1. Blacksmith11

    Blacksmith11 Member

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2018
    Messages:
    28
    Likes Received:
    21

    Fantasy/Pre-Modern Melee Combat Mistakes That Are Too Common

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Blacksmith11, Aug 5, 2018.

    It is typical in fiction. The hero dons his armor grabs a long sword and just goes swinging it at guys/orcs/goblins/(Insert foe here).

    Several problems:

    1. Armor is not useless and a foe in even cloth armor will shrug off a sword slash.

    2. If our hero has just a long sword and his foe is bringing a shield and a polearm, the hero is at a distinct disadvantage as the spearman is protected by the shield, likely has a helmet and has a 5 foot range advantage minimum with the polearm.

    3. Long swords are sidearms in case your primary polearm breaks. It is not the first weapon of choice. The Romans got away with their way of war for so long because they had a large shield to bash people with and faced largely unarmored enemies who lacked discipline. As their foes started armoring up and getting disciplined, they began fielding spears more often.

    4. Long swords are actually three weapons in one. The pommel doubles as a mace and the cross guard doubles as a warhammer. Fencing manuals from the 15th Century empathise using the cross guard and pommel against armored foes as seen in Halbschwert against Mordstreich in the Codex Wallerstein Plate 214. This would knock an armored opponent out and enable a killing blow when they were down though a visor or other gap.

    5. Against unarmored opponents, half-blading as you thrust, adds substantial force to the thrust as opposed to thrusting with both hands on the handle and if you're strong enough, you can even thrust through chain mail with such a thrust. As a side note, the Mainz-type Gladius was specifically designed with thrusting through chain mail with a specialized tip for that purpose. It is also good at cutting and will take an unprotected arm off.

    So in summary, if your hero is packing a long sword, its a sidearm to a polearm. If he brings it out against armored foes, he is using the pommel and cross guard to knock his foe to the ground and if thrusting the blade, he will half-blade it.

    Anyone else want to add any pet peeves they notice in Fantasy/Pre-Modern Melee Combat stories that just rub you wrong and want to see fixed by authors writing in those types of settings for more believability.
     
  2. BlitzGirl

    BlitzGirl Active Member

    Joined:
    May 30, 2018
    Messages:
    300
    Likes Received:
    256
    The only problem with this is that it works great for historical fiction, but in fantasy, which is completely fictional, often with its own in-universe rules, people have no issue accepting "untrue" things for the sake of entertainment. If every fantasy story followed real-world rules of combat to the letter, it wouldn't be very interesting after a while.
     
    Cave Troll likes this.
  3. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2015
    Messages:
    11,422
    Likes Received:
    11,413
    Location:
    Where cushions are comfy, and straps hold firm.
    Yeah even in Sci-fi where swords are used, a little exaggeration doesn't hurt.
    Granted a Medieval knight vs. A 5 meter tall war-frame would be soup in a can. :D
     
  4. Infel

    Infel Senior Member

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2016
    Messages:
    373
    Likes Received:
    402
    Everyone has Equipment: from what I've researched, armor wasn't something that every one of your soldiers had. Feudal law required you to bring your own equipment, and if you were a poor farmer, sometimes that was just a stick you found out in the woods. That was a pretty common weapon during the Peasant's Revolt. Having your entire army outfitted with the best gear was pretty rare. It's one of the reasons the Bow was so powerful: almost anyone could rove out to the countryside and fashion one. I read once that in England, every boy over the age of 7 was required by law to start training with a bow in case they were needed.

    Armor Doesn't Matter: Stamford Bridge says you're wrong.

    Knight Sword Duels: The idea of two armored Knight's fighting to the death is beautiful and romantic. From what I understand, the actuality was two rusty tin cans beating each other over the head with swords until one of them got lucky and grabbed the other's knife.

    Wish Ransoming Was a Thing: During the hundred years war, most captured knights expected to be ransomed back to their home countries. It was actually pretty damn honorable; they'd give their name, get logged down, and then be free to go and live for the next 'x' amount of time. Then, on the appropriate day, they'd show back up where they were supposed to and be ransomed back home. They were honorable enough to follow that rule. I think that's pretty cool.
     
