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Thread: The weakness of hoplites against cavalry?

  1. #1

    Default The weakness of hoplites against cavalry?

    When the Greeks fought against the Persians then their hoplites were at a disadvantage against cavalry.
    And the similar thing applied when the Greeks fought amongst themselves.

    I thought that heavy infantry could not be frontal charged by cavalry, or the cavalry would be the one to suffer losses, but not the other way around.

    Can somebody explain the reasons behind it?

    Did the cavalry at that time use over-hand spears, or lances?
    Could not the hoplites outreach the enemy cavalry with their spears? or absorb the cavalry charge with their shieldwall?

    The cavalry can of course employ hit-and-run tactics, by going around the hoplites and attack them from the flanks or where they are unprepared. It would be exhausting for the hoplites to be constantly changing directions, and in running back and forth. Or the enemy cavalry attacked the hoplites in small groups, so the hoplites were not as tight together.

    But the question is about 1v1 duel, on equal terms.

  2. #2

    Default Re: The weakness of hoplites against cavalry?

    The best way of explaining this is to look at Alexander the Great's strategy, since it was pretty much the apex of Hellenic warfare. It's not the case that "pike beats cavalry" or "artillery beats pike" but of putting the right soldiers in the right places at the right times.
    First off, the notion of "1 vs 1" is irrelevant. Secondly, you're right in that cavalry are useless against heavy infantry head on; However, Thirdly, attacking the flank of a rigid formation, whether a Sarissa phalanx or a hoplite one, is brutally effective as the survival of the unit relies upon keeping formation. Finally, it's a little bit vague to just say "Greeks and Persians"; or "hoplites and cavalry" for that matter. If there was a more specific example you were thinking of I think I could be more helpful.
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  3. #3

    Default Re: The weakness of hoplites against cavalry?

    The battle of Platea, according to Herodotus.

    The Sicilian expedition, during the Peloponnesian war.

    Agesilaus expedition in minor Asia.

    I have recently read the work of Herodotus, Thucidydes, and Xeneophon ('Hellenica').

    There are many referances about a 'hollow square', similar to the Roman tactic against the Parthians.

    Could not hoplites have formed many 'infantry squares', like what the Europeans did during the Napoleon wars?

    The general idea is to fight only from one direction at a time, while none of the backs are exposed.

  4. #4

    Default Re: The weakness of hoplites against cavalry?

    Quote Originally Posted by VikingPower View Post
    The battle of Platea, according to Herodotus.

    The Sicilian expedition, during the Peloponnesian war.

    Agesilaus expedition in minor Asia.

    I have recently read the work of Herodotus, Thucidydes, and Xeneophon ('Hellenica').

    There are many referances about a 'hollow square', similar to the Roman tactic against the Parthians.

    Could not hoplites have formed many 'infantry squares', like what the Europeans did during the Napoleon wars?

    The general idea is to fight only from one direction at a time, while none of the backs are exposed.
    Main problem with the "Infantry square" is that it can only be a couple of men thick. Fine and dandy when you have bayonets and muskets, or when you know your enemy is largely mounted. But a very large majority of battles consist primarily of infantry. A hoplite in the Peloponnesian war for example, was 8 men thick. Combined with its breadth, such a formation makes a schiltron, or square, useless. Another point to note is that hoplites were not as mobile or well drilled in maneuvers as the later Roman soldiers were.

    I can't say I know much about Agesilaus' battles, but for the others, the sort of cavalry available would be mostly scouts, skirmishers and messengers. The Hellenic world wouldn't warm to the use of heavy cavalry until the later part of the 4th century BC. Thus the organised, wealthy, well armoured hoplites would carry quite some advantage.
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  5. #5

    Default Re: The weakness of hoplites against cavalry?

    A hoplite in the Peloponnesian war for example, was 8 men thick. Combined with its breadth, such a formation makes a schiltron, or square, useless.
    Could you explain this in more detail?

    I know that Greek infantry did tend to have about 8 ranks deep, 4 if undermanned, but 12 at most.
    As the horizontal line is wider then the enemy will need to travel more distance before it is arrived at the flanks. But the flanks can have a longer vertical lines, to make it harder for the enemy to go around them. A similar principle applies with a hollow square, in protecting the corners.

  6. #6

    Default Re: The weakness of hoplites against cavalry?

    epaminondas hd lines 32 men deep nd broke the spartans with those formations (even tough i tend to believe that the 1st 3 men line died suffocated in the oychos from the other 29 lines pushing them against the spartan line)

    but then again the shieldwall was rendered useless against the makedonian sarissa (even tough the true killers where their cavalary)

  7. #7
    EBII Hod Carrier Member QuintusSertorius's Avatar
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    Default Re: The weakness of hoplites against cavalry?

