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Roman Cavalry.

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I have been wondering, did the Romans not care about their cavalry?

Do you think they would have fared better with more cavalry?

 

After all, the standard Legions cavalry consisted of 120 men divided into 4 squads of 40. They were only really used as scouts and I wonder if they the Romans should have put more effort into making their cavalry greater. It is evident all throughout Roman history that Roman cavalry was not good enough. For example at the battle of Cannae Hannibal routed the Roman cavalry and destroyed the army. That is only one of many examples of why the Romans should have put more effort into making their cavalry great.

 

Sure the Romans had well trained auxiliaries, but they were mainly posted in the East to protect against the Parthian horsemen who were far superior. If the Romans Legion had put more effort into the Legions cavalry then maybe the Romans could have won many more battles. Instead of 120 horsemen I think the Legion's should have been given at least 500 well trained cavalry.

 

The Romans were good at fighting with infantry, but if it came to cavalry battles then the Roman usually failed miserably (The Parthians easily defeated Roman armys many a time).

 

So I ask you, do you think the Romans would have fared better all across the Empire with more and batter trained cavalry?

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...but if it came to cavalry battles then the Roman usually failed miserably.
Wrong; roman auxiliaries performed outstandingly well under let say Scipio or Caesar's command.
(The Parthians easily defeated Roman armys many a time).
Edited by sylla

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...but if it came to cavalry battles then the Roman usually failed miserably.
Wrong; roman auxiliaries performed outstandingly well under let say Scipio or Caesar's command.

I agree, but I am talking about actual Roman cavalry with Roman recruits in it (like the 120 assigned to each Legion). These people were far less well trained for battle and were not a strong force at all.

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When considering the Roman cavalry it has to be understood what the Romans actually used it for. They employed light horsemen in a scouting or skirmish role.

 

In battle, cavalry were typically used to secure the armies flanks (a very commion occurence in ancient battles) by attacking the enemies horsemen. This would be the opening move, and as an example we see this happen at Cannae. Such confrontations were highly mobile affairs and there seems to have been a marked reluctance to get stuck in with a melee. Indeed, one tactic was wear out the enemies horses.

 

The threat to infantry from horsemen is of course as valid as it always was - but again, the preferred Roman tactic was to approach, loose off missile fire, and wheel away. Harrasement was the order of the day, and there was a ntaural tendency for the opposing infantry to halt and form a defensive posture against such attacks.

 

The two main reasons for these methods of employing horsemen in battle were that horses were rare and expensive animals, and that the Romans had no cultural bias toward the riding of horses and thus lacked inate ability (which was why auxillary cavalry of foreign troops was so important to Rome).

 

However, Roman allies weren't consistently capable. Caesar was not impressed by his Aedui allies in the gaulish Campaign and gave orders to have his own men trained as riders - this being in the period when cavalry were dispensed with as part of the legionary organisation (Marius had done away with the scouting contingent and these were reintroduced by Augustus).

 

It must be understood that auxillaries were foreign mercenaries fighting for Rome. There was no Roman army until the late empire since each legion was functionally independent and lacked formal and persistent senior organisation. Legions were grouped under commanders on an ad hoc basis, not by military order of battle. A legion was a small army in itself for much of their history, either as a annual militia or the persistent standardised legion of the post-marian era.

 

Auxillary cavalry were therefore 'attached' to legions as extra troops available for a particular campaign rather than an established unit in some non-existent Roman army. The Romans had no pyramid style army as we do today during their Republican and Pax Romana periods. The reasons were historical - since Rome, or rather the senatorial class, didn't want another tyrannical dictator after the ousting of Tarquinus the Proud, no one person in Rome would be allowed to control completely, and even the formal Dictator of Republican times was a temporary emergency post.

 

Regarding the Partians, their style of warfare differed considerably. Since they favoured the use of fast moving mounted archers, the Romans had little to get to grips with.

 

The Romans however had another disadvantage, and that was the generally 'safe' style of leadership. The Romans liked steady cautious characters leading legions both to offset any rash disasters and also to prevent political adventurism (Caesar was ordered to lay down his command for that reason prior to his march on Rome). This sort of leadership did in fact produce many of the disasters the Romans were hoping to avoid, and since imaginative use of cavalry requires bold thinking, there was little sparkle in Roman operations, something we see illustrated regularly.

