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Thread: What did the Swiss have that the Macedonian Phalanxes did not?

  1. #1

    Default What did the Swiss have that the Macedonian Phalanxes did not?

    Guys, whenever somebody gets into how awesome the phalanx was there's always somebody who kinda tries to take you down a peg by mentioning the Roman legions. What really irritates me is how, even if they are generally correct: Romans beat Greeks, they are ignorant of the fact that the Roman auxiliaries, horsemen, light or ranged footmen, slingers and archers, played an equal role as the citizen infantry did in bringing down the Hellenistic war machine. Also, it also seems to escape them that the phalanx was also not alone, albeit in defeat, and it's own cavalry and more flexible infantry share the blame for the losses of Macedonian armies. For if one were to examine those battles pitting legion vs phalanx, specifically in head on clashes between the two "representatives" of their respective styles of military, the phalanx was superior. It had nothing to do, however, with Macedonians being "innately better warriors" or Romans being "weaker", but due to the fact that weapons that are 2 or more meters longer than a gladius, arrayed in a deep, ever-moving, hedge of pike points create an insurmountable advantage - from the front. The so called tipping point into the phalanx's decimation was usually begun by those ranged, projectile wielding infantry or cavalry, and only exploited by the heavy legionnaires after. Also, the tipping point could only ever have happened once the phalanx was deserted (even if it was for a few moments) by it's allied cavalry and faster infantry, either because they were overeager and left the field of battle chasing down fleeing foes, or they were destroyed or routed themselves, again by the Romans' own auxiliaries. The havoc a gladius could inflict up close among broken lines of phalangites holding weapons too long for close combat is not to be understated. However, this damage done to broken or flanked armies - is it not the same no matter what type of weapon used or what race or style of combat utilized by the eventual victor? The crucial moment, the disruption of the phalanx lines, was done thanks to excellence of Roman auxillaries or allies (e.g. Attalus of Pergamon), the fighting spirit as a whole by the Romans, and the lack of support and cohesion internally of the Hellenistic army.

    Now, going to my question. What did the Swiss pikemen have that the phalanx did not? Aside from steel weapons and partial armor of steel, which is not an advantage in the Swiss time period as everybody was using steel at that point, what was the key to Swiss success? Swiss were described as FAST (primitive gunpowder artillery was useless against them), unstoppable in their charge, disciplined, capable of fighting effectively when enveloped, capable of flanking and encircling (as pikemen!) combined arms adversaries, and destroying those combined arms adversaries, when they themselves generally stuck to one form of combat. It's as if the Macedonian pikemen mega-evolved or something, and washed away were their negative traits: crucial need of support, slowness, vulnerability in flanks and back, inflexibility, etc. I'm not saying that the Swiss were able to completely get rid of problems inherent in the usage of pikes in large blocks of men, but they were able to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. Of course, the Swiss were ultimately defeated by concentrated volleys of bullets, and fortifications, and higher ground, and more competent artillery, but it's not as if Roman legionary style infantry would have fared any better if faced against such odds! So, HOW, did the Swiss do it?

  2. #2
    QuintusSertorius's Avatar EBII Hod Carrier
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    Default Re: What did the Swiss have that the Macedonian Phalanxes did not?

    Something else they overlook is that the Makedonian phalanx suffered a decline in quality from Alexander's day onwards. The blocks got larger and denser. Pikes got longer and armour heavier. All of which was a cover for a reduction in capability.

    In Philippos II's day, every phalangite was dual-trained a skirmisher, and could fight in both roles. As in he could tell off an entire block before a battle and tell them they were going to be javelineers for that encounter, especially useful for sieges. They were also described as fast and having an incredible fighting spirit. The survivors of these original bodies were still active in their eighties and nineties.

    By the time of the Roman ascent, things were so formalised, with defeated phalanxes defecting to the winner and mutually-understood norms of behaviour, that they bore little resemblance to those originals.
    Last edited by QuintusSertorius; September 27, 2017 at 06:37 AM.

  3. #3

    Default Re: What did the Swiss have that the Macedonian Phalanxes did not?

    To understand this, you have to understand how each of these formations was developed and (d)evolved.

    Macedonian phalanx was designed to be central element in combined arms army, facing against other tight formation of disciplined infantry. It didn't need mobility that much, so the whole formation was denser, harder to maneuver. While Phillip's/Alexander's troops were drilled to fight as skirmishers if phalanx was compromised or unusable and in advanced maneuvers that helped alleviate the deficiencies of phalanx, the primary focus was on the phalanx as an anvil.
    In Diadochi times, rulers realized that simplest way to defeat phalanx was bigger phalamx. This, and dispersion and depletion of hellenic population among diadochi lands that could provide trained phalangitai, resulted in Diadochi fielding progressively bigger but worse trained phalanx units. The decline in quality

    Swiss developed their formations with different purpose. The formation was looser, giving troops enough room to break into run, so they could perform the synchronized, organized charge, turning it into offensive tool at expense of defense....though the length advantage of pike over spears meant they still had edge over infantry or cavalry. As they proved their worth in battle, further tactics were developed. Even such stuff as duelling techniques with pikes were eventually developed and drilled.

