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Roman Cavalry.

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http://historymedren.about.com/gi/o.htm?zi...remilitari.org/

 

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"In 1898, C. W. C. Oman described the period from 1066-1346 as the age of "the supremacy of feudal cavalry."14 Recently, some scholars have attempted to dispute this conception, arguing that "cavalry was never militarily superior to foot soldiers" and that infantry played an equal or greater role on the medieval battlefield.15 It is true that Oman, Delbruck, and other earlier authors failed to acknowledge the significant role of infantry in the High Middle Ages, but the fact remains that "medieval warfare was characterized by the dominant role of the heavy cavalry."16 At Tinchebray in 1106, Bouvines in 1214, Dunbar in 1296, and Falkirk in 1297 (to consider only battles cited by authors who emphasize the role of the infantry), it was a cavalry charge that decided the battle.

 

Throughout this period, infantry on the battlefield generally acted in a purely defensive role, using a tight formation "like a great wall" of pole-arms and crossbowmen to protect the cavalry while it formed up for a charge. The importance of this "wall" derived in part from the men-at-arms' practice of riding from place to place on palfreys and mounting their chargers only immediately before battle, making it critically important for them to be protected while changing horses and forming up. To use the metaphor of single combat, the infantry served as a shield to the cavalry's sword.17 Infantry could be very important, but it could not defeat an enemy unless he bashed his head against it.

 

The effectiveness of the cavalry is not hard to explain. The medieval knight, supported as he was by the labor of others, had plenty of time to train for combat.18 His better diet made him larger and stronger than most of the commoners who formed the infantry.19 Most importantly, the capital he had invested in horses, arms, and armor magnified his capabilities. Mail armor, reinforced by a leather cuirass or a padded gambeson, made him nearly invulnerable on the battlefield. The mobility afforded by his horses, in addition to its obvious strategic value, enabled him to pursue a defeated enemy effectively, to flee rapidly if himself defeated, and to avoid unwanted battles with slow-moving infantry forces. The combination of armor and mobility made him particularly effective as a forager, giving him a critically important role in extended sieges, which were more likely to be broken by lack of food than by enemy action.20 Of course, the extremely high cost of this equipment, which in the mid-thirteenth century cost about

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Stirrups had nothing to do with it. The Rman saddle has been deomonstrated by re-enactors to be perfectly capable of supporting riders in combat, and since the Romans employed that style of saddle for centuries, one has to note they saw no reason to dispense with it.

 

The trend toward cavalry had developed during the Roman period, partly by experience, partly by foreign influence. It also developed because of changing tactical balance with regard to protection and offensive capability between cavalry and infanty, the increasing sizes of horses available, the increasing numbers of horses available, and for military fashion.

 

I wouldn't discount Roman cavalry tactics entirely - they worked very well indeed in the limited circumstances of the ancient battlefield, and without them, the legions would have been ambushed and outflanked a great deal more often.

 

http://www.unrv.com/forum/index.php?showtopic=6537

 

Furthermore, the medieval cavalryman as you define it (the armoured knight) was a minority of the troops available and generally found tremendous success against unprotected peasants and militia (and in one remarkable case, an entire turkish army attempting to besiege Antioch). Of course it was superior in these circumstances, but it wasn't universally true. In any case, the stirrup wasn't the key to success. It was physchological attitude and heavy protection by that time.

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The use of cavalry in an offensive role seems to have slowly developed from about 200 onwards, until, by the time of the Battle of Strasbourg (360), Infantry were starting to act as support for cavalry, rather than the other way around. The medieval age of cavalry was just around the corner, and at Adrianople in 378 the Old Roman Infantry was defeated for the final time.

 

It seems to me that by the time of Adrianople the "legion" had evolved into a formation that was less flexible from the legions of the late republic and early empire. Longer spears replaced the pilum and the soldiers advanced shield to shield much like the phalanx formation of the ancient greeks.

 

In his Art of War, Machiavelli advocates the use of a phalanx with long spears as a better defense against heavy cavalry, suggesting that the old legion without the long spears would be less effective as a wall against cavalry.

