What was the chance of survival for the soldiers standing in the forefront of the ancient army?


Historical cinema often portrays the battles of the ancient world in a harmonious and spectacular manner. The infantry, protected by armor and shields, marched at the enemy in a dense formation, thrusting spears and swords forward, and then converged in a bloody duel against each other.

But was there really a chance for the first rank to survive the battle, and whom did the commanders put closer to the front?

Phalanx is an organized formation of soldiers armed with spears and forming dense, even ranks. In this way, all the armies of the Ancient World fought, including the Roman army during the tsarist period.

Only the first three or four rows took direct part in the battle. The rear ranks were perceived as a reserve to replace the wounded and tired, and also exerted moral and physical pressure on the first ranks. It was a detachment that pushed the phalanx forward and kept the soldiers from retreating.

The success of the battle depended on the length and depth of the battle formation. The phalanx stretched along the front gave the width of coverage, and the great depth provided the necessary onslaught.

Standard Greek Phalanx

All other things being equal, of the 2 phalanxes that collided in battle, the one where the most experienced, well-protected and motivated soldiers were located won. Therefore, the strongest and most reliable warriors were put forward.

Contrary to popular belief, the phalangites in the front ranks had an almost equal chance of survival with those behind them.

The fact is that the ancient battles were fleeting and significantly different from the picture shown in the movies. The result of the battle was visible even before the start of the battle, it was assessed by the number and armament of the rivals. The deep phalanx quickly pressed against the more fluid battle formation of the opponent and forced him to flee.

As for the phalanxes in the forefront, as a rule, their equipment, consisting of wide shields, breastplates, shoulder pads and greaves, allowed them to withstand 10-15 minutes in battle, after which the result of the collision was already tending to its logical end.

The situation changed when phalanxes of equal strength converged on the battlefield. In this case, there was a crush in the forefront. The opponents, pushed by their comrades from behind, were so pressed against each other with their shields that they could not strike. Such battles, intermittently, lasted for several days, and the success of the campaign already depended on the talents of the commander.

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For the losers, losses were due to the pursuit of the enemy. The winners were injured and infected.

The success of the conquests of Ancient Rome was due to many factors, and first of all, military reform. The manipulative tactics of the Roman legions differed significantly from the phalanx.

Spears faded into the background. The scutum tower shield appeared. The rejection of the phalanx ensured better maneuverability, and the division into maniples ensured the independence of individual units.

However, the success of the battle continued to ensure the onslaught. The more the legion pushed the enemy, the higher the chances of victory were. If the battle dragged on, the centurions replaced the front ranks. On the whistle, the legionnaires exchanged places with their comrades standing behind.

In the front ranks of the legion were recruits. If he survived the battle, then in the next battle he was put on the second row, and so on. Over 300 years of manipulative tactics, Rome fought thousands of battles, and

The survival of the legionnaire in the century did not depend on the rank, but depended on the organization of the unit, the coherence of its actions, as well as on the skill of the comrade on the right, who covered him with his shield. The wounded soldier was immediately replaced by a legionnaire from the second row.

The legion suffered the greatest losses not during the battle, but after it. These are the results of injuries, hunger, disease, desertion. These phenomena, both in Antiquity and in the Middle Ages, claimed much more lives than the swords of the enemy.

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