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Topic Subject:Archers Vs Phalanx
Awesome Eagle
Spear of Mars
(id: awesomated88)
posted 11 May 2012 07:11 EDT (US)         
Just had a thought, how did the phalanx go against an very archer heavy army? What protection did the hoplites have against the incoming arrows?

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it- George Santayana
History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are- David C. McCullough
Wars not make one great- Yoda
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Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 11 May 2012 07:27 EDT (US)     1 / 14       
Arrows are lethal if they penetrate the chest, cut the femoral artery, pierce the neck, or penetrate the skull to the brain.

Shields, cuirasses, and helmets protected most of those places.

Thus most arrows loosed, if they manage to hit their target, either injured the target or were defelcted by the armor and shield. Ancient commanders knew this, and that is why most archers were either skirmishers, or supporting troops.

Sometimes, like at Carrhae, archers could defeat a heavy infantry army, but remember that the Surena had mounted archers and a heavy resupply of arros ready at hand. And more important, he had access to water.

It was not until the longbow and its ability to penetrate heavy armor that archers could decide battles- and even then in combined-arms actions.

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Alex_the_Bold
Legionary
posted 11 May 2012 16:23 EDT (US)     2 / 14       
As I recall, the Greek army at Marathon withstood the Persian archers' bombardment by means of their shields... The hoplite shields also had a piece of cloth or animal skin put in their bottom part in order to protect the hoplite's legs from arrows.

Invincibility lies in defence, while the possibility of victory in the attack -Sun Tzu
Akouson me, pataxon de (hit me, but first listen to me)-Themistocles to Euribiadis prior to the battle of Salamis.
Awesome Eagle
Spear of Mars
(id: awesomated88)
posted 11 May 2012 19:08 EDT (US)     3 / 14       
Interesting. So the Arrows didn't have sufficient power to get through the armor of the day and shields were some very good protection. Thanks guys..

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it- George Santayana
History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are- David C. McCullough
Wars not make one great- Yoda
Pitt
Tribunus Laticlavius
posted 12 May 2012 04:46 EDT (US)     4 / 14       
At Marathon the Athenians and Plataeans closed rapidly in order to negate the Persians' missile superiority. Herodotus says they ran the whole way, which hardly seems possible given the armies were about a mile apart. Presumably they started running only over the last few hundred metres/yards. Effective missile range, especially against well-armoured troops equipped with large shields, can be surprisingly low.

"Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French." - P.G. Wodehouse, The Luck of the Bodkins
Alex_the_Bold
Legionary
posted 12 May 2012 06:36 EDT (US)     5 / 14       
Presumably they started running only over the last few hundred metres/yards.
Actually, you can't run while maintaining the phalanx formation... Trust me , I've tried it. The whole point of the phalanx is cohesion... While running, the formation breaks and when the phalanx breaks the hoplites are nothing more than common spearmen who die easily...

Think of it as a late infantry square formation with flanks and rear... When walking unbreakable, when running just a not cohesive mass of men.

Invincibility lies in defence, while the possibility of victory in the attack -Sun Tzu
Akouson me, pataxon de (hit me, but first listen to me)-Themistocles to Euribiadis prior to the battle of Salamis.
Terikel Grayhair
Imperator
(id: Terikel706)
posted 12 May 2012 08:39 EDT (US)     6 / 14       
With the Persians armored in soft quilted shirts and most armed with some sort of missile weapon, I doubt the cohesion of a phalanx at the time of impact would make much of a difference. It was armed and armored men versus unarmored and (at that range) unarmed men.

Of course, the theories on this are divided. Some say the Athenians marched to within arrow range and then charged, while others postulate that they ran to within arrow ranged, reformed, and then marched forward. Given they were fighting men in cloth, I would assume they marched forward then ran through the arrow storm.

There was also the psychological effect- the Persians, Medes for the most part, were used to Greek armies coming on slowly, providing ample time to soften them up and break the ranks with missiles. The Greeks charged, and the Persians thought them mad. In those days, mad men were touched by the gods, not just looney nutjobs. This created fear, and upon impact of the mass of armored men, that fear multiplied. Thus the Persians broke- though most of the 600 triremes esaped to sea. This alludes to more of a retreat than a decisive rout- in a rout many more than 6400 would have been slain, and many more than 7 ships captured.

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RollingWave
Legionary
posted 13 January 2013 08:03 EDT (US)     7 / 14       
On a general level, ancient bow's penetration power was limited, and even very powerful later bow would rarely penetrate good shields, while you could try to skrimish and keep running firing, that wasn't a very effective strategy especially when opponents could simply ignore you and run to your camp which usually isn't too far away.

Later on, bows got better, either with composite material or simply making them bigger, and skrimish tactic of such while fairly ineffective on foot, was a different story if on horse back (especially since being on horse means your at an angel and have more leisure to actually aim .)

