Thursday, February 23, 2012

What exactly is my field of expertise?

Every now and then I get a comment that I feel would be better answered as a post so that any others with a similar question can easily find the answer.  Recently I was asked the following in response to my last post:

"What exactly is your field of expertise?"

I am an entomologist. One might wonder what bugs have in common with hoplites, but I work in a field called Self-Organization. We study how large groups of individuals (ants, termites, and people) come together and produce specific outcomes without the need for specific top-down planning. In social insects, this includes things like building huge nests and digging extensive tunnel galleries (my specialty), but in humans this encompasses the behavior of large crowds and the self-organization of traffic patterns.
It is the confluence of a chance of birth, my great-grandfather was actually from Sparta, and the fact that in war, and especially in a mass formation like a phalanx that we see humans acting in the most self-organized way that brought me to this.

You might say "war? self-organized? but what of all those officers?" I would counter with the fact that no officer in the history of warfare ever ordered his men to rout and run for their lives, and yet they do so in a highly coordinated manner. This same under-layer of self-organization exists during an advance and in group fighters like hoplites, during battle.

Over the last decade I have been studying hoplite battle. Initially I simply bought the prevailing notions of V.D. Hanson and those on his side of the squabble over hoplite combat, seeing challenges such as those by Van Wees as unfounded. But somewhere along the way I realized that the mechanics they propose for hoplites pushing each other are simplistic. They are based on an extrapolation of what would work best for two individuals colliding and do not produce the maximum force when men push in ranks. From that realization spawned all of the information on my blog. I have attempted to show the most efficient manner of pushing in mass- if hoplites pushed during battle. I write that disclaimer because some level of pushing is my base assumption, and in earlier posts I have shown the features of the aspis that support this notion. If they never pushed in files, then all of this is irrelevant.

The end product of my research is that I can reconcile the two divergent views on hoplite combat. Hanson was not wrong in principle, just unclear on the mechanics. I don’t fault him for it, that knowledge was beyond his expertise, but his presentation was vulnerable to those who wrote against pushing because I believe many intuitively knew something did not work, and some evidence, like spear fighting before pushing, could not be accounted for sufficiently. But for the fact that the “heretics” did not believe in a push by files, they had many features correct. In a sense it is like the heretics had much of the early phase of battle correct, while the orthodoxy understood the end of battle- or at least of many battles.

Obviously there are not all that many of us interested in hoplites, but I would love to see more people with divergent training put that knowledge to use in the study of hoplites.

By the way, Self-Organization has caught the interest of modern armies. Google it and you’ll find many resources. If you do a Google scholar search on me (Bardunias), you’ll see what I normally publish about insects and how they work in groups.

15 comments:

Dan said...

Mr. Bardunias,

Thank you for the answer.

I put a comment in on your older entry on the crowd othismos model.

To summarize, I agree w/ most of what you have to say. Not everything however [surprise surprise : ) ].

I do think that what you insist on regarding a charge to contact against a compact phalanx would apply only to the Lakedaemonian phalanx.

In all other cases, read non-Lakedaemonian phalanxes, the charge, usually - if not always - from distance, would result in a longitudinal stretching of the phalanx - as opposed to a stretching in width of the phalanx. Under these conditions, a charge into contact could result in a front rank hoplite knocked over and hence easily dispatched.

So, I do think that most hoplites charged w/ momentum into shield to shield contact. It is at this point that you would get "spear fencing". The type spear fencing envisioned by the "heretics", would continue until the following ranks closed up on their file leaders. Once the ranks became compact again, that is when the othismos would begin. I also believe that a hoplite's weapon was put to good use during the othismos.

I just can not see hoplites charging at a run pulling up five feet from the opposing line to fence. I think that if a front ranker tried that, he would get run over by the seven guys behind him.


P.B. said:
Obviously there are not all that many of us interested in hoplites,


I would disagree & would expect that there are quite a few of us out there interested in hoplites.

P.B. said:
but I would love to see more people with divergent training put that knowledge to use in the study of hoplites.

I once wrote a paper on the subject of hoplites based upon a system of differential equations. If you are interested, you can reach me at daniel.o'dowd@uconn.edu, I would be happy to send you a copy & get your reaction.

Dan

P. M. Bardunias said...

Dan:"In all other cases, read non-Lakedaemonian phalanxes, the charge, usually - if not always - from distance, would result in a longitudinal stretching of the phalanx - as opposed to a stretching in width of the phalanx."

I agree with this, in fact I have proposed that the charge was a defacto means of deepening ranks if hoplites ended up with files to the center or perhaps more likely to the right with extra men in them. Most likely though, they maintained thier files, but they surely ended up closer together, distance between hoplites in ranks, after a charge than they did before.

