Author Topic: Was Alex's phalanx identical in size and organisation to that of the tacticians?  (Read 935 times)

Justin Swanton

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The passage indicates that Alexander divided his army into four parts: one part encamped near the mountain and the rest of the army split into three attack forces. So 1/4 of the hypaspists (500 men) stay at camp. Leonnatus keeps 1/4, Ptolemy gets 1/4 and Alexander the remaining 1/4.

Naah. No suggestion in Arrian that it was "one-third of the hypaspists except for the other bit", nor that any of the hypaspists stayed in camp. They are the last troops that he would leave out of the action! Both this and your alternative suggestion do too much violence to the plain meaning of the text, I feel.

Thinking about it (and taking a closer look at Arrian: Alex arrives with the hypaspists as a single unit. No subdivision into regular foot guards and regular hypaspists, etc.

When it comes time to split his forces into three groups, Leonnatus, commander of the 'confidential bodyguard' keeps his unit and gets some regular infantry and cavalry. Ptolemy gets "the third part" of the hypaspists and we aren't told what happens to the first or third part. So presumably Leonnatus and his confidential bodyguard would, according to the standard interpretation, add up to 1/3 of the hypaspists or 1000 men if the entire unit is 3000 strong. The regular hypaspists add up to 2000 men. Alex gets a third part = 1000 men. Would that conform to the general consensus?

There is however another way of looking at it: if the confidential bodyguard is numerically half the entire unit of hypaspists (2000 men), then Leonnatus keeps that unit, Alex gets half the hypaspists proper (1000 men) and Ptolemy gets the 'third part'- 1000 men. Does the Greek for 'third part'- τὸ τρίτον μέρος - necessarily carry the connotation that the part is exactly 1/3 of the total or just that it is one of three possibly unequal parts?
« Last Edit: March 18, 2019, 08:11:39 AM by Justin Swanton »
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The 16 man phalangite file seems pretty firmly established. Besides the manuals Polybios describes it in detail. The 16,000 man number for a complete phalanx also seems to correspond to hellenitic armies that are not raised in an emergency where the general lays his hands on every man he can find.

For the less well informed of us (me), what are the range of sources for these numbers? Is it multiple manuals? And are there any helpfully corroborating inscriptions, funeral monuments? etc.

Thanks in advance

RichT

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For the less well informed of us (me), what are the range of sources for these numbers? Is it multiple manuals? And are there any helpfully corroborating inscriptions, funeral monuments? etc.

Thanks in advance

16 man file:

Polybius 18.30: "With this point in our minds, it will not be difficult to imagine what the appearance and strength of the whole phalanx is likely to be, when, with lowered sarissae, it advances to the charge sixteen deep. Of these sixteen ranks, all above the fifth are unable to reach with their sarissae far enough to take actual part in the fighting. They, therefore, do not lower them, but hold them with the points inclined upwards over the shoulders of the ranks in front of them, to shield the heads of the whole phalanx; for the sarissae are so closely serried, that they repel missiles which have carried over the front ranks and might fall upon the heads of those in the rear."

The manuals of Asclepiodotus, Aelian and Arrian all also talk of a 16 man file in very similar words (similar to each other and to Polybius - not surprisingly, as these three texts and this section of Polybius are closely related, perhaps from a common source).

Under Alexander the file might have been 8 men (based on Polybius' discussion of Issus and the references in Asclepiodotus to an 'earlier' syntagma of 8 x 8 ), though by the end of Alexander's reign his proposed Macedonian/Persian phalanx had 16 man files (led by a dekarch, 'commander of ten'!)

16,000 man phalanx - off the top of my head there's Cynoscephalae and Magnesia and I expect I've forgotten another.

Corroborating inscriptions, funeral monuments - sadly not as such. The best evidence for lower ranks and junior officers comes from Ptolemaic Egypt but there's nothing as nice as "File Leader Demetrius and his file of 15 men". So nothing specific on either file or total phalanx size, though there are a good selection of junior ranks attested (but nothing above the chiliarch, 'commander of 1000', as far as I recall, other than the vague and generic 'strategos', 'general'). But I don't think there's any reason to doubt the 16 man file was standard.