  5. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2015
    Messages:
    974
    Likes Received:
    884
    I don't know if I buy the polearms are always better than swords thing, at least in the environments "heroes" usually fight in.

    The polearm lets you hit from farther away, but it is always harder to retreat swinging than advance swinging. If the swordsman has armor that can reliably deflect a one-handed thrust, or is able to parry the first blow of the polearm, he will be able to close the gap and swing from inside the preferred range of his enemy. Spear walls were sweet because the people in the second and third lines could protect the front row when the enemy got shield to shield. In a one vs. one situation, you don't want to be shield to shield with a polearm against someone with a shorter weapon, so you have to back up, and maybe you can't--because you aren't faster backing up than the enemy is moving forward, or you are protecting something.
     
    Irina Samarskaya and Dracon like this.
  6. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2015
    Messages:
    974
    Likes Received:
    884
    The part that gets me is how willing people in fantasy are to engage in mortal combat. IRL, sometimes Greek formations would march towards the enemy, with both sides favoring their shield side so heavily, that they would walk past one another. When they did clash, fairly few men usually died. As soon as the front started losing, they would usually try to flee, and the whole formation would break. Most duels were to first blood, and most people don't attack at all unless they are being forced to at the point of a sword or they think they have a clear advantage.

    Fear of death, defensive strategy, and rules of engagement almost never play any role in fantasy.
     
  7. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2015
    Messages:
    974
    Likes Received:
    884
    Even in historically based stories with "realistic fighting," it mostly follows the convention that the hero is always successful with his first defense and his first attack, and if the enemy is a big deal, the hero will be wounded BUT will still be successful with his first attack. In rare instances, the hero will be forced to make a second attack because the enemy won't give in.

    He jumped out at me with a sword and stabbed for my chest. I slapped his blade aside and dashed his neck before he could recover. There was a lot of blood. I felt bad about it at first, but then I got over it.

    If there is a group of enemies, it usually goes: successful defense, successful attack, next, successful defense, successful attack, next, successful defense, successful attack, next, suffers a wound, successful defense, successful attack, next...

    Fights that go beyond that in any substantial way are so rare.

    It is never: parry, miss, parry, miss, miss, miss, suffer damage, miss, wound the enemy, parry, parry, parry, miss, parry, wound the enemy, suffer damage, parry, rest, rest, rest, rest, parry, miss, suffer damage, miss, parry, miss, kill.

    I wish I could read more literary versions of this:

     
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2018
    Iain Aschendale and Cave Troll like this.
  8. Wreybies

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    22,306
    Likes Received:
    16,281
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    Frankly, I don't really care either way. Real, not real. *shrug* What will make me roll my eyes (and this applies to literally anything, not just the melee concept in question) is when I feel the writer trying to school me, to impart to me how important it is that I understand the real-deal, that the world will somehow fall to pieces if I don't have the correct data concerning whether Romans and Gauls did or did not wear socks.

    My own profession is typically portrayed in the most ridiculous of ways in any film or book that actually includes us. I'm an interpreter and translator. My brethren are either treated to the cringeworthy Daniel Jackson Treatment™ (Stargate, the film) where we are somehow able to decipher ancient, lost, never-before-encountered languages in just a few days, or, when presented in the real world, as in the Nicole Kidman film The Interpreter, we are presented with an interpreter who a) would have been fired and escorted off the U.N. premisses within the first 10 min of the film, and b) would never have gotten that most prestigous of jobs in the first place because she never, ever, ever, ever, evah would have passed the invasive background checks.

    But if you present us as we genuinely are, you get a really boring story of either someone who has to dedicate decades to studying this ancient, lost, never-before-encountered language, or, as in the latter case, someone who is so squeaky clean that you don't have any room for drama and intrigue to take place.

    Thus, artistic license for the sake of the story.
     
  9. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2015
    Messages:
    974
    Likes Received:
    884
     
  10. Wreybies

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    22,306
    Likes Received:
    16,281
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    Even though her portrayal is actually much closer to realism, notice she has to deal with the aforementioned unrealistic expectations. ;)

    ETA: Also, notice that it would seem that the only way to allow the room for the job to be realistic is to basically make the movie about the job, not just include it as an element.

