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▶  More from Ancient Combat A Dread Grace
Weapon and Troop Notes to Phalanx versus Legion
With Descriptions of Early Modern Infantry Parallels

-1. The pilum, or heavy javelin was a poor defensive spear but a truly nasty offensive weapon which would penetrate a shield with a head shaped just like a Macedonian cavalry squadron piercing a battle line, and would then bend, being made of soft iron and heavy on the back, so that the enemy footman must through away his shield, which is more important in sword and shield combat than the sword.

-2. The “Iberian” sword, or gladius, was such a nasty weapon in the hands of the Iberian tribes that the Romans adopted it. It is the best designed cut and thrust blade of the ancient world and was meant to thrust against slashing weapons and cut against stabbing weapons. One Centurian cleaved off an elephant trunk with a gladius. Hannibal’s men traded in their kit for Roman stuff any chance they got.

-3. The sarrissa of the phalangite was so long that they whipped in the wind, and were made of ash. The first five men levelled them and the last 11 men kept their spears up to deflect arrows and such and could drop them when need be to impale intruders. If it came to sword strokes against Romans, these guys were totally fooked with their inferior swords. Their light shield was strapped loosely from their shoulders and their entire kit was so much lighter than the Roman swordsman that they could triple march him on strategic operations. These men were ordered in files of 16, with about 1200 men to a phalanx or roller, each commanded by a high ranking lord.

-4. Without stirrups, the horse companions stabbed down overhanded with a heavy lance, like a pendulum of doom, and then laid about with falcatas or the xiphos, two wicked cleaving swords.

-5. The provocator seems to have been a gladiator type based on the foot companion.

-6. The Thraex was the most aggressive type of gladiator, based on the Thracian swordsman who served as Macedonian flank guards.

-7. The Secutor or Chaser, with his small sword and big bowed shield was a type of aggressive gladiator which seems to have been based on indigenous Italian enemies from whom the Romans took their shield type from, perhaps the Samnite tribe. This heavy scutum shield was better for formations than the more oval shield used against the phalanxes in the Republican Period. Overall we should remember that the Roman kit we are used to seeing, with the fluted helmet and banded steel plates and bowed square shield, was the imperial kit from 100 A.D. or so and was optimized for siege operations, not the battlefield. The legions which won the Empire in Republican times were armed more like the standard bearers and Centurians of the Imperial era, with mail, animal skins and leather armor.

-8. The late medieval Swiss, if they had a time machine, could have been Alexander’s best men. They still guard the Pope due to some epic last stand in Rome by 180 of them and became so arrogant in the early age of gunpowder that they would demand a raise before entering battle. Eventually, at some point in the late 1500s I think, a regiment of them got lured into a depression and enfiladed by musketeers. Their losses were so devastating that the cantons gave up the mercenary trade, except for their commitment to the Pope, and became a neutral nation. Pike men would thereafter be assigned to protect musketeers from horsemen, those three basic troop types dominating the 1600s.

-9. The closest early modern equivalent to the Roman Legion was the Spanish terico, essentially a mixed-weapon infantry regiment, finally defeated at Rocroi in 1648 to end the 30 Years War and bring about the Peace of Westphalia.

-10. The closest early modern formation to Alexander’s 35,000-man [note that legionnaire armies raged from 30-80,000 strong, with Hannibal slaughtering them in great, gory heaps] expeditionary force would be the 18,000-24,000-man strong Swedish army under Gustofus Adolfus circa 1630, which was nigh unbeatable in the 30 Years War. Swedish soldiers used to make German Catholics drink sewage, the entire war being such a nightmare that it convinced kings to invest in standing slave armies manned by criminals and officered by aristocrats with a personality somewhere between that of Donald Trump and an NFL coach and retarded Germany’s development as a nation by a good 150 years.

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