Coragus' Sarisa

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Archimedes
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Coragus' Sarisa

Post by Archimedes »

According to Quintus Curtius Rufus' account of the duel between Athenian athlete Dioxippus and Macedonian warrior Coragus, Coragus held a sarisa and a bronze shield in his left hand and a javelin in his right. After hurling the javelin, he began to pass the sarisa from his left hand to his right hand, but Dioxippus broke the sarisa with his club before it could be passed to the right hand and brought into play.

Although the academics squabble over whether there was a shorter, lighter "cavalry sarisa," that could be wielded with one hand, it would appear Coragus couldn't have been handling an infantry sarisa in his duel.

Is this duel an overlooked attestation of a "cavalry sarisa"?
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Paralus
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Re: Coragus' Sarisa

Post by Paralus »

Archimedes wrote:Although the academics squabble over whether there was a shorter, lighter "cavalry sarisa," that could be wielded with one hand, it would appear Coragus couldn't have been handling an infantry sarisa in his duel.

Is this duel an overlooked attestation of a "cavalry sarisa"?
Not necessarily. The evidence for a cavalry sarisa relies mostly on art but there is literary attestation of the cavalry using their "long lances". I don't see this particular event as confirming evidence for the “Cavalry sarisa” though.

Corhagus is clearly described in Diodours as hetairos in the Greek and thus he is likely indicating he is one of the king’s companions and a member of the Companion Cavalry. Likely because Diodorus later (book 19) refers to former “companions” of Alexander in Eumenes army: these are former “foot” companions.

Just as clearly described are the weapons used: lonche and Makedoniken sarisan. We might dearly love to know what shield he carried: aspis or pelte but Diodorus refers simply to his magnificent and expensive hoplois.

The infantry sarisa will generally have weighed around some six and a half kilos (fifteen odd pounds). Balanced in the hand at its balance point, this is not a heavy weight single handed. It is only when held toward the rear third that both hands will be needed. Corhagus may well have held the sarisa at its balance point with a pelte off his shoulder in the left and thrown a javelin with the right.

If Corhagus was indeed a cavalry companion of the king he may well have learned his sarisa handling whilst doing his time in the Royal Hypaspists. Either way it might be evidence for cross training.

Perhaps, though, it is all wrong given Lane-Fox’s assertion that the infantry abandoned the sarisa before the Indian campaign…
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agesilaos
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Post by agesilaos »

I am pretty sure that it is this story that makes Lane-Fox suppose that the sarrisai had been abandonded - wonder what the Macedonians in the mixed phalanx were meant to use then (and that formation comes from Aristoboulos) - similarly it leads Nick Secunda to posit double armed phalangites (useful on a wargames table but insane on a battlefield.

Many operations would have been conducted with javelins, such as storming walls, and the sarrisai would have remained with the baggage.

The strory of this duel is not in the reliable tradition it belongs instead to the more dramatic fantasy concocted by Kleitarchos and I would place no faith in its details. It may reflect the actual duel between Pyrrhos and Pantauchos as imagined by an unmilitary type.

Dioxippos, who was certainly a real figure as he appears in Aristoboulos, where it is he who remarks that it is blood not ichor issuing from Alexander's wound; is dressed as a God and that one personal to Alexander, I find it hard to believe the religiously sensitive and egocentric Alexander would have permitted such an affront, Corrhagos was supposed to win, else the story has no point. It is used to illustrate the Macedonians as vulnerable, a theme of Kleitarchos who frequently points up their lack of valour. The author (whom I reckon Kleitarchos since I believe that Diodoros XVII is essentially a paraphrase of his work and the duel is there) has armed Corrhagos with a sarrisa simply because that is the Macedonian weapon par excellence the same way possibly the same author has Alexander run Kleitos through with one and then attempt to turn it on himself.

There is really no need for the so-called 'cavalry sarrisa' posited by M Markle I think, this weapon is the xyston of the sources cf. Arr I 15 v ; it may be objected that since there was a body of cavalry called the sarrisophoroi they must as 'sarrisa-bearers' have borne sarrisai; this is fallacious, however, they are actually the prodromoi or 'advance scouts' (runners ahead) sarissophoroi is probably a contemporary nickname and reflects not the fact that they carried sarissai but that their spears were longer than those of the other light cavalry 'That's not a spear it's a goddam sarrisa!' even though it was only a xyston. There are xystophoroi in the Hieronymic books of Diodoros and these may be a similar troops, though they are usually interpreted as heavies like the Companions - have to check the context.

