Author Topic: Classification of infantry - the return of the revenge of the extra medium foot!  (Read 6825 times)

Andreas Johansson

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Inspired partly by my old Taxonomy of Cavalry thread and more immediately by Anthony's comment in the terrain thread, I thought maybe it's time to have a discussion on the proper classification of ancient and medieval infantry.

Now there are two classes I imagine everyone accepts:
heavy infantry fighting in formation
light infantry skirmishing in loose swarms

Now, obviously, these can be subdivided, e.g. you can have foot skirmishers with bow, sling, javelin, or other missile weapons, and similarly heavy foot can be swordsmen, pikemen, etc. Whether we distinguish these is mostly a matter of taste - how detailed do we want our rules, and how confident are we that we can meaningfully represent differences (do we actually know that vikings with Danish axes were 67% more deadly but also 25% more vulnerable than ones with sword and shield?).

More interestingly, do we need further categories that don't fit into those two? Do we need a class of medium infantry who are intermediate between the two? The Hellenistic tacticians apparently thought so - Asclepiodotos divides infantry into hoplites (heaviess), peltasts, and psiloi (lights).

Also, what of massed archers and other shooters? Are they a type of heavy foot that simply happen to shoot (as e.g. Lost Battles has it), are they medium infantry (as e.g. ADLG would have it), or do they need to be treated as their of sort of thing (as e.g. DBX has it)?
  • Andreas Johansson
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Erpingham

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I'll pitch in with a couple of questions.

Did Ascelepiodotus define what is different between peltasts and the other two?

Are the forces of "barbarians" fundamentally different to the Greeks and Romans?  Do they fit into the three classes or were they considered different?  Were barbarians organised in some great unified way that was different to civilised nations but similar to one another?
  • Anthony Clipsom

RichT

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"The infantry is divided into the corps of hoplites, the corps of peltasts, and the corps of so-called psiloi. Now the corps of hoplites, since it fights at close quarters, uses very heavy equipment - for the men are protected by shields (aspisi) of the largest size, cuirasses and greaves - and long spears (dorasi) of the type which will here be called 'Macedonian'. The corps of psiloi on the contrary uses the lightest equipment because it shoots froma distance, and is provided with neither greaves nor cuirasses, but with javelins and slings, and in general with those missiles which we call 'long distance missiles'. The corps of peltasts stands in a sense between these two, for the pelte is a kind of small light shield (aspidiske) and their spears (dorata) are much shorter than those of the hoplites." Asclepiodotus 1.2

Comments - Asclepiodotus loves categorising things into threes, which makes him slightly suspect in this case. He doesn't describe the psiloi and peltasts being in more open order (necessarily) - he calculates them covering the same extent in width as the main phalanx, but, being half their number, with half the depth. He rather forgets about peltasts in the rest of the manual.

I think HI, MI and LI are sensible categorisations - HI for all those like hoplites who only fight in close order hand to hand (where 'close order' is not necessarily defined). LI for those who fight at a distance (and maybe in 'open order'). MI for those who might do a bit of both or might be in open order or might be more likely to venture onto terrain etc, but still have close combat capability. But I also think some historical types could fit in two categories depending on circumstances and objective.
  • Richard Taylor

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I'd also add that I don't think that formation/order/interval is the defining feature. This was the old WRG way (right down to, IIRC, putting LHI and LMI onto 4.5 foot frontage) and I think is a red herring - I prefer the modern classification by function. Order and intervals were likely to be variable or not strictly defined.

So far as barbarians go, simple answer is nobody knows, but I suspect the main difference is just that lack of formal drill would mean lack of defined regular intervals, but not that it would mean a more open order, necessarily. Gauls and Germans would probably fight in just as close order as Romans and hoplites, if the occasion demanded it, so can be classified as HI. Macedonian phalangites could fight in a closer order than others, but I don't think anything would be gained by adding an extra class (EHI? Based on formation not armour). I'm for abstracting all this stuff - battlefield function is all that matters.
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Duncan Head

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Do we need a class of medium infantry who are intermediate between the two?

