Macedonian Battle Tactics
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Macedonian Battle Tactics

August 7, 2019


Geopolitically, Alexander the Great was born
on third base. Before he ascended to the throne, his father
Philip had already achieved the impossible by extending Macedonian influence over the
entire Greek peninsula. And his father’s influence didn’t stop at
geopolitics. Philip spent his entire career working to
improve the Macedonian military. When Philip died, Alexander inherited the
finest army on the planet. So let’s talk about the Macedonian military. There’s no better place to start than with
their cavalry. The Macedonians called their cavalry The Companions,
or The Companion Cavalry. During this period, most western armies had
a really narrow conception of the proper use of cavalry. Many trained them to harass the enemy by throwing
javelins or shooting arrows. Others used them as scouts and skirmishers,
but beyond that their use was limited. The Macedonians ignored this this conventional
wisdom. The Companion Cavalry specialized in charging
the enemy flanks, and inflicting massive casualties up close, with their swords and spears. Despite what the movies may tell you, this
was rare in the ancient world. You could even say that it was unintuitive. Stirrups hadn’t been invented yet, and many
people including the Macedonians didn’t even use saddles. A person could get knocked off their horse
by a stiff breeze. To many, charging straight into a mass of
humanity seemed suicidal. But the Macedonians knew what they were doing. For instance, the spears they used were quite
interesting. They were made to be as light and as thin
as possible. So thin that the wooden spear wobbled as they
charged. They were about 12 feet long and were held
near in the center. Both ends of the spear had metal tips, so
if one end broke, all the rider had to do was flip the spear around and continue fighting
with the other end. If that end broke as well, they had sword
to use as backup. Obviously these spears weren’t designed to
crash into the enemy line. That would have shattered the spear, and knocked
the rider off the horse. The spear was designed to make lightning quick
stabs while on the move. This was hard to do, but the Companions were
expertly trained, and quite deadly with them. So all of this made The Companions pretty
distinct in the ancient world. But they also organized themselves in a strange
way. When they charged, they didn’t do it in a
line like you’d think. They charged as a wedge. There’s a reason for this. When cavalry charge in a line, they have a
tendency to do this. When the Macedonian wedges charged, they could
do this. Here’s why: the person at the tip of the wedge
was the guy in charge. Since everyone could keep an eye on their
leader, the entire unit could basically receive orders non-verbally. This meant that they could wordlessly change
direction mid-gallop, or specifically target vulnerable enemy units with surgical accuracy. When they made contact with the enemy, any
opening made by the riders at the front could immediately be exploited by the riders further
back. As a result, the wedges were capable of creating
chaos by cutting deep into the enemy line. A well timed charge like this could single-handedly
win the battle. But no matter how successful the cavalry were,
the opportunities they created needed to be followed up by the infantry. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For this to make sense, we need a rock-solid
understanding of what a phalanx was. If we’re talkin’ phalanxes, we’re talkin’
spears. Dudes holding spears maybe 8 feet long, with
big circular shields. A phalanx was a group of these spearmen organized
into a tight square. In battle, they presented a solid shield wall,
bristling with spears. Since there were so many people packed into
the square, and everybody in the square was so well trained, the phalanxes had an intense
forward momentum. Against less disciplined opponents, they were
nearly unstoppable. But they had vulnerabilities. They were slow as hell. Both slow to move, and slow to turn. Plus, since the entire phalanx had to work
together, they were pretty bad at fighting in two directions at once. This made them vulnerable to flanking maneuvers. When two opposing phalanxes met on the battlefield,
the two squares would lock shields and push against each other as hard as they could. This would basically take both of the phalanxes
out of commission for a while, and the shoving would continue until one side lost their footing,
or another group showed up to tip the balance. Phalanxes were all the rage in Greece. For the century or two preceding Philip’s
reign, the entire peninsula was basically going through one giant phalanx arms race. For the longest time, Macedon didn’t have
phalanxes. The Macedonians were able to survive on the
strength of their excellent cavalry, but the infantry side of things was kind of ignored. When Philip came to power, he busied himself
with a bunch of reforms, and introduced phalanxes to Macedon. He gave these new units a new prestigious