And also, on ancient war in the west, it was rare for archers to have a lot of ammo, because most archers were hunters that brought their own bows, and when you only hunt you need what? 5-10 arrows at best. that sort of limitation made it very unlikely to do the volley shooting that later archer were more commonly doing, it wasn't until well organized archer groups with supplied ammos appeared that bows became a more legitimate threat. the ammo factor was a major part of why slings were actually more common in the Med than blows for a long time.

Of course, these development were uneven, and war was always a tug and war between arms and armor. for example, in REALLY ancient warfare (Hittie / Old Kingdom Egypt / Assyrian etc) because back then there were very little armor, and the terrain was very open, bows were very fashionable and effective when used with chariots.

Meanwhile, bows remained very widely used in China, because after Chariot era began to die out it was already interceded by era with very organized state armies and also the invention of the crossbows. One of the earlier famous battle of the Warring State period already explicitedly stated that it was won by the winner ambushing a lot of crossbowmen and firing on the enemy army at night, which killed the enemy general outright.

I think it would be more interesting to wonder why the Macedonian Phalanx weren't more threatened by archer though, given that they had largely done away with shield, and the armor coverage of the day weren't exactly huge. though I guess that's more of a combined arm thing.. aka they had archer / cavalry of their own to cover the pikemen.
Alex_the_Bold
Legionary
posted 13 January 2013 09:33 EDT (US)     8 / 14       
Actually, it has been proven that the Macedonian linothorax could withstand arrow fire and even deflect arrows...

Invincibility lies in defence, while the possibility of victory in the attack -Sun Tzu
Akouson me, pataxon de (hit me, but first listen to me)-Themistocles to Euribiadis prior to the battle of Salamis.
ShieldWall
Legionary
posted 14 January 2013 03:43 EDT (US)     9 / 14       
Speaking as someone who spends half their life playing around with bows and arrows, I'd agree that the bow was not noted as a devastating weapon at the time and would probably fall into the category of skirmishing - to cause a few casualties and start to break up formations a little.

Yet I am sure that they were powerful and had the potential to be devastating. The double-recurve composite bows of the east had been in existence for a long time and the design makes for throwing an arrow with great speed and therefore great power. The problem comes in what sort of point you have on it - a medieval bodkin is designed to concentrate all the weight and momentum of the arrow into a single small point, making it great for penetrating armour. So far as I can tell most ancient arrows were broadheads, which are not designed to go deep into anything, they slow rapidly as soon as they make contact with an object and are designed for hitting horses, weak spots in armour, exposed flesh, etc. So considering that Greek Hoplites carried huge shields, they would probably be very well protected behind them.

Also there's the trajectory of the shot to consider. Arrows are much more powerful when shot directly at something at close range. If you shoot them up into the air to rain them down on formations, what happens is that the arrows goes up until it runs out of momentum and stalls, then it simply comes down picking up what force it can as its weight accelerates it. There's a degree of force behind it, but nowhere near as much as you'd get if you shot it flat at something. The question is, can you get weakly-armed archers close enough to the enemy to shoot flat at them? I guess this is how the Persians managed to penetrate Roman armour at Carrhae because the horse archers can ride right up to an enemy. If you're on foot though I don't think they could risk getting that close without being charged by the heavy infantry or, worse, cavalry. English longbowmen only managed it by being put on the flanks behind a row of stakes. So I imagine on an ancient battlefield the archers had little choice but to shoot upwards and rain arrows, enormously restricting their potential.

The difference with the longbow, or English Warbow as it ought to be called, was firstly the bodkin point, secondly an army that could consist of as many as 80% archers, and thirdly these archers were strong enough to draw the bows. This cannot be understated, it needs a lifetime of preparation to draw a bow of 150-200 lbs weight. A few rare people can do it today, but the very most that bows usually come at today is 70 lbs. I could just about draw that but would struggle to get on top of it. So I'd say that the longbow was successful because the state was prepared to invest the resources to make an endless supply of powerful bows and arrows, and compelled the population to train with them. Bows have always been this powerful, even back into unrecorded history, but how many people could pull one, nevermind control it enough so that the arrow went off in more or less the right direction?
Pitt
Tribunus Laticlavius
posted 14 January 2013 09:09 EDT (US)     10 / 14       
I just thought I'd add this link to a similar discussion in The Library not too long ago, in case anyone finds it interesting.

"Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French." - P.G. Wodehouse, The Luck of the Bodkins
RollingWave
Legionary
posted 15 January 2013 02:30 EDT (US)     11 / 14       
Actually, it has been proven that the Macedonian linothorax could withstand arrow fire and even deflect arrows...
Almost any armor, even heavy clothes, can stop arrow depending on how much momentum that arrow was carrying.

For most antiquity warriors though, the matter is not simply how effective those armor were, but how much area they covered, which was generally much more limited than the later medieval armors.

While being shot in the limbs is not fatal, it is going to be if you just let yourself bleed, not to mention deterring your combat ability except for maybe very short bursts.

