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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Fri 29 Aug, 2008 2:28 am    Post subject: Spears, formations, and fighting in them.         Reply with quote

The spear is apparently the most common weapon through out recorded history, and is a weapon I'm sure every member here loves in some way. It's low metal content allows for a lot to be made with a set amount of iron (which would have been fairly expensive to mine/work/process, as I've been told), and it's 6'-8' reach allows the enemy to be kept at bay. This (and other features I'm sure I forgot) lead the Chinese to refer to it as the "King of weapons", and lead it to be the weapon of war in ancient Greek cultures, as well as the early middle ages through to the high middle ages in Europe (and I assume Asia).

But how do we fight with a spear, exactly? While I've seen some fencing manuals that show some well done footwork and thrusts, these are always about the individual man to man fight, and I highly doubt a formation would be able to do this, considering how close together you must be. From what I have seen, a formation of Medieval "spearmen" would have a shield (likely the long kite form to protect the legs) and his spear, with armor being variable (from the well armored huscarl of the Saxon army at Hastings to the apparently unarmed French levies) depending on period and culture. With some training, a group can work together, but how, exactly, does a formation of spearmen attack another formation of spearmen and achieve anything decisive?

Limiting ourselves to the medieval battlefield of any point in time, my archers, assuming I have them, would probably fire on the spearmen to kill as many as I can to weaken the formation. Would the standard shield offer a lot of protection from the typical bow? Once munitions where out, or their men hit my line of men (which from what I've gathered would also be spearmen), how would the order of battle be conducted? I would figure it would be very hard to fight over your own shield as well as the enemies, unless the impact of a running charge could knock over or disrupt their formation, leaving some of them open for attack. I have also seen works of art depicting unshielded spearmen, which leads me to assume a lot of parrying techniques would be required to keep ones self alive, but wouldn't this quickly become a full mess of stabbing?

Oddly enough I find this question hard to phrase, but condensing the above ramble into a single question: How do you fight with spears in formation?

M.

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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Fri 29 Aug, 2008 5:22 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I like your question M., you've piqued my interest and I wish I could offer more, but here is what little I've gathered.

I'm assuming a simple thrusting spear here, is that what you had in mind? Spear fighting in single combat is somewhat akin rapier fighting in that attacks are linear, range matters a a lot, and each fighter is trying to "stay on line" while knocking the other fighter "off line". You can try to duck and dodge the other spear, but this inevitably takes you further and further off balance until you cannot retaliate and you get stabbed.

In melee this becomes maddeningly more complex because now you have a sea of other poles to knock your tip off line. I can't imagine what a sea of pikes would be like.Anyhow if you don't keep your spear stabbing briskly, or if someone on the other side gets lucky, your haft can be grabbed and your spear dragged away entirely, unless you choose rather foolishly to go with it.

The apocryphal example of Arnold Winkelreid springs to mind. He legendarily fell upon the pikes of the Archduchy of Austria and sacrificed his life, but opened a hole in the enemy spear wall and the men who poured through the gap wreaked havoc. It's very likely untrue, but it's important to note that a spearman who gets his weapon pinned is stuck like Chuck without a backup weapon, and even then he's compromised the integrity of the formation.

I wonder if there were ever men in the back of the lines feeding in spears to replace broken or lost spears, of if you just lost yours and generally died.

As far as shields, I've seen depictions from the Classical and Norman eras of men fighting with a guige (strap) that runs over one shoulder so that a spear can be wielded with two hands. If your see a blow coming, I assume that you would turn your shoulder and duck behind your shield, then carry on. Of course en mass when you rotate right to avoid the man in front of you the man diagonally has a good shot at your kidneys, and it suddenly becomes clear why chess pawns kill diagonally.

One other note about shields. I recall a certain clever kenning in one of the sagas where one man calls his spear the "fish of battle" as it darts in and out, so the other man cleverly calls his shield the "net of fishes". A spear thrust stout enough to run a man through, if met with a wooden shield, is stout enough to get you stuck. I tried this with a good quality spear into a poplar planked shield, and I was in for a good three or for seconds before I could get that tip worked loose.