 

The cause of blunder at Adrianople is controversial, and I don't think you can blame their infantry as not capable of standing up against cavalry. After all the army at Arianople had just come from the East and had been preparing itself for the heavy cavalry of the Sassanid Persians, whch were at least as good as those which they engaged at Adrianople. We don't really know enough about the details of the battle to fully understand what happened.

 

We do know that the Barbarin cavalry arrived late to tip the balance, and the Roman Infantry wasn't able to mobilize its reserves to prevent them from being surrounded.

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Stirrups had nothing to do with it. The Rman saddle has been deomonstrated by re-enactors to be perfectly capable of supporting riders in combat, and since the Romans employed that style of saddle for centuries, one has to note they saw no reason to dispense with it.

 

The most devastating use of non-archer cavalry was the mass charge with lances which could both psychologically and physically break most infantry formations outside of the most disciplined ones.

 

There wasn't anything wrong with the Roman saddle as such but the introduction of better saddles, spurs and most importantly stirrups meant that the cavalry could perform such maneuvers since they could brace themselves much better for the heavy impact.

 

This made them shock troops which could break the core sections of an opposing army instead of merely supporting/enveloping unit like the Roman cavalry was.

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The mass charge of cavalry with couched lances belongs to a later period. As for devastating charges, cataphracts, being hevily armoured on horses that didn't easily cope with such loads, refused to gallop, and attacked at the trot.

 

I run into this problem quite often. The lure of the cavalry charge comes from very deep in the human psyche and it's a romantic ideal, the same attitude got hundreds killed in the first and second world wars (at least until someone remembered the other side had machine guns). If you can point at a Roman source that backs your arguement then I'll listen, but my research into Roman warfare suggests a very different cavalry regime than the one you're expecting.

 

You cannot, simply cannot, brace yourself for impact with stirrups, and in fact, the Roman saddle was just as capable of retaining you in the saddle as later ones in that regard. It wasn't necessary in any case, because the Roman riders were more intelligent than horsemen in later periods and knew full well horses don't like bumping into shield walls or rows of sharp pointy things.

 

Horses were shock troops in any case - their weight and size made them so - but they weren't used in that manner. It was the threat of facing cavalry that made them useful, and since cavalry units were almost always faced off against each other, clearly it was a contest to dominate. The winner would then be able to attack the rear or flank of his enemy at will. An important consideration. The Romans left us a number of sources which tell us exactly what they did on the battlefield.

 

Roman cavalry used a lance overhand as a stabbing and thrusting weapon. Preferably though they would approach, wheel, and throw missiles, a manoever they are recorded as practising. Unit manoevers were very important because cavalry depended on mobility and used it to the full on the ancient battlefield.

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You cannot, simply cannot, brace yourself for impact with stirrups, and in fact, the Roman saddle was just as capable of retaining you in the saddle as later ones in that regard. It wasn't necessary in any case, because the Roman riders were more intelligent than horsemen in later periods and knew full well horses don't like bumping into shield walls or rows of sharp pointy things.

In my tiny experience of riding horses (two pony trekking trips in the Lake District) The stirrup aided me only in being able to mount a horse without needing a ladder, and stopping me sliding off sideways. Although making horse riding somewhat easier and more comfortable, the stirrup would seem to make little difference when it comes to a frontal assault on a target, as the Roman Saddle, like you say, was well designed to keep the rider in position.

 

I think the big military difference the stirrup made when it eventually showed up in the 7th century was to enable horse archers more mobility in the saddle. That would indeed have been a big advantage.

 

I had to give up horse riding because, like Clint Eastwood, I am fiercely allergic to horses :)

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maybe so, but bear in mind on of the accepted trials of knighthood was to vault onto a horse in full armour, an act that didn't require stirrups and was intended as a demonstration of gaining your horse again in the heat of battle without fussing about footholds (or wooden cranes, for that matter!)

 

In any case, the use of stirrups by the Huns is disputed - there's no direct evidence since if they did use them they were only made of rope and thus not very persistent in the archaeological record - but I also note that many formations of different nationalities of horsemen went without the benefit of stirrups. After all, the plains indians never used them and they were described by one contemporary as the best light cavalry in the world.