    Regardless, this meme states my sentiment pretty well.

    38156583_1931238963602050_4764527012385652736_n.jpg


    As to the original question posed by the OP: I'm re-reading A Companion to Wolves (Sarah Monette, Elizabeth Bear) wherein there are many such battles and engagements and the writers do something that I personally find quite satisfactory (though I am sure others will not) in that they only give quick, epic snapshots of the battles and then cut to the butcher's bill scene. They avoid a lack of realism while also avoiding the dreaded School The Reader paradigm, for which I have no patience.
     
  11. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2015
    Messages:
    1,482
    Likes Received:
    1,326
    Location:
    Oklahoma
    1). Armor may not be useless, but slashes definitely could get through armor, mostly earlier in the medieval period. As armor got better, sword designs changed toward the thrusting type.

    2). You're only considering armament here. If the swordsman has plate armor, any lone spearman would be in trouble. Aside from that, most pre-modern spearmen were trained to use their weapons as part of a formation. Alone and in the open, one spearman has a respectable chance of losing against a longswordsman.

    3). Swords may tend to be sidearms, but let's face it: many of the situations where fantasy heroes fight are best suited to sidearms.

    The rest of the point is...well, the Romans didn't use longswords. The gladius was a short sword. And the Romans faced their disciplined, armored enemies first. The Etruscan phalanx, the fluid hill-fighting style of the Samnites, Carthage's diverse mercenary armies, the phalanx-centered combined arms of the Diadochi, the sophisticated cavalry tactics of the Parthians, all were disciplined and armored. Rome returned to using spears as its manpower and troop quality declined.

    The rest of the points I'd generally agree with.

    Fantasy definitely grants lots of latitude, but we still have to maintain suspension of disbelief. And if I see somebody kill an opponent with a slash or thrust right through a breastplate, suspension of disbelief goes right out the window. Why bother wearing armor if it doesn't even protect you from one head-on attack?

    One point worth really focusing on here is the one about casualties. Most deaths in pre-modern battles happened as one side routed and the victorious commander cut his cavalry loose to run the routers down. Open field battles where both sides held to the bitter end were rare, and only really happened when there was no hope of escape. Most fiction doesn't show this.
     
    Necronox, Dracon, Lew and 4 others like this.
  12. Dragon Turtle

    Dragon Turtle Deadlier Jerry

    Joined:
    Jan 16, 2018
    Messages:
    452
    Likes Received:
    881
    For me this is less an issue of realism and more of variety. I'd love to see more fantasy heroes who use polearms. You just don't get that very often; it'd be a breath of fresh air. And I'd enjoy the opportunity to learn about something new.

    That said....... I gave my hero a sword. Swords are just cool, okay?
     
  13. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2015
    Messages:
    11,422
    Likes Received:
    11,413
    Location:
    Where cushions are comfy, and straps hold firm.
    And more practical, when it comes to hallways. :)
     
    Dragon Turtle likes this.
  14. Blacksmith11

    Blacksmith11 Member

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2018
    Messages:
    28
    Likes Received:
    21
    While it is true men in feudal armies had to supply their own weapons by law. In practice, lords would outfit their musters with better gear simply because a better equipped soldier survived longer and kept you alive.

    Stamford Bridge proves the point I'm making. An armored Dane with a Danish Axe which is a polearm, and wearing quality mail, held a choke point till a spearman floated under the bridge and stabbed him from below. After that, the rest of the Norse Army having left their armor behind during the surprise assault by Harold's forces that caused them to flee across the bridge, were then vulnerable to English arms with only their shields for protection.

    Real sword duels were quick affairs, if neither gained a knockout blow after a few minutes, they would break off rather than risk a stamina contest.

    Pikes were preferred dueling weapons in the 16th and 17th Centuries. It is not easy to butt aside a spear thrust and the tips are designed to penetrate armor. If your opponent has a halberd, he can actually hook the sword and disarm the wielder of it quickly and then hook the armor and pull the person down to the ground. In pre-modern combat, if you get knocked to the ground in a melee, you are finished.