name, the Foot Companions. Through Philip’s leadership, they would become
the backbone of the Macedonian army. The Foot Companions were modeled after the
Greeks phalanx, but were new and improved. They used a new kind of spear called the the
sarissa. Technically, sarissas might be pikes rather
than spears, but whatever, let’s not be sticklers to detail. This weapon was usually 14, or 18, or sometimes
even 20 feet long. It was basically twice as long as the spears
they used in Greece. So what did this mean? Well, if you can picture two phalanxes marching
at each other, the one with the longer spears would always draw first blood, and would therefore
have the advantage. Plus, the sarissas were so long that people
3, or 4, or 5 rows back could still reach the enemy with their spears. If you compare this with the Greek phalanx,
the Macedonians were able to get like double or tripple the number of spears attacking
at once, with no additional manpower. But the sarissas came with a downside. They were absurdly long, and it took an equally
absurd amount of training to be able to use them effectively. Unlike normal spears, the sarissas had to
be held with both hands. To accommodate this, the Macedonians shrunk
down their shields and made them into an tiny 18 inch bucklers, which could be strapped
to each man’s upper arm and used to deflect incoming spears. To get the untrained Macedonian infantry comfortable
with this new weapon, they had to be drilled and drilled and drilled, at a huge cost. But in the end, it was worth it. Once they were in the field, the Foot Companions
were basically elite phalanxes, better trained and better equipped than their Greek counterparts. But all of the training in the world couldn’t
change the fact that it was incredibly hard for all phalanxes, including these new Foot
Companions, to respond quickly to a changing battlefield. They still had all of the weaknesses of a
normal phalanx. They were still slow, and still vulnerable
to being flanked. When a bunch of phalanxes were lined up, the
units at each end of the line were exposed. Here, Philip placed a new kind of infantry,
called the Shield Bearers. The Shield Bearers were outfitted in a much
more traditional Greek style, with a shorter, more manageable spear, and a large shield. They also carried swords. Since they weren’t weighed down with the giant
unwieldy sarissa, the Shield Bearers were much more versatile than the Foot Companions. They were the Macedonian army’s utility players. They could fight as a regular phalanx, or
they could spread out. They could quickly redeploy on the battlefield,
or totally break formation and charge. They could fight with a spear or with a sword. If you ever hear about the Macedonians doing
anything weird like fighting on uneven ground, or breaching walls, or scaling cliffs, it
was the Shield Bearers who did it. These units were entirely made up of veteran
soldiers. Men with long and distinguished careers, plucked
from the Foot Companions and given a place of honour on the flanks. Under normal circumstances, these units were
supposed to hold back, and leave the intense fighting to the Foot Companions. The Shield Bearers were kind of like a reserve
force, except Philip’s innovation was to put his reserves on the exposed flanks, which
is kinda genius. When the enemy line began to falter, the Shield
Bearers were sent in. They could move much faster than the Foot
Companions, and their looser way of fighting was better for dealing with a retreating enemy. Now, all of the pieces are in place. Let’s see how they worked together. The most well known Macedonian tactic is called
the Hammer and Anvil. You may have heard of this, it’s super famous. With the Hammer and Anvil it was the infantry’s
job – in this case the Foot Companions – to engage the enemy, and hold them in place. They were the anvil. It was the cavalry’s job to swing around and
attack the enemy from behind. They were the hammer. The whole thing relied on the speed and effectiveness
of the hammer, and the reliability of the anvil. The whole point of this tactic was to quickly
envelop the enemy, and force them to face attacks from two directions at once. If the enemy wanted to break the encirclement,
they either had to go through the Foot Companions, who were basically one giant unstoppable meat
grinder, or go through the Companion Cavalry, who happened to be one of the most effective
cavalry units in human history. It’s simple, but it’s extremely effective. Hannibal, at the Battle of Cannae, used this
tactic against the Romans with astounding success, but we’ll cover other famous examples
in the near future. Before Philip’s reign, Macedon did not have
reliable infantry. They were able to get by because of their
excellent cavalry, but nobody ever bothered to invest the time and money to bring their
infantry up to the Greek standard. Philip changed this. Through his leadership, he not only met the
Greek standard, but exceeded it. At the time of his death, Macedon was still
a regional power, but thanks to Philip, it could now field a world-class army.