    Regardless of depth, a horse won't ride into a fixed spear, nor indeed will it jump blind into a formation of men where it can't see where it will land.
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  8. #8

    Default Re: The weakness of hoplites against cavalry?

    Quote Originally Posted by moonburn View Post
    epaminondas hd lines 32 men deep nd broke the spartans with those formations (even tough i tend to believe that the 1st 3 men line died suffocated in the oychos from the other 29 lines pushing them against the spartan line)
    Suffocated? No, if that happened I'd think someone would have mentioned it somewhere... Thicker file just means more pushing, less maneuverability, just what you need to break an infantry formation.

    Quote Originally Posted by VikingPower View Post
    Could you explain this in more detail?

    I know that Greek infantry did tend to have about 8 ranks deep, 4 if undermanned, but 12 at most.
    As the horizontal line is wider then the enemy will need to travel more distance before it is arrived at the flanks. But the flanks can have a longer vertical lines, to make it harder for the enemy to go around them. A similar principle applies with a hollow square, in protecting the corners.
    Sorry if I'm not understanding you but are you basically saying why not use always use schiltrons, so you'll never be flanked? The answer is that such a formation can be broken easily by other infantry, since its effective size is only its radius, Hoplites in particular were not equipped for such a formation and, as anyone who knows how to beat a 'noobbox' phalanx in total war games can say, as it cannot move and has at least half of its number facing away from its attackers, it is both less effective at surviving missiles and its members are far more nervous.
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  9. #9

    Default Re: The weakness of hoplites against cavalry?

    It is true that the enemy missile units can shoot many of the infantry-soldiers in their backs or un-shielded side, since the latter are facing away from them.
    And the enemy infantry can manouvre around the hollow square and surround it. Or focus their attacks upon one point at a time.

    But my second post is about a horse-shoe formation, like an 'U' reversed in shape. And it is more extended.

    See picture at.

    http://imgur.com/uK70IcC

    It is a compromise between a horse-shoe formation and single extended line.
    The soldiers at the flanks are not facing to the side, but they are facing to the front.
    It is like if you would pick a 120 men infantry unit, and arrange them in 3 vertical line with 40 men each. You begin by drawing from left corner forward and to right corner back.

    There is no additional line from behind, so the would-be infantry-soldiers are not facing the opposite direction.

    The enemy infantry will not gain any advantage, neither the enemy missile units.
    The only danger is that if the enemy cavalry will take a long detour around the flanks, until it can finally get into the gap from the behind.
    But it could just as well be stationed allied cavalry as reserves, to sandwich the enemy cavalry in between, if it would attack one's infantry from behind.
    Last edited by VikingPower; 07-31-2014 at 01:18.

  10. #10
    master of the wierd people Member Ibrahim's Avatar
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    Default Re: The weakness of hoplites against cavalry?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bodeni View Post
    Main problem with the "Infantry square" is that it can only be a couple of men thick. Fine and dandy when you have bayonets and muskets, or when you know your enemy is largely mounted. But a very large majority of battles consist primarily of infantry. A hoplite in the Peloponnesian war for example, was 8 men thick. Combined with its breadth, such a formation makes a schiltron, or square, useless. Another point to note is that hoplites were not as mobile or well drilled in maneuvers as the later Roman soldiers were.

    I can't say I know much about Agesilaus' battles, but for the others, the sort of cavalry available would be mostly scouts, skirmishers and messengers. The Hellenic world wouldn't warm to the use of heavy cavalry until the later part of the 4th century BC. Thus the organised, wealthy, well armoured hoplites would carry quite some advantage.

    infantry square were rarely, if ever, 2 ranks deep. the lowest number I've seen in European armies of the 18th and early 19th centuries was 3 ranks, and the norm for a square was 4 ranks. (the squares at Waterloo for examples, were 4 ranks deep: two men knelt in the front, two stood behind). This was because you needed "mass" to counter and stop the horse charge, should it attempt to crush through the square (which can, and did, happen, and no, not normally at the Gallup). Too thin, and the cavalry can just push its way through.

    you are otherwise right though about square v. infantry (and archers).
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  11. #11

    Default Re: The weakness of hoplites against cavalry?

    Regardless of depth, a horse won't ride into a fixed spear, nor indeed will it jump blind into a formation of men where it can't see where it will land.
    You can actually train it to AND it was done,eventhough riding into a fixed spear was quite dumb.

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