Author Topic: Manouevering with a sarissa  (Read 110 times)

Erpingham

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Manouevering with a sarissa
« on: September 14, 2021, 04:26:37 PM »
This is a question provoked by a remark by Richard Taylor over on the "Currently painting" topic.

Regular readers will know we only have one picture of a phalangite using a sarissa in combat.  But what of phalangites moving or marching.  Richard was commenting on some plastic figures which had been modelled in the renaissance "Advance" position, where the butt of the pike is held in the right hand and the pike leans into the shoulder/neck.  It's a workable position, especially if you can bring across the left arm to hold it to the shoulder if encountering difficult terrain.  But was it used by Hellenistic pikemen?  And, if it wasn't, what was? 
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Re: Manouevering with a sarissa
« Reply #1 on: September 14, 2021, 04:55:11 PM »
Thanks for opening this Anthony, I was just wondering whether to do so myself. Though I fear the answer my be 'who knows?'. In terms of actual evidence for Hellenistic pikes, there isn't any, neither pictorial nor literary (AFAIK), so we may just have to look at other periods and reenactors.

That particular figure on the other thread looked a bit implausible to me as the arm was bent at 90 degrees with the hand under the butt, with the pike very near vertical (I assume it was resting on the shoulder). It looks like a very unstable position, but looks can deceive.

On the march, we have mentioned before about trailing pikes. It is hard (for me) to imagine carrying a pike around vertically for miles and miles through all sorts of terrain. (Believers in the connecting tube will see this as not a problem, as the convenient two halves can be carried like two spears, but we do not talk of such things).

Here are lots of ways to hold a pike though none of them are the 'Advance'.




« Last Edit: September 14, 2021, 05:00:32 PM by RichT »
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Erpingham

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Re: Manouevering with a sarissa
« Reply #2 on: September 14, 2021, 05:15:58 PM »
Curious, as that set of positions is clearly based on de Gheyn.  Here is his original.



For what it's worth, I think from experience this is slightly off - holding the pike like that is inviting it to topple away from the body, so better to lean in toward the neck. 

Here is a Paul Dolnstein sketch from the early 16th century, showing landsknechts using the technique with the proper "into the body" lean.

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Re: Manouevering with a sarissa
« Reply #3 on: September 14, 2021, 05:26:47 PM »
On the subject of trail, it's not something I'd like to try in anything other than loose order because it takes a lot of space and, if you are following men with trailed pikes, you have all on not to trip or stand on them.  Note also in the multiple picture how much space recovering from trail needs (images 12, 13, 14) - you wouldn't want to do this near the enemy either, if you wanted to be closed up in order to fight.
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Re: Manouevering with a sarissa
« Reply #4 on: September 14, 2021, 06:50:25 PM »
Those do all seem to have straight or nearly straight arms, so holding the butt of the pike that bit lower below the shoulder. The figure in 'currently painting' has his hand up, like someone carrying a plate or tray.

On the march I would imagine that something like fig. 11 is the most practical provided there is room in front (which there ought to be at march intervals, two metres). I expect that in anything like proximity to the enemy the way of carrying would be different.
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Re: Manouevering with a sarissa
« Reply #5 on: September 14, 2021, 07:07:50 PM »

On the march I would imagine that something like fig. 11 is the most practical provided there is room in front (which there ought to be at march intervals, two metres).

As we have pictures of hoplites marching with shouldered spears, it would be quite natural to adopt for pikes too.

Quote
I expect that in anything like proximity to the enemy the way of carrying would be different.

Likewise.  fig. 7 (port) is fairly good for moving in formation, you can slant the pikes to make a "roof" to keep missiles off and it will go into a charge position easily (either the conventional one or Justin's favourite high charge).
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Re: Manouevering with a sarissa
« Reply #6 on: September 15, 2021, 09:23:03 AM »
Likewise.  fig. 7 (port) is fairly good for moving in formation, you can slant the pikes to make a "roof" to keep missiles off and it will go into a charge position easily (either the conventional one or Justin's favourite high charge).

Yes that is the standard non-front-rank pike position of a thousand reconstructions and toy soldiers. But I assume it would be a battle posture only, no good for marching - the strain on the arms must be considerable after any length of time?

Here is shouldered - looks comfy, could probably march for miles like that:


Here is 'Advance' - looks a bit more precarious:


Note the more or less straight arm. I haven't found any pics of pikes in the palms of people's hands, like the painting pic.
« Last Edit: September 15, 2021, 09:38:31 AM by RichT »
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Re: Manouevering with a sarissa
« Reply #7 on: September 15, 2021, 10:03:27 AM »
Quote
Yes that is the standard non-front-rank pike position of a thousand reconstructions and toy soldiers. But I assume it would be a battle posture only, no good for marching - the strain on the arms must be considerable after any length of time?

