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"Playing around with Pikes and Pila" Topic

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GameCon '98

The Editor tries out this first-year gaming convention in the San Francisco Bay Area (California).

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JPChris56 Supporting Member of TMP10 Sep 2021 4:12 a.m. PST


For your review and possible reply, I offer the following excerpt from my "latest" effort. (Latest is in quotes and this was actually finished a while ago, but held up for a variety of reasons.) Anyway.

Here is the excerpt and link:

In the final paragraph of a four-paragraph post made on February 11, 2020, to the ‘To Conform or Not To Conform' discussion thread on The Society of Ancients site, admired and respected veteran member Simon Watson opined:
I don't believe that the Ancient sources really give us anything like enough detail of
ancient battles to say identify where a unit faced multiple opposing ‘units'. I would
suggest that it almost invariably happened (e.g. a sytagma [sic] of pike against 2 Roman
maniples) but then we get into the ‘what's a unit' discussions in our games which are
pretty sterile.
My attention was caught and my interest was piqued by his parenthetical example. What would happen, I wondered, if a syntagma of pike, let us say Later Macedonians, was confronted by two maniples of Roman legionaries, let us say Hastati? This question was followed by a few more. How could I wargame this on my tabletop? How should I wargame this? Why would I wargame this? What rules should I use? Would anyone be interested in reading an article that was produced as a result of this playing around? What in the world is a "syntagma"?!



advocate10 Sep 2021 4:58 a.m. PST

And indeed, could units act independently of a battle line at all?

CeruLucifus10 Sep 2021 5:55 a.m. PST

The battles of Pyrrhus are good reference for maniples versus phalanxes. Pyrrhus's phalanxes beat the Roman maniples several times, but the victories were costly. Of course both armies had other units as well, and Pyrrhus's mercenaries were better quality troops.

The maniple was developed as a smaller unit that could deal with terrain too rough for phalanx blocks. Maniples would deploy in waves with gaps (sounds like a checkerboard pattern); the gaps allowed the front units to engage then withdraw while the next wave engaged.

So any game system representing this has to allow for the effects of smaller maniples having a maneuver advantage over larger phalanxes, at least in rough terrain. Smaller maniples have to engage bigger phalanxes, and then withdraw so maniples behind can engage.

Troop discipline should be a factor as well; we know Romans put less steady troops (Velites and Hastati) in front with the expectation that they would lose cohesion and withdraw to be replaced by steadier troops (Principes and Triarii).

If the maniples are represented as individual units then definitely sometimes multiple maniples would engage one phalanx.

I am not sure 2 phalanxes would ever engage one maniple? The maniples had the maneuver advantage after all.

Fletcher Pratt likened the maniple to giving infantry the maneuverability of cavalry. Would a manipular battle line ever overlap a phalanx battle line? If yes would the end maniple advance, pivot and charge the phalanx's flank? If not would it maintain the line until contact but then envelop?

JPChris56 Supporting Member of TMP12 Sep 2021 3:28 a.m. PST

Advocate and Ceru –

Thanks for taking the time to read and offer an observation, remark, or point. Much appreciated.

This was an interesting exercise, IMO. It provided a nice break from the usual process of drafting armies and "having at it" across a tabletop.


JJartist13 Sep 2021 10:51 a.m. PST

"Fletcher Pratt likened the maniple to giving infantry the maneuverability of cavalry. Would a manipular battle line ever overlap a phalanx battle line? If yes would the end maniple advance, pivot and charge the phalanx's flank? If not would it maintain the line until contact but then envelop?"

At Pydna the Roman legions were being repelled by the Macedonian phalanx. As they pursued into rougher higher ground the phalanx became ragged. We are told that the Roman general- Lucius Aemilius Paullus then gave a specific order for the maniples to "act independently." The maniples then worked their way into the gaps where they could and fell back on their own when confronted with a solid front. One might assume that this order applied to the hastati and principes acting together.

This is an interesting statement, because it implies that the maniples were at first acting in a set battleline order, which compelled those troops in direct contact to try to fight it out forntally, and they were mauled and fell back. Once "act independently" was sounded the maniple leaders made their own choices. Of course the loss of command meant the maniples were out of control from then on. Pydna, however isn't a perfect example since our sources tend to focus on where the struggle was heavy, and under report how elephants and uncounted extra legions and allied troops caved in the Macedonian left wing entirely. On the other flank, the Macedonian cavalry seemed fit to sit out the battle. So both flanks were not secured.

Pyrrhus at Asculum, in earlier times, put Italian allies in flexible formations in between the phalanx battalions to keep the maniples from seeping around the flanks as they did at Heraclea.

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