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Thread: Was the sarissa/pike really so ineffective in inflicting casualties on the foe?

  1. #1

    Default Was the sarissa/pike really so ineffective in inflicting casualties on the foe?

    We all know the the EB2 dev team's official stance on phalanxes in the time period the game is set in. That they were but a shadow of their predecessors in Alexander's day, that they fought with the mindset of the relatively "chivalrous" or mercenary-minded soldier prevalent in the Hellenistic kingdoms (so they usually expected to not fight to the last, to be treated decently as prisoners of war, to be given chances to switch sides, etc.), and that their main purpose was just to "pin" the foe (being the anvil to the hammer of cavalry). All of that being said, I have two issues I find problems in how they are interpreted through the lenses formed by the points above; these being, one, the "manner" in which phalangites "pin" the foe, and, two, the actual ability of sarissas (the weapon itself) to kill.

    Before anything else, let's take a look at this excerpt brought to my eyes by Sint in the fan suggestions thread:

    From Plutarch, The Parallel Lives -

    For the Romans tried to thrust aside the long spears of their enemies with their swords, or to crowd them back with their shields, or to seize and put them by with their very hands;while the Macedonians, holding them firmly advanced with both hands, and piercing those who fell upon them, armour and all, since neither shield nor breastplate could resist the force of the Macedonian long spear, hurled headlong back the Pelignians and Marrucinians, who, with no consideration but with animal fury rushed upon the strokes that met them, and a certain death.When the first line had thus been cut to pieces, those arrayed behind them were beaten back; and though there was no flight, still they retired towards the mountain called Olocrus,so that even Aemilius, as Poseidonius tells us, when he saw it, rent his garments. For this part of his army was retreating, and the rest of the Romans were turning aside from the phalanx, which gave them no access to it, but confronted them as it were with a dense barricade of long spears, and was everywhere unassailable.


    So I guess, what the dev team got from this, and other accounts and historical works they perused in greater depth than I ever would was, in summary, that the phalanx was "unassailable". So how did they express this in the M2TW's engine? They created a static, perfectly ordered block of men, that no matter what happened, would remain a beautiful rectangle. Basically, they made living walls that would oh so gently prod opposing foes with ineffective pokes. The problem I have with this is that it completely flips the role of a sarissa, or a pike, of being a primarily OFFENSIVE weapon. The only time a pike wall would have to remain grounded is if they were about to receive an enemy cavalry charge (or elephants). Against other melee infantry, they thrust, advance, thrust, advance, thrust, advance, over and over again until the enemy is routed. That is literally all they have to and can do! They don't need to care that much for covering themselves, or shielding their rankmates, or footwork, or parrying, or even aiming. Their sarissas can pierce through most armor, their vulnerable states (the time when they pull back their heavy pikes in order to thrust a few seconds later) are covered by the FOUR OTHER ROWS of thrusting pikes, and they are almost always at a "safe" distance from the foe (due to the length of the pike). This is the PINNING power of a phalanx. Not being a static, passive wall, but a meat grinder of thrusting spears. All of this however hinges on the ability of the sarissa to actually KILL stuff. If most sarissas just gently clatter against enemies, and softly caress their breastplates, then heavily armored opponents can take those hits, divert the pikes, close the distance till their chins touch the phalangites' torsos and stab the pikemen's guts dead. It is the same idea (in a fencing bout) of using your foil to continuously thrust as to keep your foe from gaining optimal distance and time to attack. Defensive offense (True defense would be you actually parrying or blocking the attacks)! Again, however, if your foil attacks aren't credited with any points, then your opponent can just close in regardless of all your thrusting. Also, if you were to just hold your foil outstretched and slowly and occasionally poke them, it won't mean anything (quite like how passive phalanxes are now).

    The static blocks of EB2 I addressed by suggesting phalanxes just turn off their guard modes. It was factually proven that proper pikemen (phalangites and agema) definitively have FAR better performances with guard mode off. Now, I want to go one step further (oh no the careful unit stat balance!) in my personal modifications. How do I, in the context of the strict (and generally well formulated) EB2 unit stats, calculate a better but still reasonable attack stat for ALL pike users? How is an attack stat broken down? Who are the pike units in the vast EB2 roster? Can I just give pikemen an armor piercing bonus and call it a day? What is the number value assigned to a sarissa as a weapon? Please help??
    Last edited by Pooploop; July 10, 2021 at 11:09 AM.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Was the sarissa/pike really so ineffective in inflicting casualties on the foe?