Given that we know/believe that the Hellenistic phalanx was formed into speirai/syntagmata of 256 men; and that we know Alexander had taxeis (1500 traditionally, or 2000 I think quite likely) and chiliarchiai (1000s), and that the manuals talk of chiliarchiai/merarchiai of 1000 and 2000; I don't think it's much of a stretch to think that Alexander's phalanx had a similar organisation to the Hellenistic phalanx, based on units of 64 (if it had 8 man files) or 256 (if it had 16 man files), grouped into 1000s, paired into 2000s. There's no evidence outside the manuals for the larger groupings except in Antigonid inscriptions, 'strategiai' (maybe 4000s?), and for the Hellenistic phalanx, the 'keras', wing or half phalanx; though if a literary source refers to a 'wing' we can't be sure it means a technical unit name or just loosely in the sense of 'left wing', 'right wing'. Maybe, maybe, the Antigonid phalanx was formed from two 'wings', called Chalcaspides and Leucaspides. Maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe Alexander's phalanx had a similar structure with two wings, of Pezhetairoi ('Foot Companions') and Asthetairoi ('Best Companions', 'Kin Companions' or 'Star Companions', take your pick). Even if so he didn't take all of either with him to Asia as an equivalent force remained with Antipater, so the total wasn't 16,000; but there's no reason to suppose 16,000 wasn't the ideal paper strength for a field army, in the way a Roman consular army would consist of four legions/alae (which doesn't mean every, or even any, Roman armies are precisely this strength).

HTH.
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Justin Swanton

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Richard, we are in agreement! Come to my arms!

I can add Arrian: Anabasis, 7.23.3-4:

      
…he [Alexander] enlisted them [the Persians] into the Macedonian ranks, with a Macedonian dekadarchos leading each dekad and, following him, a Macedonian dimoirites and a dekastateros [ten-stater man] – so named after his pay – which was less than that of the dimoirites, but greater than that of the soldiers with no supplement. Added to this were twelve Persians and, last in the dekad, a Macedonian who was also a dekastateros; so within the dekad there were four Macedonians, three of whom were on increased pay, the commander of the dekad, and twelve Persians.

1 dekadarchos + 1 dimoirites + 1 dekastateros + 12 Persians + 1 dekastateros = 16 men
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Thanks, much appreciated.

Would it be fair to say: "a consistent literary message, but nothing remotely contemporary"?
Polybios or Asclepiodotus may have made mention of a source?

Justin Swanton

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Thanks, much appreciated.

Would it be fair to say: "a consistent literary message, but nothing remotely contemporary"?
Polybios or Asclepiodotus may have made mention of a source?

Asklepiodotus  is generally supposed to have been a pupil of the philosopher Poseidonios (CA 135 – 50 BC), whom he used as the source for his manual. Poseidonios was a Macedonian who lived in the Seleucid Empire, and Asklepiodotus' Ars Tactica describes the Seleucid military system, itself an amalgam of Macedonian and Persian military doctrine, evident from the reference to elephants and chariots along with detailed descriptions of the structure of the Macedonian phalanx.

Polybios (200 - 118BC) was son of a general of the Achaean League, at a time when all the Greek states had adopted the Macedonian military system. He himself was a cavalry officer before being taken to Rome as a hostage. He became tutor of the sons of Aemillius Paulus, Roman general at Pydna. So Polybios would have had extensive first-hand knowledge of the pike phalanx.
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So Polybios would have had extensive first-hand knowledge of the pike phalanx.

Thanks. That’s interesting, I will have to look up Asklepitodotus.

And I guess there is no good reason to think that the phalanx Polybius was familiar with had significantly  changed in the 200 years since Alexander?

Andreas Johansson

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And I guess there is no good reason to think that the phalanx Polybius was familiar with had significantly  changed in the 200 years since Alexander?
That's the usual assumption, and Polybius' phalanx is very similar to that of the tacticians, at least one of whom (I forget which and don't have the books at hand to check) explicitly claims to be describing the phalanx of Alexander's day.

That said, opposing views had been presented. Rich was posting last year about a book by he'd read that argued that the "classical" pike phalanx originates only in the late 3C, with Alexander's phalanx consisting of what we might think of as "Iphicrateans" (i.e. troops with shields smaller than hoplites' aspides and single-handed spears intermediate in length between the hoplite's doru and the "proper" phalangite's sarissa).
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RichT

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Justin:
Quote
Richard, we are in agreement!

What! What fun is that? There must be some mistake. :)

Oh, hang on...