Yes.  I think the question is there another position between shoulder and port as there was in 17th century drill?  You have to come out of shoulder before you can compress the ranks.

The picture of the blue reenactors is indeed the way I was taught to do it nigh on 50 years ago.  You shouldn't need to bring your left hand across if standing still.  As you say, the right arm should be straight and the pike is held on the fingers, not the palm.
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Re: Manouevering with a sarissa
« Reply #8 on: September 15, 2021, 10:31:53 AM »
if you have a butt spike, the spike can poke between fingers and the flanges can be cradled by the fingers if we are still talking MAK
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Re: Manouevering with a sarissa
« Reply #9 on: September 15, 2021, 10:47:50 AM »
if you have a butt spike, the spike can poke between fingers and the flanges can be cradled by the fingers if we are still talking MAK

Yes, you could accommodate a butt spike though I think it would be challenging with one of those huge flanged ones.  But then, not everyone believes they were used on the sarissa.  So, I don't think there is anything fundamentally stopping that "advance" pose being used, just that we seem to have no evidence one way or another.   There is a mention, I recall from earlier discussions, of phalangites carrying pikes upright then lowering them as they advance, but that covers multiple options.
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Re: Manouevering with a sarissa
« Reply #10 on: September 15, 2021, 06:01:26 PM »
Likewise.  fig. 7 (port) is fairly good for moving in formation, you can slant the pikes to make a "roof" to keep missiles off and it will go into a charge position easily (either the conventional one or Justin's favourite high charge).

Yes that is the standard non-front-rank pike position of a thousand reconstructions and toy soldiers. But I assume it would be a battle posture only, no good for marching - the strain on the arms must be considerable after any length of time?

Here is shouldered - looks comfy, could probably march for miles like that:

I recall reading that you couldn't march like this for miles.  The pike, it's a length thing, vibrated and induced RSI.  That would explain trailing the pike.  RSI,  I speak, from non related to pike carrying experience, would certainly prevent you fighting properly. 

Quote
Here is 'Advance' - looks a bit more precarious:


Note the more or less straight arm. I haven't found any pics of pikes in the palms of people's hands, like the painting pic.
« Last Edit: September 15, 2021, 06:04:31 PM by Erpingham »
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Re: Manouevering with a sarissa
« Reply #11 on: September 15, 2021, 06:15:09 PM »
Just to raise an alternative to marching for miles with a pike - may they not have been carried in the train? On the march a short spear/javelin might serve as weapon? Are there any records of pikemen having to deploy for battle after marching any distance when they were not expecting it?
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Re: Manouevering with a sarissa
« Reply #12 on: September 16, 2021, 09:03:58 AM »
Just to raise an alternative to marching for miles with a pike - may they not have been carried in the train? On the march a short spear/javelin might serve as weapon? Are there any records of pikemen having to deploy for battle after marching any distance when they were not expecting it?

Yes I've wondered about that (though what sort of transport - carts? - would work for a pike) - any later examples of this being done? I can't think of any examples of Hellenistic pikes fighting straight from route march, though (erm...) Issus sort of fits the bill. Again I imagine an army on the march needs to be ready to fight, though given the likelihood that Philip/Alexander's phalanx was dual armed (sarissa, javelin), then carrying javelins and switching to pikes only for battle is a possibility.
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Re: Manouevering with a sarissa
« Reply #13 on: September 16, 2021, 11:29:49 AM »
Quote
what sort of transport - carts? - would work for a pike

Does Engels Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army cover the equipment of the Macedonian train?  I only know the bits about mule loads.
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Re: Manouevering with a sarissa
« Reply #14 on: September 16, 2021, 12:10:15 PM »
Does Engels Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army cover the equipment of the Macedonian train?  I only know the bits about mule loads.

Engels is of the view that carts were little used (not at all by Philip, not to start with by Alexander, then some, but got rid of again). Engels lists (with references) all the things said to have been carried (in carts or in the baggage generally) but it does not include weapons (does include tents, siege machinery, tools, etc). Philip trained his army to carry their own arms and armour (Polyaenus 4.2.10), a practice continued by Alexander. This contrasts with Greek hoplites who frequently had a servant to carry their kit. On reflection I think there is enough evidence that Alexander's men carried their arms and armour to rule out sarissas being in the baggage (the same might not apply throughout the Hellenistic period of course).
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