The phalanx was an infantry formation used to form the core of Macedonian armies. It consisted of lightly armoured men carrying long pikes (called sarissae) and arranged to a depth of either ten or sixteen ranks. The number of ranks could be doubled or halved depending upon the situation. The pikes were of such length, and the formation so densely packed, that pikes of the fourth rank would still reach past the first rank. This meant five sharp spear-points challenged any approaching enemy.

The fifth and further ranks held their pikes pointing upwards, but angled forward to deflect missile attacks. The role of the fifth and further ranks was to provide battle casualty replacements, and to lend the weight of their bodies to the charge.

The formation was instituted by Phillip II of Macedonia (father of Alexander the Great). Although massed pikes were not a new formation, Phillip trained the phalanx to be mobile. The formation was used much like a steam-roller - to run over the the enemy, the mass of people in the rear ranks preventing the first ranks from slowing up. The phalanx was deployed in a single large mass in the center of the army with light infantry and cavalry on its flanks and in reserve. Skirmishers were also used.

The phalanx was largely unbeatable given the right set of conditions; that is flat, uninclined ground with no obstructions. The phalanx was beaten by the much more flexible and maneuverable Roman Army at Cynoscephalae in 197BC.

The phalanx enjoyed a brief renaissance 1700 years later with the Swiss pikemen formations.

Pha"lanx (?), n.; pl. Phalanxes (#), L. Phalanges (#). [L., from Gr. .]

1. Gr. Antiq.

A body of heavy-armed infantry formed in ranks and files close and deep. There were several different arrangements, the phalanx varying in depth from four to twenty-five or more ranks of men.

"In cubic phalanx firm advanced."

Milton.

The Grecian phalanx, moveless as a tower. Pope.

2.

Any body of troops or men formed in close array, or any combination of people distinguished for firmness and solidity of a union.

At present they formed a united phalanx. Macaulay.

The sheep recumbent, and the sheep that grazed, All huddling into phalanx, stood and gazed. Cowper.

3.

A Fourierite community; a phalanstery.

4. Anat.

One of the digital bones of the hand or foot, beyond the metacarpus or metatarsus; an internode.

5. [pl. Phalanges.] Bot.

A group or bundle of stamens, as in polyadelphous flowers.

 

© Webster 1913.

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