Did Alexander command the PHALANX at Chaeronea?

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Re: Did Alexander command the PHALANX at Chaeronea?

Post by SpartanJKM » Mon Jun 19, 2017 11:06 am

Sorry, I did it again! :o

I have to become used to the feature on here that when one edits a post, it gets deleted pending approval. I had to add something I considered paramount. I'll leave it alone no matter what else I may think of amid my theories when it goes back up. Great stuff on here!
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Re: Did Alexander command the PHALANX at Chaeronea?

Post by sean_m » Mon Jun 19, 2017 12:14 pm

Alexias wrote:Please see SpartanJKM's earlier post which was awaiting approval.
Yes, his post was there when I wrote mine. But "Alexander could have charged the Theban phalanx with his cavalry" is not the same as "the ancient sources suggest that Alexander charged the Theban phalanx with his cavalry." I trust ancient sources more than I trust people's intuition about Alexander's favourite way of fighting.
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Re: Did Alexander command the PHALANX at Chaeronea?

Post by Alexias » Mon Jun 19, 2017 12:31 pm

sean_m wrote:
Alexias wrote:Please see SpartanJKM's earlier post which was awaiting approval.
Yes, his post was there when I wrote mine. But "Alexander could have charged the Theban phalanx with his cavalry" is not the same as "the ancient sources suggest that Alexander charged the Theban phalanx with his cavalry." I trust ancient sources more than I trust people's intuition about Alexander's favourite way of fighting.
You may not have seen his latest post as I've just had to re-approve it.

Just for clarity, it order to cut down on spammers, new users have their posts moderated. Every time James edits his post, it disappears from the main board and goes back into the moderation queue. James, until you reach the stage where your posts are no longer moderated, I would suggest that rather than edit your existing approved posts, you make a new post with your amended points in it. If you do amend a post, please make it clear what you amending.

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Re: Did Alexander command the PHALANX at Chaeronea?

Post by sean_m » Mon Jun 19, 2017 1:17 pm

Ok, the post beginning "Indeed, when I found this thread I didn't realize initially how old it was, hence the absence of any mention as source-material of the recent biographies of Philip II by Ian Worthington and Richard A. Gabriel." was not visible when I posted.

Given that I only have time for five or six sentences, though, I think I would still write the same ones. I am happy to watch the discussion about this battle, but I have a thesis to finish!
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Re: Did Alexander command the PHALANX at Chaeronea?

Post by sean_m » Mon Jun 19, 2017 4:15 pm

SpartanJKM wrote:Great stuff on here!
Also, thanks for taking so much time for your posts ... I just can't spare the time to do more than give my general impression of the sources and of the theories which I have read in the past.
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Re: Did Alexander command the PHALANX at Chaeronea?

