Hand-to-Hand Combat Was Rare in Ancient Warfare
…No one now alive has witnessed combat between organized forces using hand-to-hand weapons, for the last vestige of it disappeared one hundred fifty years ago when the bayonet charge became obsolete. We tend to think (assisted by the movies) that direct shock combat of the sort described above was much more common in premodern warfare than it was. In reality, it was always difficult to make foot soldiers seriously engage one another with edged weapons because of their natural tendency to keep out of one another’s way. We have already seen that the Persian and other Eastern armies put no faith in heavy infantry assault. The main function of their spearmen was to provide cover for their archers, and battles were won by cavalry and archers with a minimum of physical contact. Only the Greeks had developed a style of warfare that made shock combat inevitable, because their infantry formation was no loose huddle but a tight rectangle (phalanx) often eight ranks deep or more, its heavy shields a collective locking device, its sheer depth and weight propelling the men in the front ranks onto the spears of the enemy.