The ancient Greeks (c. 750—146Bc) regarded the sword as strictly an auxiliary weapon, one that would never supplant their battle-proven reliance on the spear. The spear enabled the heavily armoured hoplites, or infantrymen, to stand together and protect each other within the close formation of their phalanx wall of shields and spears. This allowed them to repeatedly fight and win battles against far superior opposition.
The unified discipline of hoplite warriors proved especially important during the two Persian invasions between 499-448 BC. Although the Greeks were badly outnumbered, their heavily armored and organized phalanxes devastated the light Persian infantry in battles at Marathon (490 BC) and Thermopylae (480 BC)...The fundamental principles behind the phalanx - discipline, unity and trust in your fellow soldier - endured.
Despite these flaws, in head-on engagements almost nothing could penetrate the solid wall of the phalanx except for another, larger phalanx. The typical phalanx was eight men deep, that is, eight rows of men, and any number of men wide.
There are two main practical factors which dictate the width and depth of any military formation. The first of these is the need to deploy a unit's weaponry to inflict maximum damage on the enemy...This brings us to the second practical factor dictating the shape of a formation: the need to move
The hoplite phalanx was introduced into Greece about 700 B.C. revolutionising warfare and further destroying aristocratic power. In contrast to the disorganised individual fighting of the Dark Ages, the hoplite phalanx was a well-organised weapon of destruction. The soldiers stood with locked shields and lumbered, like a tank bristling with spears, across the field of battle.
Let’s have a look at 2 key points of this formation. First, the spears they were fighting with, were six to twelve feet long, much longer than typical spears used during this period. Therefore, the spears of the 5 first lines would fight as one against enemy infantry. Second, the soldiers in the phalanx carried a round shield called a hoplon, from which the infantry took their name, hoplites. Each soldier held his hoplon so that it overlapped the hoplon of his neighbor, protecting half of himself and half of the man of his side.
Philip II of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great both adopted the phalanx formation while adding their own innovations. Macedonian troops used much longer spears, which reduced the tendency for a battle to devolve into a pushing match. Alexander added light cavalry troops and mobile infantry that enabled him to outflank an enemy while his heavily armored phalanx units engaged the center lines.
The phalanx undergoes a few tactical developments over the centuries. Its tendency to drift backwards on the left is brilliantly exploited in the 4th century by Epaminondas (see the tactics of Epaminondas). Preliminary assaults on the opposing phalanx by slingers and archers become standard practice. And Alexander the Great increases the weight of the phalanx by doubling its depth to 16 ranks and arming the hoplites with spears of 6 or 7 yards (6 metres) in length - enabling the first five ranks to use their spears in the initial charge.
The Greek phalanx required a high degree of training and organization, but starting around the 4th century B.C., the Greek city-states were able to use it to negate the impact of the chariot in battle. The tightly packed ranks of the phalanx created a group process that apparently permitted it to act as a vast, crew-served weapon.
The Greek Phalanx Formation historically spelled the destruction of all their enemies. Greek warriors with large shields and holding tightly packed ranks would employ long lances and short swords in battle. An ancient form of the unstoppable Tank principle, the Phalanx Formation was perfected by the Macedonians, and used to conquer the Athenians and Spartans, uniting the Greek city states into one cohesive force.