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Thread: Ancient Greece: The Macedonian Sarissa

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    Senior Member achilles's Avatar
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    Default Ancient Greece: The Macedonian Sarissa

    The sarissa (or sarisa) was a 3 to 7 meter (13-21 feet) long pike used in the Macedonian phalanx. It was very heavy for a spear, weighing over 5 kg (12 pounds). It had a short iron head shaped like a leaf and a bronze shoe that would allow it to be anchored to the ground to stop charges by enemy soldiers. The bronze shoe also served to balance out the spear, making it easier for soldiers to wield. Its great length was an asset against hoplites and other soldiers bearing smaller weapons, because they had to get past the sarissa to engage the phalangites. However outside the tight formation of the Phalanx the Sarissa would have been almost useless as weapon and a hindrance on the march. To this end the Sarissa was constructed of two halves and joined by the means of a metal collar before battle. This allowed the Sarissa to be broken down into much more manageable sections to increase its mobility and that of the army.

    The tight formation of the phalanx created a "wall of pikes", and the pike was sufficiently long that there were fully five rows of pikes in front of the front rank of men—even if an enemy got past the first row, there were still four more to stop him. The back rows bore their pikes angled upwards in readiness, which served the additional purpose to deflect incoming arrows. The Macedonian phalanx was considered all but invulnerable from the front, except against another such phalanx; the only way it was ever generally defeated was by breaking its formation or outflanking it.

    The invention of the sarissa is credited to Philip II, father of the celebrated Macedonian king, Alexander the Great. Philip drilled his hitherto demoralized men to use these formidable pikes with two hands. The new tactic was unstoppable, and by the end of Philip's reign the previously fragile Macedonian kingdom controlled the whole of Greece, Epirus and Thrace.

    His son Alexander used the new tactic across Asia, conquering Egypt, Persia and the Pauravas (northwest India), victorious all the way. The sarissa-wielding phalanxes were vital in every early battle, including the pivotal battle of Gaugamela where the Persian king's scythe chariots were utterly destroyed by the phalanx, supported by the combined use of companion cavalry and peltasts (javelineers). Alexander gradually reduced the importance of the Phalanx, and the sarissa, as he modified his combined use of arms, and incorporated 'Asian' weapons and troops.

    The sarissa however, remained the backbone for every subsequent Hellenistic, and especially Diadochi army. The Battle of Raphia between the Seleucids and Ptolemy IV may represent the pinnacle of sarissa tactics, when only an elephant charge seemed able to disrupt the opposing phalanx. The Successor Kingdoms of Macedon's empire tried expanding upon Alexander's design, creating pikes as long as 22 feet, but all of these ideas were eventually abandoned in favor of the battle tried Alexandrian sarissa. Battles often ended up stalemated in what Oliver Cromwell later described as "the terrible business of push of pike".

    Subsequently a lack of training and too great a reliance on the Phalanx instead of the combined use of arms (Alexander's and Philip's great contributions) led to the final defeat of Macedon by the Romans at the Battle of Pydna. Part of the reason for the rapid deterioration of the sarissa's ability was that after Alexander, generals ceased to protect phalanxes with cavalry and light armed troops, and phalanxes were destroyed too easily by flank attacks due to the sarissa's tactical unwieldliness. The sarissa was gradually replaced by variatiions of the gladius as the weapon of choice.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarissa

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    Senior Member achilles's Avatar
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    The Macedonian Sarissa, Spear, and Related Armor
    Minor M. Markle, III
    American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 81, No. 3 (Summer, 1977), pp. 323-339


    Adoption of the sarissa, or long lance, by Macedonian infantry and cavalry brought about important changes in military tactics. To understand these developments, it is necessary to be clear about the limitations of size and weight of the sarissa, since these factors determined how the weapon could be wielded in battle. When it is established how the sarissa had to be handled, then one can conceive more accurately both the advantages and weaknesses of military formations armed in this manner. Moreover, to gain a proper perspective on the limited role played by sarissa-armed foot, one must examine the evidence for the continued use of the hoplite panoply by the Macedonians. First, I shall consider the precise specifications of the Macedonian sarissa and its concomitant small target in comparison with those of the traditional Greek hoplite spear and shield. Second, I will show that both literary and archaeological sources indicate that the Macedonian hypaspists normally employed the spear, hoplite shield, and related equipment. Third, I will discuss the sarissa as an infantry weapon and show in what respects the Macedonian phalanx differed from the older Greek hoplite formation. Finally, I will consider how the Macedonians carried and wielded the cavalry lance and argue that this weapon was employed against not only hostile cavalry but even infantry. In a second article, entitled "Use of the Sarissa by Philip and Alexander of Macedon," I will argue that Philip employed the cavalry lance for the first time at Chaeronea in 338 B.C. and that the infantry lance may not have been used in battle before the reign of Alexander the Great. I will also show that the Mounted Lancers, the Companion Cavalry, and the Foot Companions of the phalanx, even under Alexander, were not invariably armed with the sarissa but frequently used the spear and javelin.

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    Failed Mouse Hunter Skutatos's Avatar
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    That is quite nice JP, have any more artwork like this?

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    Failed Mouse Hunter Skutatos's Avatar
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    very nice work, thank you

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    Senior Member Eoin666's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JP Vieira View Post
    [*******black]Hello[/COLOR]
    [*******black]Thanks for your interest, Skutatos.[/COLOR]
    [*******black]I have an online gallery with more artwork at[/COLOR]
    [*******black][*******#800080]http://community.imaginefx.com/fxpose/jp_vieiras_portfolio/default.aspx[/COLOR][/COLOR]
    [*******black]I will, regularly, update it with new work.[/COLOR]
    [*******black]Best regards[/COLOR]
    [*******black]JP Vieira[/COLOR]
    nice artwork mate....have you read Greece and Rome at War by Peter Connolly and Adrian Keith Goldsworthy, some amazing illustrations, by the author himself, Adrian Goldsworthy has wrote some excellent accounts of the Roman empire

    Attachments Pending Approval Attachments Pending Approval

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    Senior Member achilles's Avatar
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    Solicitation? Meaning the guy was advertising his stuff or something?

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    very nice work, thank you

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    [*******black]Hello[/COLOR]
    [*******black]Thanks for your interest, Skutatos.[/COLOR]
    [*******black]I have an online gallery with more artwork at[/COLOR]
    [*******black][*******#800080]http://community.imaginefx.com/fxpose/jp_vieiras_portfolio/default.aspx[/COLOR][/COLOR]
    [*******black]I will, regularly, update it with new work.[/COLOR]
    [*******black]Best regards[/COLOR]
    [*******black]JP Vieira[/COLOR]

    nice artwork mate....
    Could not agree more: excellent artwork and wonderful illustrator! Congratulations

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