Hopefully others can shed more light on this, I think it's a great topic. Swords get all the threads Worried

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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Fri 29 Aug, 2008 9:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Oh, yes, spear and shield was the way to go to war for the vast majority of warriors for thousands of years. What you mostly see in artwork is just holding the shield up in front and thrusting overhand with the spear. It's an easy stance, and not hard to hold in a "ready" position, with the spearhead just in front of the shield, not close enough to the enemy to be knocked or grabbed, but set to thrust quickly. Usually the shield seems to be held out at arm's length, to create as large a "shadow" behind it as possible. It can easily be rotated out to the left 90 degrees to either thrust with the edge, or help trap an opponent's weapon (with the realization that this leaves you open to someone else's shot!).

I haven't seen much of shields being used with a guige for 2-handed spear use, outside of Macedonians back in the 4th to 3rd centuries BC. Interestingly, shields don't get much mention in the English Assize of Arms in the 12th and 13th centuries, except for wealthier men. Spear, gambeson, and helmet is the minimal equipment. My guess is those spears could be longer, 10 to 12 feet, and used 2-handed as pikes, but I don't know what evidence there is one way or the other.

In most cases, it's generally safe to assume at least a big knife or a hatchet as a secondary weapon. I'd also guess that grabbing opponents' spears didn't happen very often, since you would have to drop your own weapon--or your shield--to do so.

Yeah, never enough good spears around!

Matthew
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Graeme J. Colverson




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PostPosted: Fri 29 Aug, 2008 10:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hey myArmoury, seems you've finally lured me out of lurking around and watching to actually contribute something for the first time Happy Again, thankyou for starting a really interesting thread, as noted spears should really get more recognition generally, given their ubiquity throughout historical warfare.

In answer to the 'spear-grab' manoeuvre problem, would it be plausible for men of the hind ranks to carry this out?

My argument in favour of this would be that, in a battle, it's reasonable to assume everyone involved is going all-out, particularly in a big melee between line units. Is it not, therefore, reasonable to assume that they'll be pushed pretty close together? Thus, if that's the case then spears will be protruding into subsequent ranks that aren't 'at the push', and have a higher degree of freedom, possibly to grapple with spearshafts? They could have shields slung, and may not have spears of their own, again on the assumption that new spears are being fed through from the back.

The model I base this on is that of the ulti-role unit, with different members performing significantly different jobs within the same group: to take a historical example, I believe it was the Persian army that used paired missile troops and shield carriers (Sparabara), the shields in front to protect and the missiles behind to strike; early Roman tactics called for two lines of javelinmen and a last line of heavy-armoured spears (the Triares if I recall correctly), who separated on the battlefield into different waves of attack. It seems that military development has gradually moved towards homogenisation of units, leading to the Napoleonic line regiment where everyone is armed the same way and performs the same battlefield roles.

In shield-wall and similar formations (I see spear combat as being an extrapolation of this, although again this is an assumption), you have the guys at the back (perhaps they're the poorer levies, worse-armed and armoured, but they can still contribute 'weight' to the forward push of the frontliners), who don't really have much to do save ward against missiles and 'support' the front ranks. I would imagine this support could extend to more than just replacing casaualties: handing forward more weaponry (as noted above, the spear is easily mass-produced and cheap, so why not take big bundles of them to battle for lost or broken shafts?), helping shove the front rank into the enemy (although perhaps not the most authoritative source, Bernard Cornwell's Warlord series give a pretty convincing depiction of the front ranks of shield walls being all but pinned in place by the enemy and their rear ranks), even catching the enemy's weapons to aid their comrades.

Overall, I would say that there's a fair likelihood that those in rear ranks would do more than just hang around uselessly; after all, by doing that they'd negate the vast majority of a unit's strength. Whether or not they participated actively in the battle (by going after enemy spears) or merely in support (replacing men and weapons), I can imagine they wouldn't be above a fair amount of improvisation.