    So in short, phalanx was developed, trained and further evolved for one specific purpose, and eventually failed because it sacrificed too much for it. Swiss pikemen basically trained for everything, so they could fight against almost any possibility. Though...I do dare to say that headon, without any flanking, Alexander's Pezhetaroi could demolish Swiss pikemen, on virtue of being able to bring many more pikes to bear over same length of line.

  4. #4

    Default Re: What did the Swiss have that the Macedonian Phalanxes did not?

    The Swiss developed it in a moment of time where the super-heavy cavalry of the late Middle-Ages was the way to go. Thus their pike formation was designed to counter that, requiring mobility and flexibility.

    The Macedonian phalanx was a direct evolution of the heavy hoplite formation of the Greek city states, hence resembled the purpose of heavy infantry clash. Indeed, they performed poorly against Romans due to the lack of mobility.

  5. #5
    Roma_Victrix's Avatar Gatorade, is it in you?
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    Default Re: What did the Swiss have that the Macedonian Phalanxes did not?

    The responses to the OP have been so good thus far that I can't think of anything to add! I also learned a thing or two. Thanks for these replies, you guys!

  6. #6
    z3n's Avatar State of Mind
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    Default Re: What did the Swiss have that the Macedonian Phalanxes did not?

    Yep, their quality degraded.

    Then Alexander drew up his army in such a way that the depth of the phalanx was 120 men ; and stationing 200 cavalry on each wing, he ordered them to preserve silence, in order to receive the word of command quickly. Accordingly he gave the signal to the heavy-armed infantry in the first place to hold their spears erect, and then to couch them at the concerted sign ; at one time to incline their spears to the right, closely locked together, and at another time towards the left. He then set the phalanx itself into quick motion forward, and marched it towards the wings, now to the right, and then to the left. After thus arranging and re-arranging his army many times very rapidly, he at last formed his phalanx into a sort of wedge, and led it towards the left against the enemy, who had long been in a state of amazement at seeing both the order and the rapidity of his evolutions.
    Heck, the best of them were invulnerable to the flank due to a moving square formation right out of battle.
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    Default Re: What did the Swiss have that the Macedonian Phalanxes did not?

    If that account was accurate would that mean if there was a submod of EB2 set during Philip's time and a bit onward, one can have the phalanx's speed be twice as fast as what it is set now? They would be the most dangerous close combat infantry in the entire game, able to handle anti-infantry threats (e.g. elephants, scythed chariots, proto-cataphracts) far better and decimate any other footmen that come near them.

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    Cohors_Evocata's Avatar Ordinarius
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    Default Re: What did the Swiss have that the Macedonian Phalanxes did not?

    Pants.

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    I actually don't know if the Swiss would have generally worn pants, given that tunics remained pretty prevalent throughout the medieval period AFAIK. I'm pretty sure the Macedonians wouldn't be wearing them though.
    Last edited by Cohors_Evocata; September 29, 2017 at 12:09 PM.
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    Default Re: What did the Swiss have that the Macedonian Phalanxes did not?

    Quote Originally Posted by Cohors_Evocata View Post
    Pants.

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    I actually don't know if the Swiss would have generally worn pants, given that tunics remained pretty prevalent throughout the medieval period AFAIK. I'm pretty sure the Macedonians wouldn't be wearing them though.
    Hosen, actually xD
    I recommend a pugio rather than a spear, because in close quarters combat, a dagger will serve you better than a spear.

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  10. #10

    Default Re: What did the Swiss have that the Macedonian Phalanxes did not?

    Quote Originally Posted by Rad View Post
    Hosen, actually xD
    So, it follows that Landsknechten had lederhosen....

  11. #11

    Default Re: What did the Swiss have that the Macedonian Phalanxes did not?

    Honestly, I'm still trying to wrap my head around the logistics of phalanx armies. Manufacturing, transporting and replacing/repairing thousands of sarissas would have been a huge undertaking. Maintaining a base of men who are trained appropriately sounds like the easy part to me.

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    Jurand of Cracow's Avatar History and gameplay!
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    Default Re: What did the Swiss have that the Macedonian Phalanxes did not?

    Quote Originally Posted by MrBlack103 View Post
    Honestly, I'm still trying to wrap my head around the logistics of phalanx armies. Manufacturing, transporting and replacing/repairing thousands of sarissas would have been a huge undertaking. Maintaining a base of men who are trained appropriately sounds like the easy part to me.
    This is the issue which perplexes me as well. I've got handy a part of an article on the size of the armies in the middle ages.Click image for larger version. 

