Week 8: Group D Tactics Lab Data

Group D: Ann Beimers, Will Brewster, Em Jahn, Morgan Dieschbourg

For this week’s lab on tactics, collective involvement in the various types of movement and action was key in gaining insight into ancient Greek and Roman military formations.

Initial questions:

How fast is the learning curve?

In a group, can we accomplish all three tactics: hoplite, phalanx, and maniple in the lab time provided?

How is safety recognized and defined for each of the tactics? Are there different types of safety?


About 45 minutes was dedicated in delving into the first of the three formations, the hoplite formation. Two sets of shields were used, both made out of garbage can lids, with 6 shields that were 55 centimeters in diameter and the other 6 shields smaller in diameter. Zip ties were used to make the handles on each of the shields, attached in the center and far right to enable the person to hold the shield with their left arm and hand. The shields aimed to protect one’s internal organs while overlapping with the outer edge of the shield of the person next to you, thus, providing protection for that person. Though in observation of the two groups holding each type of the shields, the shield was held and shifted to the left side of the body, thus body size and material serve as factors that can influence how much and how effective a soldier is protected. With the overlapping of the shields came a specific group response in terms of movement and fluidity. As we moved as a unit, the shield served as a guide, stopping further forward movement when we stopped running. So the overlapping of shields proves to protect oneself and their neighbor while enabling group movement to work and continue. 

The hoplite formation involved the use of a 7ft pvc pipe as the spear along with a shield on your left arm, the group quickly adapted to the footing required to enable for smooth group movement in walking and running forward with the spear and shield in rows of 5. As we continued to gain experience in how to approach different forms of group movement, we noticed we became two close to one another after running in this formation, though maintaining sufficient space between one another came with additional time spent in the formation. Group thoughts and concerns were voiced in how close we were to one another which contributed to the sense of cohesion needed in battle while also creating an anxiety in being confined to your position in the closed-in formation, not having the opportunity to escape in all aspects. This restriction in movement can foster a sense of safety and security knowing you are one of many assigned to the same duty in battle. Though, the definition of safety is different for each person, so hearing various comments in feeling safe being surrounded by a group people united in targeting the enemy while others expressed feeling claustrophobic. In terms of safety, two of the members of my lab group, D, and I were in the back row of the hoplite formation and communicated our feeling of insecurity. Given our exposure, we were completely vulnerable to the enemy behind us, with the rows in front directing their energy and focus to the enemy facing them which led to their inability to quickly move and turn their attention to the back of the formation. 

In effort of recreating a battle to test this formation, we split up into two hoplite armies. This battle required quite a bit of pushing and led to the front lines of both armies coming into contact as force was provided in support of the front line pushing against the opposing army. There was discussion in that when the first row slips, falls, and/or dies, the second row is supposed to fill their position, creating an unstoppable line. Prof. Jake Morton expressed, “Don’t be the reason everyone dies.” So with this idea, the hoplite does not provide a sufficient sense of safety in that this supposed unstoppable line can easily be infiltrated and targeted from the back of the formation and lacks the ability to quickly adapt and shift attention to the multiple sides of the hoplite formation. 


Moving on to the phalanx formation, we spent about an hour learning how to handle the specific equipment involved and how to function as a group in the various forms of motion that were practiced. The phalanx formation involved the connection of two pvc pipes, one 5ft and the other 10ft, to make one 15 ft pvc pipe (sarissa) which seemed unsturdy and wobbly at first. When getting into formation, a few group members experienced difficulties in making sure both individual pvc pipes stayed connected. While the breaking of the pvc pipes occasionally halted further collective movement and led to additional time necessary for the group members to regroup and reconnect their spears. Maintaining spacing within the phalanx formation was significant, given Jake would check the space between each of us in formation by stretching a thin knotted rope across the frontline of the formation. The knots indicated the space that needed to be maintained between each of the individuals (each three feet apart) a part of the phalanx formation. Thus, there was a shift in the sense of safety experienced in terms of space and a resulting feeling of vulnerability when not in closer proximity to each other. There are various interpretations of safety dependent on one’s location in the formation. Being on the side and in the middle of the phalanx formation can provide a sense of safety given you are confined to your specific location with the 15 ft spears locking you in place. Though when on the outer edge and in the back row of the phalanx formation, full exposure to the enemy provides a disadvantage and leads to feelings of insecurity. 

As time progressed, we gained experience in handling the spears and were able to advance from walking to running. Like the hoplite formation, when running as a group unit, we tended to get closer to one another which led to time being taken to readjust our spacing. In asking Group D their thoughts about the equipment and group movement progress in the phalanx formation, group members communicated the significance of posture in benefiting forward group movement and strength in moving the phalanx spear up and down. There was also discussion on the importance of material, in how wood, for instance, would be used in place of the pvc pipe as the spear which places an emphasis on posture, strength, and sense of efficiency. 