    You might try changing your own playstyle a bit and mess around with overlapping pike formations. You'll get the meatgrinder you want. AI won't be able to use it though but...was it ever able to use pikemen effectively anyway?

  3. #3

    Default Re: Was the sarissa/pike really so ineffective in inflicting casualties on the foe?

    If you don't like the ineffectiveness of phalangites in EBII, try giving all of them "frighten_foot" to simulate the pike phalanx's demoralizing effect. They still wouldn't inflict any meaningful casualties, but could cause earlier routs against less motivated enemy infantry.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Was the sarissa/pike really so ineffective in inflicting casualties on the foe?

    I also am interested in this, a submod that makes phalanxes deadly/ more useful is welcomed. does not have to be part of game.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Was the sarissa/pike really so ineffective in inflicting casualties on the foe?

    Shoebopp, thanks for that suggestion, but I feel it kind of ties in in to what I was talking about - that the (previous) perception of the phalanx negatively colors its actual performance as expressed in this mod. The phalanx was effective therefore it was frightening, and less so the other way around (in the sense that it doesn't have the same visual impact as elephants, cataphracts, scythed chariots, or naked Gauls...heh). The whole historical view on them as blocks of men that just "pin" (so they defensively poke things while maintaining a beautiful rectangle) the foe while the real damage was done by the cavalry (which is still true but with context) has produced this sad meatshield of a unit in the EB2 mod. I mean there's a reason why Antigonid Macedonia, which shifted largely back to pitched infantry combat was still comfortable with the phalanx at its forefront. The phalanx by itself was a capable damage dealer, and could hurl back most other conventional infantry with ease (AS LONG AS THEY COME FROM THE FRONT). I mean, look at the later "iterations" of the phalangites, the pikemen, in the way later Renaissance-era conflicts. The so called "push of the pike" (so pikemen vs pikemen) battles were considered one of the bloodiest and messy forms of warfare imaginable, so seeing these picture perfect blocks makes my blood boil. Going back to the period the mod is currently set in, even in the battles where the phalanx lost against the "newer" form of infantry utilized by Rome, I can confidently say that those losses would be better attributed to faulty command and underutilized light infantry and cavalry. As long as the Romans were in front of them, the phalanx was at LEAST evenly matched with the Polybian era legionnaires. These guard-mode-on phalanxes of EB2 can't even win against old-school hoplites.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Was the sarissa/pike really so ineffective in inflicting casualties on the foe?

    Regarding the penetration power of the sarissa: From tests conducted by Cristopher Matthew, we can conclude that a powerful thrust of a sarissa was capable of achieving at least 110 J of kinetic energy. This number however is an underestimation of the actual energy value, since Matthew calculated the E of the weapon by taking into account its mass and velocity, instead of calculating with a significant added mass of the hand and the forearm of the user, which we know contributes a lot to the energy achieved by a thrust from the research of Ian Horsefall, “An assesment of human performance in stabbing”. To put this into context, Alan Williams in his book, “The Knight and The Blast Furnace” cites a research that states that the energy needed for a spearhead with a 40 degree angle to penetrate 1,9 mm of wrought iron is only 80 J, while from Blyth’ s paper, “The effectiveness of arrows against Greek armour during the Persian Wars” (1977) we know that it takes roughly 42 J to perforate 1 mm of work hardened bronze armour, slightly more if serious wounding is to be achieved. Historical mail armour required 80 J to pierce in the tests of Alan Williams. De Groote states in his study, “Establishing the combat effectiveness of the Greek hoplite shield”, that at 30 J of energy, using replica spears and a drop tower, piercing of the shield can happen. Therefore it is not unreasonable to assume, that sarissas were actually capable of penetrating shields and body armour alike, making the Macedonian phalanx one of the most terrifying formations of all time.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Was the sarissa/pike really so ineffective in inflicting casualties on the foe?

