On the Sarissa

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Hetairos (companion)
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On the Sarissa

Post by Nicator »

It's my understanding that the Sarissa was of graded length, and only the 1st four rows carried it...presumably the last four rows did as well, but my translation doesn't clarify. It was a large cornel wood pike, which took 2 hands to hold. It had a larger diameter than a spear and gave the Macedonians a distinct tactical advantage over the Greek Mercenaries who were usually paired up against the phalanx in the center when Alexander had his fateful Persian battles.
By graded length it is meant that the first row was shorter the the second row and the second row was shorter than the third and so on...in this way Philip was able to present four rows at once (at the point of attack) to the opposition who presumably only held the spear in the front row. The larger diameter cornel wood design allowed the great weight of the phalanx to be brought to bear on the enemy without breaking the weapon. It required two hands to hold, and would have left the soldiers exposed without being able to hold the shield in one hand and the spear in the other...this was circumvented by the design of a shield which strapped around the soldiers arm, allowing him to use both hands on the pike...another tactical advantage...Philip had it all figured out.
It is not unlikely that the phalanx was outfitted with a longer pike for the elephants, but the problem with a pike which is too long is that the force required to hold it up at that length would be prohibitive...if they held it back a bit for more leverage, then the back end of it would hit the ground as they tried to raise it up for a strike against the taller elephants...Alexander, we are told did quite a bit of drilling before the attack on the River Hydaspes, so I'm sure he would have figured this out well before the battle actually commenced...later Nicator
Later Nicator

Thus, rain sodden and soaked, under darkness cloaked,
Alexander began, his grand plan, invoked...

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Pezhetairos (foot soldier)
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Re: On the Sarissa

Post by davej »

I don't know if you are responding to my question about Opinions on the use of the Sarissa or not. I have given up on that as a lost cause. All I have seen in posting so far is people wanting to quote sizes and construction. You did raise a good point about the use of the Sarissa by Alexander at the Hydapes. Here is an extract from my essay containing my arguement on the subject.
At the battle of Hydaspes, the weapon may well have been used, however, it is difficult to establish what role it played. Whilst Markle states there is no reason to disbelieve DiodorusGÇÖs statement that the Sarissa was used[1], Markle himself asserts that Diodorus GÇ£has no understanding of the weaponryGÇ¥.[2] DiodorusGÇÖ statement that the Macedonians GÇ£used their long spear to good effect against the Indians stationed beside the elephantsGÇ¥[3] and RufusGÇÖ inserted speech that says GÇ£Our spears, which are very long and strong will never serve us better than against these beasts and their drivers,GÇ¥ do[4] not withstand closer examination. Both authorsGÇÖ de
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