How did army combat work pre-guns?

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Obviously you can’t just have hundreds to thousands of people from both sides swinging at each other aimlessly, the massacre would be ridiculous and plus that just seems dumb. Movies always show it as massive groups running across a field and falling on each other’s swords. The front line is guaranteed to die and the back can’t do anything, and I’m sure trampling your own men would be an issue. How did armies actually engage each other?

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We actually did do exactly that in Europe, as far as I know. Foot soldier formations were real important. Cavalry would be sent in to break them up, but expecting that, you would have pikemen. If they got to your archers you were in trouble.

It’s why the Mongols kicked so much ass, they would lure people into ambushes, do hit-and-run maneuvers, attack supply lines etc. Glad Genghis died when he did.

There were still various types of ranged weapons throughout history before guns.

Spearmen

Bowmen

Catapults

Trebuchets

Formations and shield walls were used throughout history. Different units would have different jobs. Typically Spearman and swordsman would make up front lines. Archers would be a separate protected element because they could fight at range. Cavalry was king but expensive and vulnerable to certain weapons and tactics. Siege weapons were yet another segment. A general existed to call the different elements and units into action. Chain of command existed to make sure everyone was organized into doing thier jobs. Once combat starts chaos is inevitable but more disciplined and organized troops would still be able to function under fire so to speak. Now keep in mind I’m describing a professional well organized well funded army which did exist throughout history but there were plenty of fights between militias, bandit, irregular troops, barbarians, and other disorganized rabbles.

If you didn’t have the training or soldiers things would often be a numbers game. The whole point of professional armies and soldiers is that keeping them organized and doing teamwork meant you could defeat larger forces and defeat same size forces with far fewer casualties

Formations were very important and battles rarely devolved into free-for-alls except possibly towards the end. The goal was maintain your own defensive formations while causing the enemy’s to break due to being out-maneuvered, losses or lack of discipline or morale.

As an example, try looking up shield walls and the role they played in battle at various points throughout history.

It was mass formations stabbing at each other.

For a very long time the primary infantry weapon was a spear/javelin/pike. Infantry would form in large, rectangular formations, and each infantryman would have a shield in one hand and their spear in the other. They would stand as close as possible to each other in order to effectively create a shield wall, from behind which they could stab their spears at the enemy. The lines of troops behind the front line would back up the front line troops and relieve them when needed. The force that was better able to maintain their formation would usually win. Things like charioteers, cavalry, and archers were used to disrupt these main infantry formations.