Robert L. O'Connell
, The Ghosts of Cannae:
Hannibal and the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic
(2010), pp. 5-6,
"...All we really have are words, preserved for us in the most haphazard fashion out of a much larger body of literature. So the study of ancient history is roughly analogous to scrutinizing a badly decayed patchwork quilt, full of holes and scraps of material from earlier work. Central to understanding the process of study is an awareness that, besides an occasional fragment liberated from the desert by archaeologists, there will be no more evidence. The quilt is it; everything must be based on a reasoned analysis of the fabric at hand. Plainly the quality and integrity of some of the patches greatly exceed those of the others, so they will be relied upon whenever possible..."
Alas, applying this to Chaeronea, no existing patch overtly exceeds in quality any of the others; the earlier works which would presumably help us greatly include Theopompus
of Macedon (or 'of Pella').
did command a couple of phalanx brigades at Chaeronea on the far left of the Macedonian line (Parmenio
was surely at this time more suited to lead the cavalry), but if so, that hardly refutes the hetairoi
not participating in the victory. I feel that the ancient texts which suggest Alexander
commanded the phalanx at Chaeronea can be counter-argued that the relevant passages could intimate that, specifically, the Athenians and the Sacred Band fell before 'Philip's
phalanx' (the Macedonian right/Greek allied left was primarily an infantry clash, in which Philip
pulled the enemy line into a cul-de-sac in some manner), which is in stark contrast to Plutarch's
wording that Alexander
was 'said to be the first to break the ranks of the Sacred Band of the Thebans' (moreover, why would the 254 Thebans be buried over where Philip
directly commanded, we could question, if the Lion of Chaeronea was indeed commemorated for them. Also, if Athens possessed overall command of the allied army, might they not insist the Sacred Band be anchored on their left flank?); albeit it's reasonable to assume that the entire phalanx of both Macedonian wings weilding 'long spears' were all Philip's
, and Justin's
comment that the 'Athenians' were far superior in numbers of soldiers could pertain to the entirety of both armies, such conundrums greatly entices deep modern scrutiny, particularly that the cavalry were integral to Philip's
tactical doctrine at this time here on an open enough plain rendering it viable for him to make the battle mobile enough against a numerically superior static enemy of heavy infantry to give his wedged cavalry ilae
the chances for decisive blows once they and the phalanx brigades ruptured the integrity of a solid enemy defensive wall of hoplites. Reputable modern scholars who do not deal with the I nfantry/cavalry issue at Chaeronea (eg, Fuller
) were merely brushing on this period before discussing in detail Alexander's
campaigns. IMHO, the battle almost surely was to be no exclusive 'infantry battle'.
...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...
True, but with this advantage there would need to be enough hoplites; at Issus, that was but one major gap; the reality there was much different than the scenario of pre-arranged gaps at Chaeronea amid the infantry lines for the Macedonian cavalry to charge at the Greek allied right wing through their infantry after being marshaled behind them at the onset of the battle; at Issus, a substantial split between the Macedonian right and left wing was created by Alexander's
headlong charge, into which a body - maintaining their integrity - some 10,000 hoplites had a naked right flank of the Macedonian left to attack, under which Craterus'
unit held up long enough until Alexander's
left swing perhaps saved them. Indeed, such a tactical dynamic is likely akin to what could have occurred at Chaeronea against the Macedonians if Philip
had availed the Greek allied army an exposed flank, whereby they wouldn't break ranks (thus making sure he matched their front along the nearly two-mile plain) as they pivoted in an attempt to laterally attack (if the opportunity presented itself within this defensive strategy the allied seemingly executed) in a hoplite tradition (eg, the Spartans at Mantinea, 418 BCE).
The pragmatic Greek defensive position at Chaeronea would not have attempted to breach intermittent gaps in the enemy front lest they lose their stout defensive cohesion, and being they had superior numbers (pace Diodorus
), they could weaken Philip's
phalanx by extending it (cf. Hammond
, Philip of Macedon
, p. 152), hence the Macedonian cavalry were needed to match the enemy frontage (cf. Gabriel
, Philip II of Macedonia
, p. 218) and maximize their striking capacity with offensive initiatives.
But I'm pinpricking, and you are generally correct, Paralus: a veritable liability of the phalangitae
against hoplites was indeed if the latter could exploit the former's sides and effectuate more individualized combat.
...I don't see that as practical...
I disagree (somewhat). The key element in Philip's
new tactics was using infantry and cavalry in concert rather than as individual combat arms - which included several variations (cf. Richard A. Gabriel
, Philip II of Macedonia
, pp. 80-81). They could have been interspersed with the infantry, or concentrated primarily amid the Macedonian left-center. Whichever, they could strike at angles upon the enemy front once the stability and solidity of enemy phalanx was thrown off balance by the extended sarissai
(gaps did not have to be wide at all for the wedged ilae
to pierce through).
