3' frontage with shields rim to rim. Only the latter,open, formation would charge at the run.

QuoteConversely, he seems to think that the sarissa must have been held at about the level of the centre of the shield rather than, say, at the 7 o'clock position (looking from ahead).  My own admittedly limited and improvised experimentation suggests that the phalangite shield would need some form of sling/strap over the shoulder for weight distribution and use on the march and a form of porpax or similar which holds the forearm from elbow to wrist (both exclusive), positioning the wrist at the perimeter of the shield and leaving the left hand free to grasp the weapon shaft, but most importantly requiring the sarissa to be held about level with the base, not the centre, of the shield.

Certainly the Pergamon battle plaque shows the sarisai being held below the centre of the shield (http://bookandsword.com/2014/06/01/the-bronze-battle-scene-from-pergamon/ for the picture I've just looked at, there are other copies online) though not quite at the base.
Duncan Head