When facing the hoplites, a different perspective in having both armies face one another was gained, allowing us to break down this intimidation factor that the phalanx achieved. The hoplite army was equipped with shields and 7ft spears while the phalanx formation involved the overlap of 15 ft spears. The reach enabled by the length of 15 ft spears and the shear amount of force that came with the collective group strength of the phalanx in striving forward towards the opposing army of hoplites was no match for the wall of shields of the hoplite formation. In agreement as a whole, the phalanx clearly emerged victorious. 

At the end of the lab, we underwent bootcamp that focused on the link between instruction and discipline with army training routine and mindset which proved to be a significant part of gaining a deeper understanding into how to operate as a whole group. We first focused our efforts on determining our line structure and maintaining spacing between one another before progressing onto moving the spears alongside walking and running. Then when instructed by Jake, we raised and lowered our spears while also implementing quickly turning as a unit. While following instructions provided in moving the spear up and down, this step in learning required a great amount of effort and awareness in managing the spear to avoid hitting or poking each other. This sense of discipline become more established once group movement became more solidified in the sense of moving more fluidly, not bumping into each other along with figuring out where to place your hands to prevent the spear from disconnecting. 

Roman (maniple)

We then spent approximately an hour diving into the Roman (maniple) formation that consisted of the usage of 3 ft pvc pipes as swords and 12 shields that were made out of the sides of garbage cans with a handle that was carved out in the center, that wrapped around the mid section of the body. With the inclusion of the shield, shin guards were recognized as a desired addition in preventing the shield from hitting our knees. In terms of the formation, we were more spread out then in the hoplite and phalanx formations. Given we stood about six feet from one another, this space allowed us to move more freely and adapt to quick changes in movement in rotating within our row. This rotation in this formation allowed for the swapping of the soldier in the front row who might have been tired or died for a soldier that would then replace him and plan to fall back to the back row, allowing for this effective cycle to continue. 

My group discussed that this Roman formation involved more of a sense of autonomy and ownership of one’s movement and action in defending oneself and surrounding others. The additional space that was provided in this formation adds to this feeling of ownership of space and movement, while also creating a sense of insecurity in not being protected by the close proximity of bodies like in the hoplite and phalanx formations. Though when taking part in the rotating formation, practicing the stabbing motion that occupied this step in learning, the sense of safety greatly improved. The accessibility of space allowed the soldier to respond and use one’s shield for protection in comparison to the hoplite and phalanx formations where one would have to remain stationary, the shield not just for your own protection but for the protection of your neighbor also.

This freedom to move and rotate contributed to this advantage of this formation in having the opportunity to stray from one’s rotational row to defend oneself when necessary. Though with the freedom of movement comes the possibility of deserting as discussed as a whole group. The possibility of fleeing was evident, though the ability to move and react freely was more advantageous when facing the enemy. With this ability to react and move quickly, we discussed how this we benefit us in battling the phalanx formation. Though the phalanx formation involved multiple spear pointed in our direction, as a group, we decided we could beat the phalanx given this the Roman formation would allow for the infiltration of rows of the phalanx formation. 

We then recreated the tortoise formation briefly. From hearing from others, the sense of safety was solidified in the sense of having your head and upper body protected, with the shield made of garbage can shields, blocking out vision of what lied ahead. However, the back of the people in the tortoise formation were exposed and thus, left vulnerable which could possibly led to the diminishing of safety felt. 

Class Poll on Recognition of Different Types of Safety Post Lab

General safety

Hoplite: 2

Phalanx: 3

Roman (maniple): majority of class

Trust among group against people with less technology:

Hoplite: 2

Phalanx: 13

Roman (maniple): 3

Reflection on Class Poll

Based on the thoughts that were shared in class post lab, the comparison of each of the formations led to an overall agreement that in terms of generally feeling safe when facing an enemy, the Roman formation was the best avenue to reach this sense of safety. While shared trust (in terms of a sense of cohesion and camaraderie) within the group in opposition of people with less technology was collectively recognized and achieved through the phalanx formation. 

Final Thoughts

This lab enabled each individual to actively participate, gaining a deeper understanding through the act in recreating the various formations, really relishing the experiential aspect of the lab. From the hoplite to the phalanx to the maniple, it was interesting to observe how each formation led to an enhanced sense of teamwork and sharing in camaraderie, leading to a deeper appreciation of our experience in lab in relation to what we have learned in textual sources. 

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