    Ampe211, if you can actually present reliable sources to the EB2 team IF they ask, they might (a tiny tiny chance), just might add armor piercing or even increase the crappy attack values of most pike wielding units. Well, the best I'm hoping for is that a dev member helps calculate a reasonable increase in the attack stat for my personal modifications. I mean, it took ages for the EB2 team to finally bring cavalry to its present effectiveness. I remember the old cav, pre-2. something, and boy were they horrible. Rear charges had the same impact as a wet blanket and...ughh...the useless javelin cavalry (the latter had a far longer and abysmal presence in the game). I really hope it doesn't take that long for the EB2 to take a hard look at the phalanx, because as they are now...they're really just movable walls - movable, flimsy walls that don't even hold up as well as other shielded infantry against projectiles. They're the "anvil" of the Hellenistic world, but any other regular hoplite-level (stat-wise) infantry is just as effective, cheaper, more available, and more useful (in the sense that they can kill stuff). Cheers to a no guard mode phalanx with better attack!
    Last edited by Pooploop; July 12, 2021 at 04:24 PM.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Was the sarissa/pike really so ineffective in inflicting casualties on the foe?

    The armour penetration attribute is utilised a bit oddly by the team, i would say. Weapons like the kopis or axes shouldnt really get ap, it is simply not realistic. A slash or a chop has virtually no chance of penetrating any kind of armour. One handed axes and swords reach energies of 60-130 J, mail armor for example requires 200 + J to cut through with a blade (180 J for a 26 layer lquilted linen vest) while the importance of blunt damage is seriously overestimated. On the other hand, we know from these tests which, due to their empirical nature no one could consider unreliable, that various types of historical armour can be penetrated by the most powerful one handed thrusts. “Biomechanics of the upper limb : applications of motion analysis and force measurement techniques” by Chadwick clearly shows, that energies in excess of 70 J can be achieved by well trained police officers. Two handed thrusts are naturally even more powerful, Matthew in his book “ An invincible beast” calculated with 110 J, but again, that is most likely an underestimation. Even if we were to take only half of this value, which would be ridiculous given that one handed thrusts achieve greater energies, it would still be a lot more effective at penetrating armour than any kind of sword or impact weapon. Therefore, if one wants to be realistic, balance aside, one must either erase the ap attribute from the game or give it to the sarissa wielding infantry, there is simply no other way around it.

  9. #9

    Default Re: Was the sarissa/pike really so ineffective in inflicting casualties on the foe?

    You should go back and check M2TW pikemen in vanila, see how they performed there. The devs have not made them useless on purpose, if anything phalanxes are vastly improved from vanilla.

    The main thing that affects phalanxes offensive performance (which seems to be the only thing you care about here) is the attack value and the guard mode. The first one can be improved by chevrons, so that an agema phalanx with gold chevrons will destroy most units from the front. When the secondary weapons were removed in mods, pikemen became invincible due to how the continuous poking from the pike tips would stunlock the other unit. So solutions were making them slower (no ultra fast pokes), and reducing the attack value (no easy kill on poke). Phalanxes have a lot of work put into them, by EB2 and other teams since M2TW came out.

    The guard mode I have discussed before, basically the behaviour with guard mode off makes the soldier step forward and close in with their target, so getting into sword range to be attacked. This works for the agema phalanx, but pantodapoi will be destroyed by any unit if they try being this offensive.

    Historically in this period hellenistic kingdoms scrambled for manpower and put anyone willing into their phalanxes, the single quality of the soldier wasn't as important as just getting enough weight for the formation. Phalanxes in training and equipment were nothing like in philip times, with only the agema corps remaining full time professionals.

    If you want more offensive phalanxes then the best way is to acquire chevrons, as that drastically improves their killing power.

  10. #10

    Default Re: Was the sarissa/pike really so ineffective in inflicting casualties on the foe?