Quote
Asklepiodotus' Ars Tactica describes the Seleucid military system

Well, maybe. There are Ptolemaic elements in it too - the Ptolemic and Seleucid armies were both still in existence in Asclepiodotus' day. I'm inclined to see A (and the whole Tactics tradition) as an amalgam of Hellenistic practice without being specific to any one real army (hence the multiplicity of different names for units, and bits of 'prevously called, now called' etc). But in this case there is no right or wrong answer.

Quote
And I guess there is no good reason to think that the phalanx Polybius was familiar with had significantly changed in the 200 years since Alexander?

That is the question, and opinions vary as Andreas says. It's Aelian who says (Tactics, Proem): "And yet, if Your Majesty [Emperor Hadrian] shall be pleased to think of it as a Greek 'theorem' or some other discourse, it wll give you some small delight because you will find, contained within, Alexander of Macedon's manner of marshalling his army". All that tells us for sure is that Aelian thought of his Tactics as applying to Alexander, not that it actually did, but I think there are enough other hints around for it to be clear that the view in antiquity was that Alexander's phalanx was much like the Hellenistic phalanx except for details.

There are lots of uncertainties around armament and organisation of Alexander's army though so it's not cut and dried by any means.
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There are lots of uncertainties around armament and organisation of Alexander's army though so it's not cut and dried by any means.

That’s where the fun is.

Justin Swanton

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There are lots of uncertainties around armament and organisation of Alexander's army though so it's not cut and dried by any means.

That’s where the fun is.

I suppose so, though it's a pity we can't all just agree with me. One big happy family.  ::)
« Last Edit: March 20, 2019, 10:04:49 AM by Justin Swanton »
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Trying to get a fix on the size of the hypaspists I found this. Alex is besieging Halicarnassus in Asia Minor. The troops under Memnon make a sortie from the city:

      
The second party, which sallied forth by the triple gate, was met by Ptolemy,[2] one of the royal body-guards, who had with him the regiments of Addaeus and Timander and some of the light-armed troops

......

Of the men in the city about one thousand were slain; and of Alexander's men about forty, among whom were Ptolemy, one of the king's body-guards, Clearchus, a captain of the archers, Addaeus, who had the command of a thousand infantry ["chiliarch"], and other Macedonians of no mean position. - Arrian, 1.22

The bodyguards are present in the infantry deployments at Issus, Gaugamela and Hydaspes, but not at the Granicus. If they are composed of 2 x 1000-man chiliarchies as this text suggests then they are the equivalent of a telos, which suggests in turn that the hypaspists proper are also a telos.

Taking this to Granicus helps to solve the problem of the deployment. Arrian gives what looks like this line-up, with Philip and Craterus mentioned twice:

      
Close to these were posted the Companions who were shield-bearing infantry [hypaspists] under the command of Nicanor, son of Parmenio. Next to these the brigade of Perdiccas, son of Orontes, then that of Coenus, son of Polemocrates; then that of Craterus,[1] son of Alexander, and that of Amyntas, son of Andromenes; finally, the men commanded by Philip, son of Amyntas. The first on the left wing were the Thessalian cavalry, commanded by Calas, son of Harpalus;[2] next to these, the cavalry of the Grecian allies, commanded by Philip, son of Menelaus;[3] next to these the Thracians, commanded by Agatho.[4] Close to these were the infantry, the brigades of Craterus, Meleager, and Philip, reaching as far as the centre of the entire line. - Arrian, 1.14



Philip and Craterus are obviously duplicates of the same unit, and it would seem that Amyntas and Meleager also command the same unit. But why two different commanders?

Going back earlier, Arrian describes how the infantry marched in a double phalanx. This is not a double column (for which Arrian uses the word diphalanx) but two lines one behind the other, advancing toward the Granicus. However once at the river they prepare for battle and now only one line is described. How to resolve that?

I suggest that the telos of Philip, Amyntas and Craterus were formed up in double lines, the reason for this being that the ground wasn't quite wide enough for a phalanx at full width plus flanking cavalry. It would have looked like below. Each rear half (or chiliarchy) had its own commander of which Meleager was one.



