Reason Four: A Nice Shape

Fourth, the ordre profond was appealing simply for the fact that it was a geometric system. Ancien régime tacticians and commanders, particularly during the eighteenth century, were very attached to linear and geometric systems, and the ordre profond did not stray from these traditions.[1] The desire to maintain orderly and systematic battlefields was the foremost cause of this attraction to geometric systems. Such linearity evoked authority, control, discipline and order, and in this way appealed as much to the theorist as they did the general.[2] Though a seemingly shallow motive, such an appearance could serve to demoralize an opponent, especially an unorganized one.[3] However, deeper cultural feelings were also perhaps behind the desire to maintain geometric formations. Even briefly skimming the texts of Vegetius or Polybius inspires a deep sense of the importance of geometric formations on and off the battlefield. Geometric systems were a fundamental part of how the ancien régime commander or tactician felt war ought to be fought, at least according to the universal principles of war. Thus, along with the number of reasons why ancien régime commanders and tacticians felt that the ordre profond was both acceptable ideologically and ideal in a practical sense, perhaps equally important was that the ordre profond was simply the right shape.

[1] John France, “Close Order and Close Quarter: The Culture of Combat in the West,” The International History Review 27, no. 3 (September 2007): 498.
[2] Martin, 241.
[3] Ibid., 251; In this, philosophes were likely supported by Arrian’s accounts of Alexander’s military effectiveness through his use of the Macedonian pezhetairoi phalanx, which on one occasion, Arrian reports, was able to cause an enemy to retreat from the battlefield simply by manoeuvring and performing extremely well-executed drills. Arrian, The Campaigns of Alexander, ed. and trans. Aubrey de Selincourt (London: Penguin, 1971), 52.

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