    1. Slashes can't penetrate armor, this has been demonstrated repeatably in destructive tests. Even thrusts can't usually go through armor unless the quality is crappy like butted mail. Even then, the under armor padding will usually stop the thrust from being fatal.

    2. A well trained spearman can easily beat a longswordman by use of his shield to bash him to the ground, then stab down. If the spearman doesn't have a shield, he still has the advantage due to reach as demonstrated in numerous reenactor shows as he can use the spear as a staff to knock out or trip the longswordman to the ground. This is the basis for all European, Middle Eastern, African, and Far East fighting manuals empathizing that warriors learn to master the spear, not the sword.

    3. Most situations the Heroes in Fantasy settings enter, they would be better off with spears. Something I like about Japanese Fantasy settings where spear fighting is shown far more than sword fighting. The romanticization of Katanas is a western thing, the real Samurai preferred Spears and Bows, and used swords, which may or may not be a Katana, as backups.
     
    Simpson17866 likes this.
  15. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 23, 2013
    Messages:
    3,269
    Likes Received:
    2,735
    Misconception 1: Men are stronger and should use longswords, women are weaker and should use bows or shortswords

    First of all, the strongest man is stronger than the strongest woman, but the strongest women are a lot stronger than the average men.

    Second of all, not only do the most powerful bows require a great deal of upper-body strength, but holding a short sword in one hand is actually a lot more tiring to that one arm than using a longsword in both hands is tiring to either arm.

    Misconception 2: A mace is a shaft with a chain that can swing a spiked ball around.

    First of all, that weapon was used approximately 5 times in world history before the people who invented it realized that it was stupid.

    Second of all, that weapon was called a "one-handed flail." An actual mace was a heavy ball at the end of a rigid shaft – no chain in the middle – sometimes with spikes (this variation being named "morningstars") but generally having ridges instead. The actual mace was also incredibly effective at bashing through armor that could not be cut through by swords (unlike the one-handed flail, which was stupid).

    Misconception 3: The metal head of a war hammer was at least 1-foot cube.

    In actuality, the head of a war hammer generally wasn't much larger than the head of a carpenter's hammer; the main difference was that the handle of a war hammer was about a foot longer than the handle of a carpenter's hammer. Even the largest "mauls" were more comparable to sledgehammers than to the cartoonishly-oversized vision of a war hammer that you see in fiction today (which, rather like the one-handed flail, would be stupid).

    Challenge accepted.
     
  16. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Member

    Joined:
    Jul 31, 2018
    Messages:
    395
    Likes Received:
    228
    1. Motivation.

    If you draft men to fight and/or die, they wanna live after battle. Or at least most of them want to.

    Ordinary men don't compete about who is running against "enemy" first. They go if they have no choice or the choice is worse.

    2. Stress and stress reactions.

    Peoples fighting of they lives and they don't have strong stress reactions?

    3. Rhythm.

    Peoples fighting and having reciprocal rhythm with they opponents? No way! If you fight for your life you don't give away any advantage you get in pace and rhythm. You use everything you can.

    4. Use of the gear.

    A shield is also a weapon. Polearm is also a hook. Boots are extremely important.

    5. Balance.

    You try to unbalance and you pay attention to balance. You don't take risks with your balance.

    6. Targets.

    Every time you attack, you take a risk. So you don't attack to target where you don't have good impact. And if you attack opponents shield you try to get behind it, not to use it as a drum to make sounds.

    7. Dry trousers.

    8. Handling the heat & thirst if armoured and fighting.

    9. Bow techniques.

    Maybe they did not shoot like modern bowmen in Olympic Games. Maybe they had totally different style. (See Lars Andersen)

    10. Chain of commands in the battlefield.

    11. Maintenance.

    12. Combat engineering in the field.

    There were many skillfull craftmen. They skills were used.


