By Periklis Deligiannis
A Thraco-Phrygian helmet, characeristic of the pezetairoi (pikemen) of the Macedonian phalanx.
Spear-heads from 3rd-1st cent. BC Greece, probably originally parts of sarissae (the sarissa was the main weapon of the Macedonian phalanx).
The Macedonian phalanx and the ‘manipula’ of the Roman legion were the two most successful battle formations of Antiquity. The Macedonian-type phalanx of pikemen (pezetairoi in Greek) was founded by Philip II of Macedonia in the mid-fourth century BC, when he was influenced deeply by the military innovations of the Athenian general Iphicrates and the Theban general Epaminondas. The Macedonian-type phalanx had a great course in history. The Macedonians were those who used it for the first time, and then bequeathed it to the Greek/Hellenistic Kingdoms that finally formed after the disintegration of the Empire of Alexander the Great. Thus, the Macedonian-type phalanx was used by the Antigonid, Lysimachid, Seleucid, Ptolemaic and Attalid (Pergamene) Greeks and also by the Greek Kingdoms of Bactria and India, the Hellenized Kingdom of Pontus and other lesser Greek and Hellenized states of the Middle East. In mainland Greece, the Epirotes, the Achaeans, the Boeotians and the Spartans formed at different times, their heavy infantry as Macedonian-type phalanxes. On the other hand, the Athenians and the other Greeks of mainland Greece, and also the Greeks of Sicily, Italy, Gaul-Iberia (Marseille/Massalia and its colonies), Cyrenaica (modern eastern Libya) and the northern Black Sea, never adopted this type of phalanx. Only the Tarantines of Magna Graecia formed a short-lived Macedonian-type phalanx (leukaspis) led by Pyrrhus of Epirus.
The Greek kingdoms of Bactria and India.
The Macedonian-type phalanx was essentially used for the last time after four and a half centuries, in the first century AD, by two non-Greek states: the Kushan Kingdom of Bactria (in modern Afghanistan and Uzbekistan) and the North Syrian Kingdom of Kommagene. In the 1st century AD, there were no independent Greek states, but only some partly Hellenized. The Kushans were a sub-tribe of the Tocharian Yue-Chih (Yue-Zhi) nomad tribe of Central Asia. In the 2nd-1st centuries BC, the Kushans conquered most of the old territories of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom. Later they conquered the old territories of the Indo-Greek Kingdom as well. Thus the Kushans founded an empire that included vast Indian lands.
At least in Bactria, the royal Kushan army included units of Macedonian-type phalanx as late as the first century AD, as it is indicated by strong archaeological and historical evidence. This evidence also indicate the survival of many Greek military settlers in the area, the ones who staffed the phalanx. These military colonists (katoikoi in Greek) obviously joined the Kushan army after an agreement. Most probably, the Kushan kings let the Greek pikemen and cavalrymen of the former Hellenistic states of Bactria and India maintain their agricultural plots, in return for their service in the Kushan army. The Kushans, like the Iranian Sakas who also conquered former Greek territories in Bactria and India, respected the Greek culture and adopted many of its elements, such as the use of the Greek language and writing in their administration.
The small Kingdom of Kommagene (center-left in the map).
The small Kingdom of Kommagene was a client state of Rome and its army included a Macedonian-type phalanx until its elimination (72 AD). The Kommagenian pikemen included some long standing Greek colonists in Kommagene, but the native Aramaeans (rather the Hellenized ones) constituted probably the majority of the phalanx. But there were also mercenary pikemen. Thus, the non-Greek Kommagenians and Kushans maintained the tradition of the Macedonian phalanx. It is striking that this sweeping battle formation that was invented in Macedonia, was essentially used for the last time after about 450 years in northern Syria, and most strikingly, in distant Afghanistan.
For comparison, the manipuli formation of the Roman legion was invented about a generation earlier than the Macedonian-type phalanx, but it took its classic form around 270 BC, immediately after the war of the Romans against Pyrrhus. The Roman legion declined and was practically abolished as a battle formation during the 4th century AD, when the Romans fall back decisively on cavalry warfare. The Roman legion (manipula formation, to be correct) was maintained as a battle formation for seven centuries.
King Pyrrhus of Epirus at the battle of Asculum against the Romans (279 BC), in an excellent artwork by Giuseppe Rava. In the foreground, the Macedonian-type phalanx of Epirus which defeated the Romans (Copyright: Giuseppe Rava)