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  1. I don't know about being born on third base. More like born on first base with Barry Bonds up to bat next.

  2. It should be called the hoplite phalanx and the companion phalanx not the "greek" and the "macedonian" phalanx, these terms are completely unhistorical.

  3. The tactic of "between hammer and anvil" is called "μεταξύ Σφύρας και Άκμωνος" and it was also used by the Thebeans, the Spartans and others before the times of Phillip. But Phillip reorganized his army trying to use this tactic successfully and he succeeded at that.

  4. Atcualy he killed his father for the throne but yeah some people say he killed him or he died. WE ARE NOT GREEKS WE ARE BULGURIANS,GREEK AND MACEDONIAN we are basicaly 3 diffrent country's…

  5. I tried very similar tactics out with my airsoft team and in a few Video games with my friends. It's suprisingly very effective even in smaller scale.

  6. So sad….in less than two thousand years the Neanderthals set humanity back by ten thousand years….it shows that science, culture and education must be taught over military tactics….so much was lost over the greed of people who did not have a civilization….Europeans were the last to be civilized…..cave people were not able to develop a civilization….they only learned how to build empires as a military…..and empires always fall they can never develop as a civilization can…..could you imagine if they would have developed science and math like the Egyptians….right now Greece would be the great leaders of the world but instead now have been turned into an economic embarrassment by the very thing they promoted so long ago….the cross and the doublecross

  7. Peoples used to riding bareback wouldn't get pushed out of their seat easily. Even today decent riders might be difficult to unseat.

  8. Greek infantry was never that great it wouldn't be the standard …they had the best navy though ..it was the ROMANS who had the best infantry.

  9. F.y.r.o.m has nothing to do with Macedonia OR Alexander The Great. But I believe the ones that watch this video are educated enough to know 🙂

  10. Look, I already know the history of the Companions. Here it goes:
    The Companions were founded by Ysgramor in the Merethic era. When Ysgramor discovered the Skyforge on the mountain which would later become the city of Whiterun, he built his mead hall, Jorrvaskr for him and his guild of warriors, the Five Hundred Companions, to live at.

  11. I think the people who filmed the battles in GoT should of went through your channel before they had cavalry rush a bunch of fortified archers.

  12. We are so lucky to live in the time that we do. Imagine living in a time where you're only purpose is to snuff out other lives for your countries greedy ruler who just wants more land. I think todays "war" puts much less on the line for more destruction. It's necessary to some capacity but it's suspicious that the countries we attack(as an American) are all the ones not on the universal "dollar." At least Romans got land if they returned from war.

  13. This is just oh so slightly wrong
    Hannibal didn’t really use the hammer and anvil
    He used the double envelopment

  14. Alexander was not the first to have the calvary form and fight in a wedge. The Scythians were the first to do this

  15. Just a small (but indeed extremely important!!!) correction for the shake of the precision of the really good job you did in this video (and not only in this one ??) 06:19 you wanted to say in southern Greece (or even better southern Hellas, since that’s the actual name! Both back then and today as well!) because Macedonia was also part of Hellas (it’s northern part) as it is also part of Hellas today (and that’s the only truth from any possible point of view: geographically, historically, ethnologically, culturally, linguistically etc)!!! I’m sure you do know the truth but due to the existing conditions in the Balkans today, as a modern Hellene Makedon I have to protect my identity and my national heritage and I really feel the need to say in any given chance that MAKEDONIA IS 100% HELLAS ??! The word “Makedonia” itself is a hellenic one and no one else has the right to claim it as his identity! No matter how manipulated he (or his whole country) is!The world shall always have that in mind, despite the international manipulating political and economical interests of our modern age! The truth can not be hidden! Thanks for your amazing videos! Keep going!

