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Phalanx

PHALANX, a name given by the Greeks to the ■whole of the heavy-armed infantry in an army, but particularly to each of the grand divisions of that class of troops. The number of men composing a phalanx was various, but the general depth of the tiles in the body so called was sixteen men. The primary signification of phalanx is uncertain; a straight bar or rod of any material appears to have been so called, and the word may have been applied to a corps of troops, in line, from a fancied resemblance in the latler to such object. Eustathius, in his notes on the Iliad, supposes that the term was applied to bodies of soldiers from the clubs orstakes which werethearmsof the primitive warriors.

According to the fabulous story in Polyajnus, the first who disposed troops in a regular order for battle was Pan, the leader of the army of Bacchus in the expedition to India; he also divided the body of men so formed into two parts, designated the right and left wings, and he gave to the whole the name of phalanx. (Stratag., lib. i.) It is easy to imagine that a disposition of troops in solid masses, such as the phalanges were, would be adopted in the earliest ages, when the military art was in its infancy, and when instinct must have led men, in tinio of danger, to keep themselves collected together for the sake of mutual support. In antient warfare, the success of an action depended on the power of resisting the shock of an enemy's charge, and hence it was important to have the bodies of infantry arranged in deep order, that they might maintain unbroken their position on the ground.

The Greek troops are represented by Homer as so disposed, and the word phalanges is, in several parts of the Iliad, applied to the masses of the combatants, both Greeks and Trojans:

'AfiQi 3' tip Atavrai JoiOVC UTTaVTO tjuiWayyig (II., xiii. 126: see also 11., iv. 332, vi. 83); and the close order of the Greeks previously to coming into action is described in xiii. 130, and the succeeding lines.

A like disposition prevailed among the Egyptians in the earliest times of their monarchy, and of this fact some interesting vestiges are preserved in the sculptures on the walls of the temple at Ipsambul and of tho palace at Luxor. At the former place an Egyptian army is represented as marching in separate divisions of chariots and foot soldiers drawn up in Quadrangular bodies, in ranks, and in close order. Each man of the infantry is armed with cuirass and helmet, and cairies a shield and a short javelin; and among tho figures is that of Sesostris in full panoply, standing in a highly ornamented car. (Rosselini, 7 Monumenti delf Egitto, plates 87 to 103.) But, from the nature of the arms and the apparent discipline of the troops, it may bo inferred that, at the epoch to which the monuments relate, the tactics of the Egyptians were in a very advanced state, and consequently that the order of battle there represented was in use among that people at a lime much more remote than the age of Sesostris.

The antient Jewish army, modelled probably on that of the people who had long held them in servitude, was divided into bodies of 1000 men each, which were again divided into companies of 100 men (2 Sam., c. 18); and it is plain, from other passages in the Scriptures, that these were further subdivided into sections. It consisted both of heavy and of light armed troops: the former wore helmets, coals of mail, and greaves, and in action they carried bucklers and used both spears and swords; the latter also carried shields and used bows or slings. The men who, from the different tribes, assembled at Hebron to confirm the election of David, are described as being armed with spear and shield, and their discipline is indicated by the expression— they could keep rank.

The troops in tho army of Croesus are said by Xenophon to have been drawn up in vast masses, tho depth of the Lydians being thirty men, while that of the Egyptian auxiliaries was one hundred; and it is added that the whole army had the appearance of three great phalanges. (Cyropeedia, lib. vii.) It is sufficiently evident therefore that the deep order of battle, with a regular arrangement of tho men in rank and file, and some systematical division of the phalanx into sections, prevailed in the earliest times; hut it is to tho Greek writers that we must go for an account of the particular scales of subdivisions by which the evolutions of the phalanx on the field of battle were facilitated, and which, joined to the high discipline of the troops, gave to the body so denominated the reputation which it enjoyed till the fall of the Macedonian kingdom. The formation of such scales of subdivisions, and sumo changes in the arms or armour of the mon, are probably what are meant when it is said that Lycurgus, Lysander, and Epaminondas introduced the phalanx among the Lacedemonians, the Argives, and the Thehans. The Macedonian phalanx, the formation of which is ascribed to Philip, the father of Alexander, appears to have been a body of 6000 men, chosen for their good military qualities, particularly well armed, and subject to certain strict regulations. And its efficiency was so great, that the name of the country became afterwards very generally applied to what was in reality the usual designation of the bodies of heavy-armed infantry in the Grecian armies.

Xonophon, though constantly using the word phalanx in speaking of the whole body of troops which he commanded in the retreat from Cunaxa, when he has occasion to mention the formation or employment of a small body of men for any particular purpose, gives it the name of Xoxoc, and such body appears to have consisted either of 50 or 100 men. On one occasion, some lochi heing detached from the army, two of them, amounting to 100 men, are said to have been cut off (Anabasis, lib. i.); and at another time, from an apprehension that the order of the phalanx would be broken in ascending a mountain, the army was divided into separate lochi of 100 men each. (Ib., lib. iv.) But in the ' Cyropredia' (lib. ii.) a division of 100 men is called rd£if, and this is stated to have been subdivided into sections of ten and of five men each.