One of my favourite passages:
Quote from: Agathias III.7-9
The Dilimnites (Dailami) are among the largest of the nations on the far side of the Tigris whose territory borders on Persia. They are warlike in the extreme and, unlike most of the Persians, do not fight principally with the bow and the sling. The carry spears and pikes (sarissai and xysta) and wear a sword slung across one shoulder. To the left arm they tie a very small dirk and they hold out shields and bucklers to protect themselves with. One could hardly describe them simply as light armed troops, nor for that matter as the type of heavy infantry that fight exclusively at close quarters. For they both discharge missiles at a distance when the occasion arises and engage in hand to hand fighting, and are expert at charging an enemy phalanx and breaking its close-knit ranks with the weight of their charge. They can reform their own ranks with ease and adapt themselves to any contingency. Even steep hills they run up without difficulty thus seizing in advance all points of vantage, and when they are put to flight they escape with lightning rapidity whereas when they are the attackers they press the pursuit with perfect timing and co-ordination. Well-versed as they are in practically every type of warfare they inflict considerable harm to their enemies.
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Andreas Johansson

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I think HI, MI and LI are sensible categorisations - HI for all those like hoplites who only fight in close order hand to hand (where 'close order' is not necessarily defined). LI for those who fight at a distance (and maybe in 'open order'). MI for those who might do a bit of both or might be in open order or might be more likely to venture onto terrain etc, but still have close combat capability.
This would seem to imply that legionaries are MI, because they chuck javelins in addition to fighting hand-to-hand. Intended? Or does the definition of HI need to be loosened a little - your next post said that Romans are HI, and if any Romans are I imagine it's the legionaries. :)

You also seem to be saying that even massed archers should be LI, unless willing to fight in close combat (so I guess Immortals and HYW longbowmen would be MI?). Do I understand you correctly?

I agree, BTW, that there's, based on what we know, no need to treat "barbarians" different than Asclepiodotus' Macedonians in this regard.
  • Andreas Johansson
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Bought: 123 infantry, 53 cavalry, 2 chariots, 39 other
Finished: 129 infantry, 29 cavalry, 3 chariots, 27 other, 8 bases redone

Justin Swanton

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Do we need a class of medium infantry who are intermediate between the two?

One of my favourite passages:
Quote from: Agathias III.7-9
The Dilimnites (Dailami) are among the largest of the nations on the far side of the Tigris whose territory borders on Persia. They are warlike in the extreme and, unlike most of the Persians, do not fight principally with the bow and the sling. The carry spears and pikes (sarissai and xysta) and wear a sword slung across one shoulder. To the left arm they tie a very small dirk and they hold out shields and bucklers to protect themselves with. One could hardly describe them simply as light armed troops, nor for that matter as the type of heavy infantry that fight exclusively at close quarters. For they both discharge missiles at a distance when the occasion arises and engage in hand to hand fighting, and are expert at charging an enemy phalanx and breaking its close-knit ranks with the weight of their charge. They can reform their own ranks with ease and adapt themselves to any contingency. Even steep hills they run up without difficulty thus seizing in advance all points of vantage, and when they are put to flight they escape with lightning rapidity whereas when they are the attackers they press the pursuit with perfect timing and co-ordination. Well-versed as they are in practically every type of warfare they inflict considerable harm to their enemies.

Notice that this is a troop type that can fight effectively as skirmisher or heavy foot, but it is not a halfway house between the two (can outskirmish psiloi but can't out-melee HI).

We may tend to equate heavy infantry with heavy equipment, forgetting that the Roman hastatus/princeps had only a simple helmet, shield, sword, pilum and maybe a breastplate. But he could fight much more heavily equipped HI on equal or even superior terms (I rate him better than a hoplite and inferior only to a phalangite).

Peltasts seem to be exclusively skirmishers except when confronting cavalry (Cunaxa). I don't know of any case where peltasts fought HI frontally in melee combat.