Dan: "Under these conditions, a charge into contact could result in a front rank hoplite knocked over and hence easily dispatched."

Here is where something of a 'rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock' comes into play. If you chare in a loose mob of ranks that have pulled apart, I will simply stand in dense ranks, or better advance at the last moment, and you will not knock anyone over or break my line. This is because you will hit my solid line like a stream of BBs rather than a solid piece of metal. Check back on the video I linked to on "how to break a shield wall". It looks silly and would probably be fatal for many charging, but it is the only way to combine mass effectively.

Dan:"The type spear fencing envisioned by the "heretics", would continue until the following ranks closed up on their file leaders. Once the ranks became compact again, that is when the othismos would begin."

This is pretty much what I propose. Hoplites could surely start off doratismos with a bash of the aspis, then settle in to spear fencing, but this is a far cry from attempting to run en masse into the enemy phalanx directly from a long charge. I think some battles, like second phase Coronea, happened pretty much like this, with no or very limites spear-fencing.

But there is a problem. Many do not realize just how long the dory was. I, and others, believe it was 8' long and balanced to a grip about a third from the sauroter. This leaves more than 5 feet of dory in front of the hand. You cannot use the weapon against a man you are pressed shield to shield with. So you would have to crash into the man ahead, then back up enough to use the dory, all the while men are piling up behind you. You could say that the front rankers did not stab at eachother, but at men behind the opposite front rank, but I do not believe this is tenable given human nature. Such stabbing into the ranks surely occurred, but it is not why the dory was so long. The only option left is that the dory was meant to be used by front-rankers against each other, while standing apart. Thus a beaten-zone between phalanxes of 4-5 feet.

Dan said...

PB said:
"Here is where something of a 'rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock' comes into play. If you charge in a loose mob of ranks that have pulled apart, I will simply stand in dense ranks, or better advance at the last moment, and you will not knock anyone over or break my line."


I am not argueing this point. I agree with you here. In fact, this is exactly why, in my opinion, that the Spartans did not loose an engagement for 200 years. They were the only hoplites w/ the discipline not to charge and loosen their ranks. Hence, IF their opponent actually completed their charge, it would not have much impression on the Spartan line much as you have described.

I think that this would also allow the Spartans to start the othismos earlier than their opponents and thereby have forward momentum when they went over to the attack. It would take a few minutes for the chargers to fill in behind their file leaders who would be in the process of being pushed backwards.

It is my hypothesis that a hoplite being pushed backwards could not fight w/ spear or sword nearly as effectively as one moving forward.

However, in a confrontation between militia phalanxes (no Spartans involved) the sources imply that both sides would charge at a run. I understand that you would keep your hoplites compact (as the Spartans did) but militia phalanxes did not. BOTH phalanxes would be strung out somewhat and you would get the circumstances that I discussed earlier.


BTW, nice Big Bang Theory referece. One of the very few network shows that I like & watch regularly.

Dan said...

PB said:
"But there is a problem. Many do not realize just how long the dory was. I, and others, believe it was 8' long and balanced to a grip about a third from the sauroter."


I do not think that there was a standard length as w/ much else of the privately purchased panoply.


PB said:
"This leaves more than 5 feet of dory in front of the hand. You cannot use the weapon against a man you are pressed shield to shield with. So you would have to crash into the man ahead, then back up enough to use the dory,"


This begs the question of where the seven guys behind you are. Does the front ranker have room to back up 2.5 to 5 feet in order to fence?

BTW, Hanson in "Western Way of War" has proposed using the sauroter to dispatch a hoplite on the ground. This could be done by the front ranker who put him down or more likely by the guy right behind our front ranker while our front ranker takes on the opponents #2.


PB said:
"all the while men are piling up behind you."


Exactly!


PB said:
"You could say that the front rankers did not stab at each other, but at men behind the opposite front rank,"


Actually I do. Assuming the guy in your face still has an intact spear with which he is doing likewise - stabbing into the ranks behind you.


PB said:
"but I do not believe this is tenable given human nature."


If the guy in your face has broken or lost his spear & is now using his sword against you, yes I think that our front ranker would per force abandon his spear to draw his sword to defend himself against the guy in his face.

Do not forget that the Spartans, the proffesionals of the Hellenic world, used a sword that was only a foot long. This would imply that they were employing their ruler at point blank range - ie shield to shield contact.


PB said:
"Such stabbing into the ranks surely occurred, but it is not why the dory was so long."


