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From what I can tell from shallow popsci depictions of ancient and medieval warfare, spear+shield was really fucking good and thus saw wide use on battlefields in ancient greece, central europe, the vikings and their likes and more civilisations as pretty much their main go-to formation weapon.
Why did the romans then decide to go against that notion and instead pick sword+board for most of their troops? Why were they more successful with that, and why did people go back to mainly using polearms in the medieval period?
Romans specifically went with tower shields with short stabbing swords, later eras were long swords with smaller shields (and later no shield with plate). Romans were good with it because they were masters of logistics and shitting out armies. Pole arms came into fashion because cavalry became dominant. Which is why late Rome started using spears again.
also why did people largely stop using pila or similar throwing weapons in their standard infantry equipment? seems like a great way to fuck up the enemy's shields, morale and formation before the actual clash happens.
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Imagine if you saw an OP from the year 3500 that said
>From what I can tell from shallow popsci depictions of early industrial and information warfare, M202 FLASH+M16 was really fucking good [...] Why did the Americans then decide to go against that notion and instead pick M4A1+M203 for most of their troops

Sword and shield was for cavalry and light infantry. Light infantry were often less-heavily armed because
>they were auxiliaries from allied, non-Roman nations
>they were skirmishers

Spear and shield was for centurions, which were heavy infantry. I mean, they had swords also but the testudo's man strength was that it functioned as an impenetrable tank with legs. Interlocking shields make arrows basically useless, and spears make it so that you can reach past the protection of your shield.

Why was every Roman soldier not offered this protections? They were almost invincible when used correctly (i.e. against everything except steppeniggers in the desert), but training and arming them was a SUBSTANTIAL investment in time and resources. And they could be outmaneuvered and encircled by a dedicated adversary, which necessitated having support from archers, light infantry, cavalry and sometimes siege engines.

TL;DR like any military weapon cost and situational effectiveness determined how frequently it was used.
E.g. tanks on open plains = good
Tanks in a narrow street with tall buildings = bad
>Spear and shield was for centurions, which were heavy infantry
did you mean triarii?

also aside from the armor, wouldn't spears be cheaper than swords? It's just a stick with a little bit of metal at the tip, not an entire slab of expensive metal, surely that would be cheaper and cowering behind your shield in a spearwall seems easier to me than charging into a phalanx armed with a significantly shorter weapon, trying to get close enough to whack them with your sword.
They were successful, but I don't get why.
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>Why did the romans then decide to go against that notion and instead pick sword+board for most of their troops?

Celts fought like that. And they cucked Roman hoplites during the Kingdom & Early Republic period. Just look at how much of Legionary equipment is Celtic derived.

You know who else did that? Greeks. Look up Thureophoroi and Thorakitai troops. Troops that rome called "Imitation legionaries." Except Greeks used those to shore up the flanks of a Macedonian Phalanx.
Pila were expensive to make be and required training to throw properly.
so they were only viable because the roman soldiers paid for their own equipment and rome had a standing army instead of levies like they were common in the medieval period?
In the later empire, tossing darts were much cheaper to produce en-masse and much easier to use without special training. So yes
Spears are an effective weapon when most of your soldiers are untrained NEETs pressed into service with little to no training. It doesn’t take a lot of brainpower to figure out how to use a spear, and Romans did utilize them.

However, a properly trained swordsman can get under the reach of a spearman and turn the extra long weapon into a liability in cramped quarters.

Terrain also played a role in the development of Roman military doctrine, as the rocky, broken terrain and lack of horses made small, maneuverable blocs of heavy infantry the most effective means of projecting force.

One of the main benefits of being an army based around heavy infantry as opposed to a hammer and anvil Alexandrian style is that the size of your army is not constrained by the number of aristocrats whom you can convince to come out of their rape palaces and bring their horse with them to war. Without the hammer component, a phalanx has very limited capacity for projecting force.

Under Roman doctrine, your chain gangs could repeatedly sweep across the countryside, pressing huge numbers of country hosses into service while equipping then “well enough” with an extra large shield and a cheap short sword, and Roman marital culture meant that they didn’t need much goading to get right up in there and shank their enemy in the dick while he’s fumbling around with his long-reach weapon.

This, coupled with a unified political structure which could allow for huge, complex supply chains, allowed Romans to bounce back from defeat in ways that no other ancient culture could. As much as Roman doctrine called for extra wide space between soldiers and emphasized the ferocity of the individual soldier, it was still very much a “good enough” cost saving measure, and what really made Romans so effective in warfare was their patient, methodical approach to it, grinding their enemies down under the weight of an inexorable machine that pressed on despite casualties.

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