 

Roman cavalry was therefore used in a light role, scouting, harrasing, or pursuing, as opposed to direct confrontation. They were few in number, relatively unskilled, and easily swamped or seen off by superior horsemen - Again, Cannae provides another well known example of this.

Edited by caldrail

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...but if it came to cavalry battles then the Roman usually failed miserably.
Wrong; roman auxiliaries performed outstandingly well under let say Scipio or Caesar's command.

I agree, but I am talking about actual Roman cavalry with Roman recruits in it (like the 120 assigned to each Legion). These people were far less well trained for battle and were not a strong force at all.

Usus autem sum, ne in aliquo fallam carissimam mihi familiaritatem tuam, praecipue libris ex bibliotheca Ulpia, aetate mea thermis Diocletianis, et item ex domo Tiberiana, usus etiam [ex] regestis scribarum porticus porphyreticae, actis etiam senatus ac populi. 2 et quoniam me ad colligenda talis viri gesta ephemeris Turduli Gallicani plurimum invit, viri honestissimi ac sincerissimi, beneficium amici senis tacere non debui. 3 Cn. Pompeium, tribus fulgentem triumphis belli piratici, belli Sertoriani, belli Mithridatici multarumque rerum gestarum maiestate sublimem, quis tandem nosset, nisi eum Marcus Tullius et Titus Livius in litteras rettulissent? 4 Publ<i>um Scipionem Afric<an>um, immo Scipiones omnes, seu Lucios seu Nasicas, nonne tenebrae possiderent ac tegerent, nisi commendatores eorum historici nobiles atque ignobiles extitissent? 5 longum est omnia persequi, quae ad exemplum huiusce modi etiam nobis tacentibus usurpanda sunt. 6 illud tantum contestatum volo me et rem scripsisse, quam, si quis voluerit, honestius eloquio celsiore demonstret, et mihi quidem id animi fuit, 6 <ut> non Sallustios, Livios, Tacito<s>, Trogos atque omnes disertissimos imitarer viros in vita principum et temporibus disserendis, sed Marium Maximum, Suetonium Tranquillum, Fabium Marcellinum, Gargilium Martialem, Iulium Capitolinum, Aelium Lampridium ceterosque, qui haec et talia non tam diserte quam vere memoriae tradiderunt. 8 sum enim unus ex curiosis, quod infi[ni]t<i>as ire non possum, ince<n>dentibus vobis, qui, cum multa sciatis, scire multo plura cupitis. 9 et ne diutius ea, quae ad meum consilium pertinent, loquar, magnum et praeclarum principem et qualem historia nostra non novit, arripiam.

Edited by sylla

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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.

 

I understand, Macro, that your discussion mainly focuses around the army of the Principate, and so your comments about a lack of native Roman cavalry is valid. It was also still very much the era of the mediterranean heavy - armoured foot soldier.

 

For us late - period enthusiasts though, the army of the later Empire is just as Roman as anything that went earlier, and they treated their cavalry very seriously indeed. Gaulish and Pannonian cavalrymen, whose families had been Roman Citizens since the early third century, considered themselves as Roman as anyone else from within the Empire.

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Heaving good all around "national" forces (heavy infantry- cavalry - light infantry/missile) would have been the best but this was never the case (maybe Macedonia of Filip and Alexander had the most balanced army). Hannibal made very good use of mercenaries with different abilities and it was the numidian cavalry that gained his great victories and the same cavalry that sealed his defeat at Zama when it was employed by the romans.

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Yes in theory, but understand the Romans hadn't access to unlimited numbers of horses. Further, being a very conservative society and having found a army organisation that suited them and one that worked, they felt no need for cavalry beyond the helpful asssistance of a few allies and scouts.

 

In the modern hindsight cavalry is a very powerful arm, one that can use shock value and mobility to dominate a battlefield. The Romans weren't using their horsemen quite like that. By way of analogy, think of it rather like aeroplanes in warfare. These days they're essential, for all sorts of advantages, but when they began using them militarily in WW1, the generals saw no useful purpose other than recconaisance. A similar attitude prevailed in Roman times, but not just that, they Romans actually stressed the mobility aspect of cavalry and to bog them down in melees like the armoured crusteceans of the medieval period was to them a ridiculous and wasteful notion.

