Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A discussion of hoplites on youtube- my 15 minutes of fame, stretched to 27

Yes, I have been away for a long time.  Luckily I have good reason.  I had to focus on the six-legged Myrmidons so as to finish my Ph. D. this May.  In July I will be starting a post-Doc working on Macrotermes termites that build huge air conditioned mounds wherein they practice agriculture by rearing fungus in what seems eerily like a Biodome. My job will be to analyze the manner in which the termites build their mounds and help a group of robotisists and physicists model the system and teach robots how to build for us.  The eventual goal is to have robots that we can send to places we cannot easily get to, like mars, go there and construct habitats for us that will be ready-made when we arrive.

I have not been completely away from hoplites.  I am featured on a YouTube channel:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=edoGJw8Xg0Q


6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great discussion!
It's a great resume of your ideas and research on hoplite phalanx!
In my university I was the only student with a experimental approach on warfare!
My teachers where always upset with my fight demonstration in class(lance, helmet, shield in class was a bit scary I think)! Your work on hoplite warfare are, in my opinion, the best basic ideas on the way the ancients Greeks were fighting!

Continue your great work!
From a passionate French Canadian on antique warfare!

P. M. Bardunias said...

Thank you. If you ever have comments or questions, feel free to write them here and discuss them with me and others.

Durnaug said...

I stumbled onto this fantastic "blogsite" via the equally fascinating "Sparta Reconsidered" site. Your insights into crowd dynamics seem to me exactly what is needed to progess the field of hoplite tactics.

I tried introducing your theories into a such a debate on the Total War Center forums and noticed a quick post by you on that very thread. So I decided to bite the bullet or rather the aspis and ask you directly some questions arising from that online shoving match.

The detractors seem to rely on two arguments against othismos: firstly anyone in the front ranks would be crushed "by those from behind". So they use this argument to get around your points about the unique design of the aspis, i.e. it is not about protecting yourself from the front is about being crushed from behind.

The second point that is used to dismiss othismos as a tactic is to state that the Thebans at Leuctra simply used the massed column tactic that has been a staple down through the centuries. They specifically use this argument to wave away the question of why did the Thebans bother deepening their phalanx if not for increasing pushing power.

Regarding that latter point about the columnn, I think that argument is tautological because rather than explaining the mechanics of the Theban phalanx they merely refer to the "massed column". But surely that begs an obvious question - what, then, are the mechanics of the massed column?

So my questions are (finally!) what prevents a hoplite being crushed from behind and into his aspis? And, secondly, as you allude to in your TWCenter post, is the massed column tactic embued with a "natural" othismos; a passive force that naturally pushes through a thinner line, i.e. there actually is no massed shoving?

Hope that is understandable.

Cheers!

Avian/Arthropod Research Group said...

“The second point that is used to dismiss othismos as a tactic is to state that the Thebans at Leuctra simply used the massed column tactic that has been a staple down through the centuries. They specifically use this argument to wave away the question of why did the Thebans bother deepening their phalanx if not for increasing pushing power.”

This falls apart when we consider the comparisons they are making in detail. You will often read of comparisons to the massed columns of revolutionary and Napoleonic France. The basic military maxim of getting there the “fastest with the moistest” works great for a Napoleonic column because the lines facing them generally ran away before a bayonette ever touched a single man. These columns were essentially a psychological tactic, aimed at breaking morale.

Imagine if we gave the opposing 3-deep line big shields, and the French powder was wet. A 3-deep line could probably stall that column completely, at which point the rest of the line wraps around the flanks and we have instant Cannae.

Those that write of the unstoppable momentum of French columns, and believe this is a literal physical force, should consider how fast those columns stopped when the English blew the heads off them. The French did not stumble over their dead front ranks and crash through the English- much to Napoleon’s chagrin.

“So my questions are (finally!) what prevents a hoplite being crushed from behind and into his aspis?”

The manner in which the shield rim fits across the top of the chest and upper thighs, both of which cannot be compressed. If you pushed with your hands on the hoplite's lower back, you could force him to bow into the shield, but the pressure on his back is from the broad shield-face behind him, not a point source like a hand. Remember that this is not bone crushing force, but a compression that does not allow you to inflate your lungs by moving your diaphragm. It does not take much force. This is how pythons kill by the way, not actually squeezing or crushing, but simply ratcheting down around the body as you exhale and not allowing an inhalation.

“And, secondly, as you allude to in your TWCenter post, is the massed column tactic embued with a "natural" othismos; a passive force that naturally pushes through a thinner line, i.e. there actually is no massed shoving?”

Not sure what you mean by ‘passive’, but the force of a crowd can be self-organized, meaning it need not be a conscious tactic or organized forward shove. If you give a crowd of men a shared direction of movement, this could be towards the stage at a rock concert, out a doorway, or towards and enemy phalanx, then they will generate crushing force in that direction.

I know that many have not had access to the article I wrote for Ancient Warfare on the mechanics of hoplite battle, so I am going to post some of that information here. It is my swan song on the topic, and hopefully will be taken up by others.

Avian/Arthropod Research Group said...

As to the point of the Theban phalanx being just a marching column that brought men against the enemy rapidly, we actually have an example of the fiasco that can be from the Spartans:

Xenophon, Hellenic 7:

. [22] Then Archidamus, espying a hill over which the Arcadians had carried their outer stockade, came to the conclusion that he could capture it, and that if he became master of this hill, the besiegers at its foot would not be able to hold their position. Now while he was leading the way to this place by a roundabout route, as soon as the peltasts who were running on ahead of Archidamus caught sight of the Epariti71 outside the stockade, they attacked them, and the cavalry endeavoured to join in the attack. The enemy, however, did not give way, but forming themselves into a compact body, remained quiet. Then the Lacedaemonians attacked again. The enemy did not give way even then, but on the contrary proceeded to advance, and by this time there was a deal of shouting; Archidamus himself thereupon came to the rescue, turning off along the wagon road which runs to Cromnus and leading his men in double file, just as he chanced to have them formed.

(Here the king brings up a marching column in a column of hoplites side by side, which could move much more rapidly that a deployed phalanx. As we will see, if the enemy does not run away, you actually have to deploy and fight! Not something that even Spartans could do well once engaged)



[23] Now as soon as the two forces had come near to one another, the troops of Archidamus in column, since they were marching along a road, and the Arcadians massed together in close order, at this juncture the Lacedaemonians were no longer able to hold out against the superior weight of the Arcadians, but Archidamus speedily received a wound straight through his thigh and speedily those who fought in front of him kept falling, among them Polyaenidas and Chilon, who was married to the sister of Archidamus; and the whole number of them who fell at that time was not less than thirty. [24] But when the Lacedaemonians as they retired along the road came out into open ground, they immediately formed themselves in line of battle against the enemy. The Arcadians on their side stood in close order, just as they were, and while inferior in numbers, they were in better spirits by far, since they had attacked a foe who retreated and had killed men. The Lacedaemonians, on the other hand, were exceedingly despondent, for they saw that Archidamus was wounded and they had heard the names of the dead, who were not only brave men but well nigh their most distinguished.

Durnaug said...

Well, personally I love the addition of "crowd dynamics" applied to Hoplite tactics. And that particular issue of Ancient Warfare is on my wishlist.

Many thanks for taking thet time to answer my opaque questions but it does take me time to absorb knowledge. On a gut level, I think your ideas are right.

Yes, hopefully some of us will continue to pursue this fruiful avenue of research. I wish you well in your research and hope nothing bad has hollowed out your enthusiasm for Lakedaimon.