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5/25/2016

AFewMoreThoughtsontheTerrorsofPreModernBattle|TheScholar'sStage

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A Few More Thoughts on the Terrors of PreModern Battle
PostedbyT.GreerinDogsofWar,EuropaRegina,History,RomansandGrecians

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Yesterday'spost,"PreModernBattlefieldsWereAbsolutelyTerrifying,"hasprovenimmenselypopular.
Thesheernumberofresponsestoitonsocialmedia,webforums,andotherwebsiteshasbeenabit
overwhelming.MyfavoriteofthesewaswrittenbyLynnRees,cobloggeroveratZenpundit.Inapersonalmessage
tomehedescribeshowPhilipSabin's"pulseandterror"modelofwarfarefitswellwithwhatweknowaboutthe
BattleofHastings.Hehasallowedmetopublishithere:
AccountsofHastingsmaketheplausibilityoffrequentpausesincombatmoreexplicit.
TheEnglishheldthehillcrest.TheNormanspickedattheEnglishlinebutwererepeatedlyrepulsed.This
wentonformostoftheday.IftheNormaninfantryhadbeenincontinuouscontactwiththeEnglishshield
wallallday,theywouldhavebeenbangingagainsttheathickshieldwallwhilefacinguphillwhilethe
Englishcouldpushingdownhillwiththeirspearsandgravityontheirside.
Unlikely.
inlinewiththethesisproposed,theturningpointsatHastingsseemtohavebeenoverenthusiastic
fyrdmenbreakinglinetochasedownfleeingBretons,Onceintheopen,theywerechaseddownbyNorman
cavalry.Then,onceNormanarchersfoundtheirrange,thehuscarlcoreoftheEnglisharmybehindthe
shieldwallwasthinnedfromabove.AstheEnglishlinebuckled,theroutebecamesogeneralthata
significantpercentoftheEnglisharistocracydied,leavingtheEnglishestablishmenttocollapsealmostas
completely.
EvenatCannae,with20,000to50,000Romanssupposedlytrappedinakillbox,wouldhaveseenfrequent
pauses.Thephysicaleffortofkillingthatmanyarmoredmen,evenandespeciallyiftheywerepackedlike
sardines,wouldhavetiredoutevenmenwhosesoletaskwaskillingnearlydefenselessmen.
ThetaskmighthavebeeneasierifHanniballeftanescaperouteopensoRomansoldierswouldsplitinto
smallisolatedclumpsofbrokenmen,everymanforhimself,thathiscavalrycouldrundown.Somethingof
thesortmayhavehappenedthoughthere'slittlehintofitinthehistoricalrecord.

