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Thread: Classical armies versus medieval armies

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    Classical armies versus medieval armies

    Pardon the title, it seemed appropriate.
    The question: Would Roman-style legions and/or Hellenic phalanxes.
    Elaboration: Take a medieval country, take it's serfs and feudal lords and equip them with either Roman Legionaire gear or phalanx-style gear. Use matching tactics. How would they do?
    I'm not the ultimate authority on the subject of history, but after reading some books on medieval times and Roman-Greek history, I think they might do well. Just might.
    Comments? Thoughts?

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    The question makes absolutely no sense in isolation. All armies, hell, everything is a product of its environment. To magically transport two seperate strategies several hundred years into the future and pit them against each other would be completely nonsensical as to lose all meaning.
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    Not quite so useless. Sometimes peoples who come from sophisticated but totally different worlds can clash, like Cortéz vs. the Aztecs, Rus vs. Mongols, or Robert Clive & the BEIC vs the Nawab of Bengal. Those cases are really interesting, thinking about who would win is a nice exercise.

    Usually in history, when such worlds clashed, due to being totally unprepared both sides would try to improvise a lot but one would eventually gain the upper hand, exploit some advantage that the other is unable to counter, and it ends up being a world shattering defeat for the losers.

    In the above case (professional legionaries from classical antiquity vs medieval army equipped with same weapons) I think the legionaries would rout the medievals. What after all are the medievals going to do with antique weapons? That's like asking, how would the US marines do if given wicker shields and obsidian clubs and forced to fight Aztec warriors. Getting sacrificed atop Tenochtitlans pyramid, that's what they would do. Given equal weapons, usually the side that has the most practise using them wins.

    Same with the medievals. Take any Richard Lionheart or Tancred de Hauteville, take their their lances, longbows, damascus steel swords, chain mail and huge ass chargers away, give them Javelins, lorica segmentata armor, gladii and ponies with small saddles and of course they will not fight as well against an army that has been training with these weapons from youth.

    A more interesting question: Who would win in a straight up fight on even ground, Alexander's phalanx or Richard the Lionheart's feudal army? Alexander has only mediocre bows and weak armor and their horses would be considered too light for frontal combat by medieval standards, on the other hand his hoplites are ten times more disciplined than a feudal levy and they have a lot more practise fighting together. One side would end up totally mauled but it's hard to say which one.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Leviathan07 View Post
    A more interesting question: Who would win in a straight up fight on even ground, Alexander's phalanx or Richard the Lionheart's feudal army? Alexander has only mediocre bows and weak armor and their horses would be considered too light for frontal combat by medieval standards, on the other hand his hoplites are ten times more disciplined than a feudal levy and they have a lot more practise fighting together. One side would end up totally mauled but it's hard to say which one.
    Cavalry versus pikes? I guess it would dependon what terrain they're fighting. There's no way the cavalry would win in a direct charge. If they're able to attack the phalanx from the side or rear though, Alexander's army would be toast.
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    A more interesting question: Who would win in a straight up fight on even ground, Alexander's phalanx or Richard the Lionheart's feudal army? Alexander has only mediocre bows and weak armor and their horses would be considered too light for frontal combat by medieval standards, on the other hand his hoplites are ten times more disciplined than a feudal levy and they have a lot more practise fighting together. One side would end up totally mauled but it's hard to say which one.
    That's the sort of the question I was trying to ask - not giving feudals obsolete weapons and sending them to die, but having an entire army from that age transferred and sent of to fight.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Registered View Post
    Cavalry versus pikes? I guess it would dependon what terrain they're fighting. There's no way the cavalry would win in a direct charge. If they're able to attack the phalanx from the side or rear though, Alexander's army would be toast.
    I would say it will be down to leadership.
    If you f.e. replace English forces at Crecy with Alexander's pike-wielding hoplites, I think the result will be quite similar.
    But if you replace French forces at Crecy with Alexamder's pike-wielding phalanx and made the phalanx move up against the English... well I think the result will be quite similar.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wolfhound View Post
    I would say it will be down to leadership.
    If you f.e. replace English forces at Crecy with Alexander's pike-wielding hoplites, I think the result will be quite similar.
    But if you replace French forces at Crecy with Alexamder's pike-wielding phalanx and made the phalanx move up against the English... well I think the result will be quite similar.
    In dunno, i think the longbowmen might have some trouble with a heavily armoured phalanx. Same for a testudo.
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    Wouldn't it largely be down to technology if you start moving armies around in time? Would the lorica segmenta Romans really have had any effective defense against a heavy medieval cavalry charge (considering that the stirrup wasn't invented when they were around)? Would Alexander's cavalry have had the slightest chance against a bunch of knights and would a phalanx not have been devestated by continueous crossbow fire from the flanks? Did theese ancients really have any tactics or formations that were lost to their medieval counterparts?

