The Square: Bodies in Grid Formation
Written by Esmé Valk
In this brief text I’ll try to explain why we learn in grid formation. Bodies placed in rows behind one another seems to be the format in which we arrange children in classrooms but also sporting people in the gym. Why is this particular geometric shape so dominant and where did it come from?
Of course we know the grid formation from Roman warfare techniques. A group of soldiers formed a human block, protecting their own and their comrades bodies with their shields. This way a legion could move towards the enemy as an impenetrable mass. This technique was called the testudo, or tortoise formation.
Once they reached a gated wall, several testudo’s stood on top of each other to form a human staircase for the others to cross the wall. The technology and tactics used by the roman army evolved, but it remained an efﬁcient and disciplined ﬁghting machine. Roman soldiers’ training included drills and formation marching as well as swimming and gymnastics to build strength and stamina.
In the feudal era the arrangement of bodies in a matrix seems to have almost completely disappeared. With the rise of nation states, industrial capitalism, democracy, individualism, science and university systems, a renewed interest in arranging bodies in rows arises. [...]
25 November 2010