     
  17. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2015
    Messages:
    1,482
    Likes Received:
    1,326
    Location:
    Oklahoma
    Then do explain the literal thousands of early medieval swords designed purely for the slash, such as this type:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viking_sword

    Do explain how the Celts ever killed Greeks, Romans, Iberians, and the armored members of their own warrior class using swords that were designed for the slash. Do explain why the Romans had to reinforce their helmets to stop the Dacian falx from busting them open in one swing. Given the vast archaeological and historical evidence, there were obviously times and places where slashes cut through armor.

    First off, well-trained spearmen were a fairly rare breed in most of the world for much of history. There's a reason so many fantasy heroes get swords: swords are associated with nobility (and by extension people with time to dedicate to martial pursuits) while spears are associated with the common (who'd be called up with little training). Thus, most spearmen would've been garbage as individual fighters.

    Second, well-trained spearmen that did exist usually fought in formation, not singly. Even then, they suffered from a degree of inflexibility. The Romans carved through Etruscan, Carthaginian, Greek, and Judean phalanxes with javelins and short swords. Zweihanders smashed pike formations, and stand as a good example of how even well-trained men with polearms aren't guaranteed to win against a swordsman

    Third, the spearman having a shield would actually be a disadvantage, since you can't withdraw the weapon as quickly as if you were using both hands. Speed is the key to keeping that reach advantage. And as mentioned earlier, a spear isn't a good weapon against full plate (which many longswordsmen would be wearing).

    Four, the extant European manuals about spears focus on duels. By the time the techniques they teach were created, the spear's use on the battlefield had faded in favor of other polearms. Off the battlefield, the spear saw little use outside hunting; the staff was more popular in civilian combats.

    Gotta disagree. Fantasy heroes are often alone or in small groups, while spears are strongest in formation. If we want alternatives to the sword as a favored weapon of the fantasy hero, I'd point to the poleaxe and quarter staff. Especially since the staff was so common, and both could inflict concussive damage against an armored man that a spear couldn't. Obviously this applies more to European inspired fantasy.

    Emphasis on the spear would make more sense in a Japanese inspired setting; the spear didn't get replaced by other polearms and their martial class always valued it more highly than their European counterparts.
     
    Dracon and John Calligan like this.
  18. Dracon

    Dracon Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2016
    Messages:
    561
    Likes Received:
    730
    Location:
    England
    I agree with everything you've mentioned in your post and @John Calligan also summed it up quite nicely
    However maybe people are being a bit too general with their definition of "spear" - a spear I suppose is more manouevreable than a "pike" which in the case of the phalanx, could be up to six metres long(!). However, the general gist of it stays the same - longer reach, but once the opponent gets steps inside of that reach, it's game over. Spearwalls could mitigate that only so far as they were terribly immobile formations. Swordsmen at least had the opportunity to retreat. In a static formation like a phalanx, that unit might be finished without a blow even having being struck if they get outflanked.

    I remember reading a novel - Bernard Cornwell I think it was? It was Azincourt. It sounded like such a nice life to be a knight and fight in wars totally risk-free knowing that you can pay. Go on holiday and live in a nice English castle for a few months, eat well, be treated like a guest. A few months later, a family member shows up with eh gold. You go home, and do the whole same thing again! :-D if you were a peasant, however...
     
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2018
    X Equestris likes this.
  19. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2015
    Messages:
    1,482
    Likes Received:
    1,326
    Location:
    Oklahoma
    Indeed, the Macedonian style phalanx used the sarissa, which was basically a pike. That said, the Romans dealt with hoplite phalanxes too (the Etruscans, some of the Greek cities, some of Carthage's forces), and they themselves dropped the hoplite phalanx after Celts annihilated their army at Allia.

    But yeah, pike or spear, once formations started to crack under the movements of battle and the terrain, once swordsmen got in close, they could ruin a spearman/pikeman's day.
     
    Simpson17866 likes this.
  20. Dracon

    Dracon Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 27, 2016
    Messages:
    561
    Likes Received:
    730
    Location:
    England
    Eery battle seems to start with the forces of good and the legions of evil, staring each other down across the no man's land in perfect unbroken lines.

    Then there comes that moment where both sides start charging at each other (always at the same time, it's always at the same time... Sigh. Because you're not going to let your does tire themselves out charging that half a mile towards you before the battle. No, throw away all your advantage and charge at them too!), screaming their battle cries and -

    No.