    The only area where I could tsee the ancients have an edge on a medieval army would be artillery (but only if "medieval" doesn't include the begininning of the gunpowder era), and perhaps discipline.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Registered View Post
    In dunno, i think the longbowmen might have some trouble with a heavily armoured phalanx. Same for a testudo.
    I don't think so, given the fact that the longbow was able to penetrate feudal knight's armor... (I don't care if it managed to do so by sheer penetration force or by hitting the joints - if it really was the latter I believe that unprotected or less-protected faces of slowly moving phalanx would make excellent targets)
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wolfhound View Post
    I don't think so, given the fact that the longbow was able to penetrate feudal knight's armor... (I don't care if it managed to do so by sheer penetration force or by hitting the joints - if it really was the latter I believe that unprotected or less-protected faces of slowly moving phalanx would make excellent targets)
    I thought the arrows mostly killed the knight's horses, rather than the knights themselves?
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    Quote Originally Posted by L Lawliet View Post
    Pardon the title, it seemed appropriate.
    The question: Would Roman-style legions and/or Hellenic phalanxes.
    Elaboration: Take a medieval country, take it's serfs and feudal lords and equip them with either Roman Legionaire gear or phalanx-style gear. Use matching tactics. How would they do?
    I'm not the ultimate authority on the subject of history, but after reading some books on medieval times and Roman-Greek history, I think they might do well. Just might.
    Comments? Thoughts?
    As of things like logistics the Roman legions would fail. The medieval armies were built as to handle things like the logistic problems which the Romans weren't as they expected to have good roads to supply them with materials from the colonies.

    The Hellenic phalanxes were completely hopeless obsolete AFAIK and wouldn't even survive a normal battle except by luck.
    Quite a different guy for quite a different world.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Skarion View Post
    The Hellenic phalanxes were completely hopeless obsolete AFAIK and wouldn't even survive a normal battle except by luck.

    Which is why the Swiss using identical tactics and practically the same weaponry dominated the battlefield in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries??????
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    Quote Originally Posted by Boblof View Post
    Wouldn't it largely be down to technology if you start moving armies around in time? Would the lorica segmenta Romans really have had any effective defense against a heavy medieval cavalry charge (considering that the stirrup wasn't invented when they were around)? Would Alexander's cavalry have had the slightest chance against a bunch of knights and would a phalanx not have been devestated by continueous crossbow fire from the flanks? Did theese ancients really have any tactics or formations that were lost to their medieval counterparts?

    The only area where I could tsee the ancients have an edge on a medieval army would be artillery (but only if "medieval" doesn't include the begininning of the gunpowder era), and perhaps discipline.
    The Romans had pretty decent steel so I don't think the lorica segmentata would be such a bad armor. Probably quite alright against morning stars, axes, arrows and such. Only with heavy swords it might fare a lot worse than chainmail (lorica being more on deflection than absorption of blows). But then again if you are not behind a wall of lances then even the best plate armor will not save you from getting killed by charging massed cavalry.

    The ancients were not any worse fighters than the medievals. Professional ancients probably were a lot better practised and nourished in their trade than the part time troopers of the feudal age. What they might have some unfamiliarity with is the massed charge of heavy cavalry which was the staple strategy in many medieval battles. On the other hand, the knights and their hosts would not have much experience with professionals drilled in large scale maneuvers, like the Roman legions or the phalanxes of the Greek city states. The middle ages did not have many armies capable of coordinated large scale maneuvers.

    Weapons technology in the pre-modern era did not go through some linear development from primitive axes and clubs to 15th century langswords and halberds. Metallurgy for example was more of an up and down development - dark age steel made from Afghan ore was superb, but the one made from European ore was crap. The Romans might have had some superb metallurgy before they went into decline, I am not familiar with that. However late Roman armies were using the same kind of chain mail that would be used throughout the middle ages. No serious changes there.

    Then there are some things that only specialists can answer. Would the Roman pila javelin stick to the shield of a medieval knight like it did to the shields of the antique troopers? The pilae were meant to bend on impact but still stick to the shield, so that weight of the pila render the shield useless. How effective would medieval bows be against classical antique armor - lorica, breat plates, and such? How would antique missile artillery fare against medieval infantry?

    If the armies have to maneuver to gain favorable positions - would the Romans or other highly drilled professionals get into much better positions than the cumbersome medievals?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Skarion View Post
    The Hellenic phalanxes were completely hopeless obsolete AFAIK and wouldn't even survive a normal battle except by luck.
    Well they were done in by professional heavy infantry, i.e. the Roman legions, and by heavy cavalry. Was that because tactical discipline allowed the infantry to break into the phalanx, or due to heavy infantry being better armored? Medieval armies were anything but disciplined. But they were often heavily armed. Could they bash through a phalanx?

