Thanks for responding Paralus.
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
Thank you for the references: the article by Sears
was familiar to me, but couldn't recall from whom it came - my wording of "Swiss pikemen" and "jettisoning" from the fountainhead of source-material was influenced by my glancing of the article not long ago.
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
Sometimes I remember not, in discussing this battle, that the Sacred Band was a crack unit of 300 men - comprising around 2% of the Greek allied right wing in this contest; they seem to be mentioned more often than such a statistic would merit, and I include myself getting wrapped up in such a detail! When I mention 'Thebans' without specifying the Sacred Band, I mean the Boeotian/allied line of some 15,000 hoplites (Demosthenes
tells that the allied states other than Athens and Boeotia - which includes Thebes for the latter - furnished 15,000 infantry, cf. On the Crown
...The problem is that Diodoros' language is very much that of an infantry description. The language should not be pushed too far though for the Sicilian is not writing anything like a technical description and is describing the battle in what amounts to shorthand. In any case, a cavalry "charge" (nothing like the pell-mell sprint seen in Stone's Alexander) might well have been successful...
I agree that Diodorus'
description reflects 'theatrical' journalese rather than a genuine military account (I wonder if Hieronymus
ever wrote a description of Chaeronea?), and he never writes the word 'infantry', either, if I may express a little pedantry. But that he tells us that Philip
stationed his most seasoned generals - viz. Parmenio
- with Alexander
, does not make for an infantry battle per se on the Macedonian left/Greek allied right. These were cavalry commanders of an army which relied on a supremely forged cavalry striking force, and they wouldn't have been sent over there with the prince to command infantry, and on top of that, the outnumbered and more lightly-armed (other than a sarissa
per se) Macedonian phalangitae
(following the abridged work of the substantial but lost works of Pompeius Trogus
on this backdrop by Justin
) could not succeed without the cavalry with them: upon deployment, Philip
needed to extend his line across the Greek allied front, lest get enveloped, and he could not do this against a numerically superior force forming a static line of defense with, presumably, eight ranks of heavy infantry without his cavalry, which I didn't mean to imply were placed behind the Macedonian phalanx. Diodorus
explicitly tells us that the contest was hotly contested at the onset, meaning loosening and breaking the Greek allied line was no child's play, but doesn't express anything drawn-out after Alexander
ruptured the solid front line ('corpses piled up'), thus a plausible, IMHO, much speedier dynamic the course of the battle took after the Boeotian/allied line was perforated could not have been the action of infantry against infantry; the Boeotian hoplites and other allies along the allied right wing could have fallen back into a retreat without being so demonstrably defeated.
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!!
The Greek allied army of hoplites pursued a defensive policy; they adopted a sound defensive line extending nearly two miles across the plain, with both wings anchored by not only nature's obstacles to prevent any envelopment, but by efficient water-supply for both wings, as well as secure lines of withdrawal/retreat and communications southwards through the foothills of the Kerata Pass, which was actually utilized by the Athenian-led side (this line of withdrawal did become less secure for the allies and Boeotians extending further north-eastwards towards the Cesiphuss River). They seemingly could hold Philip
up for months, and he had already made attempts with diplomacy.
Outnumbered by perhaps 20%, the initiative lay with Philip
- a frontal infantry assault alone with the phalangitae
upon the Greek lines would not have worked, IMHO; despite the advantage of reach/initial contact of the sarissai
over these hoplites, the latter had the advantage of numbers of soldiers and, with their oblique line inclining forward to the left (south-westwards), the added advantage of protecting the unshielded right-hand side of each hoplite - thus utilizing a traditional superiority of the heavy Greek hoplites in concert (cf. Hammond
, Studies in Greek History
, p. 543). This solid line could be pierced at some points by the sarissai
, but not enough to be loosened up inexorably and exploited to effect total defeat of them by the pezhetairoi
...The problem with that interpretation is that the cavalry has to, somehow, make their way through the Macedonian phalanx which is engaged with the Theban hoplites. I can't see that as being likely for it would mean serious gaps in the phalanx itself - something hoplites as well trained as the Sacred Band would not fail to exploit...
Well, the Boeotians and the Sacred Band were not akin to later Roman maniples
, and exploiting the above scenario would entail breaking their ranks. Indeed, the elite Sacred Band could effectively act as one and exploit any pre-arranged lanes intended for the Macedonian cavalry to get by their infantry, but they would become, presumably, isolated and pounced on by the Macedonian cavalry coming from the opposite direction in those very lanes before they could do too much harm to the phalangitae
. But that was never my thinking: if the Macedonian cavalry had been stationed behind their infantry, this would constitute a superior Greek allied front of extension, which would greatly disfavor the Macedonian left wing.
The words of Plutarch
signifying the the Sacred Band and 'Athenians' being killed from the front can indeed mean they were killed by infantry wielding sarissai
, but it doesn't negate cavalry action; Justin
wrote 'Athenians', who faced only Macedonian infantry on the Greek allied left wing, but that he also wrote they were 'far superior in numbers of soldiers' could very well be that he meant the entire Greek army, which would be in sync with Plutarch
and the seasoned generals perhaps deployed some infantry units across from the Sacred Band in an attempt to fix them in place so they could not interfere with the left flank of Alexander's ile
, if we accept the story that he directly faced the Sacred Band (perhaps true, but perhaps percolated down to us ben-trovato
), and perhaps they were few enough and isolated enough on the very right end of the allied line that a preponderance of phalangitae
could destroy them as they stood their ground.
I feel that, along the Macedonian left wing, the pezhetairoi
were interspersed (not necessarily in a perfectly balanced manner), brigaded in their taxeis
(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.
theory of the substantial gap in the Greek line between their wings for Alexander
to exploit with cavalry, which Philip
created by luring the Athenians left-forward is tantalizing, and reflects his awe-inspiring erudition and fertile thinking (along with the great Bosworth
), but it's plausibility rests on a 'forensic' 'analysis of the dynamics of an expanding infantry line' (cf. Gabriel
, Philip II of Macedonia: Greater than Alexander
, pp. 220-221), and it's certainly good for thought. Whether that specifically occurred or not, the Greek allied left was defeated by Philip
by luring them out of their position to loosen them up and crush them in a precise counter-attack (no cavalry here), and the action on the other end resulted in the Boeotian/allied line attacked and slowly pierced enough by pezhetairoi
, with the latter wheeling into gaps opened up primarily by the sarissai
, which could result in relatively swift envelopments.
True, however - too much thinking and imputing could be counter-intuitive. We'll never know for sure.