5 Interesting Things You Should Know About The Macedonian Phalanx

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By the very intrinsic nature of the Greek lands and topography, large-scale cavalry forces were never an option for most burgeoning city-states of Greece. This was especially due to the rough nature of the terrain that was not exactly conducive to the trotting of unshod horses. In essence, their relative geographical position made Greeks the ‘men of the spear’ – a military tactic that preferred tight formations over extensive battlefield maneuvering. This ‘tradition’ of hoplites ultimately made way for the famed Macedonian phalanx and their Greek successor states – thus dominating the battlefield for the next century after Alexander the Great’s death.

1) A force NOT inspired by either Spartans or Athenians –

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The Spartans were dealt a stinging defeat at the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC, by not their long-term rival Athenians, but rather by the ‘upstart’ city-state of Thebes. This ensured a brief period of Theban military supremacy in the 360s, with its influence and primacy reaching the northern Greek states of Thessaly and Macedon. Suffice it to say, an impressionable man named Philip (who was the youngest son of Macedonian king Amyntas III) took note of the great Theban general Epaminondas and his fascinating tactics – one of which involved the so-called Sacred Band, an elite military force that was often specified as having 150 pairs of homosexual ‘lovers’. Now while explicit evidence of Macedonian pederasty in their military are still not found, there are literary anecdotes on how such relationships played their larger role in political affairs in Philip’s time.

However, beyond sexuality, it was the scope of advanced battlefield tactics of the Thebans that was seriously inspirational to Philip and his Macedonian phalanx. And, as the saying goes – “necessity is the mother of all inventions”. By the time Philip assumed the reign of the nascent Macedon, the state’s army was all but vanquished – with their earlier king and many of the hetairoi (king’s companions) meeting their gruesome deaths in a battle against the invading Illyrians. In essence, Philip had to tread carefully, and take advantage of both delicate diplomacy and military innovation in order to keep his state and kingship intact. As Diodorus of Sicily explained –

The Macedonians because of the disaster sustained in the battle and the magnitude of the dangers pressing upon them were in the greatest perplexity. Yet even so, with such fears and dangers threatening them, Philip was not panic-stricken by the magnitude of the expected perils, but, bringing together the Macedonians in a series of assemblies and exhorting them with eloquent speeches to be men, he built up their morale, and, having improved the organization of his forces and equipped the men suitably with weapons of war, he held constant maneuvers of the men under arms and competitive drills. Indeed he devised the compact order and the equipment of the phalanx, imitating the close order fighting with overlapping shields of the warriors at Troy, and was the first to organize the Macedonian phalanx.

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