  16. Whats interesting is the later Macedonian battles when they faced early Roman legions. They lost most of the time although I believe these later Macedonian units were much less flexible than during Alexander's day.

  17. You should do some videos about Alexanders campaign in Persia, I saw the series you did bout Cesar and it’s the best and most complete I’ve seen so far. You are very good, keep it up!

  18. Why when you refer to Macedonian you don't put the capital south near Pella but you choose to locate it in Thessaloniki?

  19. Cavalry used only for surprise attack and it wasn't rare. It had purpose but not in battle in ancient times .

  20. Nice video, everythring is well explained, congrats. However, being greek amd loving history, I have studied the macedonian military a lot. Basically, what you forgot to mencion is the macedonian light cavalry, which is not a big deal, but most importantly, you didn't mention the light infantry, the peltasts. Equiped with aerodynamical spears and small bows, they either harassed the enemy lines or they were hiding behind the Companions, so that they surprise – attack the enemy, while the cavalry changed route suddenly (this happened at the battle of Gaugamela, were the Companions moved across the battlefield and the Bactrian cavalry, the persian heavy cavalry followed them, creating a gap inside the persian lines and giving the companions the opportunity to surprise attack the enemy and apply the hammer-anvil tactic. When the companions turned, the hiding peltasts attacked the bactrian cavalry and eliminated them.) Anyway, nice video. I would be very happy if you responded to me. Keep up the good work.

  21. The actual way to beat this strategy is complex. You basically have to negate the distance and flank advantage. A whole army would have to attack in a V. Then, as the companies of foot companions approach, half of the V advances right up to the foot companions, but then attack diagnally. Getting inbetween the lines of spears and into the pack of soldiers. Meanwhile the other half of the V that was left behind charges the companion flank, crushes it and then flanks the remaining foot companions.

    Virtually an impossible task to communicate to 10,000 men who can't read.

  22. hmm interesting musta been hard back then to keep kids safe from others and women
    if u had more food or more anything the tough men would bash u and just take it
    or u could have armies to fight em off
    yep not like just ringing cops like these days

  23. The whole pushing match with the two Phalanx thing (or any army for that matter) is a Hollywood myth.

  24. There weren't saddles and stirrups. But I'm pretty sure they had skills to ride horses bareback like a god just like modern Arabs do today

  25. @4:34 I can see an optical illusion… There are grey dots where the corners where 4 pink squares meet that disappear when you look directly at them

  26. Historia Civilis: 'They were the hammer.'
    Me: But who is the S I C K L E ?
    Hitler is typing furiusly
    Mussolini is typing furiusly
    Germany declares war on me
    Italy declares war on me

  27. Why would you go as far as to describe macedons as a seperate entity to greeks? They were greeks lol. Greek language, architecture, culture, etc. And every place they conquered they spread hellenistic culture to, with hellenistic being greek lol

  28. It's crazy how you see these "massive empires" on the map, but then you look at them on a globe and they're so tiny. The world used to be so small to us

  29. 6:18 wait what do you mean the spears they used in Greece? Macedonia was too a Greek state. Sarissa is longer than the spears they used in the REST of Greece or in southern Greece.

  30. BuTTT. In. The. enDDD. iTTT was worth. iTTT. This contemporary super-enunciation thing has got me creeped out.

  31. Loved the video. I play a lot of war-sims and this was super helpful for understanding advanced strategy.

    With that said, I'm also a sound engineer, and I have one critique on the production of the video.
    Try putting a high-pass filter over your vocal track, and ride it up to about 150-175hz.
    I'm hearing a lot of low end in your voice, and it was a little distracting for me.

    Other than that, great vid!

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