Today I'm going to talk about something fairly important in EB. Yes, you guessed by the title: Macedonian phalanxes are the topic. "Macedonian" is there for a reason: very important remark. I'm specifically referring to the sarissa guys; if you want to know more about the use of the Hoplite phalanx in EB, please refer to the guide on guard mode.
Phalanxes are incredibly relevant for someone who plays EB. It's goddamn certain that you're going to meet a plethora of the pointy dudes during your campaign, and even in MP they are definitely frequent. If you do the quick math, it is highly likely that it is yourself the one who fields phalanxes in the first place: out of 20 factions, 9 (Makedonia, Koinon Hellenon, Epeiros, Pontos, Arche Seleukeia, Ptolemaioi, Hayasdan, Pahlava, Baktria) may and will consistently field phalanx-based armies.
Phalanx comes from Greek word φάλαγξ (pronunciation in IPA notation /pha.lanks/, and if you don't know what IPA is you should be ashamed of yourself), a word commonly used by Greek writers when referring to massed and ordered infantry formations, regardless of the equipment but generally comprised of heavy infantry armed with pole weapons. First used by Homer to describe organised battle lines, as opposed to individual duels between heroes, the phalanx probably rose to prominence in Greece around the 7th century BC, together with the citizen-hoplite equipped with shield (hoplon) and spear (doru) as the primary combatant in wars between city-states.
Traditional hoplite phalanx. The flute player in the back (auletés) had the purpose of coordinating the march, maybe giving some kind of predetermined orders by means of specific motifs and overall keeping the phalanx in good order: as with many other Western disciplined formations, cohesion was its strength.
In the second half of the 4th century BC, king Phillip II of Macedonia and later his son Alexander III (commonly known as The Great) developed a variation of the traditional hoplite phalanx, that would prove itself as one of the most powerful military weapons in the ancient world. The Macedonian phalanx ditched the traditional big, round, concave hoplon and the 2.7 m long doru, in favour of a smaller and handier shield and one of the most famous weapons of the antiquity: the sarissa, an up to 5 m long pike held with both hands.
A typical phalanx in the Macedonian fashion was a battle line comprised of several squares of 16x16 men, called syntagmata, for a total of 256 phalangites in each syntagma. In order not only to be able to use their weapons effectively, but most importantly to maintain a coherent and solid formations, Macedonian phalangites were intensively drilled (they are among the first examples of systematic military drilling in history) and over the decades they got a more and more prominent role in armies from the Successor states, after the death of Alexander and the splitting of his empire.
Macedonian phalanx. The exceptional length of the pikes allowed up to five ranks to actively poke at the foes in front of them, and some ancient authors even claim that the back ranks kept their sarissai straight because that constituted an additional protection against arcing projectiles such as arrows.
What's the purpose of this article?
Today, the phalanx formation is our focus. With this expression, I specifically mean the special formation, included in the RTW engine, that allows tightly-packed, sarissa-armed infantry to form a porcupine-looking square. Many of the functionalities of the formation are still not well understood by most players; there are in fact several quirks that are more relevant than one could usually expect. This article and maybe some others in the very far future would hopefully cover those aspects with both logical reasoning and experiments.
Phalanx and missiles
One of the most peculiar characteristics of the phalanx, exalted by many writers, was to be extremely resilient to projectiles. As already briefly mentioned, the tight packing of soldiers in each syntagma would result in a "sea of sarissai", above the heads of the phalangites, that could disrupt the trajectories of incoming missiles, which would lose their momentum and bounce harmlessly on armour and shields. According to ancient witnesses, the power of the formation alone was able to protect the phalangites more than what their equipment could have suggested. While this interpretation has been debated in modern times, many scholars give credit to the fact that a Macedonian phalanx could survive much more easily to archer fire.
Here we are discussing a game, though, Europa Barbarorum, which is based on the Rome Total War engine. The question is, how has the phalanx formation been coded in the game as far as its resistance to missiles is concerned?
Case study: phalanx vs missiles
In an old thread at the Org, the user Tollheit rises a question: what is the influence of the phalanx formation on the defences of a unit? The question is not as trivial as it would seem: as a matter of fact, his small research shows how a hidden bonus is granted to phalangites just by the activation of the phalanx formation.
I did some testing today. Since phalangitai are so well armored that the AI will not waste any ammo on them in 1vs1 custom battles, I did some modding first.
Klerouchoi Phalangitai: defence 1,1,5 (armour,skill,shield).
Saka Foot Archers: secondary attack 1, defence 0,0,0, unit size 10 on medium scale (in order to discourage melee).
I did 8 battles, 4 using phalanx mode and 4 without phalanx mode.
I noted the casualties once the archers had exhausted their ammunition.
No manoeuvring except for approach of archers; flat terrain.
When I used phalanx mode, the AI archers managed to shoot: 17/19/22/17 phalangitai
When I didn't use phalanx, the AI archers managed to shoot: 40/30/36/42 phalangitai
My conclusion: it seems to be plausible that phalanx mode does increase the effective shield value.