Anyhow, there's my tuppence'orth, as I say it's mostly assumption and conjecture, but given that the situations at the front and the rear of a spear-melee were likely worlds apart, I like to think the rear-rankers could do something to help them pass the time Wink

~Graeme
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Bryce Felperin




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PostPosted: Fri 29 Aug, 2008 11:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Graeme J. Colverson wrote:

In shield-wall and similar formations (I see spear combat as being an extrapolation of this, although again this is an assumption), you have the guys at the back (perhaps they're the poorer levies, worse-armed and armoured, but they can still contribute 'weight' to the forward push of the frontliners), who don't really have much to do save ward against missiles and 'support' the front ranks. I would imagine this support could extend to more than just replacing casaualties: handing forward more weaponry (as noted above, the spear is easily mass-produced and cheap, so why not take big bundles of them to battle for lost or broken shafts?), helping shove the front rank into the enemy (although perhaps not the most authoritative source, Bernard Cornwell's Warlord series give a pretty convincing depiction of the front ranks of shield walls being all but pinned in place by the enemy and their rear ranks), even catching the enemy's weapons to aid their comrades.

Overall, I would say that there's a fair likelihood that those in rear ranks would do more than just hang around uselessly; after all, by doing that they'd negate the vast majority of a unit's strength. Whether or not they participated actively in the battle (by going after enemy spears) or merely in support (replacing men and weapons), I can imagine they wouldn't be above a fair amount of improvisation.

~Graeme


Also fighting is tiring business. I would imagine that the rear ranks of a formation would also rotate forward to replace their comrades when they tire as well. How this would be coordinated I don't know though.
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Gavin Kisebach




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PostPosted: Fri 29 Aug, 2008 2:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Overall, I would say that there's a fair likelihood that those in rear ranks would do more than just hang around uselessly; after all, by doing that they'd negate the vast majority of a unit's strength.


I generally agree with you here, though the first battle that springs to mind is Bannockburn, where apparently a large percentage of Edward's army was stuck milling around and unable to engage. [/quote]

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Bill Sahigan





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PostPosted: Fri 29 Aug, 2008 4:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

IMO I doubt there would be any 'replacing' of units in a melee because of fatigue(atleast, not when engaged.). the single most important part of melee battles is the idea of formation. If your front line units break rank because he is tired, then your formation will most likely be shattered immediately.

Also, is anyone familiar with Chinese spear tactics? I remeber being told that they rely almost exclusively on spearmen(short spears IIRC) for infantry and has developed some pretty substantial ways of fighting with them. would like to be enlightened on this subject.
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Fri 29 Aug, 2008 5:51 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Graeme J. Colverson wrote:
In answer to the 'spear-grab' manoeuvre problem, would it be plausible for men of the hind ranks to carry this out?

My argument in favour of this would be that, in a battle, it's reasonable to assume everyone involved is going all-out, particularly in a big melee between line units. Is it not, therefore, reasonable to assume that they'll be pushed pretty close together? Thus, if that's the case then spears will be protruding into subsequent ranks that aren't 'at the push', and have a higher degree of freedom, possibly to grapple with spearshafts? They could have shields slung, and may not have spears of their own, again on the assumption that new spears are being fed through from the back.


Welcome! The more you learn about ancient battles, the less likely this seems. For one thing, all the artwork shows all the men with their weapons and shields at the ready. As you mention, they still have to ward off missiles, and they have to be ready to fight at a split-second's notice. Plus, nowhere to put a spear if you're not holding it!

Quote:
The model I base this on is that of the ulti-role unit, with different members performing significantly different jobs within the same group: to take a historical example, I believe it was the Persian army that used paired missile troops and shield carriers (Sparabara), the shields in front to protect and the missiles behind to strike; early Roman tactics called for two lines of javelinmen and a last line of heavy-armoured spears (the Triares if I recall correctly), who separated on the battlefield into different waves of attack.


