Author Topic: Was Alex's phalanx identical in size and organisation to that of the tacticians?  (Read 927 times)

Justin Swanton

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Shall I do this?  ::)
« Last Edit: April 02, 2019, 05:12:41 PM by Justin Swanton »
  • Justin Swanton

Jim Webster

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At one point I remember reading somebody who thought that the early phalanx was only ten deep, and later it got to 16 or even 32 deep when the whole system ossified
My feeling is that this theory owed more to the general feeling at the time that the Seleucid, Ptolemaic and others were degenerate 'Syrians' and 'Egyptians' and couldn't be expected to fight with the elan of European Macedonians
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I seem to remember one of the battles where the Phalanx has to deploy 8 deep (to avoid being seriously out flanked?). Let me see if I can find the reference. (Once upon a time I would remember exactly where I read it... now I have found my rightful home in the Sociery of ancients...)
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I'm waiting for Justin to do "this", whatever it is.  Not an area I know much about so looking forward to learning something new.
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Nobody knows for sure, and opinions are plentiful and cheap (and worth what you paid for them).

Next?
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Justin Swanton

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I'm waiting for Justin to do "this", whatever it is.  Not an area I know much about so looking forward to learning something new.

It's a rather complex but fascinating topic. Without going into too much detail at least not for a single post here's my hypothesis:

The phalanx of the manuals works on a standard file depth of 16 men (though the tacticians also mention file depths of 8, 10 and 12 men, but 16 is the most common). Each unit of the phalanx, with its own commanding officer, consists of the two units below it, thus:



Thus far all yawnworthy. The tacticians assert this is the Macedonian pike phalanx, which raises the question: to what extent did the phalanx of Alexander actually resemble this formation? I propose that everything we know about Alex's army matches this structure exactly and in every detail. In other words his heavy infantry was a little over 16,000 men at full strength. It was divided into two wings each under the equivalent of a kerarch. It also had four phalangarchias each with their own commander, themselves subdivided into eight telos, and so on, all the way to the syntagma. There is no explicit mention of lesser formations except the individual file, which has 16 men and is made up of two half-files - as described by the manuals. But those lesser formations can be inferred from the way the larger formations are subdivided.

The hypaspists were not 3,000 strong but were composed of two formations, the hypaspists proper and the foot guards, each a telos of 2,000 men. The hypaspists were present at Granicus and both formations at all the following battles. Alexander at one point sent 10,000 Macedonians home, replacing them with 10,000 Persians of which 1,000 joined the hypaspists-foot guards, now effectively one unit. After his death his generals, not fans of Alex's introduction of non-Macedonians into the army, dismissed the Persians, leaving the hypaspists-foot guards - now called the Argyraspides - at 3,000 men, their strength at Gabiene and Paraitakene.

Alex had 6 2,000-man telos including the Hypaspists at Granicus, under 6 named commanders. After Granicus he is reinforced by 3,000 Macedonian foot plus an unnamed force under Parmenion. Since Parmenion is the second-in-command of his army his force must be quality - the foot guards in fact who are present at Issus. Alex leaves 1,000 Macedonians in Asia Minor (plus 500 allied Greeks) and attaches the remaining 2,000 plus the 2,000 foot guards to his main army, bringing it up to its full muster of a little over 16,000 men.

He had 8 telos at Issus and 7 named commanders. He personally commanded the foot guards who followed his cavalry in their charge through the kardakes. They were in fact part of a composite formation with the Companions that Arrian describes at Gaugamela: "a sort of wedge', under Alex's direct control.

The same deployment of Issus was used at Gaugamela with the same effect. The foot guards, now called hypaspists but still distinct from the regular hypaspists, are under Alex's personal command. They are the 'phalanx of Alexander' the Persian chariots attack.

After Gaugamela Alexander formalises a subdivision of each telos into two chiliarchies to which he names 8 commanders - chiliarchs. Not sixteen as the Merarchs still personally command one of the two chiliarchies of their telos, which is standard practice in the manuals.

At the Hydapses one can clearly see four phalangarchias - units of 4,000 men - in action. Alexander personally takes one - the foot guards and hypaspists plus two telos - with him across the river whom he leaves under the command of Seleucus when he departs with the cavalry. Antigenes and Tauron command two others and Craterus, tasked with distracting Porus, commands the last.

And that's it in a nutshell.

« Last Edit: March 17, 2019, 05:20:12 AM by Justin Swanton »
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which raises the question: to what extent did the phalanx of Alexander actually resemble this formation?

