I have heard two conflicting ideas with regard to phalanx fighting formations, both from respectable history shows.

One source indicates that the more mature/experienced men fought at the front since to fight at the front of the phalanx was considered a great honour, while the younger chaps were positioned at the back.

The other show indicated that the more experienced men were at the back, forcing the younger men to stay in formation. Even if they wanted to rout they couldn't really retreat.

Perhaps both are true and refer to different city states or Macedonian techniques?

  • 3
    Looks like a good question to me. It would be nice to have more info on these "respectable history shows", if possible.
    – T.E.D.
    Dec 28, 2014 at 23:06
  • I once read the most experienced hoplites were placed on either flanks of the formation to try to overtake the weakest side (the right) of the enemy phalanx or to protect its own.
    – Firebug
    Dec 29, 2014 at 4:33
  • Greek phalanxes retreated all the time, generally the loser would only take between 5-10% casualties.
    – Jeroen K
    Dec 30, 2014 at 9:06

1 Answer 1


I think you might be confusing phalanx:

Each individual hoplite carried his shield on the left arm, protecting not only himself but the soldier to the left. This meant that the men at the extreme right of the phalanx were only half-protected. In battle, opposing phalanxes would exploit this weakness by attempting to overlap the enemy's right flank. It also meant that, in battle, a phalanx would tend to drift to the right (as hoplites sought to remain behind the shield of their neighbour). The most experienced hoplites were often placed on the right side of the phalanx, to avoid these problems. Some groups, such as the Spartans at Nemea, tried to use this phenomenon to their advantage. In this case the phalanx would sacrifice its left side, which typically consisted of allied troops, in an effort to overtake the enemy from the flank. It is unlikely that this strategy worked very often, as it is not mentioned frequently in ancient Greek literature.

with legion:

During deployment in the Republican era, the maniples were commonly arranged in triplex acies (triple battle order): that is, in three ranks, with the hastati in the first rank (that nearest the enemy), the principes in the second rank, and the veteran triarii in the third and final rank as barrier troops, or sometimes even further back as a strategic reserve. When in danger of imminent defeat, the first and second lines, the Hastati and Principes, ordinarily fell back on the Triarii to reform the line to allow for either a counter-attack or an orderly withdrawal. Because falling back on the Triarii was an act of desperation, to mention "falling on the Triarii" ("ad triarios rediisse") became a common Roman phrase indicating one to be in a desperate situation.

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