Shieldmen specifically paired with missile-shooters are a feature of other armies as well, such as in Richard the Lionheart's army on crusade. But the Roman battle lines you are thinking of are each several ranks deep. So the line of spearmen are well behind the main action until the first two lines (hastati and principes) have been driven back through them to regroup. And all of them would have shields and weapons in hand at all times.

Quote:
It seems that military development has gradually moved towards homogenisation of units, leading to the Napoleonic line regiment where everyone is armed the same way and performs the same battlefield roles.


Not really. Many ancient armies were nicely balanced, with heavy infantry, missile troops, and mounted troops. They might have placed emphasis on one particular troop type, but rarely to the exclusion of everything else. This only gets regularized in the Renaissance and later, with pike, shot, cavalry, and artillery, by the 18th century changing to regular musket-armed infantry (still with bayonets--there's your spears!!), grenadiers, light infantry, cavalry, and artillery. Nothing homogenous about that.

Quote:
In shield-wall and similar formations (I see spear combat as being an extrapolation of this, although again this is an assumption), you have the guys at the back (perhaps they're the poorer levies, worse-armed and armoured, but they can still contribute 'weight' to the forward push of the frontliners), who don't really have much to do save ward against missiles and 'support' the front ranks. I would imagine this support could extend to more than just replacing casaualties: handing forward more weaponry (as noted above, the spear is easily mass-produced and cheap, so why not take big bundles of them to battle for lost or broken shafts?), helping shove the front rank into the enemy (although perhaps not the most authoritative source, Bernard Cornwell's Warlord series give a pretty convincing depiction of the front ranks of shield walls being all but pinned in place by the enemy and their rear ranks), even catching the enemy's weapons to aid their comrades.


Welllll, remember we're covering a huge chunk of history, here! There's a very similar discussion going on right now on the Roman Army Talk board,

http://www.romanarmy.com/rat/viewtopic.php?t=23718

I don't think there's a lot of evidence for rotation of ranks in most medieval armies, at least not a standardized system. Easier to leave your best-equipped and most experienced troops up front. Battles involve a lot of lulls with both sides recoiling back a few yards to rest, so it's not like they're in hand-to-hand combat for hours on end. Passing weapons forward isn't impossible, but remember that most of these men had to equip themselves, and a man's spear might be his only real weapon! Darned if he's going to blithely hand it over to someone else. There aren't any bundles of spears to do this with unless you have some sort of centralized weapon production or storage, which you don't often see with the common infantry in the early middle ages.

Quote:
Overall, I would say that there's a fair likelihood that those in rear ranks would do more than just hang around uselessly; after all, by doing that they'd negate the vast majority of a unit's strength. Whether or not they participated actively in the battle (by going after enemy spears) or merely in support (replacing men and weapons), I can imagine they wouldn't be above a fair amount of improvisation.


Oh, they aren't useless! They add to the mass of the unit, preventing a fatal breakthrough. They can throw stuff. They can pull wounded men back out of the action to safety, or finish off any enemy wounded being advanced over. They can yell a lot and look menacing, which if done right can literally scare another army off the battlefield. No joke! But they're generally going to stick with what they know works, because improvising or doing something unexpected could get you killed if it doesn't work right, or distract or startle your buddies and get THEM killed. They won't appreciate it.

Most enemy spears are being thrust at your front-rankers. Those farther back won't have a chance to grab anything. Plus, suppose you do grab a spear, just behind the head, and the owner yanks it back out of your grip--your palm and fingers have just been sliced wide open, maybe severing tendons. You may not be able to hold your own weapon, now, and you risk a fatal infection.

Take my advice, young Jedi--keep your shield up, and your spear at the ready. Your turn will come.