So strictly-speaking the welterweight MI is something of a myth.
  • Justin Swanton

Justin Swanton

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I'd also add that I don't think that formation/order/interval is the defining feature. This was the old WRG way (right down to, IIRC, putting LHI and LMI onto 4.5 foot frontage) and I think is a red herring - I prefer the modern classification by function. Order and intervals were likely to be variable or not strictly defined.

What is interesting is that of the three orders in the manuals, only intermediate and close order are used in combat, even by skirmishers. No troop type (except perhaps slingers) needs that much lateral space to fight, certainly not melee types. Skirmishers fighting ahead of HI may have been in open order but that would have been to facilitate their rapid retirement through the open order files of the HI:

There should be intervals within the ranks, so that, when the light-armed troops have discharged their weapons while the enemy is still advancing, before the two armies come to close quarters, they may about-face, pass in good order through the centre of the phalanx, and come without confusion to the rear. For it is not safe for them to go around the whole army, encircling the flanks—since the enemy would quickly anticipate them in this manoeuvre, coming to close quarters and intercepting them on the way—nor is it safe for them to force their way through the closed ranks, where they would fall over the weapons and cause confusion in the lines, one man stumbling against another. - Onasander, Strategikos: 19.1

There's one other sort of order: a halfway house between the hellenistic intermediate and close order, used by Indian infantry:

The infantry should be arrayed such that the space between any two men is a sama [about 28cm, in between intermediate and close order]; cavalry with three samas; chariots with four samas - Arthaśāstra: 10.5
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RichT

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Andreas:
Quote
This would seem to imply that legionaries are MI, because they chuck javelins in addition to fighting hand-to-hand. Intended? Or does the definition of HI need to be loosened a little - your next post said that Romans are HI, and if any Romans are I imagine it's the legionaries. :)

You also seem to be saying that even massed archers should be LI, unless willing to fight in close combat (so I guess Immortals and HYW longbowmen would be MI?). Do I understand you correctly?

I think that the legionaries as described by Polybius are a perfect example of MI, so yes - I'd categorise Republican legionaries as MI. But also that legionaries perhaps always and at any rate increasingly in the later Republic could also fight as HI - they are one of the examples I mentioned of fitting into two categories. Another example would be Hellenistic peltasts. I've no idea how to represent this in game terms.

Massed archers as LI or MI - I guess so, unless a defining feature of LI is 'evade' ability (could massed archers do this? Would they try?) Maybe in this case HI/MI/LI categories aren't useful, and weapon type is more important (so archers are archers, however closely together they stood), combined with some measure of speed/manoeuvrability. So Immortals and longbowmen might be MI (bow). I don't have any answers to all this BTW, I'm just ruminating.

Justin - be careful when talking about peltasts to be clear what you mean - Classical peltasts or Hellenistic peltasts? Different beasts. The manuals don't specify which order is used (or not used) in combat, and the amount of space needed to fight is open to debate - a debate which has as much appeal as Hypaspist armament or o-you-know-what, so let's not, and just avoid dogmatic statements.
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Duncan Head

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Notice that this is a troop type that can fight effectively as skirmisher or heavy foot, but it is not a halfway house between the two (can outskirmish psiloi but can't out-melee HI).

I'm not sure what you are saying here - that the Dailami can't outfight HI, or that the "mythical halfway house" can't outfight HI?

Quote
Peltasts seem to be exclusively skirmishers except when confronting cavalry (Cunaxa). I don't know of any case where peltasts fought HI frontally in melee combat.

This is roughly what I said in my "Myths of wargaming" talk to the SoA Conference, and in Slingshot, about 1990  :)

Quote
So strictly-speaking the welterweight MI is something of a myth.


I am uncertain how you are defining this myth.
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Erpingham

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I think so far we have established that the ancients didn't see things in clear-cut binary terms.  There seem to have been three infantry types (H/M/I).  H and I seem clearly delineated but what amout M?  But there also is a question of troops that could be in two categories at various times.  How well could these men transform during battle or were they stuck as one of their options for the whole battle? 
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Justin Swanton

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Justin - be careful when talking about peltasts to be clear what you mean - Classical peltasts or Hellenistic peltasts? Different beasts. The manuals don't specify which order is used (or not used) in combat, and the amount of space needed to fight is open to debate - a debate which has as much appeal as Hypaspist armament or o-you-know-what, so let's not, and just avoid dogmatic statements.