The purpose of a spear is to be able to strike before you are struck. Hence, a hoplite hoped to get in the first strike during the charge. Also a spear allowed the second and possibly the third rank to strike once the formations had closed up. Philip of Macedon carried this out to its logical conclusion.


PB said:
"The only option left is that the dory was meant to be used by front-rankers against each other, while standing apart. Thus a beaten-zone between phalanxes of 4-5 feet."


I do not buy it. You have appealed to human nature a couple of times. I think that it is human nature for a man who has built up some momentum in a charge to complete that charge, particularly when he has a great big 3 foot around shield with which he can be 'fairly' confident will keep him alive while doing so. Certainly not to pull up 5 feet short to fence. As I have said earlier, neither do I think that he would have the room to back up after a shield bash.


Thanks for the interesting conversation.

Padre said...

I spent a few years in the military and we ran in formations about 4-6 wide and 30 men deep. If we had done a left face or right face and ran in formation at jogging speed we would have been a line formation simular to how I envision the hoplites rapidly advancing to battle. A controlled run which upon approaching the enemy line would swing their aspis around and the dory up on command prior to contact. At that time one would pick a target and hit it. This impact would stop the dory, and in turn the advancing holder. Aspis to aspis would probably not happen right away, but rather become the eventual progression of the melee.

I think that the Spartans at Thermopoly when they turned and ran to draw off the Persians, were doing this when they became too pressed to be effective. ie when contact became shield to shield.

Just my thoughts.

P. M. Bardunias said...

Sorry for the delay Dan, evidently I'm not being notified by my blog of incoming comments.

Dan said:

"I do not think that there was a standard length [of the dory] as w/ much else of the privately purchased panoply."

The length of the dory surely changed drastically over time, but I believe in any unit of phalanx men would have had spears of similar length, just as they had shields of similar design. This uniformity is required to maximize the potential of such a formation. If the men around you have a 2’ reach advantage, then you either have to stand and do nothing or step 2’ forward and expose your flanks.

"This begs the question of where the seven guys behind you are. Does the front ranker have room to back up 2.5 to 5 feet in order to fence?"

A more fundamental question is what do we mean by fencing? Probably the front two ranks were initially given some room to move rather than having the third rank pushing forward immediately. This is the standard for most armies who fight in close formation, the rear ranks don’t just slam into them as they fight. But Hoplite fencing need not involve moving back and forth in the manner an individual fighter would. It involved staying in your place in line and jabbing at any available target with your spear overhand. Usually this was the guy in front of you, but it could be a foe to either side or the enemy second rank. The movements of spear fencers would involve footwork that moved them from a ¾ pre-strike stance to a square-fore stance as they step forward with the right leg to strike

Rear ranks surely could press forward and Arrian describes the second rank men closing up to the front rankers to strike over them (he actually calls this pressing of second to first rank othismos. I believe this was important in the transition from spear fencing to crowded othismos, but I don't think this was an obligate move from the first moment of battle.

Perhaps a good note to make here is that we are discussing a truly long history of warfare when we speak of hoplites. Nothing I write holds true for all battles or all ages. I believe the one factor that unites all hoplite battle was the threat of a very densely crowded combat with lots of pushing that we call othismos. But this threat need not have been realized in all cases. Picking battles like Delium, Leuktra, or the second phase of Coronea and attempting to over generalize is a hazard.

P. M. Bardunias said...

"Assuming the guy in your face still has an intact spear with which he is doing likewise - stabbing into the ranks behind you."

I doubt this. Human nature is such that the threat immediately before you, the enemy front ranker would be given priority. If you are stabbing at the rank behind me and I draw a sword, you are dead. It would take great discipline for a man to trust the ranks behind him to keep him alive in this situation.

"The purpose of a spear is to be able to strike before you are struck. Hence, a hoplite hoped to get in the first strike during the charge. Also a spear allowed the second and possibly the third rank to strike once the formations had closed up. Philip of Macedon carried this out to its logical conclusion."

You are correct in the sense that the lengthening of spears was an arms race, but the focus was reach during spear fencing, not jousting unhorsed. The idea was clearly not to make a single strike on the run, then have a uselessly long spear. Read the British accounts of what happened to Napoleon’s lancers when they miss on their initial strike and ended up in a general melee. I think it clear from the accounts that spear fencing was a valid phase of hoplite combat, and indeed could be the decisive phase, not just an initial clash.

The Macedonians show this to be true. They fought at a distance, fencing with their sarissa, They did not collide into each other in a disorganized mass of jousters.

"PB said:
"The only option left is that the dory was meant to be used by front-rankers against each other, while standing apart. Thus a beaten-zone between phalanxes of 4-5 feet."