Enough rambling I must take my sanatogen.
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Post by Archimedes »

agesilaos wrote: sarissophoroi is probably a contemporary nickname and reflects not the fact that they carried sarissai but that their spears were longer than those of the other light cavalry 'That's not a spear it's a goddam sarrisa!' even though it was only a xyston.
This is what I'm getting at--that weapons lighter and shorter than the cumbersome infantry sarisa may nonetheless called sarisa by virtue of the fact that they were longer than other shafted weapons. In other words, Coragus might have showed up with his cavalryman's xyston, which by virtue of its being several feet longer than a dory was dubbed as his "sarisa."
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Post by Phoebus »

"The author (whom I reckon Kleitarchos since I believe that Diodoros XVII is essentially a paraphrase of his work and the duel is there) has armed Corrhagos with a sarrisa simply because that is the Macedonian weapon par excellence the same way possibly the same author has Alexander run Kleitos through with one and then attempt to turn it on himself."

Agreed.
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Post by Paralus »

agesilaos wrote:The strory of this duel is not in the reliable tradition it belongs instead to the more dramatic fantasy concocted by Kleitarchos and I would place no faith in its details.
That may well be true. I have no issue with it being a nice story or based on some sort of reality.
agesilaos wrote:The author (whom I reckon Kleitarchos since I believe that Diodoros XVII is essentially a paraphrase of his work and the duel is there) has armed Corrhagos with a sarrisa simply because that is the Macedonian weapon par excellence the same way possibly the same author has Alexander run Kleitos through with one and then attempt to turn it on himself.
I’d think the ‘turning on himself’ bit was a dramatic flourish – one might well assume that Arrian might have included that detail in his efforts to excuse his hero. The use of the sarisa in the deed is a little more difficult to dismiss.

Arrian relates a detailed and clear description of the murder. He only varies in it ultimate conclusion: the two descriptions of his end which are provided by his sources. In the first Alexander grabs a lonche or dory from a somatophylake and runs him through. In the second Alexander grabs a sarisa from one of the "ordinary" guards (hypaspists) and runs him through. Whichever is the correct end to the story is not really relevant: the details in each are though.
Then his companions were no longer able to restrain him; for according to some he leaped up and snatched a javelin from one of his confidential body-guards; according to others, a sarisa from one of his ordinary guards, with which he struck Clitus and killed him
.

He goes on to relate that Aristobulus does not go into the drinking but relates that the somatophylake (Ptolemy) drags Clietus out and he returns later:
Aristobulus does not say whence the drunken quarrel originated, but asserts that the fault was entirely on the side of Clitus, who, when Alexander had got so enraged with him as to jump up against him with the intention of making an end of him; was led away by Ptolemy, son of Lagus the confidential body-guard, through the gateway, beyond the wall and ditch of the citadel where the quarrel occurred. He adds that Clitus could not control himself, but went back again, and falling in with Alexander who was calling out for Clitus, he exclaimed: “Alexander, here am I, Clitus!” Thereupon he was struck with a sarisa and killed.
It seems to me, reading as written, that Aristobulus is in the sarisa camp. The hypaspists, it would appear, stood guard with a sarisa – at least in Aristobulus’ mind. Markle (in Macedonian Arms and Tactics under Alexander the Great, Studies in Art V10, 1982) acknowledges this argument by Bosworth and then proceeds to dismiss it via the “ceremonial” weapon argument.
agesilaos wrote:There is really no need for the so-called 'cavalry sarrisa' posited by M Markle I think, this weapon is the xyston of the sources cf. Arr I 15 v ; it may be objected that since there was a body of cavalry called the sarrisophoroi they must as 'sarrisa-bearers' have borne sarrisai; this is fallacious, however, they are actually the prodromoi or 'advance scouts' (runners ahead) sarissophoroi is probably a contemporary nickname and reflects not the fact that they carried sarissai but that their spears were longer than those of the other light cavalry 'That's not a spear it's a goddam sarrisa!' even though it was only a xyston.
I don’t necessarily disagree with this. There are frescoes depicting Macedonian cavalrymen with a longer xyston that is usual. They appear to have a ‘join’ or ‘grip’ near to centre. It is difficult to ascertain accurate lengths but, as you suggest, something a little longer than the hoplite dory (say ten or twelve feet) would do. Thracians had been using something similar since the late fifth century as did Iphicrates’ mercenaries.