A horse's line of vision includes a blind spot directly in front of it; superfluous to mention, its large eyes are located on the sides of the head, thus it's panoramic view permits a 340-degree line of vision without turning its head, and the Macedonian horses would not be turned away, following extensive and precise training, by anything directly in front of it (cf. Carolyn Willekes
, Equine Aspects of Alexander the Great's Macedonian Cavalry
, in the book Greece, Macedonia and Persia
, 2015, p. 53). Willekes
is an expert on equine behavior, and assiduously comes to the conclusion that Philip's
precisely trained cavalry in wedged ilae
could pierce enemy infantry, including crack Boeotians - see her terrific work The Horse in the Ancient World: From Bucephalus to the Hippodrome
(2016), which includes an invaluable chapter on the Macedonian cavalry. Analyzing the same topic before Willekes
comprehensively examines how and why Philip's
cavalry could break infantry lines in concert with its own infantry, discussing aspects of the mechanics of the Macedonian horse in action with an expert rider, who also wielded a machaira
, for close combat after the xyston
broke or fulfilled its use (cf. Philip II of Macedonia
, pp. 72-78). Both draw numerously on Xenophon's On Horsemansip
to support their assessments.
The nebulousness of the surviving ancient texts on Chaeronea is indeed a peculiar crux for attempting to analyze such a famous battle, but none mention 'infantry' either, let alone 'infantry charges' or 'infantry battle'. They do suggest it, but not holistically, and what ancient military manuel texts explicitly state (including Arrian
, a cavalry officer himself) is what the wedge formation could do against enemy lines (including infantry); Philip's
cavalry did do at Chaeronea, IMHO, was work with the pezhetairoi
in concert - whatever the detailed precision of their course - to break the Boeotian/allied line on their right and exploit that perforated condition. Unlike the Battle of Crannon sixteen years later, the Macedonians were outnumbered at Chaeronea (following Justin
, and not Diodorus
via, apparently, Duris
). They probably could not win a 'conventional' infantry battle against this enemy formation without their cavalry, and the hetairoi
in wedge formation could break enemy infantry lines, contemporaneously pressed by the pezhetairoi
, in a precise manner. This plain was open enough for cavalry, but more confined than other battles involving Philip's
cavalry, thus the lower ratio of infantry and cavalry deployed at Chaeronea than the other battles.
, A History of Greece, Vol. XI
, p. (1853), p. 501 (Grote's
brilliant works seemingly presaged the seminal precepts of John B. Bury
, which centered around the study of 'history as a science, not literature'),
"...the victory was not gained by the phalanx alone. The military organization of Philip comprised an aggregate of many sorts of troops besides the phalanx; the body-guards, horse as well as foot - the hypaspistae, or light hoplites - the light cavalry, bowmen, slingers, etc. When we read the military operations of Alexander, three years afterwards, in the very first year of his reign, before he could have made any addition of his own to the force inherited from Philip; and when we see with what efficiency all these various descriptions of troops are employed in the field; we may feel assured that Philip both had them near him and employed them in the field at Chaeronea..."
Arthur Wallace Pickard-Cambridge
, in his contribution to The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume VI
(1927), p. 263,
"...The battle was a crowning proof of the inability of amateur soldiers and citizen-levies to cop with a well-trained professional army, combining units of all descriptions under a centralized direction. We do not indeed hear what part Philip's cavalry took in this particular battle, but they doubtless helped to complete the defeat of the enemy..."
Nicholas G. L. Hammond
, Studies in Greek History: A Companion Volume to 'A History of Greece to 322 B.C.
(1973; revised from his journal on Chaeronea from 1938), pp. 543 & 547,
"...The problem for Philip was to break the Greek line with a phalanx, which was not only lighter armed but was also inferior in point of numbers. A frontal attack all along the line not only had little chance of success but might well end in disaster, for the heavy Greek line with its oblique front might pivot its left wing northwards and force him back on the Kephissos...
...if placed on the Macedonian left, the cavalry would be operating in the plain, and would be in the most opportune position for action, should the Greek line break...Thus, although there is no definite evidence, it is generally assumed that Alexander's charge on the left wing at Chaeronea was made at the head of cavalry..."
, Philip of Macedon
(1978), p. 148,
"...Philip must have had his army execute a wheeling manoeuvre, pivoting on the center, and as the right of the Macedonian phalanx performed its well-drilled withdrawal, the Athenians followed, and the Greek line stretched and broke before the assault of the Macedonian cavalry under Alexander on the left..."
Guy T. Griffith
, A History of Macedonia, Vol. II: 550-336 B.C.