Matthew
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Marc Pengryffyn




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PostPosted: Fri 29 Aug, 2008 6:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

My impression, based on extensive but casual reading I'll admit, is that the front ranks of opposing spear units could only expect to do any damage before contact, and that once the units were engaged the front ranks were pretty much pinned in place, with their weapons immobilized. The rear ranks then might have had the opportunity to thrust over the front ranks, but the things I've read always sounded like it was the co-ordinated pushing power of a unit that was the key factor when spear faced spear. Other factors being equal, the unit that had the best cohesion would push the other back and/or cause gaps to appear in its ranks, which were then exploited to break the opponent and cause a rout. As I understand it, far more casualties were caused during the rout than the actual fighting in ancient and medieval battles. The comparison I've often seen is to a rugby scrum. This only applies to fairly close-order formations, I suppose, but historically I think close-order spearmen seem to have consistently beaten looser formations of spearmen unless vastly out-numbered or tragically out-maneuvered. But my impression was that the cohesive pushing power of a well-trained and well-disciplined unit was what won the contest between spear and spear.

Again, this is simply the impression I've gained after a lot of casual reading. Others may have more detailed knowledge, and I'll be happy to be corrected!

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PostPosted: Fri 29 Aug, 2008 7:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
I wonder if there were ever men in the back of the lines feeding in spears to replace broken or lost spears, of if you just lost yours and generally died.


According to 16th-century military writers, pikemen were expected to drop their pikes in the press and fight on with swords and/or daggers. Smythe wanted them to do this if the first thrust failed to break the enemy. Others aren't as explicit, but they mention the same phenomenon.

Pikemen in the front lines did do plenty of dying. Ranks could be almost entirely wiped out.
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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Fri 29 Aug, 2008 9:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would figure the front ranks of the two formations would be pushing against each other, attempting to "break" the formation, with the rank behind them fighting between or over the heads of the front rank; excess guys might try to meet frontage and prevent flanking, and maybe even attacking the flanks themselves.

M.

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Graeme J. Colverson




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PostPosted: Fri 29 Aug, 2008 9:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Not really. Many ancient armies were nicely balanced, with heavy infantry, missile troops, and mounted troops. They might have placed emphasis on one particular troop type, but rarely to the exclusion of everything else. This only gets regularized in the Renaissance and later, with pike, shot, cavalry, and artillery, by the 18th century changing to regular musket-armed infantry (still with bayonets--there's your spears!!), grenadiers, light infantry, cavalry, and artillery. Nothing homogenous about that.


Apologies, but I was actually referring to individual units themselves (naturally combined-arms forces are justly popular!), rather than armies as a whole.

As I think of it, also, didn't Roman legions have training for the front rank disengaging and moving to the rear every few seconds, so that none of the soldiers had to fight for too long? I think the BBC series Rome showed this in one scene. If the Romans could do it, presumably a well-enough trained force of spearmen could do similar? Also, I think it was Tokugawa Ieyasu (or maybe another Japanese general, I can't remember exactly...) who rotated his units of spears throughout a battle, albeit on the whole-unit scale if I remember my source material right. But then as you say, these are isolated examples from a whole long history of spear-fighting, hard to make any overarching conclusions.

But I agree with the scrum concept: I think battles must have been desperate enough affairs that push coming to shove happened literally Wink

~Graeme
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Fri 29 Aug, 2008 11:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I got to fight a few times in a group who does Viking and Anglo-Saxon in the tenth century. Much of their fighting revolved around the spear in shield. In fact I'd say this was by far their primary form of fighting in the group. Some observations.

Once you engage the battle never stops till one side is defeated and breaks or pulls back for a rest. During this time even if rather close spears are shooting forward and shields are beating forward. The gent in front of you needs to be watched but a good spear can reach one or two men over so you have perhaps 3-5 people you need to be watching as well. If you are good you can make yourself a target and open a few of your enemies up for your friends while you worry about defending yourself. The people useing axes and swords clearly had a role but the reach and power behind that spear point clearly was enough to counter them or keep them at a distance. The back rows can also attack overhand but depends on how close the enemy is. If they try to bust through your shield wall you need them to add support as well as to stab/attack anyone getting too close. I think the biggest issue with grabbing spears is that means you either do not have a spear or shield in your hand as Matt I think stated. This means the rest of the line with theirs now has you at their mercy.