The scale just hinted at was probably peculiar to the Athenian army, for Xenophon describes the Spartan troops as formed into six fiopat, each commanded by a polemarch; he adds also that the mora was divided into four Xuyoi, eight TrevrtjKoffW'c, and sixteen Ivu/ioriai. (De Repub., lib. xi.) The mora is said to have consisted of 600 men, but its strength appears to have varied considerably at different times.

The only existing works expressly written on the subject of the Greek tactics are those of AElian and his abbieviator Arrian, and these authors lived in the time of Hadrian and Antoninus, that is, long after the age in which the phu'lanx was superseded by the legion. Therefore, since their descriptions do not agree with what we find concerning the phalanx in the works of Tlmcydides and Xenophon.it seems reasonable to conclude that they appertain to the state of this body of troops in and subsequent to the times of Philip and Alexander. Aelian makes the phalanx to consist of 10,384 men of the class called on-Xn-ai, or heavyarmed infantry; but this must be understood to be the whole body of that denomination in an army, and to be composed of four simple phalanges. Joined to the phalanx is a division {liriray/ia), consisting of half that number of men of the class called 1//1X01, or light-armed troops, and another, called also an epitagma, of cavalry (Ijrjrslj). consisting of one-fourth of the number.

The peltastce (ff(Xxnrrni), who are also mentioned by AElian, but not as appertaining to the phalanx, united in some measure the firmness of the heavy with the agility of the light armed men. They were first instituted by the Athenian commander Iphicrates, and in the course of time they became very numerous in the Greek armies: they served as the guards of the princes, and were often reckoned among the heavy-armed troops.

The number above mentioned is expressly said to have been chosen because it is continually divisible by 2, and thus admits of a very simple distribution of numbers for the subdivisions. What really was the strength of the phalanx when in the field, during the existence of the Macedonian monarchy, is uncertain, and probably it varied much. The army of Alexander at the battle of Arbela is said to have consisted of two great phalanges, each divided into four parts, which were also called by that name; there were besides, two divisions of peltaslte; in all, according to Arrian, 40,000 infantry: and there were 7000 cavalry. (Exped. Alex., lib. iii.) At the battle of Raphea, between Antiocltus and Ptolemy, there is said to have been a phalanx of 20,000 men in the army of the former. (Polyb., lib. v., c. 8.)

The simple phalanx, according to Aelian, consisted of 4096 men; one half of that number, or 2048 men, constituted the Hierarchy (ptpapx'ta) ; and one-fourth, or 1U24 men, was called a chiliarchy (xiXmpxi'a). One-fourth of the last constituted a syntagma (avvray/ia), or xenagy (i-fvayia), which was a complete square of 16 men each way; and the lowest subdivision was called lochus (\"x°c)> decuria (fordc), or enomoty (ivuipoTla), which is, by that writer, considered as a single file of 16 men. The oflicers do not appear to be included in the numbers of the different divisions: each xuiiagy had its own chief or captain (ovvTaypaTupxnt) at the head, and a lieutenant (ovpayot) brought up the rear. The leader of a single file is called by Aelian a decurion, perhaps because originally the file consisted of 10 men. A phalangarch commanded each phalanx.

Aelian divides the epitagma of light troops into sections, each of which has half the strength of the corresponding division in the phalanx; the lowest, division is the lochus or file, which consists of 8 men. The epitagma of cavalry is divided in the same proportions as the bodies of infantry, down to the lowest subdivision, which is called IXq, and is made to consist of 64 men.

The phalangists were armed with helmets, cuirasses, and greaves; and in the early ages they carried an oval buckler and a pike, the latter about 10 feet long. The change introduced by Philip in the arms of the oplitse consisted in the substitution of a larger shield, and of the e&piffoa, a pike from 18 to 20 feet in length. The arms of the peltasta) seem to have differed from those of the oplita; chiefly in the buckler (from whence their designation is derived) being round and only about two feet three inches in diameter, and in the pike being short. It is said that Iphicrates, instead of a metal cuirass, allowed to this class of troops only a corslet of strong linen; but apparently this regulation was not always followed. The light-armed troops were frequently provided with a helmet only, and their arms were small javelins, bows, or slings.

A phalanx, in line, was considered as being constituted of two equal parts or wings (t'tpara); there was no central division, but the place of junction of the two wings was called the fyi^aXoc. In the usual order of battle it was drawn up with its front parallel to that of the^nemy, but it not unfrequenlly happened that one wing was kept retired. This last method was practised by Epaminondas at the battle of Leuctia; the wing engaged was strengthened so as to have 50 men in depth, and the line gradually diminished to the opposite extremity, where it was only six men deep. Sometimes also two phalanges advanced in columns, with their heads united, the two lines gradually diverging to the right and left; and this is that disposition which was called !fi£o\ov, or the wedge.