    No, no, no, no, no. You've forgotten the part when the battle actually starts, which is called the skirmish. Typically involving light, highly mobile infantrymen such as javelinmen, slingers and peltasts who would advance quite far ahead of the main line.

    The skirmish was very important because whoever won it had licence to harass the enemy, pick off individuals and generally just be a nuisance before the real battle was joined. If they were aprticularly lucky, they might even goad the opposition into a premature charge or break formation. Because they were light infantry, typically wearing no armour, it was very easy to retreat, toss some more javelins into any enemy that attempts to give pursuit without being in any real danger. It forces the enemy general into action, since they are not likely to stand around and be poked full of javelins and stones, forcing the enemy to come to you, which may have many different advantages.

    The second advantage winning a skirmish gave is screening. You would be able to see the entire deposition of the enemy army and be able to act accordingly, whereas the enemy can't see the deposition of your own army because they are being held back. Both sides would send out skirmishers to try to block any attempt by the other on gathering intelligence about army compositions and distributions and the like.

    Skirmishers also had several other advantages. They have new recruits the first taste of experiencing a battle. Those poorer troops could contribute to the battle in a productive way without just being fodder. They were expendable, and though it was the chance to win an important advantage, the battle wouldn't be won or lost solely on the skirmish. Sometimes, skirmishes were important opportunities to secure important locations - vantage points, defensive positions, and sometimes cavalry may also be involved.

    So, bear in mind - skirmishes are important! And any decent general would not neglect them.
     
    Simpson17866 likes this.
  21. Blacksmith11

    Blacksmith11 Member

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2018
    Messages:
    28
    Likes Received:
    21
    Slashing swords at people only works if your opponent is unarmored. If they have armor, you have to thrust.

    Also the Celts primarily used spears as swords were expensive and they had little access to Iron unlike the Romans.

    The Dacian Falx is a polearm and designed specifically for piercing armor and hooking shields.

    As for Romans against Phalanxs we have to remember the Romans lost the majority of fights against Phalanxs. The ones they won were when the Cavalry support was ran off or at Cynoscephalae, one portion of the Macedonian Army had actually shattered the Roman left while the Roman right which was fighting light troops remained in place. A Roman Tribune (Name lost to history) recognized the gap and led 20 maniples to hit the Phalanx in the rear before it could wheel around and hit the Romans in the rear.

    Also spear formations are quite maneuverable. The double envelopment at Cannae was made possible by Carthaginian Pikemen flanking the Romans after they penetrated the Carthaginian Center and charging with pikes to pin the Romans in place.

    Properly supported by light troops, a Phalanx is decisive.
     
  22. Blacksmith11

    Blacksmith11 Member

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2018
    Messages:
    28
    Likes Received:
    21
    Not only that, but flat battlefields don't exist. There are rocks, buildings, streams, fences, etc in the way.

    Most battles start out as foraging parties come into combat with each other, and snowball from there with commanders often having no clue what is going on and acting on very little information given to him by messengers while he has to rely on his eyesight to gauge what is going on. A medieval commander would kill to have modern day radios like we have just so he could talk to Joe Cohort Leader and ask, are you advancing? Where are you in the trees, I can't see where you are? ETC.

    Radios are the most important military invention. With it, you have control of the flow of battle that pre-modern commanders could only dream of.
     
  23. Lew

    Lew Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2015
    Messages:
    1,374
    Likes Received:
    1,130
    A phalanx is restricted to flat terrain, and is easily encircled. Imagine row upon row of men, with eighteen-foot spears on their shoulder from the men behind. That cannot easily reorient to face a new threat without considerable confusion.

    1. Roman legionary deployments changed significantly under Marius in 100AD, abandoning the three line maniples, essentially a Roman phalanx, for a more square formation of centuries. The square could turn, or a part of it could turn, to face an enveloping enemy on the flanks or rear. A Phalanx was locked into a single axis.
    2. Hannibal very specifically developed a tactic for defeating the Roman army. The Romans could not resist a chase, so Hannibal always put his weakest troops in the center. As the center gave, the Romans pursued, while Hannibal's left and right groups, often concealed as best as possible, closed on their flanks, encircling them. Note also that the Romans were still using the less maneuverable maniples of hastati, principes and triarii.