Although passionately argued, Markle’s cavalry sarisa of some fifteen or more feet would be a mongrel on horseback. The Companion Cavalry’s chief weapons were the somewhat longer xyston and the kopis. The later will have been the basic weapon after the xyston forced the breach I’d suspect.
agesilaos wrote:I am pretty sure that it is this story that makes Lane-Fox suppose that the sarrisai had been abandoned - wonder what the Macedonians in the mixed phalanx were meant to use then (and that formation comes from Aristoboulos) - similarly it leads Nick Secunda to posit double armed phalangites (useful on a wargames table but insane on a battlefield.

Many operations would have been conducted with javelins, such as storming walls, and the sarrisai would have remained with the baggage.
Yes: that is plain from the sources. The sarisa armed infantry will have assaulted fortifications with the pelte and the lonche – possibly several. Coenus aesthetairoi certainly did not carry sarisae onboard the assault ships with the siege towers. Ditto the hypaspists. I would argue that the hypaspists were cross-trained 'professional' troops and that the pezhetairoi reverted to the lonche/pelte of earlier days when not sarisa-armed in pitched battle.

As to Lane-Fox, I admit to being perplexed. Diodorus is clear in his description of Jhelhum. Here the infantry even up (isorropus) the battle with the elephants with tais sarisais – the sarisae. He adds that other infantry are making good use of the lonche. It is possible he has slipped though the use of the long pike – with its concomitant reach – makes eminent sense against the elephants and their mahouts.
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Post by agesilaos »

If the fresco of which you are thinking is the lost one from Kinch's tomb then I interpret it as a Companion 'tilting' with an asiatic groom; others identify it with a prodromos but these were clearly not nobles and the tomb is a large and elaborate one, which points to a wealthy and therefore noble occupant. Not sure there is a saurometer shown, it is reproduced in one of Hammond's books which I haven't to hand. If there are any other depictions please do tell, I am not up to speed with the artistic side of things.

Aristoboulos is indeed in the sarissa killing Kleitos camp, silly me for forgetting, but they are only singly armed. Seems an unwieldy weapon for guard duty and inefficient in single combat, wonder if he has goofed or Arrian has?
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Post by Paralus »

agesilaos wrote:If the fresco of which you are thinking is the lost one from Kinch's tomb ... If there are any other depictions please do tell, I am not up to speed with the artistic side of things.
Yes, the Kinch tomb is one. There are others if I recall: I shall have a look over the weekend.

The other to be considered is the Alexander Mosaic. Alexander is clearly wielding a lance longer than the usual xyston or dory though I'd disagree with those claiming it as a sarisa. Again possibly an eleven or twelve foot spear similar to those utilised by the Thracians.
agesilaos wrote:Aristoboulos is indeed in the sarissa killing Kleitos camp, silly me for forgetting, but they are only singly armed. Seems an unwieldy weapon for guard duty and inefficient in single combat, wonder if he has goofed or Arrian has?
Singly armed indeed. I do not agree with those who argue for dual armed pezhetairoi. They will have been singly armed for the job in hand. Ditto the hypaspists. Interestingly Diodorus, in relating the Malli town wounding of Alexander, clearly states that he ascended the wal under a pelte rather than an aspis. He uses this term throughout his description. It would make more sense to ascend ladders under a "lighter" shield rather than the large diameter and 6-8kg apsis. That Alexander is using this would indicate the hypaspists were also as he was on foot and surrounded by his foot guard.

Back to Arrian, the description is rather concise: the somatophylake is carrying a lonche and the hypaspists sarisae. I don't think that there has been a goof on either part as there is a clear delineation between both the guard type and weapon.

It seems that the sarisa might have been the Macedonian infantry equivalent of the M16: the "basic weapon". I should think that the hypaspists' main guard duty will have around the king's tent and at the entrances (inside and out?) whilst the somatophylakes and paides basilike were inside. This fits the description of Alexander yelling for his guards - these will not have been the somatophylakes who will have been in close attendance on him but rather the hypaspists - who did not respond (through disbelief one thinks). That might place hypaspists at the entrance that Clietus aparrently re-appeared through.

As I've related elsewhere Aristobulus, Ptolemy and others saw little need to explain what, to them, was common knowlege and likely unnecessary detail. Aristobulus, I'd think, has related that Alexander took a sarisa from a hypaspist guard because, to him, that was as natural to him as an Abrahms tank sporting a gun turret.
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Post by Phoebus »

Completely random question:

As I recall, the sarissa was made of two parts of (cornel) wood, joined near the middle of the overall weapon's length by a metal sleeve. Even using the early, shorter sarissa lengths, that would make each half the sarissa approximately the length of a short dory.