Post by Paralus » Tue Jun 20, 2017 12:46 pm

SpartanJKM wrote:I have not seen Rahe's article, which this thread appears to draw on in support of an infantry clash at Chaeronea, but I do have the fine book by Gaebel, who references Rahe; with regards to our subject, I feel they are too rigid in opining that cavalry could not break a solid infantry line, which I feel is more a true dynamic than not, but the wedged Macedonian ilai could with proper precision - and I think they did break the Boeotian line in concert with the pezhetairoi.
I'm in concert here with Sean: there is much of "Alexander in Asia" which infuses modern views of this battle. This was Philip's battle, not Alexander's. No source describes either a cavalry charge or the action of cavalry at the battle. Diodoros does list 2,000 Macedonian cavalry - and one would expect them there - but what exactly did it do? As you've noted: the Greek position was very clearly a defensive one and chosen for that reason. The allies were not about to go on the offensive here; they were content to block the plain and way south and make Philip do the work of dislodging them. They will have well known of the Macedonian cavalry and so chose to anchor their flanks in the manner they did. Hammond proposes a line from Chaeroneia to the mound. This is over 3.2km long. Given the length, Hammond, preferring Justin's notice of allied troops, proposes 35,000 infantry for the allies, 30,000 of which are hoplites. Whence came these hoplites is difficult to see. Although Athens' allies are listed, it is not known what numbers they would contribute if they actually were there. The Achaians were there (Paus. 7.6.5) but are unlikely to have contributed large numbers. Boiotia seems to regularly have assembled 6-7,000 hoplites and Athens, on her efforts in the Lamian war (surely not dissimilar), not greatly more if not less. Ma proposes a line from the Lykuresi valley straight across to the Kephisos - something over 2.1km. This is a natural defensive line for what Diodoros calls a smaller army - especially when one considers the Thebans' near religious proclivity for deep formations (I cannot see the need for such an oblique line as Hammond's other than trying to fit an army larger than Philip's). Loosening this line or dislodging it would prove difficult and the allies had no choice but to fight having rolled the dice across Philip's table and into his wine cup!
SpartanJKM wrote:An interesting detail, though: Diodorus' use of the word 'companions' amid his description of the battle - in looking at the juxtaposed ancient Greek text in the Loeb Classical Library - is not the same as hetairoi (ἑταῖροι). If it had, boy, such a detail would have perhaps sealed the scholarly debates from the beginning!!
Again, the language comes across as describing an infantry battle. Diodoros does not, as you say, use ἑταῖροι and the translation of "companions" is a trifle misleading given that term's meaning. Diodoros uses παραστατῶν which might easily be rendered as comrade in formation terms.
SpartanJKM wrote:Well, the Boeotians and the Sacred Band were not akin to later Roman maniples, and exploiting the above scenario would entail breaking their ranks.
The Greek mercenary hoplites at Issos seemed not to suffer the such problems when gaps appeared in the Macedonian phalanx. It was more difficult for the phalangite to turn and face an internal flank attack than for a hoplite to make such.
SpartanJKM wrote:I feel that, along the Macedonian left wing, the pezhetairoi and hetairoi were interspersed (not necessarily in a perfectly balanced manner), brigaded in their taxeis and ilai (the 256-man syntagma could even comprise independent units of lochoi of 64 footmen, and the cavalry wedge comprised 120 horsemen); this could afford the mobility needed to loosen up and hopefully break the stout Greek hoplite lines. The gaps appeared and the cavalry wedges could strike at angles, and even direct strikes upon the hoplites would not be futile in slowly breaking the rigidity of the Boeotian/allied line, and they (mainly the pezhetairoi) did eventually stove it enough at points (the 'gaps' from Diodorus) conducive to cavalry infiltration at these points, rendering a tough fight into a catastrophe for Greek allied force.
I don't see this as practical. Ancient battles were not something that could be intricately planned. No modern communications existed and while plans could (and were) drawn up beforehand, once matters got going it was an organic thing and very difficult to control. Cavalry charges could (and did) get beyond control and, in the noise and dust of battle, much can (and did) get lost. Over complicating matters risked disaster. Interspersing such forces definitely appeals to me as a serious risk.

But too much thinking and intuiting can indeed be counterproductive!
Last edited by Paralus on Wed Jun 21, 2017 11:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Did Alexander command the PHALANX at Chaeronea?

Post by Xenophon » Wed Jun 21, 2017 6:23 am

Forgive me commenting at this late stage, but I must say that I am firmly in the camp of Paralus and those who believe that Alexander commanded the whole left wing, and not the cavalry, whilst his father commanded the right half of the army. Whilst certainty is not possible, military probability, reinforced by clues in Diodorus' text all indicate this.

1. The "seasoned Generals" can only be the likes of Parmenion and Antipater who themselves had commanded the left wing, and sometimes the whole army, in the past ( and Parmenion would go on taking this, his accustomed place, in Alexnder's army). The King commanded 'picked men', in the place of honour on the extreme right, referred elsewhere as the 'flower of Macedon', must be the Royal Guard ( pezhetairoi, who may already possibly be renamed hypaspists)

2.The battlefield does not appear to be big enough for the armies of both sides to have had their cavalry on the flanks, and they were probably therefore held in the rear, waiting for the infantry to break their opponents, when they could usefully carry out a pursuit.

3. ".....the battle was hotly contested for a long time and many fell on both sides, so that for a while the struggle permitted hopes of victory to both."
Contemporary readers would know that this descriptor applied to a drawn-out infantry battle. Cavalry battles were generally quick - they either broke their opponents, or recoiled. What they did not do was stand toe to toe, stationary, where enemy spears would take a swift toll of the horses - a sure recipe for disaster.