 

The introduction of additional comfort in horse riding provided by the stirrup isn't disputed :)

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It's occored to me that a deeper analysis of the cavalry charge is in order. The common conception is like a game of bowls. The horse crashes into the poor bloody infantrymen, and knocks them aside like ninepins. I must confess, having observed the approach of galloping horses at race meetings, it's a fairly nerve wracking experience to imagine standing in front of that oncoming herd, and you really do sene the weight and energy coming at you.

 

But that's wrong. The problem is the horse. It isn't a machine. It's an animal, and it can be wilful, frightened, or suffer pain when you least expect it. They won't warn you. If they decide they don't like the idea of getting hurt (and a collision with the infantry is going to be as catastrophic for the horse and rider as much as the guy they trampled) the horse will simply stop. Right there. It'll just dig in its hooves and send you over its head, whether you have stirrips or not.

 

Even trained horses behave like that. They have minds of their own regardless of how compliant they may seem, and any horse rider of any experience will tell you that some horses just don't like being told what to do!

 

So if it isn't a game of bowls, what is a cavalry charge? It's a game of chicken. Who will break first? The horse, frightened of colliding with rows of shields and spears? Or the infantry, convinced that the horse really isn't going to stop?

 

The cavalry charge is a risk, not a certainty. If the infantry remain steadfast, and present a solid wall, the horses will baulk, and the cavalry rider knows it. That's why the Roman cavalry generally avoided a frontal charge. It just wasn't worth the risk, and they considered it far better to harass the enemy until such a time as they could approach the enemies flank or rear, when they could so some real damage in melee, not by impact.

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http://www.caerleon.net/history/army/page9.html

 

I'm sorry, I just can't see how adding two more solid points of contact with the horse won't give you way superior balance in the saddle? Thereby enabling you to stay mounted through even harder impacts, making charges into enemy formations much safer both as far as employing lances in a charge and as far as engaging the enemy up close with swords etc.

 

A trotting horse will still give the tip of the lance enormous penetrating power.

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The mass charge of cavalry with couched lances belongs to a later period. As for devastating charges, cataphracts, being hevily armoured on horses that didn't easily cope with such loads, refused to gallop, and attacked at the trot.

 

The Normans are credited with the couched lances, but even at Hastings they only experimented with that technique. Many were still using the lances overhead.

 

A few years later The Normans of Robert Guiscard used the couched lance with devastating effect against the Byzantines at Battle of Dyrrhachium (1081), also known as Siege of Durazzo.

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I'm sorry, I just can't see how adding two more solid points of contact with the horse won't give you way superior balance in the saddle? Thereby enabling you to stay mounted through even harder impacts, making charges into enemy formations much safer both as far as employing lances in a charge and as far as engaging the enemy up close with swords etc.]

 

The essential point is that you haven't thought the mechanics of a stirrup through. They aren't 'solid' at all. They pivot and twist readily. If your horse comes to a sudden stop, the stirrup is of no benefit whatsoever, as you can see from a horse race in the modern day when an animal refuses a jump. As for providing some support for crouched lances, no, that just isn't possible. It's the saddle that provides support for that sort of thing, and the Roman saddle was every bit as effective as anything that came later - just ask a re-enactor if you don't believe me.

 

In order for the stirrup to support a crouched lance, you would have to be leaning as far forward as possible with legs outstretched behind you - and no cavalryman ever attacked like that.

 

This business about saddles and stirrups is the second worst fallacy ever, it really is. The top place must go to charging into the enemy physically... So when your horse arrives at the enemy, barges into them, sends them all flying, what then? What would actually happen (assuming you could persuade your horse to hit something at speed willingly, which can assure you is not going to happen) is that your horse will stumble on a carpet of writhing victims and send you backside over mammary gland into a throng of seriously annoyed enemy soldiers. That would make your survival chances pretty slim.

 

A trotting horse will still give the tip of the lance enormous penetrating power.

