At that time of military history, it seems the phalanx was the accepted supreme military style that won battles. So countries tried to outdo each to see who could do the phalanx best.

Since archers are able to provide ranged fire, but the phalanx had to stay in their formation, why couldn't a vaunted, specialised phalanx army be easily defeated by an army of multiple clumps of many archers?

The archers could just keep their distance, shooting into the phalanx, at a high trajectory if necessary to get over any shields being held at the front of the body. If the phalanx charged at any one clump of archers, they would simply retreat, at a run if necessary, while on the other sides of the phalanx the other clumps of archers could meanwhile advance and keep shooting. The phalanx would be under constant fire from all directions, and never able to close with the enemy, so all their long spears and disciplined formation technique would be useless. Eventually, the number of arrows would take their toll and the phalanx would be whittled down and defeated.

Was it not considered the honourable way to fight, it was only honourable to meet phalanx to phalanx?

Or would roaming cavalry be too easily able to hassle the archers? But the clumps of archers could have been protected from cavalry by infantry with long spears, or by their own protective light cavalry.

For countries who weren't as good with the phalanx, why didn't they try this method?

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    Phalanxes were mostly destroyed by been outflanked. That's why the Roman legions crushed them. They were inferior in frontal battle but their superior mobility would allow them victory. But in strictly theoretical terms, 2 kinds of archers would have won. Horse archers, because they are hard to counter even by cavalry. That's why Mongols conquered so much. Well protected archers such as english archer in the Hundred years war, would have been to crush a phalanx. But battle tactics and gear were far better at that time.
    – xrorox
    Oct 12, 2017 at 8:36
  • Related:history.stackexchange.com/questions/25373/…
    – Bob Tway
    Oct 12, 2017 at 11:18

3 Answers 3


The Macedonian phalanx had limited protection from missiles in the form of their long spears, but it's true that it was vulnerable to missile fire. For example, during the Battle of Ipsus (fought among Alexander's successor states), Seleucus's horse archers devastated the enemy phalanx, causing many to flee.

However, the phalanx did not fight alone. A typical formation would involve cavalry on the flanks, skirmishers in the front, light infantry in the back (including archers). Although the phalanx itself cannot respond well to enemy archers, the other formations can. Phillip II and Alexander were pioneers in this kind of combined arms, particularly the powerful heavy cavalry charge.

  • Thank you that's interesting. The military history book I read was talking about the power and effectiveness of the phalanx, but didn't mention outlying formations. That makes sense.
    – holmes200
    Oct 12, 2017 at 5:59
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    Note that one of Philip's motivations for developing the sarissa was specifically better protection from archers. In the initial stages of a battle, prior to contact, only the front three or four rows had their spears levelled; the rest of the Macedonian phalanx angled their spears upward as a sort of arrow umbrella. Oct 12, 2017 at 7:00
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    What you could add to this answer is that bows were weaker and less advanced in Ancient Greece than in later periods, limiting both their range and lethality. Slings were viable alternatives, having nearly the same, or even higher range.
    – vsz
    Oct 12, 2017 at 15:23
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    @pluckedkiwi Fighting Techniques of the Ancient World (Anglin et al.), p. 21 Oct 12, 2017 at 15:32
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    Seems that the only evidence that the density of pikes shielded them from missiles originally comes from a claim in Polybius' Histories. It is immediately followed by a claim that the Romans "obviously" had to fight in a very loose formation so they could be far enough apart from each other to swing their swords, and thus faced twice as many men in a phalanx for the same width of formation. This has gone from dubious to blatantly unreliable - certainly not sufficient to overcome skepticism about the shielding capability of sarissa against arrows. Oct 12, 2017 at 19:38

Phalangistes were equiped with a small sword appropriate for battle face to face and the sarissa could stand on the ground. In this hypothetical battle archers against phallanxes , sarissas soldiers would leave their sarissa on the ground and run against archers with loose formation to confront them to a close combat. So as I see it the archers should run away which is exactly what they did because they were lacking armour and hand to hand skill combat.

  • This answer would be improved by sources
    – MCW
    Oct 12, 2017 at 21:07

Horse archers were the most dangerous weapon of persian armies but at that time persians appreciated elephants and chariots. What is less appreciated but it was the main factor of phalanx success was the Hypaspists. They were exactly what phalanx was not. They were mobile , light and skilled. They were used amazingly by Phillipus when winning the battle of Chaeroneia. When that kind of soldiers ceased to exist in battlefields, phalanxes become more and more vulnerable . The politics of that time overestimated the use of phalanx for political reasons so later after Alexander's era none knew how to use phalanxes with the proper way. So the secret of phalanx were the Hypaspists and the cavalry which brought the final strike to enemy. Phalanx can not win a battle alone and that was proved beyond any doubt later in the macedonian -roman wars where the cavalry never attacked the Roman armies and the phalanx where left without support when needed so they were slaughtered easily by roman legions when their formation broke.

  • Welcome to History:SE. You make some interesting points, but sources to support your assertions would greatly improve this answer. Oct 12, 2017 at 21:40

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