    Unfortunately Hellenikon, this balancing act has turned the phalanx into something it was certainly not - a static meatshield. How about slightly (by 1-2 points only - representing the base attack value of the pike itself regardless of who's wielding it - or just adding the ap effect) increasing the attack of pike and removing the guard mode? I'd rather have a wide variety of performance levels across the pike roster rather than all of them being more or less at the same level of mediocrity. So eastern levies or egyptian natives can trounce (still to be seen though) lightly armored footmen (so skirmishers, nomad infantry, greek levies) but get mauled by regulars (old hoplites, equals, and above) , illyrians or whiteshields can trounce regulars but get mauled by specialized or elite melee infantry, and bronzeshields or royal phalangites can hold their own against the best and stab through everything ranked below them. Also, the tendency then of the NO guard mode pike blocks to reward well-dressed battle lines but EXCESSIVELY punish formations that (quite literally) overstep, beautifully encapsulates the finickiness of Hellenistic warfare and the extreme highs and lows of the quality of Hellenistic recruits. As long as the enemies were to the front, and your phalanx was well ordered, nothing can go wrong. However, the moment a section of your men pushes forward a wee bit too much, or one phalanx get hits from the rear, you are done for. If anything, guard mode - which is basically the ability of a unit to maintain PERFECT formation no matter what - is something only the MOST ELITE and well drilled of units should be able to pull off. Seeing a pantadapoi (is this how you spell them - the eastern levied phalanx?) block turn to this laughable scrum of awkwardly pointing pikes waving about in all directions is more realistic than seeing them maintain a perfect square all the time no matter who they're facing. Lastly, so what if you see a couple of enemy warriors break into the phalanx? That makes sense, especially more so the better armored and skilled they are! It's a sight gentler to the eyes rather than witnessing this strange rectangular forcefield or no-go zone around all pike formations.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Was the sarissa/pike really so ineffective in inflicting casualties on the foe?

    I thought I read guard mode was turned off for phalanxes in the change log. Is it still on by default in the latest release?

  12. #12

    Default Re: Was the sarissa/pike really so ineffective in inflicting casualties on the foe?

    It's been left on, for the reason Hellenikon stated. AI levy phalanxes get murdered with it off.

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Was the sarissa/pike really so ineffective in inflicting casualties on the foe?

    Oh good, I really don't like how disordered they get with it off personally, lose all semblance of a phalanx to my eyes.

    I never minded how they're used as the anvil to the hammer, but I'd be interested to see what results from some of Pooploop's suggestions like added attack or AP, or Shoebopp's idea of frighten_foot which sounds intriguing. Probably worth tinkering and testing and posting a submod thread about it, I'd certainly be keen to follow.

  14. #14

    Default Re: Was the sarissa/pike really so ineffective in inflicting casualties on the foe?

    I saw this thread and got curious. I use pikes a lot and whilst they're not shock troops, but I dont find them useless in 1 vs 1s so i did some tests.

    Custom battles, flat maps, 3 vs 3 similar tier units, medium difficulty, guard on, attack orders given, generals as bowmen who had a habit of eventually ruining everything when the ai ran out of ammo and flanked but w/e. I played as the pike phalanx.

    Battles were "won" when either each one of the three initial units had broken or if the bow generals flaked and caused a break (stupid AI not being stupid enough)

    3 tests of regular phalanx vs hoplites. phalanx won all three taking a lower ratio of casualties breaking all three hoplites before any of them broke

    regular phalanx still beating spartans until the bowmen flanked.

    2 levy tests, same pattern more pronounced. far lower rate of casualties for the phalanx, hoplites ran before the phalanx looked anywhere near breaking

    the most marginal test was agema phalanx vs shield bearers, the bowmen ruined the test, but it was 50/50 at worst in terms of who was going to win the battle. looked like the shield bearers would probably break before the agema phalanx but i "think" they'd possibly end up killing a grater proportion of the enemy force.

    tldr of testing. even if phalanx warfare is slow its very effective in unit vs unit tests until the elite category (and even here its still relevant)

    There's one big assumption here. that its fair to test unit vs unit when phalanx units are bigger. I personally think its reasonable for a couple reasons - 1 the AI often flat refuses to run onto a wall of pikes (Stupid AI not being stupid enough), making it hard to do good test (you end up with ugly blobs as often as clean lines) and possibly impossible to do good tests without the same number of units to try and move about. 2 you get 20 units an army, not 10 big units or 30 small ones.

    I've not seen anything to suggest pikes need a buff unless hoplites are no good either.

    they maybe slow, possibly too slow, but theyre very effective even without a hammer to their anvil.

  15. #15

    Default Re: Was the sarissa/pike really so ineffective in inflicting casualties on the foe?

    If anything, the hoplites are too good. They are one of the best heavy infantry in the game.

    I don't want to derail the thread, I just want to say that hoplites are anything but bad.

  16. #16

    Default Re: Was the sarissa/pike really so ineffective in inflicting casualties on the foe?