One should also point out that almost any army from antiquity until guns became common had uneven amount of armor, not everyone in a Greek army was going to be a big shield and Linothorax / Breast Bronze armor wearing Hoplite, and if they were, there were quite a few other ways to deal with them even if they were mostly impervious to arrow. for one thing, they could simply run around them, seeing that folks in heavy armor and shield are rather unlikely to catch up to guys with no armor and just a sling / bow .

That was how the Spartans were defeated in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Lechaeum, as this developed, range became a matter when dealing with the support units for the Hoplites, be they peltast or cavalry.

[This message has been edited by RollingWave (edited 01-15-2013 @ 02:32 AM).]

ShieldWall
Legionary
posted 15 January 2013 03:55 EDT (US)     12 / 14       
Pitt - I had a look at that, I'm particularly fond of the chap who challenged people to shoot bodkins out of 150 lb longbows while he stood at 100 yards in full armour. I've seen someone shoot half inch diameter shafts with big bodkins out of such a bow, the speed they come out at has to be seen to be believed, and they travel more or less flat out to 200 yards. People have always placed too much importance on the question of "can the longbow penetrate armour?" and have demonstrated that it couldn't with a series of massively flawed experiments. It definitely can penetrate armour, not with certainty on every shot or every dozen maybe, but it doesn't have to penetrate. You have to remember that you've got thousands of archers shooting twelve arrows a minute into a mass of men, only a small handful of whom could afford the finest armour.

Yet it's been demonstrated that the thick layers of wool in a simple gambeson could stop an arrow from penetrating. Proof that the longbow was useless? Not at all, because the impact of one of those arrows will knock the man clean off his feet, leave him winded, break a bone or two, maybe rule him out of the battle all together and so it will certainly slowly break up the formation that he was a part of. And with thousands of arrows being shot every few seconds, it won't be the last one that hits him. So the man standing at 100 yards in armour probably won't be killed as all those bodkins hammer into him, but one way or the other he'll be in Accident and Emergency at the end of the day, and his armour will be trashed.

The same applies to antiquity. Just because the arrow hasn't found a way through the armour doesn't mean that it hasn't done any damage. As I said these things fly out of 150 lb bows at such a speed that the impact alone is enough to hurt someone. It doesn't bounce off harmlessly as if someone was throwing a stone at a tank.
Pitt
Tribunus Laticlavius
posted 15 January 2013 05:33 EDT (US)     13 / 14       
The chap who made the challenge is rather an arms and armour enthusiast, and has made his own armour.

Archery was more useful or it's effect in disrupting enemy formations and killing horses than it was for killing armoured men en masse.

To penetrate armour requires a direct hit at the right angle at a relatively short range, but if you fire enough you'll eventually succeed.

There are accounts from the Crusades of Crusader infantry trudging along looking like pincushions from all the Saracen arrows sticking in them, which were stopped by their mail and leather from penetrating far enough to do harm. On the other hand, the arrow storms were incredibly dangerous to the knights' horses.

"Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French." - P.G. Wodehouse, The Luck of the Bodkins
ShieldWall
Legionary
posted 15 January 2013 11:55 EDT (US)     14 / 14       
I wouldn't disagree with that. If it was easy to penetrate armour then 5,000 archers between them shooting 60,000 arrows per minute, well it would have been a very short battle! So those numbers alone confirm that it couldn't have been like the first day of the Somme for the advancing infantry. At long distance archery is more of an annoyance, keeping heads down, wounding horses, and the odd lucky shot finding a way through to wound or kill someone. I've also heard it said, daft though it sounds, that the sheer amount of arrows in the ground makes it a bit difficulty to walk over the battlefield. They're not twigs that can be snapped just by standing on them, the shafts are half an inch thick and you would not like to trip and fall on one.

As soon as the enemy formation is around about the 100 yard mark, the bodkins are brought out and they will start to drop people. While the three men on the battlefield who can afford the very finest armour will be quite safe, the mere mortals around them will not be so lucky. As I said the impact alone is enough to do damage to a man, breaking bones, severe winding, bending armour and seizing up joints, and all the time the formation is fragmenting.

Not to say that bodkins cannot penetrate though, because they most certainly can and with a lot more ease than they are given credit for. Now I'll happily put my hand up and admit my bias, I'm an archer and I'd like to believe in the myth. But from my biased point of view a lot of nonsense has been talked about the weakness of the longbow in recent years, with some utterly loaded experiments apparently demonstrating this. All of which was repeated as fact right up until the point when Simon Stanley, one of the few people in the UK who can shoot 150 lb warbows, stood up and proceeded to send arrow after arrow through a dummy wearing typical medieval armour over chainmail over cloth.

I'm sure there's bias in all reconstructions though. The archers shooting close range at armour which isn't really up to scratch, while those who favour the impenetrability of armour will pretend that every man in the middle ages was dressed up like a King Tiger tank.
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