I politely suggest caution. Literary sources like the manuals and reality may vary greatly. By way of analogy, the literary sources confidently give a standard number for Roman auxilia. But... the only complete unit roll we have for any unit of the Roman army, for any time period, directly contradicts the number given in the literary source, by a big margin. And that's a contemporary, functional document from a unit secretary of the Roman army, not some literary ideal by an author who may or may not know better and may be writing at significant temporal distance.

I propose that everything we know about Alex's army matches this structure exactly and in every detail.

But I don't want to imply I actually know anything about this specifically.  :) I confess my near complete ignorance.

Justin Swanton

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It's just come to my attention that Luke Ueda-Sarson took substantially the same approach to Macedonian army organisation. I knew I couldn't have been the only one!
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which raises the question: to what extent did the phalanx of Alexander actually resemble this formation?

I politely suggest caution. Literary sources like the manuals and reality may vary greatly. By way of analogy, the literary sources confidently give a standard number for Roman auxilia. But... the only complete unit roll we have for any unit of the Roman army, for any time period, directly contradicts the number given in the literary source, by a big margin. And that's a contemporary, functional document from a unit secretary of the Roman army, not some literary ideal by an author who may or may not know better and may be writing at significant temporal distance.

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.

So 16,000 men at Cynoscephalae and Magnesia. Ptolemy IV has 48,000 phalangites at Raphia which is 3 x 16,000 and 8,000 Greek mercenaries, in other words three tetraphalangarchia and a diphalangarchia. Antiochus has 10,000 silver shields and 20,00 regular phalangites, 30,000 pikemen in total which is the equivalent of two tetraphalangarchia (the numbers were probably rounded down). Antigonus has 8,000 phalangites - one diphalangarchia - at Raphia whilst Eumenes has 6,000 men - three telos, but that battle is in a time of confusion and emergency where the generals had to use whatever was available. At Pydna Perseus had 21,000 phalangites but he called up every available man.

« Last Edit: March 17, 2019, 06:35:56 AM by Justin Swanton »
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Duncan Head

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The hypaspists were not 3,000 strong but were composed of two formations, the hypaspists proper and the foot guards, each a telos of 2,000 men. The hypaspists were present at Granicus and both formations at all the following battles. Alexander at one point sent 10,000 Macedonians home, replacing them with 10,000 Persians of which 1,000 joined the hypaspists-foot guards, now effectively one unit. After his death his generals, not fans of Alex's introduction of non-Macedonians into the army, dismissed the Persians, leaving the hypaspists-foot guards - now called the Argyraspides - at 3,000 men, their strength at Gabiene and Paraitakene.

This is the bit I have most doubt about, though the suggestion as to how 4,000 hypaspists became 3,000 argyraspides is clever. But Arrian IV.24.10 (well before any recruitment of Persians) refers to the deployment of "one-third of the hypaspists", which is far easier to envisage with 3,000 men in three chiliarchies than with 4,000.

See here for an interesting suggestion that the hypaspists were composed of three units with different origins.

However nothing would require that Alexander's phalanx had an establishment of 16,000 throughout his reign, merely that it did at some stage - probably near the end, if this was the ideal that survived to influence his successors and the manuals. A recent article on the tacticians by Graham Wrightson, in Ancient Warfare: Introducing current research, points out the commonality between the manuals' 16,000-man phalanx and the actual sizes of phalanxes fielded by several Hellenistic kings - one of the points Justin makes.
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The hypaspists were not 3,000 strong but were composed of two formations, the hypaspists proper and the foot guards, each a telos of 2,000 men. The hypaspists were present at Granicus and both formations at all the following battles. Alexander at one point sent 10,000 Macedonians home, replacing them with 10,000 Persians of which 1,000 joined the hypaspists-foot guards, now effectively one unit. After his death his generals, not fans of Alex's introduction of non-Macedonians into the army, dismissed the Persians, leaving the hypaspists-foot guards - now called the Argyraspides - at 3,000 men, their strength at Gabiene and Paraitakene.

This is the bit I have most doubt about, though the suggestion as to how 4,000 hypaspists became 3,000 argyraspides is clever. But Arrian IV.24.10 (well before any recruitment of Persians) refers to the deployment of "one-third of the hypaspists", which is far easier to envisage with 3,000 men in three chiliarchies than with 4,000.

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.

Alternately ὑπασπιστῶν τῶν βασιλικῶν can refer to the foot guards and hypaspists combined since they are operationally one unit at this point. So both are divided into units of 1000 men. 1000 stay at camp and the remaining 3000 are divided between the commanders.