 

The training of Roman cavalry stressed manoevers. Approaching, wheeling, lobbing missiles, and wheeling away to regroup for another attack. In fact, the reluctance of cavalry to get stuck in is notable. Partly this was the natural hesiitation of horses to physically bash into thick formations of armoured men armed with pointy things, but to do so meant losing mobility - an important asset in Roman eyes.

 

PS - I have forgotten one aspect - status. The riding of horses is in Roman eyes, as it is in many societies, seen as an indicator of dominance. The Roman 'middle class', or Equites, derives from the highest order of plebian voter in the republican system. Whilst there were occaisions where legionaries were taught to ride horses as an expedience, notice that with the standardisation of the Reforms of Marius, the increased access of military service to the poor was countered by a withdrawal of the cavalry contingent for nearly a century. Although auxillary cavalry was commonly used, bear in mind this was done for practical purposes and was composed of barbarians anyway, who had little status other than the skills they offered Rome.

Edited by caldrail

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I suppose you all have a point, but I still think that more cavaly would have been better in battles.
Usus autem sum, ne in aliquo fallam carissimam mihi familiaritatem tuam, praecipue libris ex bibliotheca Ulpia, aetate mea thermis Diocletianis, et item ex domo Tiberiana, usus etiam [ex] regestis scribarum porticus porphyreticae, actis etiam senatus ac populi. 2 et quoniam me ad colligenda talis viri gesta ephemeris Turduli Gallicani plurimum invit, viri honestissimi ac sincerissimi, beneficium amici senis tacere non debui. 3 Cn. Pompeium, tribus fulgentem triumphis belli piratici, belli Sertoriani, belli Mithridatici multarumque rerum gestarum maiestate sublimem, quis tandem nosset, nisi eum Marcus Tullius et Titus Livius in litteras rettulissent? 4 Publ<i>um Scipionem Afric<an>um, immo Scipiones omnes, seu Lucios seu Nasicas, nonne tenebrae possiderent ac tegerent, nisi commendatores eorum historici nobiles atque ignobiles extitissent? 5 longum est omnia persequi, quae ad exemplum huiusce modi etiam nobis tacentibus usurpanda sunt. 6 illud tantum contestatum volo me et rem scripsisse, quam, si quis voluerit, honestius eloquio celsiore demonstret, et mihi quidem id animi fuit, 6 <ut> non Sallustios, Livios, Tacito<s>, Trogos atque omnes disertissimos imitarer viros in vita principum et temporibus disserendis, sed Marium Maximum, Suetonium Tranquillum, Fabium Marcellinum, Gargilium Martialem, Iulium Capitolinum, Aelium Lampridium ceterosque, qui haec et talia non tam diserte quam vere memoriae tradiderunt. 8 sum enim unus ex curiosis, quod infi[ni]t<i>as ire non possum, ince<n>dentibus vobis, qui, cum multa sciatis, scire multo plura cupitis. 9 et ne diutius ea, quae ad meum consilium pertinent, loquar, magnum et praeclarum principem et qualem historia nostra non novit, arripiam. Edited by sylla

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I suppose you all have a point, but I still think that more cavaly would have been better in battles.
From your lack of references and with all due respect, I suppose all you have is a general impression that you haven't dismissed yet for not having had the chance of checking out the relevant sources.

 

If you really want to deep into this stuff, an excellent introduction would be The Roman Cavalry By Karen R. Dixon, Pat Southern for an specific approach on this topic and The grand strategy of the Roman Empire from the first century A.D. to the third By Edward N. Luttwak for a global review of the Roman Army as a whole. There are of course plenty of classical sources available (eg, Polybius, Josephus, Hyginius & Vegetius); the narrative of most well-attested major battles included the description of the actual use of the Roman, auxiliary and allied cavalries; and there are literally hundreds of posts all along UNRV related to this topic, including references and links to many excellent books.

 

As far as I know, previous to the politic and social disintegration of the Empire (itself due to complex but essentially intrinsic factors) the Romans were never bested on the long run by any of their enemies, Persians included (just ask Trajan and Julian); I can't understand how they would have been any better than that.

If they didn't conquer 100% of the surface of the Earth (or at least of Eurasia and Africa) that was basically for logistic and physical restraints, not for any particular military shortcoming, their cavalry most obviously included.

Alright I shall look at those books.

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I have been wondering, did the Romans not care about their cavalry?

Do you think they would have fared better with more cavalry?