4. Paralus' point about the word 'parastaten' is quite correct, it does not mean 'companions' but rather 'comrade,one who stands beside you, supporter'.
Thus the men who stand beside one another in a phalanx rather than horsemen.

5. ..."until finally Alexander forced his way through the line..." - again indicative of an infantry 'slugfest'.

6. According to Diodorus, the King only advances after Alexander has beaten the Thebans, and another protracted struggle ensues. The story of Philip's feigned retreat must be regarded as apochryphal, for if there was one thing a pike phalanx could not do,it was retreat while its pikes faced the enemy - to do so, pikes needed to be raised.
Furthermore, this demolishes the modern theory that Philip's feigned retreat opened a gap between the Macedonian left wing and right wing, through which Alexander charged with the Companion cavalry ( unlikely in itself if you consider the size gap necessary for 1,000 or more cavalry to charge through in wedge formation. A single wedge would be impossibly big, for 1,012 cavalry would be 45 ranks deep and its rear rank would have a frontage of 90 metres [ at 2 metres per man]. Indeed it is apparent both from the various sources and the manuals that in fact each squadron/ile formed a wedge. Now squadron numbers are problematic but a likely organisation is a 300 strong Royal squadron, plus ordinary squadrons of 250 or so, which produces 4 squadrons 22 or so men deep, and a base width of a more reasonable 44 metres each. These would normally charge side by side so would need a 'gap' of over 175 metres or so - impossibly wide.Charging one squadron behind the other doesn't work either as only the lead squadron could fight.....)
Paralus (post fri june 16) is quite right about the problems of getting though or around the Macedonian infantry phalanx. He is also right about the complexities of combining heavy infantry with cavalry. Basically impossible, they are too 'assymetric'.
Furthermore, even today it is a military aphorism that "No plan survives first contact!" - how much more so must this have been true in Alexander's day?

7. We are told that more than a thousand Athenians were killed, and a further 2,000 taken prisoner. Since a pike phalanx wasn't much good at pursuit either, and in almost all battles most casualties occur in the pursuit, this is likely to have been the work of the Macedonian cavalry, and far more probable than them fighting a prolonged hand-to-hand struggle with a hoplite phalanx.

On numbers, we are given a variety of numbers in our sources - the Macedonians supposedly had 30,000 plus 2,000 cavalry but these are almost certainly an exaggeration, since troops must have been left to guard Macedon, and those numbers represent Philip's full forces. Similarly Thebes together with the rest of Boeotia might have put out their full strength of 7-10,000 infantry and 800 or so cavalry ( since they were 'at home') while Athens may have contributed up to 10,000 infantry including mercenaries and peltasts plus 6-800 cavalry .
We should probably not be far out if we surmised that each side numbered around 20,000 - given the protracted struggle, the probability is that numbers were fairly equal.

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Re: Did Alexander command the PHALANX at Chaeronea?

Post by Paralus » Thu Jun 22, 2017 10:55 am

Often wondered about that "feigned retreat". Polyaenus actually mentions this battle twice. In the second (4.2.7) he writes:
Philippus, at Chaeroneia, knowing the Athenians were impetuous and inexperienced, and the Macedonians inured to fatigues and exercise, contrived to prolong the action: and reserving his principal attack to the latter end of the engagement, the enemy weak and exhausted were unable to sustain the charge.
Now, Hammond (Philip of Macedon, pp 153-4) claims that the Macedonian line advanced with the right advanced and the left retarded in "an acute angle" to the allied line. He posits that the Macedonian line advanced at a prearranged rate and essentially pivoted around the right wing as Philip staged a sham retreat. He translates the above ("contrived to prolong the action") as "extended his formation a lot". Unfortunately Hammond has been known to translate in a manner favourable to his thesis as one might see here and also here where the first is a combination of sources and the second clearly a forced favourable translation to suit the argument. We might well be looking at the latter in this episode methinks for while the "inured to fatigues and exercise" can certainly relate to prolonging the action, it has absolutely no connection to extending a line. Either way, Xenophon is right: it is very difficult to see the Macedonian phalanx retreating on one wing while advancing on the other and not only for the reason he gives. Again, these battles take on a life of their own. Executing such a retreat opens up the phalanx to disruption in the heat of battle. Essentially we have to imagine the phalanx almost pivoting about its centre during an advance. It's hard to see. It is more likely that the battle was hard fought as the Greeks had chosen their defensive position well and that the hand to hand fighting continued for some time with the Macedonians taking their fair share of heat. The Athenian gen erals may well have thought they were gaining the contest and exclaimed what they are supposed to have before the Macedonians gave a decent shove and broke the Athenians.