Has there ever been any evidence that pointed toward the sarissa used as a dual-purpose weapon? That is, using the full weapon as needed in pitched battles and storing away the lower half when on guard duty or when fighting requires a more flexible weapon?

Everything you say makes sense, Paralus, but I still can't picture the sarissa being an effective weapon for individual guards. I'm not sure how it could be effective in that role. :?
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Post by Paralus »

Phoebus wrote:Completely random question:

As I recall, the sarissa was made of two parts of (cornel) wood, joined near the middle of the overall weapon's length by a metal sleeve... I'm not sure how it could be effective in that role.
The two parts theory has near become folklore. Fact is - even as Markle had to observe - the "joiner sleve" (the only one yet discovered) seems too short to perform such a task. From memory it is about six inches long. At three inches per shaft that's not a huge amount of "stiffening".
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Post by Phoebus »

Ah, good to know. So, if I understand you correctly, the entire sarissa was one length of wood--no "sleeve" at all. Interesting.
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Post by Sandra »

Paralus wrote:
The two parts theory has near become folklore. Fact is - even as Markle had to observe - the "joiner sleve" (the only one yet discovered) seems too short to perform such a task. From memory it is about six inches long. At three inches per shaft that's not a huge amount of "stiffening".
Curious- can a picture of "joiner sleeve"be seen somewhere in Internet?
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Post by amyntoros »

Paralus wrote:
Phoebus wrote:Completely random question:

As I recall, the sarissa was made of two parts of (cornel) wood, joined near the middle of the overall weapon's length by a metal sleeve... I'm not sure how it could be effective in that role.
The two parts theory has near become folklore. Fact is - even as Markle had to observe - the "joiner sleve" (the only one yet discovered) seems too short to perform such a task. From memory it is about six inches long. At three inches per shaft that's not a huge amount of "stiffening".
Here's where it gets really interesting. :) Waldemar Heckel - well, actually, Heckel and two of his Ph.D students, Carolyn Willekes and Graham Wrightson - can now refute Markle's observations. They couldn't use cornel wood because it's protected in Canada and for the life of me I can't remember which wood they did use (but it is very similar in density and strength) and they manufactured several sarissae, putting them into practical application by recreating a (very small) phalanx. And, yes, for this purpose they manufactured metal sleeves as per the archaeological findings and made the sarissae in two parts. The weapons functioned perfectly during maneuvers and I asked if they also tested their efficiency by plunging them into objects. They did. And they worked ... no problems with bending or separation at all.

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Post by Paralus »

Phoebus wrote:Ah, good to know. So, if I understand you correctly, the entire sarissa was one length of wood--no "sleeve" at all. Interesting.
No...not quite. I'm open so to speak: we have only one "coupling" so far.
amyntoros wrote: And, yes, for this purpose they manufactured metal sleeves as per the archaeological findings and made the sarissae in two parts. The weapons functioned perfectly during maneuvers and I asked if they also tested their efficiency by plunging them into objects. They did. And they worked ... no problems with bending or separation at all.
I would love to have seen it. As you well know, I did not.

Three inches per length? Hmmm...love to have seen it.

I am not jealous. Not at all.
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Post by karen »

Hi Amyntoros et al:
amyntoros wrote:Here's where it gets really interesting. :) Waldemar Heckel - well, actually, Heckel and two of his Ph.D students, Carolyn Willekes and Graham Wrightson - can now refute Markle's observations. They couldn't use cornel wood because it's protected in Canada and for the life of me I can't remember which wood they did use (but it is very similar in density and strength)
Going to guess -- hickory.

We make hockey sticks out of it, eh!
and they manufactured several sarissae, putting them into practical application by recreating a (very small) phalanx. And, yes, for this purpose they manufactured metal sleeves as per the archaeological findings and made the sarissae in two parts. The weapons functioned perfectly during maneuvers and I asked if they also tested their efficiency by plunging them into objects. They did. And they worked ... no problems with bending or separation at all.
I take it this was a personal communication, nothing published, no link?

Question -- did they use any kind of sticky stuff in the join, or just slide 'em in and go?

This is very cool and further support for the argument that academics, instead of speculating back and forth from behind their computers as to whether practical actions would have worked or not, should actually get out and try things.

I'm in the two-part camp for reasons I explained elsewhere -- mostly the difficulty of changing the tapering trunk of an 18-foot tree into a single dowel of even diameter -- but the too-short argument did have me wondering.

Meanwhile, practicing my Greek reading so I can at least slightly get signs, etc. ...
ΕΘΧΑΡΙΣΤΟ, ΑΜΥΝΤΟΡΟΣ!

Warmly,
Karen
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