Author Topic: Testing hoplite combat  (Read 400 times)

Patrick Waterson

  • Administrator
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 6902
  • Country: gb
  • Interests: Pretty much everything to do with warfare, especially how military systems actually work.
Re: Testing hoplite combat
« Reply #15 on: October 05, 2019, 08:03:39 PM »
Two other interesting things. 6 ranks crashing against 2 ranks broke right through the line, 3 failed pretty quick, but 4 ranks stopped 6 ranks or even 8 ranks cold.  This may explain why we see 4 ranks as a common minima, it can hold up any number of ranks in an intial collision and renders such a collision a bad idea.

This would make a 4-rank centre at Marathon suitably credible (I know it is still really no more than a hypotherical assumption). Related to Marathon, there is also the question of how long four ranks can sustain pressure after an initial impact.  Maybe next time?

Quote
We also formed up around 60-70 men in files, assigned a file leader, and then had them follow the leader into line, march a few hundred yards, then fall out back into files. Literally 5 minutes of explanation and they were flawless in their execution, even running around obstacles.

Excellent: this is quite a potent finding for the possibilities allowed by classical armies' organisation and tactical deployments - and for the amount of training required to get men operating in files.

I shall leave others to comment on the othismos-related aspects, but the results look really useful.

Nice work, Paul.
  • Patrick Waterson
"Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened." - Winston Churchill

Jim Webster

  • Society Member
  • Posts: 3742
Re: Testing hoplite combat
« Reply #16 on: October 05, 2019, 08:08:55 PM »
fascinating stuff!  8)
  • Jim Webster

Erpingham

  • Society Member
  • Posts: 5190
  • Country: gb
  • Interests: Medieval warfare, Old School, home made rules
Re: Testing hoplite combat
« Reply #17 on: October 06, 2019, 08:11:27 AM »
a shame there was no time for Justin's bits.  I've been watching quite a bit of Pole Vault footage in recent days and have been struggling with applying it to sarissa warfare.  Partly because the slo-mo sections don't concentrate on the grip changes.  But I suspect the way the pole is never brought to horizontal but passes rapidly through to plant the point might influence the way it is held.  I hope Justin can find a polevaulter to help him clarify this.
  • Anthony Clipsom

NickHarbud

  • Administrator
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 540
  • Country: gb
  • Interests: Omnivorous
Re: Testing hoplite combat
« Reply #18 on: October 06, 2019, 10:50:16 AM »
We also formed up around 60-70 men in files, assigned a file leader, and then had them follow the leader into line, march a few hundred yards, then fall out back into files. Literally 5 minutes of explanation and they were flawless in their execution, even running around obstacles.

Impressive!

So how do you think the above observation should be reflected in the treatment of hoplites and other close order spearmen on the wargames table?  Presently, most rulesets assume the following:

  • Obstacles and rough ground represent a major challenge to the manoeuvre of close order infantry.
  • Hoplites and other regular spearmen are far more manoeuvrable than irregular types, such as Scottish schiltrons, on the basis that moving in close order requires extensive practise to get it right.


  • Nick Harbud

PMBardunias

  • Society Member
  • Posts: 260
  • Interests: Ancient Greek warfare
Re: Testing hoplite combat
« Reply #19 on: October 06, 2019, 04:32:55 PM »
a shame there was no time for Justin's bits.  I've been watching quite a bit of Pole Vault footage in recent days and have been struggling with applying it to sarissa warfare.  Partly because the slo-mo sections don't concentrate on the grip changes.  But I suspect the way the pole is never brought to horizontal but passes rapidly through to plant the point might influence the way it is held.  I hope Justin can find a polevaulter to help him clarify this.

SO we actually did a bunch of things that could be extrapolated to Justin's work.  We had a separate event where we did a clash of medieval partisan, in two hands, vs fully armored knights with Partisan trying to break them and against rotella and swordsmen. They held their partisans much as Justin sees sarissa held. I have not yet gone through these extensively, but the take away is that as long as the partisan stay in close formation, 60cm or less and fight as three solid ranks, they are hard to break, but any loosening of the ranks and knights crunch through them.  If you have never seen a knight in combat, where only strikes that would actually get through the armor are counted, you do not realize that they are freaking outrageous.  We had 15th armor going up against 16th armor, where all you could validly target was armpits and groins. 

At least with shorter partisan, Rotella men could disrupt them in semi-suicidal.