Xenophon is also right on the cavalry (as someone who wrote a treatise on horsemanship should be!): cavalry do not fight infantry battles. Yes, there have been times when cavalry action degenerates into infantry type battles (Granikos and Gaza spring to mind) but these are cavalry against cavalry. I cannot imagine the Macedonian cavalry engaging the Theban phalanx in a long and even battle that only after considerable time swung the cavalry's way. As Xenophon notes, the mounts will have suffered terribly not to mention vulnerable riders thighs and legs. Cavalry is about mobility not hand to hand stand up fighting.
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Re: Did Alexander command the PHALANX at Chaeronea?

Post by sean_m » Thu Jun 22, 2017 2:53 pm

Could we maybe look at the Sparto-Macedonian war and the revolt of the southern mainland Greeks when they heard that Alexander had gone to be with his father? We know even less about those than Chaeronaea, but I don't recall cavalry playing a big role in either the sources or modern reconstructions, and those both involved Philip's army facing a coalition of Greek cities.

The ratio of fifteen footmen per horsemen at Chaeronaea in Diodorus contrasts the ratio of six to one which he gives a few chapters later (17.17.3) after Alexander crossed into Asia, and says something about the kind of battle that Philip planned to fight in Greece and the type which Alexander planned to fight in Asia.
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Re: Did Alexander command the PHALANX at Chaeronea?

Post by Xenophon » Fri Jun 23, 2017 1:18 am

Paralus wrote :

Polyaenus wrote:
"Philippus, at Chaeroneia, knowing the Athenians were impetuous and inexperienced, and the Macedonians inured to fatigues and exercise, contrived to prolong the action: and reserving his principal attack to the latter end of the engagement, the enemy weak and exhausted were unable to sustain the charge."

...and also Frontinus: " At Chaeronea, Philip purposely prolonged the engagement, mindful that his own soldiers were seasoned by long experience, while the Athenians were ardent but untrained, and impetuous only in the charge. Then, as the Athenians began to grow weary, Philip attacked more furiously and cut them down."

Oho, Philip "contrived to prolong the action" did he? That is so obviously Macedonian propaganda spin showing Philip in control.....a euphemism for Diodorus' more honest :

"Once joined, the battle was hotly contested for a long time and many fell on both sides, so that for a while the struggle permitted hopes of victory to both."

In other words the prolonged battle was because it was even-handed, not some tactical ploy by Philip......

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Re: Did Alexander command the PHALANX at Chaeronea?

Post by Xenophon » Fri Jun 23, 2017 1:35 am

Sean M. wrote:
"...The ratio of fifteen footmen per horsemen at Chaeronaea in Diodorus contrasts the ratio of six to one which he gives a few chapters later (17.17.3) after Alexander crossed into Asia, and says something about the kind of battle that Philip planned to fight in Greece and the type which Alexander planned to fight in Asia."

Just so. An army designed to fight against foes consisting primarily of 'Hoplite' heavy infantry would need to also be composed of heavy infantry, and not so many comparatively useless cavalry, especially as these would create a heavy logistic burden ( food for horses and their other needs) .

Knowing that the Persians were particularly strong in cavalry, whom infantry would be unable to catch, Alexander would take as many cavalry as he could.......

This is what I meant by 'assymetric'.....infantry and cavalry strengths and weaknesses are completely different.

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Re: Did Alexander command the PHALANX at Chaeronea?