    What is probably sure though is that Alexandrine cavalry would not stand a chance in a fight against knights who know what they are doing. They could probably outrun them or try to outflank them, but their swords and lances would be decidedly inferior to the medieval weapons and armor.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Leviathan07 View Post
    What is probably sure though is that Alexandrine cavalry would not stand a chance in a fight against knights who know what they are doing. They could probably outrun them or try to outflank them, but their swords and lances would be decidedly inferior to the medieval weapons and armor.
    I agree with your conclusion. However, the invention making the use of heavy armour and the repective weapons possible was the stirrups. I'd say, even with the same weapons and armour, cavalry with stirrups have a huge advantage in close combat. However, it also needs to be considered that medieval knights had access to horses bred for a total different purpose than, say, Alexander's cavalry.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Leviathan07 View Post
    Well they were done in by professional heavy infantry, i.e. the Roman legions, and by heavy cavalry. Was that because tactical discipline allowed the infantry to break into the phalanx, or due to heavy infantry being better armored? Medieval armies were anything but disciplined. But they were often heavily armed. Could they bash through a phalanx?
    AFAIK the Hellenic tactics had problems if attacking them in the side. Also their armor was quite bad which made them extremely vulnerable the moment the enemy fights back.

    The only advantage the Hellenics had was the demand for trying to break the enemy at first contact, the same as Sweden used during the 17th century.

    Though the reasons why the Hellenic phalanx would loose is armor, weapons etc - to not speak of the cavalry. If you want to go more detail in tactics I would probably get into a flamewar with the Hellenic lovers if I tried to apply modern researched history as I would do in that scenario.

    Which is why the Swiss using identical tactics and practically the same weaponry dominated the battlefield in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries??????
    Modified tactics and added more modern weapons and armory. In fact the most likely reason why they dominated in the fourteenth and fifteenth century wasn't their phalanax attack but as of their use of pikes and halbards - which they were unique in the world to do until 1490.
    Quite a different guy for quite a different world.

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    The true heart of the Macedonian army was the cavalry and as much as I like the Companions I have hard time imagine them not being swept aside by an equal number of men-at-arms.



    I would guess the biggest advance from classical to medieval times to be in fortifications and siegecraft.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Skarion View Post
    AFAIK the Hellenic tactics had problems if attacking them in the side. Also their armor was quite bad which made them extremely vulnerable the moment the enemy fights back.

    The only advantage the Hellenics had was the demand for trying to break the enemy at first contact, the same as Sweden used during the 17th century.

    Though the reasons why the Hellenic phalanx would loose is armor, weapons etc - to not speak of the cavalry. If you want to go more detail in tactics I would probably get into a flamewar with the Hellenic lovers if I tried to apply modern researched history as I would do in that scenario.



    Modified tactics and added more modern weapons and armory. In fact the most likely reason why they dominated in the fourteenth and fifteenth century wasn't their phalanax attack but as of their use of pikes and halbards - which they were unique in the world to do until 1490.

    All of this is true - but if we are talking about dropping the army of Alexander into the 14th century then they would "up-armour" to fit in with the times. Certainly the Ptolemaic and Seleucid armies up-armoured their front ranks as the Swiss did.

    I guess the point I was trying to make was that it was the disciplined use of pike armed heavy infantry that led to the Swiss dominance. Halberds declined markedly as the Swiss began to venture beyond the boundaries of their cantons - the only real tactical innovation over Alexander was the inclusion of missile armed troops in each "battle" but Alexander was already testing this out as he returned from India.

    So I guess my point is that if you dropped the macedonian army of Alexander into 1450 europe, the phalanx would be a strong competitor to the Swiss. The companions would be toast (although perversely the Thessalanian cavalry may be useful in a Stradiot style).
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    One interesting distinction would be missile tech: Seems to me that the bows (either british longbows, various kinds of composite bows, or crossbows) would give the medievals quite an edge.

    Yes, the greeks had proto-crossbows, but hardly on the same scale of use.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arilou View Post
    One interesting distinction would be missile tech: Seems to me that the bows (either british longbows, various kinds of composite bows, or crossbows) would give the medievals quite an edge.

    Yes, the greeks had proto-crossbows, but hardly on the same scale of use.

    Yes - agreed. But I guess the question is whether the ancient armies are stacked against the latter ones with no "modern" upgrades or whether they would use the same tactics but with minor improvements (Bronze armour = steel / iron studs, bows = longbows / crossbows, kontos = lances, stirrups for all)
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