As far as who had what. At least from the 13th century you get distribution of weapons and shields being fairly common from lords and the king in England. Not sure how far reaching it goes. In many royal records such as the close and patent rolls you see massive orders of shields, spears and other weapons at times specifically stated for those arryed. This goes on at least till the 15th and 16th centuries. In the 15th the shield and pavaise is a very common bit of equipment, especially found in town and individual arsenals and often provided for by the lord, king or town body.

Fun topic. I'd love to get involved in a good shield wall battle again. Very interesting. We had limits on where we could attack as we used blunts but it becomes clear how effective such fighting could be.

RPM
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Sat 30 Aug, 2008 1:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bill Sahigan wrote:
Also, is anyone familiar with Chinese spear tactics? I remeber being told that they rely almost exclusively on spearmen(short spears IIRC) for infantry and has developed some pretty substantial ways of fighting with them. would like to be enlightened on this subject.


Not quite. The spear was a very important weapon in Chinese infantry tactics, but it was mostly used as part of combined-arms formations. The other dominant weapon was the bow or crossbow and, not suprisingly, we see lots of ancient and medieval Chinese formations based on a mixture of spears and bows/crossbows, often with the addition of other weapons as well (especially halberds/dagger-axes in the ancient period). It'd take way too much space to describe every one of them because Chinese combined-arms infantry tactics underwent dramatic evolution throughout its long history from (at least) the Zhou era all the way down to the modernization of the Qing armies in the late 19th century.


Matthew Amt wrote:
Oh, they aren't useless! They add to the mass of the unit, preventing a fatal breakthrough. They can throw stuff.


There ought to be a bit more emphasis the "throwing stuff" thing--the riot-control actions and the bigger student brawls I've seen usually have many people hovering behind the foremost line of hand-to-hand fighters, throwing things like rocks and bottles and batons over the heads of the front ranks. Poetic descriptions of ancient Greek battles also mention missiles flying over the heads of the hoplites engaged in hand-to-hand fighting.


Benjamin H. Abbott wrote:
Quote:
I wonder if there were ever men in the back of the lines feeding in spears to replace broken or lost spears, of if you just lost yours and generally died.


According to 16th-century military writers, pikemen were expected to drop their pikes in the press and fight on with swords and/or daggers. Smythe wanted them to do this if the first thrust failed to break the enemy. Others aren't as explicit, but they mention the same phenomenon.


Not just then; the Spartans were as famous for their skills with the sword as they were with the spear.


Graeme J. Colverson wrote:
Quote:
Not really. Many ancient armies were nicely balanced, with heavy infantry, missile troops, and mounted troops. They might have placed emphasis on one particular troop type, but rarely to the exclusion of everything else. This only gets regularized in the Renaissance and later, with pike, shot, cavalry, and artillery, by the 18th century changing to regular musket-armed infantry (still with bayonets--there's your spears!!), grenadiers, light infantry, cavalry, and artillery. Nothing homogenous about that.


Apologies, but I was actually referring to individual units themselves (naturally combined-arms forces are justly popular!), rather than armies as a whole.


Well, in that case, I'm afraid you're mistaken as well. Napoleonic line infantry might look homogeneous if we look only at their weaponry, but in fact they were trained to operate as combined-arms formations. I bet you're familiar with the practice of detaching companies from the line battalions to operate as skirmishers in front of the battalion's main body? And this was by no means unique to the French--it was practically the orthodox method of infantry fighting for much of the Napoleonic Wars. Note also that the British battalions of the time had a grenadier company and a light company, both of which were trained for special duties.

The idea of a definite progression towards homogeneity also falls down if we look at ancient armies, since there were plenty of examples of homogeneous units early on; just look at the Greek hoplite phalanxes of the early Classical period, which often fought as huge monolithic blocks of men. It was only later that the phalanx got broken up and more closely integrated with light infantry formations!


Quote:
As I think of it, also, didn't Roman legions have training for the front rank disengaging and moving to the rear every few seconds, so that none of the soldiers had to fight for too long?