For some time now an idea in my head has been brewing that the front ranks of sarissaphoroi essentially became rotella and sword men after the initial clash or some period of foyning, when their own men behind moving up hampered their ability to reach back to set up a strike as Smythe tells us for later Pike.
  • Paul Michael Bardunias

PMBardunias

  • Society Member
  • Posts: 260
  • Interests: Ancient Greek warfare
Re: Testing hoplite combat
« Reply #20 on: October 06, 2019, 05:21:37 PM »


So how do you think the above observation should be reflected in the treatment of hoplites and other close order spearmen on the wargames table?  Presently, most rulesets assume the following:

  • Obstacles and rough ground represent a major challenge to the manoeuvre of close order infantry.
  • Hoplites and other regular spearmen are far more manoeuvrable than irregular types, such as Scottish schiltrons, on the basis that moving in close order requires extensive practice to get it right.

Thanks.  The second is easier to answer. Drill does not make you more maneuverable as long as there is a shared movement vector. Simple proof of this is that every army that has ever broken and ran has done so in a large herd at a speed that usually exceeds that of which they approached battle. Authors have wildly overestimated the amount of drill needed to get an army into formation. Xenophon flat out tells us that Spartan drill is easier than it appears and is just a series of follow the leader events. This is what we saw. The fetishization of drill we have seen from the early modern period to today has more to do with stripping the individuality from raw conscripts and turning them into automata, free will causes hesitation and make them vulnerable to panic. Good luck finding a band of men who travel with more order than a school of sardines, yet the have very limited knowledge.

A tight formation makes you more orderly, and more order makes you steadier and less likely to run away or fragment.  It also makes you more brittle, because if you rely on drill and close order, the moment this is lost, you perceive your side as losing. This is why if you push hoplites back a bit they will break, but you can scatter peltasts over and over and they will reform spontaneously. Loss in battle occurs when expectations are not met.

If you want to take a bunch of hoplites, pull them out of line and have them reform in exactly the same formation then drill can be helpful.  Even what we did would benefit from doing it a few hundred times to counter things that could go wrong when the fear of battle is added. Drill is really more about dealing with fear in my opinion that just moving men.  But a motivated group of men with a strong an visible leader, can simply follow him like a swarm around the battlefield.  This can be far more efficient than even a well drilled unit. If you do not care that the order of the unit is the exact same after moving, then this is fine. The problem is trying to do this with a weak leader and timid men. You will lose men every step of the way.

Obstacles are not as big a problem as often thought. We had no problem marching in formation around trees for example. the file just held up and ran to rejoin after the group had passed. While in a running charge, I, in the front rank tripped on my sandal tie and face planted. The men behind me, at the run, did not fall over me, but simply stopped.  Within a few paces the whole group stopped.  The notion that men will pile up or trip like that scene with the marching band in Animal House is also mistaken.

So, in answer, I would say 1) obstacles are no problem in initial deployment from column. They really don't shred an ordered advance of a formation as long as the files can stop and run to rejoin. A bigger problem is that whole subunits may not link up as effectively if some are slowed in the advance and others are not. Unit cohesion need not suffer, but alignment of units might. 2) The utility of drill is wholly dependent on the quality of the base troop material.  A band of warriors with little drill, if individually motivated, can do anything  a drilled unit can do.  A levy, not so much.  Dot because of the complexity of the maneuvers, but because they lack individual initiative.  In a school of fish, any sardine can function as the first fish being followed. This is not the case with the average militiaman.
  • Paul Michael Bardunias

RichT

  • Former Officer
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 917
Re: Testing hoplite combat
« Reply #21 on: October 08, 2019, 03:54:20 PM »
Interesting point about movement around obstacles and tying in to what we talked about earlier about terrain I'm not surprised, as I don't believe open ground was ever as open as we picture it. I've just got back from Greece and had a chance to visit a few (possible) battlefields, and though the ground cover now may be different from what it was then (and in one case, utterly different), even so there are obstacles everywhere.

I think the point of drill as you say is not just to make movements possible, but to make them possible while retaining good order (as well as the cohesion, obedience, individuality points).

I look forward to seeing the full results and some video.
  • Richard Taylor

Justin Swanton

  • Committee Member
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2495
  • Country: za
    • Check out my website
  • Interests: Anything in Ancients that gives a good game and adds historicity to boot
Re: Testing hoplite combat
« Reply #22 on: October 10, 2019, 09:14:45 AM »
a shame there was no time for Justin's bits.  I've been watching quite a bit of Pole Vault footage in recent days and have been struggling with applying it to sarissa warfare.  Partly because the slo-mo sections don't concentrate on the grip changes.  But I suspect the way the pole is never brought to horizontal but passes rapidly through to plant the point might influence the way it is held.  I hope Justin can find a polevaulter to help him clarify this.

