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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 1

This webpage reproduces a chapter of the


(Loeb Classical Library edition, 1928)

The text is in the public domain.

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Chapter 3
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.


 p251  II. The Subdivisions of the Phalanx of Hoplites,
their Names and their Strength

Asclep. ii.1 = Ael. IV.1‑31 It is necessary, first of all, to divide the phalanx, that is, to break it up into files. Now a file is a number of men dividing the phalanx into symmetrical​5 units, and by 'symmetrical' I mean those which do not interfere with the fighting efficiency of the phalanx.​6 Accordingly some have formed the file of eight men, others of  p253 ten, others of twelve, and yet others of sixteen men, so that the phalanx will be symmetrical both for doubling the depth of its units, in circumstances to be described later, so that it may consist of thirty‑two men, and also for reducing it by one‑half, i.e., to eight men; for thus it will not interfere with the light infantry who fight in the rear, since, as they use javelins, slings, or also bows, they will be able to shoot their missiles over a phalanx of this depth.7

Asclep. ii.2 = Ael. V.1‑22 Now the file was formerly called a row, a synomoty, and a decury, and the best man and the leader of the row was called the file-leader (lochagos), while the last man was called the file-closer (ouragos). But when later on the row was reorganized its parts received different names; for the half is now called the half-file (hemilochion), or the double quarter (dimoiria), the former term being used for a file of sixteen men, the latter for one of twelve, and the leader is now called the half‑file-leader (hemilochites) and the double‑quarter-leader (dimoirites), and the quarter is called an enomoty and its leader an enomotarch.

Asclep. ii.3 = Ael. V.43 [The leading man has been given the name of the front‑rank-man (proto­states)], while the one who follows him is called the rear‑rank-man (epistates), so that in the whole file there comes first a front‑rank-man, then a rear‑rank-man, then successively  p255 a front‑rank-man and a rear‑rank-man, and so on, one after the other, until one reaches the file-closer, according to the following diagram:

Front‑rank-man (= file-leader) comrades-in‑rank
Rear‑rank-man comrades-in‑rank
Front‑rank-man comrades-in‑rank
Rear‑rank-man comrades-in‑rank
Front‑rank-man comrades-in‑rank
Rear‑rank-man (= file-closer) comrades-in‑rank

Asclep. ii.4 = Ael. VI4 Now when one file is placed beside another, so that file-leader stands beside file-leader, file-closer beside file-closer, and the men in between beside their comrades-in‑rank, such an arrangement will be a formation by file (syllochismos), and the men of the files forming the same rank, front‑rank-men, and rear‑rank-men, will be called comrades-in‑rank because they stand side by side.

Asclep. ii.5 = Ael. VII.1‑35 The assembly (syllochismos) of all the files constitutes a phalanx, in which the rank of the file-leaders is called the front (metopon), the length (mekos), the face (prosopon), the mouth (stoma), the marshalling (parataxis), the head of the files (proto­lochia), and the first line (proto­n zygon); and the rank behind this consisting of rear‑rank-men running the length of the phalanx, is the second line, and the rank parallel and behind this is the third line, and the line behind this is the fourth, and similarly the fifth and the sixth and so on down to the file-closer; but taken all together everything behind the front of the phalanx is called its depth, and the file, from file-leader to file-closer, is the file in depth.


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Asclep. ii.6 = Ael. XXVI.1‑2; VII.36 And those who stand behind one another in this formation are said to form a file (stoichein), but those who stand side by side are said to form a rank (zygein). When the phalanx is bisected by a line running from front to rear, one half is called the right wing and the other the left wing, while the point of division is called the navel and the joint.

Asclep. ii.7 = Ael. VIII7 How great the strength of the phalanx ought to be is not easy to determine, for the strength must be determined in proportion to the number which each commander is able to equip; only the strength must in every instance be suitable to the changes in form of the detachments, I mean the decrease and increase of their depth. Accordingly you should rather select numbers which are evenly divisible by two down to unity,​8 and you will find that most tacticians have made the phalanx to consist of 16,384 hoplites, because this number is divisible by two down to unity, and half that number (i.e., 8192) for the phalanx of the light infantry.​9 So let us also assume that the phalanx will consist of this number of men, and the file of sixteen men.