Discovering, however, that the barbarians of the district had joined their forces into one body, he left a part of his army there near the mountain, encamped as they were, and taking as many men as seemed sufficient, according to the reports he had received, as soon as they could descry the fires near at hand, he divided his army into three parts. Over one part he placed Leonnatus, the confidential body-guard, joining the brigades of Attalus and Balacrus with his own; the second division he put under the lead of Ptolemy, son of Lagus, including the third part of the royal shield-bearing guards, the brigades of Philip and Philotas, two regiments of horse-archers, the Agrianians, and half of the cavalry. The third division he himself led towards the place where most of the barbarians were visible.


Arrian earlier indicated that Alexander had brought "the shield-bearing guards, the Companion cavalry with the exception of those who had been joined with Hephaestion’s division, the regiments of what were called foot-Companions, the archers, the Agrianians and the horse-lancers." Can we assume the shield bearing guards were the regular hypaspists and the "foot Companions" the foot-guards of Issus? That would make them 4,000 men in total.




  • Justin Swanton

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Quote
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.

Just checking here - why does Alex leave a quarter of his guard infantry in camp?  Is he expecting a threat that ordinary troops couldn't handle?
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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.

Quote
Arrian earlier indicated that Alexander had brought "the shield-bearing guards, the Companion cavalry with the exception of those who had been joined with Hephaestion’s division, the regiments of what were called foot-Companions, the archers, the Agrianians and the horse-lancers." Can we assume the shield bearing guards were the regular hypaspists and the "foot Companions" the foot-guards of Issus? That would make them 4,000 men in total.

Definitely not. It is clear that the foot-companions, pezetairoi, were part of the line phalanx (though not all the battalions of the phalanx were pezetairoi, apparently, only some of them).

The hypaspists are a problem, as indicated by the various academic opinions cited in the Kambouris article. I wonder if they were 2,000 strong at the time of the crossing into Asia (however divided into two or more smaller units), rising to 3,000 at the time of the reform in Curtius V.2.3 that supposedly established chiliarchies, and - just perhaps  - to 4,000 at some time after the Indian campaign to give the total 16,000-man phalanx.
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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.

Just checking here - why does Alex leave a quarter of his guard infantry in camp?  Is he expecting a threat that ordinary troops couldn't handle?

Well, what does he start with?

"Alexander now took command of the shield-bearing guards, (commanded by Leonnatus)
the archers,
the Agrianians,
the brigade of Coenus and Attalus,
the royal body-guard of cavalry, (commanded by Alexander)
about four regiments of the other Companion cavalry, (commanders are Ptolemy, Balacrus, Philip and Philotas)
and half of the horse-archers"

When he divvies it up who gets what?

Leonnatus keeps the shield bearing guards and gets the brigades of Attalus (only other infantry) and Balacrus (Companion cavalry)

Ptolemy keeps his cavalry and gets the two cavalry brigades of Philip and Philtas (which is half the cavalry), and 'a third part' of the hypaspists, the Agrianians, and two regiments of horse archers.

Alex keeps his royal bodyguard cavalry and gets presumably the remainder of the Companion cavalry, hypaspists and horse archers.

So who guards the camp? Either the Companion cavalry or horse archers assigned to Alexander or a part of the hypaspists. There are no remaining infantry available. Are cavalry/horse archers favourites as camp guards?

« Last Edit: March 17, 2019, 07:32:42 PM by Justin Swanton »
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RichT

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I've always been more or less convinced by Luke Ueda-Sarson's argument that the 12,000 phalanx didn't include the Hypaspists, and therefore that the 'taxeis' were 2000 strong. Comparison with Hellenistic armies, for what it's worth (which may not be all that much) is that the Peltasts/Argyraspides/Guards are accounted separately from the phalanx proper (for all that functionally they were part of the phalanx) - eg Antigonid army, 16,000 phalanx plus 3000 Peltasts etc. This doesn't mean that Arrian would necessarily do the same with Alex's army, but it seems quite possible - 12,000 phalanx plus 3000 Hypaspists. These numbers come and go of course in ways that can't always be followed in detail, but that 16,000 is not just a theoretical number but was commonly used in practice by Hellenistic armies seems clear enough.

But I can't think of any case where Alex's phalanx would have been 16,000, unless you up the Hypaspists to 4000, unlikely, and include them in the phalanx total, contrary to later practice.
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