What do you find a difficulty? I tried holding a long stick with shield in a polevaulter grip and didn't find a problem with it. Moving the shield up and down along with the spear was quite easy in fact. I could also make strikes with the spear by loosening my left hand grip and thrusting the spear forward with my right.
  • Justin Swanton

Erpingham

  • Society Member
  • Posts: 5190
  • Country: gb
  • Interests: Medieval warfare, Old School, home made rules
Re: Testing hoplite combat
« Reply #23 on: October 10, 2019, 11:10:37 AM »
Quote
What do you find a difficulty?

Bit difficult to explain.  The primary queries I would have is how does a series of moves designed to be done by an individual quickly at a run translate to a more slow moving group motion?  As I've mentioned above, there isn't a high horizontal carry in the sequence - it goes from raised almost vertical to low level vertical then the arms are thrust over the head as the point is dropped.  How easy is it to freeze the sequence with the pole level at chest height?  Hence the hope you can get a pole-vaulter who knows the moves to test this out.  It may need modifications to the standard grips or moves, it may not - that's the reason for the test.
  • Anthony Clipsom

gavindbm

  • Society Member
  • Posts: 248
  • Country: gb
  • Interests: Ancient & Medieval Wargaming, particularly Hellenistic period, Dark Age Britain and high medieval
Re: Testing hoplite combat
« Reply #24 on: October 11, 2019, 09:20:08 PM »
Paul this is Fascinating...   Any chance of an article...
  • Gavin Pearson

PMBardunias

  • Society Member
  • Posts: 260
  • Interests: Ancient Greek warfare
Re: Testing hoplite combat
« Reply #25 on: October 14, 2019, 03:17:00 AM »
Paul this is Fascinating...   Any chance of an article...

Yes, part of a chapter I am coauthoring right now, and a I will pitch another article with lots of colorful pics to AW next spring. In some ways this ways this was a test run for the great hoplite reenactors invasion of Plataia in 2021 where we should have 100+ men with proper panoply and aspides. We tested the use of drone footage and it worked well. In 2021 you will be able to watch large formations carry out Xenophon's dinner drill, Laconian countermarch, advance and charge at the run in formation. This event was more about actually hitting people with spears, because that had both training and robust protective gear.  I am planning to bring a  range of contraptions that will feel like carnival games to those using them, but give us data on how hard men hit with spears and how accurate they are, as well as my trusty othismos force meter. I am both excited and intimidated to match 12 vs 50 files to show why Spartans were not simply blown off of the field. I will keep you all posted.
  • Paul Michael Bardunias

Patrick Waterson

  • Administrator
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 6902
  • Country: gb
  • Interests: Pretty much everything to do with warfare, especially how military systems actually work.
Re: Testing hoplite combat
« Reply #26 on: October 14, 2019, 07:08:58 AM »
Thanks, Paul: this is really interesting.
  • Patrick Waterson
"Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened." - Winston Churchill

Justin Swanton

  • Committee Member
  • Society Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2495
  • Country: za
    • Check out my website
  • Interests: Anything in Ancients that gives a good game and adds historicity to boot
Re: Testing hoplite combat
« Reply #27 on: October 14, 2019, 09:05:50 AM »
Paul this is Fascinating...   Any chance of an article...

Yes, part of a chapter I am coauthoring right now, and a I will pitch another article with lots of colorful pics to AW next spring. In some ways this ways this was a test run for the great hoplite reenactors invasion of Plataia in 2021 where we should have 100+ men with proper panoply and aspides. We tested the use of drone footage and it worked well. In 2021 you will be able to watch large formations carry out Xenophon's dinner drill, Laconian countermarch, advance and charge at the run in formation. This event was more about actually hitting people with spears, because that had both training and robust protective gear.  I am planning to bring a  range of contraptions that will feel like carnival games to those using them, but give us data on how hard men hit with spears and how accurate they are, as well as my trusty othismos force meter. I am both excited and intimidated to match 12 vs 50 files to show why Spartans were not simply blown off of the field. I will keep you all posted.

Can't wait... :)
  • Justin Swanton

PMBardunias

  • Society Member
  • Posts: 260
  • Interests: Ancient Greek warfare
Re: Testing hoplite combat
« Reply #28 on: Today at 01:04:36 AM »
This was the position for Partisan.
  • Paul Michael Bardunias