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Could a Spartan phalanx beat a charge from medieval knights? Several people have asked this question over the years, so here is an article giving you the best answer.
Generally speaking, even a group of elite Spartan warriors in a phalanx formation would not stand a chance against a charge from a group of medieval knights. This was because a Spartan phalanx was designed to defeat groups of infantry soldiers. A knight was so heavily armored that even a phalanx would not stop its charge.
It is important to remember the time difference between classical Sparta and the era of medieval knights. The height of Spartan power was around the 4th century BC while medieval knights existed from the 11th century to the 15th century.
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Without further ado, here is an entire article dedicated to answering the question of whether or not a Spartan phalanx could beat a charge from medieval knights.
Spartan’s Equipment And Fighting Style
The typical formation for all Greek armies was a phalanx formation. Traditionally soldiers would line up in rows that were 5 lines deep. Each soldier was equipped with an 8 foot dory spear and a shield. The front of the formation would use their shield to cover themselves and the soldier to their left. The spear would be thrust over the top into the enemy phalanx.
The Spartans fought in a similar manner to the rest of the Greeks of the classical era. However, their equipment was a bit different.
A spartan would carry the following into battle.
- Armor which consisted of padded wool linen and bronze
- An 8 foot long dory spear
- One javelin they would use to weaken the enemy line
- Bronze leg greaves
- A Corinthian style helmet (officers had a sideways horsehair crest to distinguish them)
- A one foot long short sword/dagger to be used to pry open the opposing phalanx
- A 3 foot wide Bronze shield weighing 15 pounds
The addition of the short sword was unique to the Spartan army. Most of the other Greeks would carry a small blade to be used as a last resort. However, the Spartan army was trained to close the gap on the enemy phalanx and use their small xophos sword to destroy the enemy front line.
Because of this advanced phalanx tactic the Spartan army would become feared across Greece. Other classical Greek armies would prefer to use their spears to keep an enemy close. However, the Spartans would be comfortable in both short and long range.
Medieval Knight Equipment And Fighting Style
Much like the classical Greeks the medieval knight would be trained to fight in a variety of situations. The most popular formation for medieval knights was a small self sustaining unit formation called a lance fournie. This formation had the knights, several supporting infantry units, and a fleet of supporting camp followers who would provide water/food to sustain the knight in battle.
The knights would typically be mounted upon an armored warhorse. However, contrary to popular belief when faced with either spears or pikes they would dismount to protect the horse. In the later medieval era we do have reports of full scale charges against pike formations however these typically did not fare well.
A medieval knight would carry several things into battle.
- A 7-8 foot long weapon of either a poleaxe or spear
- A side arming sword of about 2-3 feet in length
- A padded full body linen garment
- About 10 lbs of chainmail to protect chest and arms
- Between 60-110 lbs of platemail/armor
- Some knights would carry a small heater shield for further protection
Contrary to popular belief a medieval knight would be highly mobile even in full armor. This was because the entirety of the weight of the armor was spread evenly across the body. We have reports of knights even swimming while wearing their full armor!
The medieval knight was the equivalent of an armored tank. The only way to defeat them was to knock them on their back and pry off their armor. However, medieval knights were trained from birth on how to fight effectively. This created an elite band of warriors which were feared across Europe.
Spartan Phalanx VS. Charge Of Knights
Let’s create a hypothetical battle scenario between a Spartan phalanx formation and a group of mounted knights.
The Spartans have positioned themselves on high ground in a narrow pass similar to the famous Battle of Thermopylae. The Spartan phalanx has taken a defensive formation with their 8 foot spears pointed down the hill towards the group of mounted knights. The phalanx itself is 5 rows of Spartans deep and all of them have their spears pointed down the hill towards the knights.
The mounted medieval knights are fully clad in their armor and carry an 8-12 foot long lance/spear along with a 2-3 foot long side-arm sword; they have no shields. Their horse is also clad in a thick padded linen garment of about 3-4 inches thick.
Both sides wait for a bit to see who makes the first move. Since the Spartans have the high ground and are in a defensive phalanx formation they wait.
Knights typically won’t use their horses to charge into a group of infantry armed with spears. So let’s say they dismount and gather in a line of about 2 knights deep at the base of the hill.
Medieval knights trained their entire life for physical exertion. Marching uphill during a battle won’t be a problem even wearing around 100 lbs. of armor.
The knights point their spears towards the Spartans and march uphill at a steady pace. The Spartans wait until the knights are within 30 feet and then throw their javelins. The medieval knights keep pace and don’t even flinch as the Spartan’s bronze javelins bounce off their armor. Maybe one or two knights go down as a javelin pierces their face visor.
When the knights make contact with the Spartan phalanx even the Spartan spears bounce off the knights armor. The knights stay at range with their spears and slowly poke down the Spartan phalanx. Some Spartan soldiers close the gap and use their short sword to defeat a couple medieval knights by prying through their armor.
After a couple hours the Spartan phalanx is defeated by the heavily armored medieval knights. It does not matter how good of warriors the Spartans are if their weapons can hurt the fully clad knight. The knights win.
If the medieval knights instead used their horses to charge the Spartans it would have been even worse. In no scenario would a Spartan phalanx defeat a full charge from a group of medieval knights. That scenario would be similar to you trying to stop a moving train with your hands; it’s simply not going to happen.
Both the Spartan phalanx and the medieval knights were two elite groups of warriors. However, because of the knight’s superior armor there would be no way that a Spartan warrior could defeat them. Most of the weapons of classical Greece would simply bounce off the medieval knight.
It is important to remember that there is over a 1,000 year difference between these two groups of warriors. The equipment they used was completely different. Still both groups of warriors were elite for their time period. If the Spartan’s outnumbered the knights and fought defensively until the knights ran out of energy then that would be their best bet.
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