I do not buy it. You have appealed to human nature a couple of times. I think that it is human nature for a man who has built up some momentum in a charge to complete that charge, particularly when he has a great big 3 foot around shield with which he can be 'fairly' confident will keep him alive while doing so. Certainly not to pull up 5 feet short to fence. As I have said earlier, neither do I think that he would have the room to back up after a shield bash."

He has built up individual momentum, but the force his phalanx can transfer is at its lowest at this point. Hoplites will simply provide a string of one-man collisions as the other ranks slam in rather than using the unified mass of the group. As to crashing into your enemy, this may be a good idea if it was just you two, but I have surveyed many reenactors who have actually done this. Such a collision is a mess. He may go down, but there is a good chance you will to.

There is a better chance that you two glance off each other’s shields and simply blow past each other, into the spears of the second rank.

As for not being able to back up after a shield bash, this presupposes that the ranks behind you have stopped and are not slamming into you. Note that far from being impossible, this is exactly what we see in many Roman era battle descriptions. It is rare when we see Roman ranks slamming into their own men in front and not allowing them room to fight freely.

P. M. Bardunias said...

"I understand the reasoning on why (most) hoplites ran (or at least trotted). However, I do not see them pulling up from the run ~5 feet short of the opposing line to fight w/ the spear. It still does not seem reasonable to me. I think if the front ranker tried to pull up short, the seven other guys running behind him would probably run him over or at least bump into him making it difficult to take on his opponent."

The notion that rear rankers would crash into the men in front of them is something that I have been attempting to dispell for years. It is what most people envision, but is not correct. We all have experience in NOT doing this. Few of us, I hope, crash into the line of cars in front of us at every red light. You don't do this, even if you can't see the light ahead, because you match your speed to the car ahead. basing your movement on the pattern of an adjacent individual fall into what we call "local" information. Seeing the stoplight in the distance would be "global" information. Like hoplites, we commonly use local information to accomplish all sorts of movement in groups- be they crowds or traffic.

The only two ways you would crash into the man ahead is if 1) you did not watch him- this is why texting while driving is a bad idea. 2) he himself is abruptly stopped, as when he crashes or slams on his breaks, in a time interval that is shorter than your ability to see, process, and react by decelerating yourself.

P. M. Bardunias said...

Padre..

"I envision the hoplites rapidly advancing to battle. A controlled run which upon approaching the enemy line would swing their aspis around and the dory up on command prior to contact. At that time one would pick a target and hit it. This impact would stop the dory, and in turn the advancing holder. Aspis to aspis would probably not happen right away, but rather become the eventual progression of the melee."

This is pretty much what I believe, with the caveat that you can stop as spear range at the moment you strike rather than run through like a jouster. Your dory hitting will not stop you, you would collide with the man in front. This doen not mean you waste the momentum of your forward motion. Javelin throwers run to add force to their throws, but cease running forward when they release. Stabbing with the dory shares many features with javelin throwing.

"I think that the Spartans at Thermopoly when they turned and ran to draw off the Persians, were doing this when they became too pressed to be effective. ie when contact became shield to shield."

First, and I mention this because I am currently having this discussion elsewhere, the Spartans did not run pell-mell. They retreated in a "crowded mass" according to Herodotus. They probably countermarched, retreated, then countermarched again to face the Persians. If this seems too orderly, it is because it is difficult to appreciate just how subtle the signals of disorder on a battlefield can be. Remember that a general could tell the enemy would not stand just by the way their spear tips wavered.

What I think the Spartans were up to a Thermopylae was simply getting the Persians to come to them on the most faviorable ground. They did something similar at Mantinea to entice their foes off a strong position.

Glad to chat with you.

Dan said...

PD: "I believe in any unit of phalanx men would have had spears of similar length, just as they had shields of similar design. This uniformity is required to maximize the potential of such a formation. If the men around you have a 2’ reach advantage, then you either have to stand and do nothing or step 2’ forward and expose your flanks."

Dan: IIRC, there was {some) variation in spear length & shield diameter. A 2' difference is spear length would matter little once the lines came to shield to shield contact. Of course, I think that the lines came into (& stayed) in contact right away. So no exposed flanks.

I think you are giving the Greeks too much credit for uniformity of equipment. It may have been logical to do so, but it is asking a bit much from militia forces. Each hoplite purchased (or perhaps inherited) his panoply to fit his own size & reach.



PB: "A more fundamental question is what do we mean by fencing? Probably the front two ranks were initially given some room to move rather than having the third rank pushing forward immediately."

Dan: This is a quibble, but if the two lines stand 5' away from each other & "fence", I do not think the second line could reach. I know you will say maybe 4' or 3' apart, but way not 2' or 1' or contact.