The phalanx was frequently drawn up in the form of a quadrangle, which might be solid or hollow, according to circumstances; and this disposition was called the plinth (nr\iv9tov), or the plccsium (irKataiov). When a double phalanx was formed with their fronts in reversed positions, the order was called a/x^iVro/joc. The order called avriarofios seems to have been similar to the last, except that the men faced in opposite directions, from the centre towards the wings. When standing at open order, each soldier in the phalanx was allowed a square space about six feet each way; but when prepared for action, this was reduced to three feet, and occasionally to about eighteen inches. The fileleaders and the rear-rank men were always chosen from the best of the troops, for on the first depended chiefly the success of the charge, and the latter performed the important duty of urging on the men immediately before him, in order that the whole body might not give way by the counter-pressure of the enemy's mass.

After the introduction of the Macedonian sarissa above mentioned, the phalanx might present a formidable array of five ranks of such weapons projecting horizontally before the front of the line; for, admitting the men to bo three feet from each other in depth, and that each man held in his hands about six feet of the length of the weapon, the point of that which belonged to the fifth man would project two feet beyond the file leader. Aelian also mentions another and perhaps a preferable practice, which was that of giving to the men from the first to the third or fourth rank spears successively longer in proportion to the distance of the rank from the front; in which case all those weapons must have projected equally before the line of troops.

The position of the phalanx was sometimes changed by a wheel of the whole body on either extremity as a pivot: and this was done with the men drawn up in close order. But the reversion of the front was performed in one of the three following ways:—The Cretan method, as it was called, consisted in making each file countermarch almost upon the ground it occupied, the file-leader going to the right-about, and moving to the rear, all the men of the file following him till the rear-rank man came into the line which was before the front. The Spartan method was also performed by a countermarch, but the file-leader moved to the rear, followed by the other men, till he arrived at a distance from his first place equal to twice the depth of the phalanx, the reai-rarfk man only changing his front. Lastly, the Macedonian method was performed by the front-rank man going right about on his own spot, the others passing him in succession and arranging themselves behind him. These movements appear to have been preferred by the Greeks to a simple change of front to be effected by making each man turn upon the ground he occupied, since they allowed the fileleaders to constitute always the foremost rank of the line.

The number of men in front of the phalanx was doubled by causing every second man in the depth to move up to the interval between every two men in the rank immediately before him; thus reducing the depth of the phalanx to eight files without extending the front. And when the front was to be extended without increasing the number of men in it, the troops merely, by a flank movement, opene:'. out from the centre each way. Arrian justly observes that those evolutions should be avoided when in presence of the enemy; and he adds that it would be preferable to extend the front by bringing up cavalry or light troops to the wings.

On a march, the phalanx was thrown into a column, whose breadth depended on that of the road; and a formation of somo separate bodies, consisting of 100 men each, for the purpose of protecting the main body while returning to its former order after having passed a defile, is mentioned by Xenophon (Anabasis, lib. iii.) as being then, for the first time, employed. The march of two phalanges in parallel and contiguous columns is slated to have been sometimes made by the columns keeping their proper fronts towards the exterior; but sometimes both columns were in like positions, the front of one and the rear of the other being towards the exterior, on the two sides of the line of march.

The strength of a Grecian army consisted in the deep array of its heavy infantry. No body of men less protected by defensive armour could make any impression upon the soTid phalanx: and the latter, by the momentum of its charge, could not fail to overwhelm any troops who were differently formed. But the advantage of the phalanx, while it continued embodied, did not extend beyond the immediate field of battle; and the enemy, if he thought proper to decline an engagement, could, without interruption, except that which might arise from the light-armed troops and cavalrv, ravage the country, and by cutting off its supplies compel the army to retreat. The phalanx moreover could only be advantageously employed on ground which was nearly level and free from obstacles; since whatever tended to derange its compact order, necessarily diminished or annulled the efTect of its charge. At the battle of Issus, the phalanx of Alexander, while in a state of disorder, as the troops were passing the river, was engaged with the Greeks in the service of Darius; and though it succeeded in repelling the enemy, it sustained considerable loss. (Arrian, Exped. Alex., lib. ii.)

Polybius, in comparing (lib. xvii., extract 3) the efficiency of the phalanx with that of the Roman legion, observes that the latter never opposed the former on a line parallel to its front, but always with one wing thrown back; by which means it broke the line or else compelled the phalanx to change its disposition; in either case there were formed intervals of which the legionaiy soldiers could avail themselves to engage the phalangists in tlank, and thus render their close array and their unwieldy weapons useless.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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