Not "every few seconds." The replacement probably took place during lulls in the hand-to-hand combat, just like with most other close-order infantry combats, so the time between replacements would probably have been measured in minutes rather than seconds. The biggest difference was that the Romans did it in a better-organized fashion than most, with less time wasted bickering about who's next in line to take a place in the front rank.

Whole-unit rotation is a somewhat more contentious issue--we frankly don't know exactly how the Romans accomplished the trick of pulling the first line in and replacing it with the second, and so on. All we have are theories of varying plausibility and practicality. Gary Brueggeman's Roman army site has several pages dealing with the issue:

http://garyb.0catch.com/gaps1/gaps.html

http://garyb.0catch.com/gaps2_close/gaps_close.html

http://garyb.0catch.com/gaps3_phalanx/gaps_phalanx.html

http://garyb.0catch.com/line1_replacement/line_replacement.html


Oh well. Getting back to the original point of the discussion, one thing that strikes me as odd is the lack of mentions about the effect of a massed charge of spearmen. Spear-fighting didn't have to start with the two sides standing toe-to-toe in a shoving match; it could begin perfectly well with a coordinated rush by one or both sides, and often this initial rush in itself would have been enough to resolve the battle. The losing side could get unnerved by the more resolute side's charge and break away before contact. Or it could be less successful in maintaining the momentum and cohesion of its charge, so at the moment of contact it was pushed back and its formation shattered by the winning side. Look at the Greek hoplites (again) and their battles; most of these battles were decided quickly, either in the initial rush or only shortly afterwards. Of course, the Greeks might have been particularly good at this because their heavy bronze-faced shield did really well at transmitting the momentum of a rush into an enemy formation! (I've run with one strapped to my arm and it was really, really hard to stop. The effect on a straw dummy was just like a horse had collided with that dummy, only a bit less dramatic.)

BTW, there are some older threads that may be relevant to the topic of this discussion:

http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=10422&start=0

http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=9499
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Marc Pengryffyn




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PostPosted: Sat 30 Aug, 2008 2:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lafayette C Curtis wrote:
... one thing that strikes me as odd is the lack of mentions about the effect of a massed charge of spearmen. Spear-fighting didn't have to start with the two sides standing toe-to-toe in a shoving match; it could begin perfectly well with a coordinated rush by one or both sides, and often this initial rush in itself would have been enough to resolve the battle. The losing side could get unnerved by the more resolute side's charge and break away before contact. Or it could be less successful in maintaining the momentum and cohesion of its charge, so at the moment of contact it was pushed back and its formation shattered by the winning side. Look at the Greek hoplites (again) and their battles; most of these battles were decided quickly, either in the initial rush or only shortly afterwards. Of course, the Greeks might have been particularly good at this because their heavy bronze-faced shield did really well at transmitting the momentum of a rush into an enemy formation! (I've run with one strapped to my arm and it was really, really hard to stop. The effect on a straw dummy was just like a horse had collided with that dummy, only a bit less dramatic.)


The risk with charging in tight formation is losing your own cohesion, leaving you disorganised and vulnerable to counter-attack. I'd guess that only very well-trained troops could pull this off consistently, such as the hoplites you mention. Weren't there examples of swiss pike formations attacking at the run as well?

Marc

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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Sat 30 Aug, 2008 2:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

No, you don't need to be all that well-drilled. You just have to have practiced enough to find a running pace (not a flat-out run) that will allow you to keep a sustainable formation without having to slow down considerable. In fact, the hoplites themselves might not have been all that well-drilled; remember that most of them were citizens who had other occupations that would have taken up more time than training for war. Of course, the ones that were well drilled--like the Spartiates, the Theban Sacred Band, and some mercenaries--might have been able to run faster without losing their formation, thus giving them an advantage in a head-to-head clash.

