Throughout history conflict would sometimes break out into war. It is important to note that there has been a total of 3,197 battles throughout history, and they are progressively decreasing. Nevertheless, when resources were scarce war was the primary method of gaining more resources to exploit. War was the most important subject of scholar study for centuries.
The armies were always seeking for new ways of minimizing their casualties, maximizing the output per soldier and defeat their enemies more effectively. When people think of large battles, they often think of thousands of people running into each other and breaking out into hundreds or thousands of individual fights as the battle quickly turns into a chaotic brawl, when in reality battles were much more strategic and controlled with high importance on strategy and formations.
The Greeks were able to enjoy military superiority for centuries, and this allowed them to enjoy victories across many territories. However, their dominance in battle was dependent on a disciplined army, expert engineers, effective diplomacy and military strategy. Alexander the Great’s military conquests were successful due to his obsession with military tactic. In a true testament to this, the members of the army (hoplites) were arranged in files and according to rank. They were never crowded together, and varied formations according to the military maneuver they were currently engaged in against the enemy. The tactic would also shift depending on the opponent.
One of the most unusual military maneuvers by the Greek military was the Phalanx. The phalanx was a military formation that was used by Alexander the great to devastating effects. To complete the formation, each soldier carried a shield on their left hand. This shield was used to protect the carrier and the person on their left. The phalanx was especially successful in open battle. The hoplite would carry a lance for when they were in the Phalanx formation and a short sword when they switched to open battle. In 200 BC the shape of the shields used in the Phalanx formation was changed to rectangular. Now the shield could also be used to break the opponent’s spears and to carry the injured soldiers off the battlefield. This tactic was perfected and could leave most army commanders baffled on how to attack it.
The width of the Phalanx was noticeably greater than the depth, and this was used to create the impression that the Greek army was larger. Nevertheless, the Romans found this formation too rigid and they revised it some times turning it into a mobile legion with a supporting cavalry. The Roman legion was very disciplined and tactical in their approach to war. War was a source of prestige in the Roman culture, and career progression was largely based on military success. Military strategy was learned over years, and those who excelled had their status elevated. Julius Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War paint the picture of a leader who believed his military success was hinged on decisiveness, attention to detail and strategy.
The Mongols were also dependent on a very advanced military strategy to defeat their enemies. They invented and perfected the art of the feigned retreat. The feigned retreat required the attacking army to feign a retreat. The defending army would fall prey and attempt a chase to kill the attackers, only to be attacked at a more favorable location for the attackers. As a case in point, the Mongols used this strategy to defeat the Russians at the Battle of the Kalka River (1223), despite being outnumbered 4 to 1. The Mongols retreated for several days before turning back on the onrushing disorganized Russian fighters.
The Mongols were also very skilled at spying and stealing their opponent’s battle strategies and engineers. Through this, they were able to infuse their military with siege engines, heavy infantry, cavalry and naval forces.
It is important to note that one of the most successful military generals in history was a Mongol – General Sabutai. The Mongolian general was the chief military strategist of Genghis Khan. It is believed that he served in more than 23 campaigns where he was able to conquer thirty-two nations; conquering more territory than any other military commander in history. All this is attributed to his use of clever strategies that often required him to coordinate forces across thousands of kilometers.
The shield wall was an effectively used tactic throughout the Pre-Early Modern warfare age. The shield was a military formation that comprised a wall of shields. Soldiers would stand side by side holding their shields very close together such that they are all about to overlap. The shield wall would protect most of the soldiers from their enemies. It was very effective in reducing the casualties during the war.
The Vikings from Old Norse were believed to be fierce fighters who would charge headlong at any enemy, but they too used various effective battle tactics to gain an edge over their enemies. The Vikings were among the first to implement and perfect the utilization of the shield wall. They would use the shield wall to protect the defending and attacking soldiers. The shield wall would also give them cover against melee attacks and arrows, spears, and slingshots. It proved tough for opposing forces to defend successfully against and attack a shield wall.
Also, the shield wall was rarely used in isolation by the Vikings. The lines were practiced for years and the execution perfected. The shielded wall would be reinforced by a second line holding spears on the front line. The front line consisted of the strongest and fiercest fighters. The Vikings were able to defeat much bigger armies because of their reputation as fierce, fearless fighters. This spread fear among the opponents that were fighting against the Viking warriors.
In the middle ages, there was the rise of the mounted knight. The night was used as the ‘tank’ that would break through enemy defenses. Foot soldiers would support the knight who carried pikes as a defense against other knights. Armies increasingly realized the importance of the battle formation to the enemies. The knight was supposed to break down their formation to make it easier to mount an attack by the foot soldiers.
Hollywood usually paints a different picture of medieval battles. The battles do not represent the actual strategies used during medieval battles. Most shows based on this period just show the characters running into a large free for all melee. However, real battles involved much less disorganized fighting. Commanders did not want to sacrifice the few able fighters they have in battles; thus the use of battle formations. Battles were much more strategic and controlled with high importance on strategy and formations.
To conclude, ancient and medieval wars are often misrepresented in modern media reproductions. Now people of large battles as hundreds of thousands of men charging at each other and attempt to kill everyone in sight. Armies heavily relied on cohesion, and formations. In particular, Alexander the Great used the phalanx formation to great effect while on his conquests. The Greek ruler relied on the tactical efficiency that ensured the superiority of the Greek military for centuries.
Also, the Mongols through great military commanders such as Sabutai were able to overrun the largest territory under a military commander. The Mongols used very efficient battle tactics such as the feigned retreat, and they also made it an important part of their strategy the ability to learn from their enemies. Suffice it to say that most battles were already won before the first weapon was raised. Through superior battle tactics, it is possible for an ill-equipped army to defeat a bigger and better equipped army.
Campbell, Duncan B. 2006. Besieged. Oxford: Osprey.
Campbell, J. B, and Lawrence A Tritle. 2013. The Oxford Handbook Of Warfare In The Classical World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Carey, Brian Todd, Joshua B Allfree, and John Cairns. 2005. Warfare In The Ancient World. Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military.
Landy, Marcia. 2001. The Historical Film. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.
 Campbell, J. B, and Lawrence A Tritle. 2013. The Oxford Handbook Of Warfare In The Classical World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
 Carey, Brian Todd, Joshua B Allfree, and John Cairns. 2005. Warfare In The Ancient World. Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military.
 Campbell, Duncan B. 2006. Besieged. Oxford: Osprey, 55.
 Warfare In The Ancient World
 Ibid, 220.
 The Oxford Handbook Of Warfare In The Classical World, 65.
 Ibid, 77.
 Besieged, 70.
 Landy, Marcia. 2001. The Historical Film. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.