 

After all, the standard Legions cavalry consisted of 120 men divided into 4 squads of 40. They were only really used as scouts and I wonder if they the Romans should have put more effort into making their cavalry greater. It is evident all throughout Roman history that Roman cavalry was not good enough. For example at the battle of Cannae Hannibal routed the Roman cavalry and destroyed the army. That is only one of many examples of why the Romans should have put more effort into making their cavalry great.

 

Sure the Romans had well trained auxiliaries, but they were mainly posted in the East to protect against the Parthian horsemen who were far superior. If the Romans Legion had put more effort into the Legions cavalry then maybe the Romans could have won many more battles. Instead of 120 horsemen I think the Legion's should have been given at least 500 well trained cavalry.

 

The Romans were good at fighting with infantry, but if it came to cavalry battles then the Roman usually failed miserably (The Parthians easily defeated Roman armys many a time).

 

So I ask you, do you think the Romans would have fared better all across the Empire with more and batter trained cavalry?

 

 

Well, the after the divide of east and western roman empire the eastern realized the value of cavalry agains their eastern enemies, mainly sassanids. Thatswhy they made clibinarii and cathafractii, but i guess youre right about earlier B)

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Before you get carried away, please realise that the earliest Roman clinarii/cataphtactii weren't as effective as popularly assumed. The great weight of armour and rider weighed heavily on the horses and generally they wouldn't ride at the gallop for fear of wearing the animals out too soon. There's also an account of an infantry formation parting ranks to allow the horsemen in, then pulling them from their saddles and dispatching them with ease. Also, there's some suggestion that at least some of these heavily armoured troops were largely ceremonial as opposed to battle ready units. The first such unit was created in the reign of Hadrian but the idea took some time to catch on, whatever the Sassanids did.

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I have been looking at the available information on the gradual annexation of Britain which, thanks to Tacitus, we have some narative to work with, and you are almost certainly right. However is it a relevant question? Most historians and most information appears to concentrate on the actions of the Legions, rarely do we hear about the exploits of the auxilaries (both cavalry and infantry) that fought alongside them, other than the epigraphic record.

 

If you try to imagine what the Roman army faced as it moved north to conquer the various Brittunculii (ditto Germania), how would they have done this? The environment would have been heavily forested, often very wet, with few cleared areas, apart from around the native settlements. can you imagine heavily armoured infantry marching in formation through this? Certainly the Romans built roads, but before they did that, they had to fight through virgin territory.

 

We seem to have become stuck with the idea of neat columns of marching men forging and forcing the Pax Romana. How could they have done that in wooded country? I suspect that it was a lot different, I do not believe that a military force so successful as that of Rome was, was so strictured. If the gladius was great for formation fighting on the open plains of Italy, would it have so appropriate when you are fighting 'in the scrub' against the Celts, Germans, and Gauls who slashed rather than thrusted, and used longer swords anyway? Would they marched thus up the forested mountains of Wales and Scotland, would they have been issued with smaller shields and the Spatha?

 

Why would a legionnary not be part of a cavalry vexilation, just as a centurion might?

 

What limited the use of cavalry would have been (at least in the northern climes) the lack of fodder, particulary during winter. While you are in conquest mode, fodder would be taken from the vanquished, but if sustained numbers were required?

 

 

 

 

I have been wondering, did the Romans not care about their cavalry?

Do you think they would have fared better with more cavalry?

 

After all, the standard Legions cavalry consisted of 120 men divided into 4 squads of 40. They were only really used as scouts and I wonder if they the Romans should have put more effort into making their cavalry greater. It is evident all throughout Roman history that Roman cavalry was not good enough. For example at the battle of Cannae Hannibal routed the Roman cavalry and destroyed the army. That is only one of many examples of why the Romans should have put more effort into making their cavalry great.

 

Sure the Romans had well trained auxiliaries, but they were mainly posted in the East to protect against the Parthian horsemen who were far superior. If the Romans Legion had put more effort into the Legions cavalry then maybe the Romans could have won many more battles. Instead of 120 horsemen I think the Legion's should have been given at least 500 well trained cavalry.

 

The Romans were good at fighting with infantry, but if it came to cavalry battles then the Roman usually failed miserably (The Parthians easily defeated Roman armys many a time).

 

So I ask you, do you think the Romans would have fared better all across the Empire with more and batter trained cavalry?