So will a good shove. However, our Roman sources tell us something different about cavalry tactics. I can see you're going to repeat these ideas like a religious mantra, so I strongly suggest you read what the Romans themselves said about cavalry instead of romanticising about the subject, because there is no historical precedent whatsoever for horsemen colliding with infantry in the manner you suggest, not even in the early middle age golden period you point at.

 

Cavalry of the time was effective because their protection increased whilst the infantry tended to be relatively less protected, because the cavalry had become a practised military elite s opposed to a bunch of local levies, and because the military balance had swung in favour of such tactics, a situation overturned by gunpowder in a later age.

 

The iimpression we get of cavalry smashing their enemies apart is partly down to the result of men deciding to back off at their approach. Please forgive my reference to a later period, but take Ney's cavalry charges at Waterloo. Huge numbers of horsemen gathered for a mighty all out charge against the British. Result? The British formed squares and the cavalry milled around all day doing no good whatsoever except slow the British troops to a standstill. The situation in the ancient world wasn't much different. A formed infantry unit with a measure of protection, by way of equipment, tactics, and discipline, can keep cavalry at bay however much they charge here and there. That's historical. It's in the written record. Where cavalry succeed is when the infantry break up in panic - then the cavalryman has a distinct advantage, and history records that too, but tending to glamourise the cavalry's success that leads us to believe an all out charge is all you need. It isn't.

 

The next time a riot takes place the evening news watch the result. It's the most interesting comparison between disciplined and 'levied' troops you will ever see in the modern day. Watch especially the way a police charge the crowd. The horse doesn't like it. You can see it trying to pull back. The only reason it completes the charge is because it's been trained to expect the crowd to back off. Lets face it - no riot crowd is trained and equipped tto see off a horse charge - but notice above all else that the horse slows to a stop in their midst,ot against them. The whole point was to break the crowd up - and that's what cavalry has always been used for.

Edited by caldrail

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I'm sorry, I just can't see how adding two more solid points of contact with the horse won't give you way superior balance in the saddle? Thereby enabling you to stay mounted through even harder impacts, making charges into enemy formations much safer both as far as employing lances in a charge and as far as engaging the enemy up close with swords etc.]

 

The essential point is that you haven't thought the mechanics of a stirrup through. They aren't 'solid' at all. They pivot and twist readily. If your horse comes to a sudden stop, the stirrup is of no benefit whatsoever, as you can see from a horse race in the modern day when an animal refuses a jump. As for providing some support for crouched lances, no, that just isn't possible. It's the saddle that provides support for that sort of thing, and the Roman saddle was every bit as effective as anything that came later - just ask a re-enactor if you don't believe me.

 

In order for the stirrup to support a crouched lance, you would have to be leaning as far forward as possible with legs outstretched behind you - and no cavalryman ever attacked like that.

 

This business about saddles and stirrups is the second worst fallacy ever, it really is. The top place must go to charging into the enemy physically... So when your horse arrives at the enemy, barges into them, sends them all flying, what then? What would actually happen (assuming you could persuade your horse to hit something at speed willingly, which can assure you is not going to happen) is that your horse will stumble on a carpet of writhing victims and send you backside over mammary gland into a throng of seriously annoyed enemy soldiers. That would make your survival chances pretty slim.

 

A trotting horse will still give the tip of the lance enormous penetrating power.

So will a good shove. However, our Roman sources tell us something different about cavalry tactics. I can see you're going to repeat these ideas like a religious mantra, so I strongly suggest you read what the Romans themselves said about cavalry instead of romanticising about the subject, because there is no historical precedent whatsoever for horsemen colliding with infantry in the manner you suggest, not even in the early middle age golden period you point at.

 

Cavalry of the time was effective because their protection increased whilst the infantry tended to be relatively less protected, because the cavalry had become a practised military elite s opposed to a bunch of local levies, and because the military balance had swung in favour of such tactics, a situation overturned by gunpowder in a later age.