    Quote Originally Posted by Aneuth View Post
    I don't want to derail the thread, I just want to say that hoplites are anything but bad.
    Agreed, but my key point - on a unit for unit basis, pikes are strong vs equivalent hoplites

  17. #17

    Default Re: Was the sarissa/pike really so ineffective in inflicting casualties on the foe?

    I would also add that in auto-resolve, pike units seem to be doing better. I've got Bosporan and Epirus games ongoing and even veteran horse archers take lots of hits on auto resolve, but phalanxes as Epirus just grind through anything. The higher quality, the better of course, but even levy phalanx seems to get good results for auto-resolve.

  18. #18

    Default Re: Was the sarissa/pike really so ineffective in inflicting casualties on the foe?

    Ofc it was not effective on inflicting casualties. Ofc. So it should stay as it is a defensive mechanism with conjuncture with other battle elements. Nobody of sound mind would have ran into pikes. Don t be ridicilous. The reason people got into believing that pike was deadly was because everything in Rome 1 was done by devs to be imbalanced. Just take a look what archers did to armies in Rome 1. I was playing competetevely in that time Rome1 multiplayer, the first thing people did on 1v1 battles was to figure how to counter opponents archers wich as mentioned were insane if not stopped during the battle do ther job. Sarrisa's were done Op in that game aswell so noobs played Makedonia , also rome had Op units too, like urban cohorts which everybody hated in multiplayer so games were hosted with certain rules without specific units or with unit number limitations. So pikes are Op in Medieval2 as they are. Especially in auto-resolve.Devs should not make them more Op as they are now. Pikes were a weapon of terror and strategy rather than killing machines. They were a strategic unit used with other battle elements, they were not destroyers of armies.
    Last edited by bordinis; July 20, 2021 at 05:59 AM.

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Was the sarissa/pike really so ineffective in inflicting casualties on the foe?

    No. The reason people believe sarissas were under the right conditions capable of inflicting heavy casualties is that they were indeed terrifying weapons to face on the battlefield. You cannot seriously assume that anyone playing this mod is drawing conclusions in regards to the capabilities of historical arms based on Rome:Total War. That is just ridiculous. The sarissa is by the virtue of being a heavy two handed thrusting weapon more capable of dealing with armored opponents than any other melee weapon in the game. We have tests available that clearly show that someone wielding such a weapon was able to generate enough KE to pierce most types of armor of the period, no to mention shields. How exactly would a formation of densely packed warriors using these weapons be less efficient in inflicting casulties than lets say hoplites, and why does units with weapons such as one handed axes get the ap attribute when phalangites dont? The problem with the phalanx in this game or most if not all other games is that the way it operated is impossible to implement. The inherent flaws of the formation, its inflexibility and thus inability to win battles on its own cannot really be rwflected in a format that allows the player to have much more thorough control over an army than a historical commander had. Without these weaknesses the phalanx indeed is and would have been a nearly invincible formation and this necessitates its real capabilites in frontal engagement to be reduced not to make it OP. IMO the OP doesnt necessarily want the formation to be much more powerful than it is now, he just doeant like the way it operates. That being sad, balance comes first, and i agree that the phalanx units are powerful enough as they are now.

  20. #20

    Default Re: Was the sarissa/pike really so ineffective in inflicting casualties on the foe?

    People want to win more with their factions represented in game. But phalanx is already insane in Medieval 2. There is a good reason why their attack value is made so low. And yes In Rome 1 many types of units were insane by their killing departments. We, thus in EB2 have more stategic approach to unit functions. In auto resolve phalanx is probably the best unit in the game already( Try taking a settlement in auto-resolve with two or tree mistophoroi phalangites, I m pretty sure you will see clear defeat on the screen). And yes the main problem is that phalanx cannot be represented properly in this game due what CA did with it. Especially the most frustrating thing in the game is that we have the same battle engine as Rome 1, yet we have slowed down unit animations with no particular reason. The sadest truth of med 2. Hence, the reason why Phalanx and other units and their charge system looks and feels so unsatisfying to play with and not effective at all. Giving units javelins destroys the charges made by infantry and so on. Unless we had people who did animations or found the way to make animations faster as was in Rome 1.
    Last edited by bordinis; July 20, 2021 at 09:27 AM.

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