(I have vague memories of a Spartan command that called for all the men in a phalanx to stomp with one foot--but I don't remember the name, which foot, and whether it was used only at the walk or also applied during the charge.)
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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Sat 30 Aug, 2008 3:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm at a bit of a disadvantage in this discussion, as I have sadly never had the honor of holding a proper spear. I've always wondered how well one uses it one handed; it's often depicted as such but it seems as if it would be a bit difficult to keep the point "on target". Perhaps training is the answer to that?

I'll be getting myself some ash poles and spearheads from native way sometime in the near future, and making my own spear for said experience, though I may want to invest in one from Arms and Armor as a reference model.

I often wonder if two formations clashed if they would be able to HOLD said formation? I would think it would as often fall into a general melee than not, considering how loud that struggle would be in comparison to how loud orders would be.

M.

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Marc Pengryffyn




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PostPosted: Sat 30 Aug, 2008 4:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lafayette C Curtis wrote:
No, you don't need to be all that well-drilled. You just have to have practiced enough to find a running pace (not a flat-out run) that will allow you to keep a sustainable formation without having to slow down considerable. In fact, the hoplites themselves might not have been all that well-drilled; remember that most of them were citizens who had other occupations that would have taken up more time than training for war. Of course, the ones that were well drilled--like the Spartiates, the Theban Sacred Band, and some mercenaries--might have been able to run faster without losing their formation, thus giving them an advantage in a head-to-head clash.


Fair enough. Thinking about it after I posted the above, it occurred to me that the drilling necessary for close-order maneuver would probably be sufficient to cover maintaining cohesion at a (slowish) run in a charge. Especially if there weren't any fancy direction changes or rough ground involved.

On the training that citizen soldiers received, I've always wondered about that. From what I've read of Greek battles, it always seemed that they were well-drilled, but maybe that only applied to the professionals- eg the spartiates and thebans you mentioned, and perhaps mercenaries like those in Xenophon's Anabasis. Do we have any records of the amount and type of training greek citizen-soldiers received?

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Justin King
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PostPosted: Sat 30 Aug, 2008 7:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The battles of Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn are instructive-in both cases the outnumbered Scots army had a core of seasoned, experienced troops and had time to drill in their schiltron formations to some extent prior to the battle. At Bannockburn I have read that Bruce drilled his army for as long as 2 months before the battle, and that those who did not assemble in time to participate in the drilling were kept as a reserve/support unit, hidden from the view of the English-the army of "small folk" who are said to have appeared suddenly on the hilltop in the midst of the battle and caused the English to panic and rout.

At Halidon Hill a Scots army of presumably similar makeup and superior numbers charged the English army (who, it should be noted, were situated on a hilltop with archers and a cavalry unit in reserve) and was sharply beaten with very heavy casualties. An account I have read says that at Halidon the Scots charged in disorder. I suspect that having troops well-trained and drilled to fight in formation made a big difference.
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Sat 30 Aug, 2008 12:30 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Graeme J. Colverson wrote:
As I think of it, also, didn't Roman legions have training for the front rank disengaging and moving to the rear every few seconds, so that none of the soldiers had to fight for too long? I think the BBC series Rome showed this in one scene. If the Romans could do it, presumably a well-enough trained force of spearmen could do similar?


Read that Roman Army Talk thread, it's exactly this topic:

http://www.romanarmy.com/rat/viewtopic.php?t=23718

But in short, there is no proof that the Romans had any regular system for replacing the men in the front ranks. There are hints and suggestions, and it's often called "logical" or "sensible", but the ancients didn't always have the same priorities we have today. We do know that whole units replaced or relieved those in front, but as has been said, we're not sure how this was done. I think it could have been as simple as passing the men in the relief unit through the files of the unit being relieved. Easy-peasy.

It should be noted that a lot of Greek phalanxes came apart as they charged. If the enemy phalanx was breaking up, too, no big deal, but Spartans were especially good at keeping their order. They simply practiced more.

Stuff like this gets discussed on RAT, too--all of the folks who know all the ancient sources are there, so it's the best place for answers on ANYthing Greek or Roman!

Valete,

Matthew
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