Name:	John_France.jpg 
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    How was it possible to provide supply for much larger armies in the ancient times? Should we trust our sources on the number of combatants in, say, Magnesia battle?

  13. #13

    Default Re: What did the Swiss have that the Macedonian Phalanxes did not?

    Quote Originally Posted by MrBlack103 View Post
    Honestly, I'm still trying to wrap my head around the logistics of phalanx armies. Manufacturing, transporting and replacing/repairing thousands of sarissas would have been a huge undertaking. Maintaining a base of men who are trained appropriately sounds like the easy part to me.
    I think this is why phalangite warfare was in decline by the ingame period of history. Phalanxes were devastating if managed properly - but doing so required a military/logistics genius in most cases. Battles between Hellenistic rulers were settled not by who had the better phalanx, but who had the not-so-bad one. At least that's how I see it.

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    QuintusSertorius's Avatar EBII Hod Carrier
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    Default Re: What did the Swiss have that the Macedonian Phalanxes did not?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jurand of Cracow View Post
    How was it possible to provide supply for much larger armies in the ancient times? Should we trust our sources on the number of combatants in, say, Magnesia battle?
    Bigger, richer, more sophisticated states, simply put. Often with larger population to draw upon than in the medieval era. Population doesn't only increase forever, it declined after the collapse of the western Roman empire.

    An army of 25,000 men was not a difficult thing to raise for a Hellenistic power, whereas that would have been a huge host in the early medieval period. Besides which, apart from the Romans and the Persian invasion of Greece, they were rarely dispatched that far from their homelands.

  15. #15

    Default Re: What did the Swiss have that the Macedonian Phalanxes did not?

    Witnesses often failed to distinguish actual combatants and service people. As in, what they described as 10,000 troops could have easily been 5,000 soldiers and 5,000 chefs, slaves, smiths, etc... Not to mention the general's private retinue, which could have been huge, based on the social/political rank of that general.

    Persia relied on levies heavily, coming in great numbers but with low quality, as opposed to professional/mercenary armies of Hellenistic states. This offered lower numbers but generally better quality. And there is the citizen army somewhere in between, like that of pre-Marian Rome.

  16. #16

    Default Re: What did the Swiss have that the Macedonian Phalanxes did not?

    Quote Originally Posted by QuintusSertorius View Post
    Something else they overlook is that the Makedonian phalanx suffered a decline in quality from Alexander's day onwards. The blocks got larger and denser. Pikes got longer and armour heavier. All of which was a cover for a reduction in capability.
    I disagree with this, more armor is basically always good for infantry, especially polearm wielding infantry.

    The causes are likely just a decrease in rank quality.

    Similar how the Roman legionary in the late Empire was not exactly the same troop that was present in the late republican period.


    As to that, people underestimate the Macedonian kingdom, they did win quite a number of engagements during the 2nd century BC, including against Rome.

    The phalanx was still working quite well even as the Macedonian sun was setting.


    Quote Originally Posted by Pooploop View Post
    Swiss were described as FAST (primitive gunpowder artillery was useless against them)
    It actually wasn't useless, it is just that the Swiss simply moved to fast for static artillery to matter much, as they would assault the enemy on sight in full force and overrun the artillery positions before they could even set up a second volley.


    However, if that did not work, they did suffer, in fact, the ultimate defeat of the Swiss, the battle of Marignano, was basically carried by artillery and just finished off with a combined charge of infantry and cavalry.


    Quote Originally Posted by Pooploop View Post
    Now, going to my question. What did the Swiss pikemen have that the phalanx did not? Aside from steel weapons and partial armor of steel, which is not an advantage in the Swiss time period as everybody was using steel at that point, what was the key to Swiss success?
    Basically, halberds.

    Even if you closed in on a Swiss pike line, you would be greeted with a meatgrinder of halberdheads dropping onto your heads like a medieval combain.

    So essentially, this is what would be waiting for you if you got pass the pike line;

    https://i.imgur.com/E5jRq1W.jpg


    Also, most Swiss chronik's depict foot soldiery as heavily armoured on top with little to no armor on the legs;

    https://i.imgur.com/SDJ9Ixz.jpg

    https://i.imgur.com/SQW5Ct6.jpg

    https://i.imgur.com/QRrj8LA.jpg

    https://i.imgur.com/5GmIplF.jpg

    https://i.imgur.com/n0LkB21.jpg

    https://i.imgur.com/OFAxQFd.jpg


    Implying what we actually suspect to be true, that munitions grade half suits of armor were mass produced in such quantities than any reasonably employed foot soldier had one.

    In fact, we have a receipt of an armory in Milan pumping out 6000 of them in a single sitting to a single buyer for his troops.

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