Data Report Week 8: Tactics

Our research questions:

  1. How fast is the learning curve for each formation?
  2. What is the feeling of safety in each formation?
    • Does each formation provide a different type of feeling safe, or can you directly compare safety levels (ie: Phalanx felt 5/10 safe while Hoplite felt 3/10 safe)
  3. Each of the three formations/technologies completely replaced the ones before it. Can we use proxy data to make sense of these transitions?

Formation 1: the greek hoplite


  • 7 foot spear (PVC pipe)
  • 55cm diameter shield (trash can lid)

Description of formation:

  • For us it was 6 people across, 4 rows deep (In the ancient reality: 8 rows deep, as wide as possible. Units of 1000 I think… worth double checking.)
  • shield on left arm, spear held in right hand (no left handed exceptions!)
  • shields overlap to protect the right arm/shoulder of the soldier next to you
  • person on the end is more vulnerable, they receive greater honor
Greek hoplite. Note the interlocking shields. For most of the exercises we put the red and black rows behind one another, but this is not pictured.
With this image I attempted to capture the interlocking shields from behind, and how one soldier’s shield would protect another soldier’s right hand and shoulder.

Notes on the formation in action:

  • you must spear over the top of your shield
  • back people push front people forward
  • if two hoplite lines combine, it becomes a pushing fest and lots of face stabbing
  • hoplite vs a more disorganized army, hoplites can keep pushing and are strong
  • rotating the group was easy
  • there is no way for any individual soldier to run because they are being pushed from behind and the interlocking shields keep each one in place
  • it is impossible to decide on strategy mid-fight: all strategy has to be decided on beforehand

Formation 2: the phalanx (mass transition to this tactic in 338 BC)


  • 15 ft Sarissa spear (PVC pipe)

Description of formation:

  • For us it was 5 people across, 5 rows deep (In the ancient reality: 16 rows deep, 16 people wide. 256 people per square, but in ancient militaries they counted this formation in units of 1000.)
  • spear held in right hand (no left handed exceptions!)
  • soldiers spaced 3 feet apart
I was unable to get a picture of the formation once it was totally in action because I was a part of it! But here is an image of students with the Sarissa spears getting into formation.

Notes on the formation in action:

  • long spears beat the hoplite because the hoplite can’t even reach into the phalanx
  • rotating, lowering, and raising spears makes the formation take longer to master, but not much longer, than the hoplite
  • harder not to hit other soldiers in your unit with your spear
  • less pushing than the hoplite but equally hard for an individual to run away
  • we tried to walk over a hill in formation and this was difficult because the long spears would stab into other soldiers in the unit. Uneven terrain is a weakness with this formation.
  • Obstacles are also a weakness; we tried to walk around a picnic table and it divided the line of spears, which would have caused trouble if we had an oncoming army who could slip into the break.
  • Once an enemy is inside of the formation, it falls apart because you can’t use the long spears to fight in close-quarters combat.

Formation 3: the roman maniple


  • tall curved shield (half of a trash can lid)
  • short (I believe 3 ft long but maybe check this :/ ) sword (PVC pipe)

Description of formation:

  • For us it was 8 ish people across, 3 rows deep (ancient reality: 120 people across, 3 rows deep)
  • 6 feet spacing between soldiers
  • hold shield in your left hand and sword in your right hand
Testugo, one of the glorious possibilities this formation affords 🐢

Notes on the formation in action:

  • although you are farther away from others, you feel hugged by the shield
  • the front row stabs their swords; when they get tired, they rotate to the back of the formation and a new row steps in. Helps with fatigue.
  • feels like it is easier to run away if you get scared, but in the ancient reality, veterans soldiers made up a back row and killed all deserters
  • it is possible to change strategy mid-battle, which none of the other options affords! There is way more mobility and ease of communication: once the formation has started, it’s fully possible to stop it whereas the other formations you are stuck in a pushing fight.
  • the maniple vs. the phalanx: the maniple can break the rank of the phalanx by sending a few people in to focus on one spot in the line, and then pressing in once a dent has been made (we simulated this)

Personal safety poll (in class on friday):

How safe did you feel? F1=2 F2=3 F3=20

Which formation made you feel most confident about winning? F1=2 F2=13 F3=10

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