Post by Paralus » Fri Jun 23, 2017 4:02 pm

sean_m wrote:Could we maybe look at the Sparto-Macedonian war and the revolt of the southern mainland Greeks when they heard that Alexander had gone to be with his father? We know even less about those than Chaeronaea, but I don't recall cavalry playing a big role in either the sources or modern reconstructions, and those both involved Philip's army facing a coalition of Greek cities.
Very true - but the problem is that our source for Antipater's battle "of mice" (Curtius) is lacunose (Diodoros' shorthand summary is little help) and we only pick it up as the battle turns against the Macedonians who then rally and destroy the Spartans. Still, what remains of the description tells of a very intense infantry battle where the Spartans had chosen their ground very well (akin to Sellasia). There is no cavalry action in what remains to us of Curtius' description and that includes the pursuit. Now there's much exaggeration in the account but several things are plain: the battle was extremely fierce and contested; the field was chosen to suit the Spartans - Antipatros responding to a "rebellion"; the ground permitted no role for the Macedonian cavalry.
Curtius, 6.1.10:
However, the narrow terrain to which the fighting had been confined would not permit a full-scale engagement of the two forces...
There's little reason to dismiss this. The 'allies' here are hardly likely to have accorded Antipatros room to utilise his cavalry and rather chose ground to suit their infantry. This is exactly as I see Chaeroneia: the allies chose their ground well. It had to be north of Thebes else the city would never have agreed to back Athens. The ground must have suited an infantry battle for it was not wide enough to deploy significant numbers of cavalry and, in any case, the Macedonian and Thessalian cavalry were far superior and not to be given a fair shake on the field.
Xenophon wrote:Oho, Philip "contrived to prolong the action" did he? That is so obviously Macedonian propaganda spin showing Philip in control.....a euphemism for Diodorus' more honest :

"Once joined, the battle was hotly contested for a long time and many fell on both sides, so that for a while the struggle permitted hopes of victory to both."
While I don't disagree with your conclusion, relying on Diodoros' description here is very fraught. This is one of the Sicilian's favourite lines. When one covers all of "known history", one is bound to peddle the same lines for the interminable battles one must record. This is yet another example of many that could be adduced of this particular favourite. Which is not to say the battle was not difficult and hard fought.
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Re: Did Alexander command the PHALANX at Chaeronea?

Post by SpartanJKM » Fri Jun 23, 2017 7:21 pm

Boy, it feels very edifying I was able to recharge such a fascinating thread. Thanks for your scholarly input, Paralus et el. Come Sunday I'll continue amid the discussion in detail.

Forgive me, I was in error on some detail in attempting to support my view that the Macedonian cavalry took part in the action here at Chaeronea: I mentioned Coenus as one of the probable 'seasoned generals' sent by Philip to command with Alexander, and that he was one who would not be commanding infantry.

I was likely wrong, as he later commanded one of the right-winged taxies at Issus and Gaugamela, which negates the implausibility that he per see would not be leading infantry at Chaeronea. I feel like hypocritical, actually, as I mention 'inflexibility' when arguing against issues, yet within the major overview central to the theory supporting the cavalry here at Chaeronea is indeed the aspect of flexibility - Philip's New Model Army constituted a degree of flexibility and mobility - including command and control; with all the fine-tuning and administrative changes Alexander made throughout his 12 years of campaigning, it was under Philip 'the special function of each arm had been realized' (cf. George Cawkwell, Philip of Macedon, p. 158).
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Re: Did Alexander command the PHALANX at Chaeronea?

Post by SpartanJKM » Fri Jun 23, 2017 7:43 pm

EDIT:

... and Attalus commanded one of the phalanx brigades at Hydaspes (Agrianian units at Granicus and Gaugamela, with Coenus leading cavalry at the Hydaspes. I should have just opined 'Parmenio and Antipitar; the latter's night breakthrough at Amphissa prior to Chaeronea was effected with cavalry and infantry.

Thanks, James :)
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Re: Did Alexander command the PHALANX at Chaeronea?

Post by Xenophon » Sat Jun 24, 2017 12:51 am

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, unless one side runs away before battle is joined, any fight where large armies numbering thousands get 'stuck in' to one another is bound to be 'prolonged', for it takes considerable time to inflict large numbers of casualties and/or affect the morale of one side or the other. Indeed the vast majority of battles in military history tend to be indecisive for just that reason.

Accordingly, as Paralus points out, it is hard to avoid descriptions such as Diodorus' - there are only so many ways to describe such struggles....

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