PB: "This is the standard for most armies who fight in close formation, the rear ranks don’t just slam into them as they fight."

Dan: I do not think that the third rank "slams" into the back of the second ranker in front of him. I think that he would fill in behind the second ranker & only start to push forwards when he feels the fourth ranker behind him begin to push. This would apply on back through the file until the rear ranker decided that his file was closed up sufficiently & began to push. The othismos would begin at the back of the file & vector forward.



PB: "But Hoplite fencing need not involve moving back and forth in the manner an individual fighter would. It involved staying in your place in line and jabbing at any available target with your spear overhand. Usually this was the guy in front of you, but it could be a foe to either side or the enemy second rank. The movements of spear fencers would involve footwork that moved them from a ¾ pre-strike stance to a square-fore stance as they step forward with the right leg to strike"

Dan: If you are right, this would be reasonable. I envision hoplite as instantly more brutal than do you.

Dan said...

PB: "Rear ranks surely could press forward and Arrian describes the second rank men closing up to the front rankers to strike over them (he actually calls this pressing of second to first rank othismos. I believe this was important in the transition from spear fencing to crowded othismos, but I don't think this was an obligate move from the first moment of battle."

Dan: Again this is reasonable, if you are correct in your interpretation. I just can not imagine guys w/ a running (or jogging) start stop short to fence.



PB: "Perhaps a good note to make here is that we are discussing a truly long history of warfare when we speak of hoplites. Nothing I write holds true for all battles or all ages. I believe the one factor that unites all hoplite battle was the threat of a very densely crowded combat with lots of pushing that we call othismos. But this threat need not have been realized in all cases. Picking battles like Delium, Leuktra, or the second phase of Coronea and attempting to over generalize is a hazard."

Dan: Yes, the Thebans (& Boiotians) did seem to specialize in the othismos.

F.E. Ray's book on 173 land engagements in the 5th century bc lists may battles that were not decided by othismos. If you have never seen this book, it is well worth the inter-library loan chase.

However, I tend to interpret battles that were not decided by othismos as either a flank attack or a variation on a 'tearless battle', ie a cohesion disintegration at some point prior to the othismos.

Dan said...

PB: "I doubt this. Human nature is such that the threat immediately before you, the enemy front ranker would be given priority. If you are stabbing at the rank behind me and I draw a sword, you are dead. It would take great discipline for a man to trust the ranks behind him to keep him alive in this situation."

Dan: Granted. However, there is the school of thought that says the guy infront of you w/ an intact spear is not a threat, whereas the guy behind him who can hit you w/ his spear is the more immediate threat. Yes, our front ranker would need to keep an eye on the guy in front of him & his spear.

I wonder if the sword became the primary weapon once the lines met shield to shield. In Xenophon's description of the aftermath of 2nd Coronea, he focuses on swords & not on the spear. But then he also says that this "battle was unlike any other battle of his times".

Dan said...

PB: "Read the British accounts of what happened to Napoleon’s lancers when they miss on their initial strike and ended up in a general melee. I think it clear from the accounts that spear fencing was a valid phase of hoplite combat, and indeed could be the decisive phase, not just an initial clash."

Dan: I can guess, but you will have to fill me in on this bit. My interest stops around the time of Ceasar. To save you the trouble, I would imagine that it was similiar to what happened once the legionaries got amongst the phalangites.

Dan said...

PB: "The Macedonians show this to be true. They fought at a distance, fencing with their sarissa, They did not collide into each other in a disorganized mass of jousters."

Dan: I do not think that you can argue backwards here. I think that the two forms of battle (hoplite & phalangite) while outwardly similiar, but where different enough not to be able to draw parallels.

I find that I do not have a handle on phalangite battle that I (think that I) have on hoplie battle. I believe that the othismos was tranfered through the aspis. I have more trouble with how the 'push' was tranfered through the pike.

Dan said...

Padre: "I spent a few years in the military and we ran in formations about 4-6 wide and 30 men deep. If we had done a left face or right face and ran in formation at jogging speed we would have been a line formation simular to how I envision the hoplites rapidly advancing to battle. A controlled run which upon approaching the enemy line would swing their aspis around and the dory up on command prior to contact. At that time one would pick a target and hit it."

Dan: You are probably correct. However, the controlled jog could turn into a run. Xenophon (Anabasis) talks about hoplites on the approach calling out to each other "not to run races".

Padre: "This impact would stop the dory, and in turn the advancing holder. Aspis to aspis would probably not happen right away, but rather become the eventual progression of the melee."

Dan: I do not think that the inpact of spear on shield, armor, or flesh would stop your forward momentum. I still envion the shield on shield collision.