 

The iimpression we get of cavalry smashing their enemies apart is partly down to the result of men deciding to back off at their approach. Please forgive my reference to a later period, but take Ney's cavalry charges at Waterloo. Huge numbers of horsemen gathered for a mighty all out charge against the British. Result? The British formed squares and the cavalry milled around all day doing no good whatsoever except slow the British troops to a standstill. The situation in the ancient world wasn't much different. A formed infantry unit with a measure of protection, by way of equipment, tactics, and discipline, can keep cavalry at bay however much they charge here and there. That's historical. It's in the written record. Where cavalry succeed is when the infantry break up in panic - then the cavalryman has a distinct advantage, and history records that too, but tending to glamourise the cavalry's success that leads us to believe an all out charge is all you need. It isn't.

 

The next time a riot takes place the evening news watch the result. It's the most interesting comparison between disciplined and 'levied' troops you will ever see in the modern day. Watch especially the way a police charge the crowd. The horse doesn't like it. You can see it trying to pull back. The only reason it completes the charge is because it's been trained to expect the crowd to back off. Lets face it - no riot crowd is trained and equipped tto see off a horse charge - but notice above all else that the horse slows to a stop in their midst,ot against them. The whole point was to break the crowd up - and that's what cavalry has always been used for.

 

Grumble-grumble. Ok, you make some fair points. :huh:

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Kosovo

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Bouvines

 

I found two battles ( from a quick search ) where cavalry charges made an important impact on the course of the battle but of course we cannot know whether the infantry actually held firm or if the charges in question had them panicking.

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http://www.caerleon.net/history/army/page9.html

 

I'm sorry, I just can't see how adding two more solid points of contact with the horse won't give you way superior balance in the saddle? Thereby enabling you to stay mounted through even harder impacts, making charges into enemy formations much safer both as far as employing lances in a charge and as far as engaging the enemy up close with swords etc.

 

A trotting horse will still give the tip of the lance enormous penetrating power.

 

thanks Andreas, another good site to read:)

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Coincidentially I've been reading accounts of the experiments the re-enactment group Comitatus made concerning cavalry vs infantry.

 

The problem the infantry have is that besides the frightening aspect of facing oncoming horses (and I can confirm personally, it can be seriously hair-raising), the constant need to raise a shield high to defend themselves is tiring, thus we can see a major advantage of being on a horse provided the infantry is on the defensive and not sticking spears at them. Add to that the problems of secure footing on a field, possibly muddy or slippery with blood, strewn with discarded articles and bodies. The cavalry have a real possibility of breaking into a formation and causing havoc if the infantty don't stay firm.

 

As regards the infantry, yes, if they present a shield wall they might survive the experience relatively unharmed. From the Strategikon of Maurice in the 6th century we have two formations based on the shield for protection, the famous mobile testudo and the static double row of shields call the Foulkon. In both cases, the exhaustion of maintaining those stances, the lack of observation, and the backlash of shields being hit by heavy blows and causing the soldiers own shield to clout him makes things a little more realistic.

 

Also, the infantry, despite shields massed and locked in front of them, are still likely to suffer to minor injuries to feet and lower legs, thus the front of the formation can, in some circumstances, weaken enough for a horse to push inside.

 

Experiments have shown that two infantry units armed with spears have a natural tendency not to stay apart and fight one on one in true Hollywood fashion, but to engage in 'push-of-spears', which is an aggressive scrum for dominance. Apparently it can only take a few men to pentrate the other line to force a collapse or retreat, so imagine what a horse could do.

 

The upshot of this is that a charge into a formation isn't necessary nor desirable even if achievable. Horses did attack at the gallop - but only against other horse riders and always in open order to allow both sides to pass each other, thus preventing collisions which were harmful to both sides.

 

PS - before anyone brings up the point, the 'push-of-spears' habit of soldiers on ancient battlefields is essentially the same as combat with classic Roman legions armed with gladius and scutum. They close on their enemy, push and shove, thrusting whenever the opportunity exists. It really wasn't much different.

Edited by caldrail

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This video from the Illustrated History of the Roman Empire site of one of the Birdoswald events showing re-enactors demonstrating both cavalry and (a possible anti-cavalry) infantry tactic may be of interest to this debate.

Edited by Melvadius

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