 p259  Asclep. ii.8 = Ael. IX.1‑4a8 Now two files will form a double-file (dilochia) and the officer in command will be a double‑file-leader (dilochites), and twice this number will be a platoon (tetrarchia), and the officer in command a platoon-commander (tetrarches), and twice this latter number will be a company (taxis), and the officer in command a company-commander (taxiarchos), as he used to be called, but nowadays also a captain-of‑a‑hundred (hekatontarches), and twice the number of a company will be a battalion (syntagma), and the officer in command a battalion-commander (syntagmatarches).10

Asclep. ii.9 = Ael. IX.4b9 The supernumeraries were formerly attached to the company, as their name (ektaktoi)​11 indicates, because they were not included in the number of the company: an army-herald, a signalman, a bugler, an aide, and a file-closer. The first was to pass on the command by a spoken order, the second by a signal, in case the order could not be heard because of the uproar, the third by the bugle, whenever the signal could not be seen for the dust; the aide was there to fetch whatever was needed, while the supernumerary file-closer was to bring up the straggler to his position in the company. For when the file consisted of eight men, eight files constituted the square, which, alone of all the detachments, by reason of the equal length of the sides of the formation could hear equally well the commands from every quarter and so was properly  p261 called a company;​12 when, however, the file was later doubled, the battalion (syntaxiarchia) constituted the square, and, as a consequence, included the supernumeraries.13

Asclep. ii.10 = Ael. IX.5‑1010 Two battalions are called a regiment (pentakosiarchia), and its commander a colonel (pentakosiarches), and two regiments a brigade (chiliarchia), and its commander a brigadier-general (chiliarches), and two brigades were formerly called a wing and a complement (telos), and its leader a complement-commander (telarches), but later it was called a division (merarchia), and its leader a division-commander (merarches); two divisions, consequently, are even yet called a corps (phalangarchia), as well as a half-wing (apotome keratos), and its commander, formerly a general, is now a corps-commander (phalangarches); when the corps or half-wing is doubled it is a double-corps (diphalangia) and wing (keras), and its commander a wing-commander (kerarches); and, finally, the union of the two wings is called the army (phalanx), under the command of the general, comprising 2 wings, 4 corps or half-wings, 8 divisions, 16 brigades, 32 regiments, 64 battalions, 128 companies, 256 platoons, 512 double-files, and 1024 files.

 p263  2













companies (taxis)​15







The Loeb Editor's Notes:

5 i.e., mutually interchangeable.

[decorative delimiter]

6 If the text be sound, and it will be noted that it depends in part upon an emendation by Salmasius, the definition of a file is somewhat unsatisfactory. The file, the smallest unit of the phalanx, corresponds in formation to the file in modern armies, except that it was normally of eight to sixteen men, but in actual use to the squad, being the basic tactical unit. The second part of the sentence seems to suggest that any scheme of formation for purposes of marching or manoeuvring is to be subordinated to the fighting efficiency of the phalanx as a unit.

[decorative delimiter]

7 In the classical period down to the innovations of Epaminondas the battle-line of the Greeks was usually eight men deep, the Lacedaemonians only extending this at times to twelve men. Our author's ideal for the depth of the perfect phalanx is sixteen men.

[decorative delimiter]

8 That is, numbers, which when divided by 2 remain even, as 4, 8, 16, etc.

[decorative delimiter]

9 The number 16,384 represents, of course, only an ideal for tactical convenience and exactness in manoeuvres. As an ideal or standard theoretical number it does no harm, since no one would dream of allowing it to interfere with practical considerations.

[decorative delimiter]

10 The file has thus 16, the double-file 32, the half-company 64, the company 128, and the battalion 256.

[decorative delimiter]

11 That is, 'a body of men outside the company' (taxis).

[decorative delimiter]

12 Or 'command,' to preserve in the translation the suggested etymological connexion between τῶν προσταττομένων and τάξις.

[decorative delimiter]

13 The battalion is the real unit of the phalanx, a perfect square of 16 ranks and 16 files. As a square it became the tactical unit for all the quarter-turns, etc., of the phalanx, pivoting on the men at the four corners, and so is the smallest unit to have its own officers outside the ranks. It was known under several names, in Asclepiodotus as syntagma and syntaxiarchia (ii.9), in the Anonymus Byzantinus as tagma.

[decorative delimiter]

14 Called a syntagma in ii.8.

[decorative delimiter]

15 Just above this unit has been called a taxiarchia.

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