(1979), p. 600,
"...if they could contain the Boeotians. They might not be able to beat them decisively, however. For this he [Philip] must have relied on his cavalry. The story of the battle, if it had come down to us, would have told, presumably, how, where, and when the decisive blows by the cavalry were delivered; especially, how the Greek hoplite phalanx, which began by presenting an unbroken wall of spears and which could not be outflanked, was induced in some way to break formation and offer a gap or gaps which could give a cavalry charge its point of entry..."
John R. Ellis
, contribution to The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume VI
(1994), p. 781,
"...The course of the engagement, in August 338, on the Attic date 7 Metageitnion, is impossible to recover. The sheer weight of Macedonia's cavalry, apparently led by Alexander, and the superior skill and tactics of the phalanx seem to have been decisive (Diod. XVI.86)..."
, Philip II of Macedonia
(2008), p. 150 (actually footnoting Rahe
in this passage, clearly in disagreement),
"...From the Macedonian left flank Alexander headed a charge against the opening in the allied line. Some of the cavalry contingents veered right to penetrate the gap and wheel behind the Thebans at that point, while Alexander led the Royal Squadron and veered left to encircle the Sacred Band. That Alexander would choose to take on this renowned fighting unit first comes as no surprise. At eighteen he was eager to win battle glory and to prove his father's trust in him. He annihilated the Sacred Band, which, despite the overwhelming odds, was said to have fought to the last man..."
Richard A. Gabriel
, Philip II of Macedonia: Greater than Alexander
, (2010), p. 218,
"...No ancient source mentions the presence of cavalry at Chaeronea, and while Diodorus implies Alexander was in command of cavalry, he does not expressly say so. Although the sources are silent on this issue, we can conclude from the evidence that the cavalry was involved in the battle. First, we know from the sources that Philip had two thousand cavalry with him at Elatea before the battle. Second, Parmenio's raid on the Athenian camp, his capture of Amphissa, and his outflanking of the Athenian line at Parapotamii were accomplished with a mixed force including cavalry. Thus, Parmenio had cavalry with him when he linked up with Philip prior to the battle. Third, no sane commander would have neglected to use his cavalry and leave his infantry considerably outnumbered by the enemy infantry. Without his cavalry, Philip would not have been able to extend his line completely across the allied front, and one or both flanks would have been left open to envelopment. Fourth, Philip sent Parmenio and Antipitar to assist Alexander on the left of the line. Both senior commanders were cavalry officers. It would have made no sense to send them if Alexander was in command of only infantry. Finally, the speed with which the battle developed after Alexander's force penetrated the allied line implies the use of cavalry both to encircle the Sacred Band and to block the retreat of the Theban and Boeotian elements of the allied line. If Alexander's force was infantry moving in phalanx formation, they could hardly have moved into position in time to bar the Thebans' flight. For these reasons, modern scholars have tended to agree that Alexander was in command of cavalry at Chaeronea..."
As for the vaunted Sacred Band only receiving wounds in the front by the long spears of Philip's
phalanx by Plutarch
, those who espouse Gabriel's
analysis could argue that it was a native writer, not an historian, telling or relaying an apocryphal occurrence to glorify the culmination of such eminent native heroes, and Diodorus'
'companions' with Alexander
could have indeed implied the cavalry, and the inconsistency in nomenclature with the likes of Arrian
could simply denote a not uncommon interchangeability of such terms amid ancient texts spanning over different generations.
These modern analyses - accounting for strategic and topographical aspects, etc. - from such reputable scholars, spanning over a century and a half no less, outweighs, IMHO, the lack of solid corroboration from the 'surviving Greek historical tradition at its most poverty-stricken' (cf. Griffith
, A History of Macedonia, Vol. II
, p. 597).
Forgive my sensitivity, but I feel that Alexander
often achieved the tactical balance of co-ordinated arms in Asia because this very attribute, etc., was portended here at Chaeronea, and he adapted remarkably to each change in enemy and geography, not some arbitrary agenda involving 'because he did it in Asia automatically must mean he did it here".
If it somehow could be realized that Diodorus'
source (thought by Hammond
to be the pro-Athenian Diyllus
; cf. Philip of Macedon
, pp.13-14) was right, and that Philip
did indeed outnumber the Greek allied army at Chaeronea, that would completely change all this (from myself, at least), and it would far more tenable for Philip
to simply use his brigades of pezhetairoi
to overwhelm the Greek hoplites, as Antipitar
did at Crannon in 322 BCE. But as it is, he was almost certainly outnumbered (he was the invader who failed in his attempted diplomacy with the major southern Greek states, and could not levy locally as they could; but even if he had auxiliaries and Thessalians, the victory could probably won, under these challenging circumstances, with the paramount tasks undertaken only by his intensely drilled and professionalized troops whom had been with him for many years), hence was compelled to draw on his masterful generalship and New Model Army
to achieve victory at Chaeronea. Philip
represents a revolution to the evolution of warfare of his time and place.