Sorry, I had in mind the Hellenistic peltasts, not the Iphicratean ones (are there any others?)

Re spacing I had Asklepiodotus in mind:

The interval of four cubits seems to be the natural one and has, therefore, no special name; the one of two cubits and especially that of one cubit are forced formations. I have stated that of these two spacings the one of two cubits is called 'compact spacing' and the one of a single cubit 'with locked shields.' The former is used when we are marching the phalanx upon the enemy, the latter when the enemy is marching upon us. - Tactics: 4.3

So intermediate (or compact) and compact (or locked shields) spacings are used when engaging enemy. Open order is not used in combat. Asklepiodotus affirms that a phalanx of skirmisher foot has as many files as heavy infantry but half the number of men per file. The skirmishers hence fought with the same file spacing as the HI, at least for intermediate order:

Now these light infantry will also have 1024 files, if they are to stand behind the phalanx of the hoplites and extend the same distance, without, however, a depth of sixteen men―for they are only one half as strong―but obviously of eight men. - Tactics: 6.2

If that applies to psiloi then a fortiori it applies to peltasts.
« Last Edit: August 28, 2019, 03:48:04 PM by Justin Swanton »
  • Justin Swanton

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Notice that this is a troop type that can fight effectively as skirmisher or heavy foot, but it is not a halfway house between the two (can outskirmish psiloi but can't out-melee HI).

I'm not sure what you are saying here - that the Dailami can't outfight HI, or that the "mythical halfway house" can't outfight HI?

The latter.

Quote
Peltasts seem to be exclusively skirmishers except when confronting cavalry (Cunaxa). I don't know of any case where peltasts fought HI frontally in melee combat.

This is roughly what I said in my "Myths of wargaming" talk to the SoA Conference, and in Slingshot, about 1990  :)

Come to my arms!

Quote
So strictly-speaking the welterweight MI is something of a myth.


I am uncertain how you are defining this myth.

I suppose in the sense that rulesets make the MI less effective against HI though capable of going toe to toe with them, and more effective against LI. He should either be effective against both (your example) or something that doesn't fight HI in melee but can chase away LI. In DBM/A terms give them a 2 vs foot and a 3 vs mounted and psiloi and give them the same combat outcomes as psiloi except they are not quick killed by mounted in good going.
« Last Edit: August 28, 2019, 04:11:39 PM by Justin Swanton »
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Andreas Johansson

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I'm not sure what you are saying here - that the Dailami can't outfight HI, or that the "mythical halfway house" can't outfight HI?
I think he's saying that the Dailami aren't intermediate between HI and LI, but troops that can switch between being HI and LI.

As for handling such "swing-role" troops (cf also Rich's comments about legionaries above) in a set of wargames rules, I think there's four basic approaches you could take:

1) Chose at listmaking or deployment time. Effectively, the general issues a day order that today we skirmish.
2) Treat it however your rules handle formation changes, dismounting or the like; you expend a PIP, pass an order check, or whatever to have your unit/stand/etc change classification.
3) Let the player chose which option they count as for each combat, move, etc.
4) Create a troop type that combines the attributes of both. Frex, Daylami might count as HI in the open and as LI on steep hills.

I don't like (3) because it would slow down the game with lots of decisions dubiously related to what a real general would be thinking about, but the rest seem fine in principle; it'd be a question of how much complexity you want and just how flexible you think they should be.

(I guess there's also option (5); damn the complexity and just have them be whatever you think they most commonly behaved like.)
  • Andreas Johansson
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Erpingham

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Quote
(I guess there's also option (5); damn the complexity and just have them be whatever you think they most commonly behaved like.)

Or (6) : Produce complex set of standing orders which determine how they will respond to different situations :)

It comes down very much to how much flexibility and control was there?  Were junior officers calling the plays given local circumstances or was it fixed by order of the Big Guy? 
  • Anthony Clipsom