[If the phalanx formation gives a hidden armour bonus,] phalanx/no phalanx should not make much of a difference for slingers, so I repeated my little test with defence: 0,0,5 phalangitai and a unit of 41 Iaosatae
with phalanx: Iaosatae shoot 9/15/15/10 phalangitai
without phalanx: Iaosatae shoot 32/31/31/27 phalangitai
At least as much of a difference. Which is consistent with increased shield values, since Iaosatae have more ammo but less attack, and their ap ability doesn't make a difference against shields.
The tests in the original thread are interesting and strongly support the hypothesis of a hidden shield bonus, while rejecting a hidden armour bonus. Unfortunately they bear little consistency with themselves and thus the possibility of a quantitative analysis is fairly remote.
As a matter of fact, there are several glaring differences between the two tests. For example, phalangites have 1 armour in one test and 0 armour in the other; archers have 5 attack while slingers have 1; the arcing of the projectiles is different for bows and slings. On top of this, other somewhat subtler information is unfortunately inaccessible. How many phalangites were deployed? The unit scale was the same in both tests? (Why this is relevant: read my article on Large vs. Huge unit scale).
Generally, doing tests with different armour values is not recommended, because of how weirdly armour behaves when low values are reached: losses are disproportionately increased when the armour of the target unit is exactly 0, for some reason. This is one of the (many) reasons why it's pointless to question the "barbarian bonus" for light, low-armour barbarian units; the others have already been discussed in my previous post.
0-armour barbarians are utterly unplayable. Just as a comparison, in vanilla RTW multiplayer most of the barbarian factions (Gaul, Spain, Dacia, Germany) are almost never used by competitive players, because they get regularly destroyed in most matchups; in some clan wars and tournaments, there is a bonus in budget for generals who choose to lead said factions, just to make them playable. I think that's exactly due to the 0-armour issue: those factions can't field cost-effective armoured troops, and many of the soldiers they have to rely on are 0-armour men who get raped by missiles.
Three good examples of 0-armour barbarian units in vanilla Rome: Total War. From left to right, the Briton Woad Warrior, the Germanic Chosen Axeman and the Gallic Naked Fanatic. These three units are severely handicapped because of their lack of armour. If you argue that the Chosen Axemen eat armoured units for breakfast, well, you're right; however, they have no shield too, so they're even more vulnerable to missiles. It's hard to see them close into hand to hand, because they are basically tiny, vulnerable arrow magnets running around on the battlefield.
But I digress. Let's get back to phalanxes.
In order to find more quantitative results, I repeated the tests with some variations. Inspired by Tollheit, I modded the Sakae Foot Archers and gave them the following stats:
Men (large scale): 20
Melee attack: 1
Ranged attack: 5
Defence skill: 0
This made them terrible fighters and discouraged any type of melee engagement, ensuring they would stay at distance and just shoot my men. Never trust the AI to do the most logical thing.
Paired against the AI-controlled Sakae archers I fielded two units: one general, positioned at the very back of the deployment zone, and one unit of Klerouchoi Phalangitai. I didn't select only the Phalangitai because I wanted to avoid any side effect of having the general inside the same unit I was testing (e.g. the general being killed by an arrow and thus the whole unit routing, effectively ruining the test). I withdrew the general unit at the beginning of each battle.
I wanted to test not only the presence of a hidden shield bonus, but also if the shield bonus is a fixed value or has a variable effect.
For this reason, I lined up my Phalangitai with phalanx formation on and let the AI archers empty their quivers; then repeated the test with phalanx formation off. I carried out this procedure for different shield values, ranging from 0 to 6, both for Phalangitai with phalanx formation turned on and turned off.
Men (large scale): 120
Melee attack: 15
Ranged attack: -
Defence skill: 0
Shield: 0 → 6
The results are shown in the graph below. Each dot in the graph is the result of ten separate tests and the error bar already takes it into account.
Casualties inflicted to the phalangitai by the modded Sakae archers after having emptied their quivers, as a function of the shield value given to the phalangitai; the red curve displays the results for phalangitai with phalanx mode off, while the black curve data have been taken with phalanx mode on. The straight lines represent the linear fits of the experimental points.
What do we learn today?
There is one important consequence of the test: the phalanx formation gives a SHIELD bonus. This means that, while making phalangites more impervious to missiles from the front, it doesn't alter their defensive capabilities from the rear, and only marginally increases their survivability from the flanks. This is another demonstration (was it really needed?) of the No. 1 rule of phalanxes:
The first lesson taught and learned when playing Total War games is that you do not engage a phalanx from the front. Much like the rules of the film "Fight Club" the second lesson is that you do not engage a phalanx from the front, and the third lesson is that you engage a phalanx from the flanks or the rear.
On top of this, we can also see how the slope of the two curves is quite different. The slope of the 'phalanx off' curve should be obviously independent of the phalanx formation, i.e. every other unit with the same stats should get a similar result. The slope of the 'phalanx on' curve instead seems to imply that the shield bonus is somehow inconsistent, meaning that it's not a fixed value adding up to the total; something more complex might be at play.
I plan to investigate further the phalanx hidden shield bonus, so this is a sort of an on-going project. I hope you discovered something new thanks to this article: if you have suggestions or comments in order to improve it, please let me know.