Once it reached the river and stopped, the chilicarchies of Philip, Meleager and Craterus advanced in column by syntagma to the left of the front line and reformed, which gives this configuration:



Craterus and Amyntas command their right hand chiliarchies. Philip resumes command of his entire telos. Meleager commands the left hand chiliarchy of Amyntas. Who commands the left hand chiliarchy of Craterus? It is at the end of the phalanx so - following the manuals - it needs a senior commander. I suggest it was Parmenion, who has command of the left but does not command any of the cavalry units there (all their commanders are named). All Macedonian commanders command their personal unit besides their section of the line. For Parmenion simply to sit and direct without actually leading a force of his own would be very anomalous.

You then effectively have 6 telos of which the Companions (the hypaspists), minus the Guard, number 2,000 out of a total of 12,000 foot. Alex may not have incorporated the Guard in this battle if they were part of the original expeditionary force sent by Philip under his other son or son-in-law (forget the name for a moment) whom Alexander had assassinated. Alex had been in Asia Minor only a few weeks - he may not yet have been sure of the Guard's loyalty - they would prove it later at Halicarnassus. Finally, the three telos of Philip, Amyntas and Craterus, considered as complete units, reach the middle of the line as affirmed by Arrian.


[Edit: forget all about Halicarnassus following Duncan's clarification below. But the suggested deployment at the Granicus does seem to cover all the bases]





« Last Edit: March 21, 2019, 06:56:52 AM by Justin Swanton »
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Duncan Head

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The second party, which sallied forth by the triple gate, was met by Ptolemy,[2] one of the royal body-guards ...

The bodyguards are present in the infantry deployments at Issus, Gaugamela and Hydaspes, but not at the Granicus. If they are composed of 2 x 1000-man chiliarchies ...

"Bodyguard" in this passage is somatophylax, σωματοφύλαξ. There are seven of them.
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Justin Swanton

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The second party, which sallied forth by the triple gate, was met by Ptolemy,[2] one of the royal body-guards ...

The bodyguards are present in the infantry deployments at Issus, Gaugamela and Hydaspes, but not at the Granicus. If they are composed of 2 x 1000-man chiliarchies ...

"Bodyguard" in this passage is somatophylax, σωματοφύλαξ. There are seven of them.

OK. I'm learning. So in this passage (Arrian 5.13):

Alexander himself embarked in a thirty-oared galley and went over, accompanied by Perdiccas, Lysimachus, the confidential body-guards [σωματοφύλακες], Seleucus, one of the Companions, who was afterwards king, and half of the shield-bearing guards; the rest of these troops being conveyed in other galleys of the same size.

σωματοφύλακες refers to individuals - Perdiccas and Lysimachus.

Which means that this passage:

He then picked the select bodyguard called the Companions, as well as the cavalry regiments of Hephaestion, Perdiccas, and Demetrius, the cavalry from Bactria, Sogdiana, and Scythia, and the Daan horse-archers; and from the phalanx of infantry the shield-bearing guards, the brigades of Clitus and Coenus, with the archers and Agrianians

along with:

Having thus arranged his army, he ordered the infantry to follow at a slow pace and in regular order, numbering as it did not much under 6,000 men.

The 6000 men refers to "half of the shield-bearing guards" and the two brigades of Clitus and Coenus. It doesn't refer to the light troops (at least not the archers and probably not the Agrianians and javelineers either since they had the same battlefield role) as these are ordered by Alexander to pick up speed and keep pace with the cavalry: "He also instructed Tauron, the commander of the archers, to lead them on also with speed to back up the cavalry."

So two infantry brigades + half the hypaspists = 6000 men. If the hypaspists number 3000 men and a brigade numbers half that, the total infantry complement will come to 4500 men and we have a problem. If however the hypaspists number 4000 men and the brigades are telos each at 2000 men, then half the hypaspists plus two telos = 6000 men.


[Edit - this doesn't work. Alex actually takes all the hypaspists. To be revised.]
« Last Edit: March 20, 2019, 03:37:16 PM by Justin Swanton »
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RichT

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Justin - I don't want to spoil our outbreak of agreement but you might be better off doing your learning first, and proposing your theories afterwards. Any of the standard works on Alexander's army will help you to sort out your Hypaspists (3000) from your Bodyguards (7).

Also I don't know what translation of Arrian you are using, but it's not helping - in your previous post you had "the Companions who were shield-bearing infantry [hypaspists] under the command of Nicanor" which suggests that your translator whoever s/he is doesn't know Greek.
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