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Republic of Macedonia

How can you find information about the ancient Macedonian Army?

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2009-04-06 03:37:15
2009-04-06 03:37:15

Before Philip II / Φίλιππος Β΄, Macedonia/Μακεδονία was a rather primitive society. It was a society of farmers and herders, with comparatively few city dwellers. Unlike the rest of the Greek world, Macedonia did not have self governing cities. The armies of the independent Greek city states were dependent on heavily armed citizen infantry soldiers, the hoplitai/οπλίται. Their defensive arm consisted of a 3ft round wood shield aspis/ασπίς or hoplon/όπλον, covered by bronze and ox-hide, a bronze or iron helmet, a bronze or layered fabric thorax/θώραξ for body protection, and bronze sheen guards. For offensive action they carried a 6 to 9 foot spear, the dory/δόρυ and a short xiphos/ξίφος sword for close quarter action. The more wealthy who could afford to raise and keep a horse were being drafted into the cavalry. With the exception of the Thessalians, the Boeotians and the Macedonians, the Greeks traditionally did not have a strong cavalry, nor they depended much on it. Due to its feudal social structure, Macedonia never had a good and reliable infantry arm. While they did have an infantry organized in the hoplite manner, its effectiveness was, to say the least not impressive. The main powers the Macedonians faced were the Paeonians, to the north and east, the illyrians to the northwest, the Thracians to the East and the Greek cities of the Chalkidice peninsula. They alwasy had to face the southern Greek powers, especially Athens which sought to keep the north Aegean trade routes to the Black Sea open for her commercial fleet. Additionally, the Macedonians always had to keep the balance between the south Greek superpowers namely Athens, Sparta and Thebes. Philip II lived as a hostage in Thebes, between 368 and 365 BC. In Thebes he observed the military techniques of what was then the greatest power in Greece. In 359, when his brother king Perdicas III set out to battle the Illyrians to free north-western Macedonia, the Macedonian army suffered a disastrous defeat and 4,000 Macedonian soldiers, including their king were left dead on the battlefield. The Illyrians enforced their occupation of north-western Macedonia and were a threat to the very existence of the Macedonian kingdom. Philip ascended on the Macedonian throne in the most grave of times; the country was virtually at the brink of collapse, its neighbors ready to put an end to its independent existence. The Macedonian state was further weakened by internal turmoil. Various claimants to the throne, supported by Thrace, Illyria and Athens were a serious threat to his reign. Philip immediately set himself to reorganize the Macedonian army, making revolutionary changes to its armor and tactics. He armed the Infantry with a 16 to 22 foot pike, the sarissa/σάρισσα and gave each soldier a small 2ft (versus 3ft of the Hoplitai) and took it through gruelling training in long marches carrying supplies and their arms. He only put one helper to every ten soldiers, versus one to one for the traditional hoplite phalanx., saving food and making his infantry more mobile and quick in response. The Macedonian Phalanx/Μακεδονική Φάλαγξ came into being, and it was nothing the rest of the world had seen before. It was usually lined 16 rows deep, giving it depth and strength, while by not placing the soldiers one exactly behind the other, as in the traditional phalanx, the first six lines were able to project their spears beyond the front line, creating an impenetrable line of spear points that terrified the enemy. Philip used the phalanx in a defensive way, as the anvil against which, as his son Alexander masterfully proved throughout Asia, he would maneuver and crash the enemy using his hammer-like offensive arm, the Macedonian cavalry. To help the Pezhetairoi/Πεζεταίροι infantrymen wield the sarissa, the small shield was hung by the left shoulder, and was only partially controlled by the man who now had freed both of his hands to put the sarissa to best use thrusting it forward. After the first 6 lines, the middle rows carried the sarissa partially raised and the back rows had it raised up vertically. In this way it also acted as a shield deflecting enemy arrows, and hid action behind the infantry, usually by the cavalry. The cavalrymen were called Basilikoi Hetairoi/Βασιλικοί Εταίροι, a title that was previously reserved only for the nobles close to the king, his friends. To augment the Macedonian phalanx and its cavalry, Philip and especially Alexander organized allied armies into auxiliary arms, like Cretan archers, Agrianian spear throwers, Thracian Peltasts, slingers, and especially a well organized engineering corps which allowed him to capture cities and do the impossible in places like Tyre, making solid land out of the sea. The Macedonians made great use of the Thessalian cavalry and the Greek traditional phalanx of allied Greeks or other mercenaries. The Macedonian equivalent to the traditional Greek phalanx hoplite, armed with a large aspis/shield and a shorter dory/spear instead of a sarissa were called Hypaspists/Υπασπισταί, meaning "the ones under the shield", and the different corps were differentiated by the metal decoration on their shield: Argyraspides/Αργυράσπιδες, "the silvershields" or Chrysaspides/Χρυσάσπιδες, "the golden shields". One of the greatest strengths of the Macedonian army was its ability to be an all-season army. This was achieved by making the army into a professional full-time corps, whose revenues depended on successful foreign revenues, initially the Thracian silver mines of Pangaion mountain, then on the bottomless Persian treasury and in Hellenistic times by the booming economies of the kingdoms that provided ample tax revenue to keep a standing professional army. The Hellenistic armies made good use of the war elephants too, initially using Indian and later African elephants, with mixed results.

The Macedonian navy was never strong and it never played an important role in Philip's conquests, or before him, while Alexander relied more on the Athenian and later on Cypriot navy rather than on his own.

The fatal flaw of the never before defeated Macedonian phalanx was its flanks. using the Macedonian phalanx skillfully Pyrrhos/Πυρρηοσ was able to twice defeat the Romans, using elephants and cavalry to disperse them, while Philippos V and his son Perseus suffered disgraceful defeats against the Roman Legion for failing to protect the unwieldy phalanx at its flanks and using it on an purely offensive role, and indeed on hilly ground, against the much more flexible Legion.

Having defeated the Macedonian phalanx twice, the Romans later bombastically claimed that had Alexander met them they would have easily defeated him, and he won only because he faced effeminate Asian armies and not real men like the Romans, yet the Romans failed to mention than every time they tried to subdue the Persians they suffered humiliating defeats and lost a few armies in their attempts.

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