    The one time the Romans defeated Hannibal at Zama, Scipio replicated Hannibal's strategy of weak center. He originally deployed his forces in widely separated columns, which channeled the Carthaginian elephants (think tanks!) into the gaps, which became a killing field. With the elephants dispatched, he reformed with the hastati in the center, principes and triarii on either flank. Hannibal then fell for his own trap.

    Scipio had been a junior tribune at his father's defeat at Cannae, and one of the few survivors. He spent the rest of his life studying Hannibal's tactics, and scrupulously avoiding contact with Hannibal in Italy. Essentially, he was waging guerrilla warfare against Hannibal, denying him food, forage or safe passage, while never closing for a decisive battle for which he was not ready. He kept the Italian alliance together, while severely punishing cities which gave Hannibal shelter or support. In 204 BC, having forced the Carthaginians out of Sicily, Scipio mounted a massive amphibious operation of several hundred troop transports, horses transported in ships towed by other triremes, and 35,000 men. By threatening Carthage, he forced the recall of Hannibal from Italy, and ultimately the battle at Zama.
     
    X Equestris and Simpson17866 like this.
  24. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2015
    Messages:
    1,482
    Likes Received:
    1,326
    Location:
    Oklahoma
    Except they were regularly used against armored opponents. See the Greek kopis and the Iberian/Celtiberian falcata, both of which were designed to deliver blows like those of axes. The Romans in particular were impressed with the damage the falcata could do. And I hope you're not trying to suggest that the Viking-era sword, which actually originated in the Carolingian Empire, was never used against armored opponents. The article I linked even says--point blank, with a source--that it was used for heavy slashing blows against armor and shields.

    In his On Horsemanship, Xenophon says (and he doesn't distinguish between the kopis and the machaira) "I recommend a kopis rather than a xiphos, because from the height of a horse’s back the cut of a machaira will serve you better than the thrust of a xiphos." In fact, cavalry swords in general tended toward the cut rather than the thrust, and that includes against armored opponents. The cavalry version of the Roman spatha had a rounded point and was used for the cut. Since it saw use in Roman civil wars, there's no doubt it saw use against armored opponents.

    The Celts had considerable access to iron. These guys are the most likely inventors of chain mail, after all. You're probably thinking of the Germans, who did have very limited access to iron in antiquity and thus heavily favored spears. Lots of Celts still used the spear, of course, but historical accounts are full of Celts fighting Romans with swords. They wouldn't have done so if their weapons couldn't do any damage.

    You said "Slashes can't penetrate armor...". That's not talking solely about swords anymore, hence why I brought up the falx. One could also point to axes.

    On the contrary, the Romans broke even against the phalanx. In the later conflicts with the Etruscans. Against the states of Magna Graecia. Most of the pitched land battles against Carthage where Hannibal wasn't the opposing general. Against the Macedonians at Cynoscephaele and First Pydna and Second Pydna. Against the states of Greece proper. Against the Seleucids at Magnesia. Against Pontus, though it should be pointed out that Mithradates probably gave Rome the most trouble it had since Hannibal. Against Ptolemaic Egypt. And on a small scale against one or two Hasmonean Jewish armies.

    Even in defeats like Heraclea and Asculum, during the Pyrrhic War, the Romans inflicted terrible losses. And they ended up beating Pyrrhus at Beneventum.

    No, they're not. Hannibal had his phalangites drawn up in marching columns at the start of Cannae, behind his cavalry and at the very tips of the crescent that made up his center. He waited until the Romans had pushed his Celtic and Iberian center back past his phalangites. Then he deployed them into the phalanx. His phalangites hardly moved throughout the entire battle, and when they did (after the screening phase) it was in marching order rather than all drawn up in the phalanx.

    All this doesn't even touch on less regimented spear formations against swordsmen. Things aren't as decisively in favor of the spear as you're suggesting.