Manyotherswhoreadtheposthavequestionedwhetheritisappropriatetouseavideoofoneononesparring
competitiontoillustrateapointaboutthenatureofpremoderngrouptactics.Itwasn'tmyintentiontoarguethat
thetypeofclosequartercombatshowninthefootagemirroredthedynamicsofalegionaryformationatwar
(thoughlookingbackIcanseethatmylanguagewasambiguousenoughtoallowthisinterpretation).Ifindvideo
footageofmodernsparringusefulfortwootherreasons.
Thefirstisthatitimmediatelydebunksthewaybattlesareportrayedinmostpopularsources.Inthis"Hollywood
style"ofbattle,oncethetwosidesmeettheytendtogetmixedinwitheachother,devolvingintoaseriesofone
ononeexchanges.Fightinginthisfashiontheherowillthenmowhiswaythroughdozensofopponents.Asthe
sparringfootageshows,thisimageofancientwarfareisnonsensical.Mostclosequartercombatexchangeslastonly
afewseconds.Itisveryeasytodieinsuchanexchange.Survivalturnsonafewsplitseconddecisions,andif
thesedecisionshadtobecontinuallymade(aswouldbethecaseintheHollywoodstyleofbattle)thewarriorin
questionwoulddiesoonerthanlater,evenifhewasafarbetterfighterthanaverage.Fightingthiswayissuicidal.
Noarmycouldtoleratedoingit.
Mostofuslivepeacefullivesfarremovedfromwaranditshorrors.Oneconsequenceofthisthatwesometimes
forgethoweasyitistodie.Sparringfootageremindsofusthisrealityinaveryvisceralway.Thisisthesecond
reasonIfindituseful.Itremindsusofthingsnosoldierinthepremodernworldwouldhaveforgotten.Theyknew
thatclosequarterscombatwasaterrifyingexperience.Iwouldarguethatthecentralpurposeoffightingin
formationwastomakewarfaretolerable.Oneononecombatdoesnottellusmuchaboutwhatgroup
tacticslookslike,butittellsusagreatdealaboutwhymassinfantrytacticswerenecessary.Thepurposeofaunit
likethemaniplewastoensurethatitsmembersneverhadtofacetheterribleoddsoftheduel.Andtothisendit
waslargelysuccessful.SabinnotesthatthevictorsofRomanbattlesrarelylostmorethan5%ofitsmanpower
duringanygivenbattle.Whenpremoderninfantryformationsstoodstrongtheywereveryeffectiveatkeeping
themenfightingsafe.Itisonlywhendisciplinebrokeandtheroutbeganthatonesidewasabletoinflictdeathon
theother.

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5/25/2016

AFewMoreThoughtsontheTerrorsofPreModernBattle|TheScholar'sStage

Thisentrywaspostedon27October,2015at2:42PMandisfiledunderDogsofWar,Europa
Regina,History,RomansandGrecians.Youcanfollowanyresponsestothisentrythroughthe
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1 comments

CambodiaDaily

russell1200
Hastingsisanexampleofashieldwallthatholds.Ifyouhavetwoforcesthatusetheshield
wallastheirmethodofattack,thanthebattlecouldbeverydrawnout.Iftherewassomesort
ofobstacle,oronesidedecidedtobeparticularlystubbornthebattlecouldalsogoonforsome
time.
Youdohavesomefairlygoodexamplesofpikesinaction.Theydatefromthe15th16th
centurywiththeSwissandGermansinaction.Withthebettertrainedtroops,youdon'ttend
togetmuchtoolongofabattle.TheSwisscharged,andthatwasusuallyit.
Thereisn'tascrumwithpikesintherugbysense,orlikelywithlongspearseither,becauseifa
spearmanpushestofarforwardwithhispoint,beyondthefrontline,helikelywillloosehis
spear.Thusthetwosideswillsmashintoeachother,butthenlikelyrecoilalittlebitwhen
facedwithnoopeningintheopponentsshieldwall.
Atthispoint,ifavailable,youwouldgetspecializedtroops(Swiss=halberdiers,Spanish=
SwordandBuckler,Germans=twohandedsword,English=Billhook,etc.)whowouldtry
andchopawayatthehedgeofpointsandcutaholeintotheshieldwall.Inthecaseofthe
earlierarmiesyounoted,itwaslikelytheofficerswhowereleadingthewayinthisprocess.So
longasthelineheldthiswouldtaketimeaseachsidepluggedanyholesthatformed.Once
onesidebrokethroughanopponentsline,thecollapsewouldbefast,andthecasualtiesvery
onesided.
Soyourcombatisonebigchargewithwinnertakeall.Ifthereisnotaclearwinnerbothsides
settleintoadesultorybattlewithverylittlewaytogainanopeningwithoutexposingyourself.
IfyoulookatthevariousGermanwedgeformations,thecrazedGalatianorBerserkercharges,
theyseemtobeanalternatewaytomaximizingtheinitialrush.TheRomansgenerallyfelt
thatiftheycouldholdtheseinitialrushes,theirbettertraining/disciplinewouldallowthemto
winthesecondstageofthemelee.
October28,2015at9:47AM

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