This weeks data is primarily qualitative as there was not a lot to measure quantitatively, especially as we were all constantly involved in the movement and action.
We spent about 40 minutes working on the hoplite formation including figuring out the positioning, trying different formations, and attempting to fight each other (gently). We used 5 shields that were 55 centimeters in diameter and 5 shields that were smaller. Both sets were made out of trash can lids with the handles being put at the center and the far right of the inside of the shield so that they would be held by our left arms and cover part of our bodies and part of the body of the person to our left. We also used 7 foot PVC pipes for our spears and operated in rows of 5. We tended to find getting in formation to me fairly simple, especially once we were holding the shields and understood just how close we had to be to each other. This also made moving pretty easy, including running. Even without someone shouting “left” for every step with our left foot it was fairly easy to stay together because we were all so close. We noticed no tendency to get closer together while moving, though that may be due to already being very close together. The part that we felt was hardest was turning, but as the lab progressed we got far better at this so my group felt as though this was more due to not being used to moving as a group than the formation itself.
This formation felt very safe everywhere expect the side edges. This safety was found through how close together we all were. There was a feeling of being trapped that was comforting but also turned stressful as we faced off against another group and though about weapons being pointed at us. It contributed to feelings of camaraderie and relying on each other. This was also impacted by the pushing. I had anticipated this to stress people in the front out but instead there were reports of it being comforting and motivating. This form of safety is what made the edges feel so unsafe.
There were reports from my group that from this version they expected their arms to be tired after a day of this style of training or fighting and also that the moving was easier with a shield because it forced you to keep formation. Being in direct contact with the people in front of you and to your sides forced us to hold formation more than anything else.
The Phalanx and Roman soldiers was harder to time as we switched back and forth between them some and also took breaks to retrieve raincoats and for snacking. In total we spent about 50 minutes learning how to operate as a phalanx before we moved on to any Roman soldier adventures. This included putting together our 10 foot and 5 foot PVC pipes in order to make a 15 foot spear, learning to move and operate like a phalanx, practicing turning, walking, and running, facing off against hoplites, and facing off against each other.
This one was much more spaced out than the hoplites (we were all three feet apart in all directions) and so initially it felt much less safe, but then later as we returned to it after our Roman soldiering it felt much closer together and some of our group discussed it feeling safe if that is what you are used to. It also felt safer while moving than it did while standing. However when we got to fighting each other we realized that there was no way to switch off or take any sort of rest and so being at the front felt even more dangerous. You had to die or win the battle to rest. Being at the side still felt dangerous, but less so as all the spears behind you were at your side and, at least on the right side of the formation where all of group C was, they were holding you in the formation so even if you wanted to you could not escape. Being at the back again felt very safe, except for the back row as your back was unprotected, but there was less concern with that in this formation because at least some of your spear was behind you. You were not the furthest thing back.
Our spears did not have any counter weights or spear tips and there was great discussion of how useful that would be, both to balance the back of the spear and make it easier to handle and the front tip would make it easier to stab someone as our blunt ends just slid off the shields. There was great joking at this point about skewering each other and making human kebabs.
When we faced off against hoplites it put into perspective just how terrifying the phalanx was and why it took over after it was created. the Hoplites had no chance against the phalanx and made them feel unsafe and resulted in them being skewered. This encounter also made the phalanx feel much safer because there were so many spear points in between even the first or second row of us and the first or second row of the hoplites. We definitely felt as though the phalanx was superior.
When moving as a phalanx we found it difficult to not compress our formation as that was the natural instinct. This was especially true when we were running, but when we were turning as a group we tended to drift apart. It was also much easier to walk with someone yelling when to walk and what to do. This for sure felt like something that would be practiced over and over again in “bootcamp” as having an stablished pace and practice walking together in formation would have made it much easier. Even though it was our first time doing it, this skill was fairly easy to pick up, especially with someone yelling, but would take a while to refine and make it super smooth. Moving was pretty easy with the spears up and more difficult but doable with the spears down in formation, but the greatest difficulty for us and the hardest thing to learn was moving the spears from the up position to down. This always took a while and required great care to not hit any of the people around you. This would be something that would need a lot of time of practice. When it began to rain we also wished for a better grip, but we had no grip at all.
We spent the longest with our roman soldier formations, about an hour, not due to its difficulty but because there were a couple more formations to try and we also faced off agains the phalanx, which took a brief moment to reconstruct.
We only had 12 shields and 24 of us were participating so we had to switch off shields a fair amount but we were sure to make sure that everyone got to experience holding the shields at least once. We first spaced ourselves out and were eight wide and three deep with all the shields in the first two rows. We were all holding a three foot piece of PVC pipe as our gladius. Our depth was not as carefully measured but each row was about three feet apart, maybe a little further apart. This felt really spaced out and unsafe initially, but then we began practicing our stabbing motion with our swords as well as rotating who was in front and holding shields and it began to feel much safer. The shield curved around us adding a feeling of immense safety as it protected not only our fronts but our sides as well. For many of the group members though the ability to rotate added a great feeling of safety. There was just enough space between each person that the front row was able to move to the side and fall back, which allowed for people to get tired and be replaced without dying. This replaced the security of being surrounded by people with that of the shield and the ability to rotate.
This however felt like we could turn and run more easily. Jake informed us that though it is much more possible to attempt to flee because we are much more separated there were people behind us, often veterans, who were placed there specifically to kill us if we tried to run away.
It also was not immediately obvious how we were going to beat the phalanx since they were coming at us with such huge spears and also had shields, but then it became clear that we, since we were so spread out and had much smaller weapons, could get past the ends of the spears and get in between the lines of the phalanx which allowed us to stab them while they could not use their weapons.
We also tried the tortoise formation. This was a brief experience at the end and was only attempted once so only 12 people got to try it. They were in three rows of four and the front row had their shields down while the back three rows had their shields above their heads. We chose not to protect the sides because there were so few of them and it made more sense to experience protecting peoples’ heads. Ruby was in the group that got to do it and reported feeling not super safe because she could not see and her back was exposed, but that with more practice it might feel more safe.