    A great post, but I'm not sure I'd call the manipular legion "essentially a phalanx". Though definitely more rigid than the cohort legion, the maniples had quite a bit more flexibility than any phalanx and their officers were more independent.
     
    John Calligan and Simpson17866 like this.
  25. Blacksmith11

    Blacksmith11 Member

    Joined:
    Aug 4, 2018
    Messages:
    28
    Likes Received:
    21
    The Greek kopis and falcata while good weapons are sidearms. The Greeks and Iberians used spears first, only when the spear broke would those come out or if they were in town off-duty and got attacked. Even then, the swords in question would be used in conjunction with their shield which would be the primary assault weapon to bash their opponent to the ground.

    As for the Viking Sword, its a sidearm, if you are using it in battle, your polearm is broken. That being said, destructive tests of these against chainmail show they can't deliver a killing blow with a heavy slash. Thegn Thrand on his youtube channel has repeatably tested this sword against Chain Mail, Samurai Armor, and Plate. All withstood the blow. And bear in mind, your opponent is swinging back.

    Except Greek Cavalry used lances the majority of the time as you could get more penetration at the point of thrust. Also bear in mind Xenophon led a fighting retreat and was facing light troops most of the time and had lost much of his equipment after the Cunaxa Fiasco. Also the Roman Cavalry also used the spear as a primary weapon in the Alae. The Spatha was a backup weapon.

    Context is key here. Gaulish Celts had little access to Iron as the French Iron Mines would not become fully accessible till the 18th Century CE. The Galatians had good access to Iron thanks to the Diadochi Successor States who used them as shock troops with the spear, not the sword as the primary weapon, and they gave good accounts of themselves. You did not want to mess with the Galatians in those times, only their unfamiliarity with Elephants allowed the Seleukids to tame them after an entire Galataian Army routed at the sight of Elephants.

    Also chain mail was rare amongst Celts and a sign of the Elite Soldiers who served full time.

    Swords again were a backup weapon and must be used in conjunction with a shield to be really effective or it must be a two-hander, effectively turning it into a polearm with reach.

    Depends on armor type and weapon type. If your soldier is wearing butted mail (What Deadliest Warrior used for its tests, pissing off many experts), yeah a slash or thrust from anything is going to break it. Soldered or Riveted Mail, worn over cloth armor, you need a specialized weapon to penetrate it or deliver sufficient blunt force to liquefied internal organs. This is very difficult to do.

    This where the Mainz-type Gladius comes in. The tip is designed to push aside the rings and break them in a thrust. If your opponent is unarmored, then you can just slash and it will go through an arm like hot butter with ease. Owning a Mainz-type Gladius myself, I can testify it will cut an unarmored man down with ease. But its main purpose is to break chain mail in a thrust.

    Viking Sword again, Thegn Thrand tested it repeatedly, the only time a slash worked, was when he hit with the tip in a slash. It broke a few chains, but the cloth underarmor prevented a kill blow. A thrust would have been more effective.

    I suggest watching Thegn Thrand's videos, he puts a lot of armor and weapons to destructive tests.

    And context is key again here. The Phalanxs in these case had been denuded of their light infantry support and cavalry support that was vital to Alexander's successes and the killing blows were delivered not frontally. but from the rear.

    This is poor reading of the Historical Evidence. Phyrrus suffered minor losses at Heraclea and Asculum, it was the death of many commanders on his side that was troublesome to him.

    This is nonsense due to examination of the battlefield and ground cores, plus re-examination caused by finding the original army reports from that period.

    The crescent formation wasn't deliberate. Several buildings and fences meant the Iberian and Gallic Troops were naturally broken up. Their bending was the result of the strong Roman attack which broke through. Due to all the dust thrown up by thousands of men and the wind blowing east, the Roman Commanders didn't see the African Infantry pincering them until it was too late and hemmed in by the buildings of the depot of Cannae, which is why it was fought over, the Romans were unable to maneuver anymore.

    They are decisively in favor of the Spearman. Longer reach, better piercing capabilities, and the ability to trip your opponent. Properly supported by light troops and cavalry, a Phalanx is unbeatable.
     

Share This Page