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I have been looking at the available information on the gradual annexation of Britain which, thanks to Tacitus, we have some narative to work with, and you are almost certainly right. However is it a relevant question? Most historians and most information appears to concentrate on the actions of the Legions, rarely do we hear about the exploits of the auxilaries (both cavalry and infantry) that fought alongside them, other than the epigraphic record.

An interesting point which might suggest the non-citizen ststus of auxillaries was something at least some people looked down their noses at. However, what is probably more relevant is that the auxillaries were 'allies' who worked alongside the legions as liveried mercenaries to all intents and purposes. In other words, it was the legions who were sent to prosecute a war, not the auxillaires, and the name is a clue to the deployment strategy - they were extra troops (and useful ones too) rather than a primary arm.

 

If you try to imagine what the Roman army faced as it moved north to conquer the various Brittunculii (ditto Germania), how would they have done this? The environment would have been heavily forested, often very wet, with few cleared areas, apart from around the native settlements. can you imagine heavily armoured infantry marching in formation through this? Certainly the Romans built roads, but before they did that, they had to fight through virgin territory.

It is true that forests were more widespread during the Roman conquest. However, iron age culture was widespread and before the arrival of Caesar continental agricultural practises were beginning to open up the countryside with more efficient practises, especially along the Thames Valley. Further, what isn't stressed are the tracks and pathways that were used by Britons at the time. There were major tracks like the Ridgeway, but also an almost rectangular network of connecting paths linking communities and farms. Some landowners had small ranches for animals, and the necessity to raise grazing animals meant that open heathland was as common as forest (though wild animals might also have had something to do with that - any eco-experts out there?)

 

Iron age culture had been violent, and with the development of iron weapons in Britain (around the same time Rome was founded) the rise of the warrior as an important figure had given rise to the hill fort as a center of communal life, mostly for protection and status. Some wealthy farmers for instance built their own mini-hill forts - probably for show rather than defense. In order for these protective settlements to work, the populace must have been able to raise hue & cry plus reach the hill fort with all good haste.

 

It seems then that travel about the British Islands wasn't quite as restrictive as it may seem. And we should point out how fond the Britons were of their chariots - which needed open space to operate.

 

We seem to have become stuck with the idea of neat columns of marching men forging and forcing the Pax Romana. How could they have done that in wooded country?

Cohorts were led by centurions who were encouraged to show initiative. In other words, the Roman formations were less structured than the image we have of huge battle deployments and were 'objective focused'. I have forwarded the opinion before now that the Roman legions were the development and enlargement of the original warbands that raided each other in the Tiber Valley. The cohorts were essentially that - a formal warband with a dominant warrior leader. We have to realise that although Roman practises are hauntingly familiar, they didn't quite do things the same way as we do today. It's a common conception to paint the legions as the same as a modern army - but that's a false assumption. Certainly they did similar things because their are only so many ways of ordering large numbers of men and the Roman were inverterate organisers. Nonetheless the legion was not a regiment in a state army.

 

That said, armies did march across Britain. They did this by forming one long line of units marching from place to place hopefully with cavalry screening.

 

I suspect that it was a lot different, I do not believe that a military force so successful as that of Rome was, was so strictured. If the gladius was great for formation fighting on the open plains of Italy, would it have so appropriate when you are fighting 'in the scrub' against the Celts, Germans, and Gauls who slashed rather than thrusted, and used longer swords anyway? Would they marched thus up the forested mountains of Wales and Scotland, would they have been issued with smaller shields and the Spatha?

The equipment of a Roman soldier would have made little difference to strategy. It might have affected tactics on the battlefield though, but the terrain influence you point at was inconsequential.

 

Why would a legionnary not be part of a cavalry vexilation, just as a centurion might?

1 - Because might not know how to ride a horse

2 - Because he might not be viewed as 'acceptable' as a cavalryman

3 - Because there might not be enough horses to go around at any given time

4 - Because he might be given other duties

5 - Because he might be unavailable (injured or on leave)

 

What limited the use of cavalry would have been (at least in the northern climes) the lack of fodder, particulary during winter. While you are in conquest mode, fodder would be taken from the vanquished, but if sustained numbers were required?

The availability of horses was limited to begin with, but remember that the cavalry contingent operated from the legions base, such as a camp, and that the legions were not reliant on supply lines like modern armies. For the most part, they obtained what they needed by foraging from the local area. The Romans might not have had much fodder, but there were farms nearby that did.

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