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Thread: Cavalry charge without stirrups?

  1. #1

    Default Cavalry charge without stirrups?

    I was wondering if anyone knew how cavalry could be effective before the use of stirrups. Obviously Alexander's use of cavalry indicated that it could be devastating however having tried to ride without stirrups I can't see how you would be able to sufficiently balance in the saddle to use a sword effectively (let alone brace against the impact when using a lance).

  2. #2
    EB TRIBVNVS PLEBIS Member MarcusAureliusAntoninus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cavalry charge without stirrups?

    They had the four horned saddle.


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    The Rabbit Nibbler Member Korlon's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cavalry charge without stirrups?

    The stirrup wasn't needed to allow a cavalryman to charge. All that is needed is a saddle that allowed the man to not be thrown over on impact, which, of course, was around back in those days. To allow full use of a melee weapon, however, did require the stirrup. A full range of motion could be allowed to one that used the stirrup while one without couldn't apply the full force behind each blow. However, using the sword doesn't mean anything to a charge. Two different things.
    Last edited by Korlon; 04-18-2008 at 08:19.
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    EBII Hod Carrier Member QuintusSertorius's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cavalry charge without stirrups?

    Indeed, the stirrup promotes side-to-side stability, not back-to-front. Which means it's presence has no effect whatsoever on a close-order charge, but does affect whether you might be thrown in a chaotic melee.
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  5. #5

    Default Re: Cavalry charge without stirrups?

    Quote Originally Posted by MarcusAureliusAntoninus
    They had the four horned saddle.
    Quote Originally Posted by Korlon
    All that is needed is a saddle that allowed the man to not be thrown over on impact, which, of course, was around back in those days.
    The problem is that in Alexander's day, and probably for most of the third century as well, such saddles were not in use among the Greeks, or most other peoples for that matter. The shabrack was the only kind of "saddle" used until around the second century BC, which of course lacked a pommel and cantle and so could not secure the rider in the case of a charge.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Cavalry charge without stirrups?

    Well there were warriors that used no saddle at all on horses and still managed to win fights. The thing is that in a charge the rider is not supposed to feel the impact but rather the ones on the receiving end. Still it helps a lot stability wise and most importantly with mounting while wearing heavy armor, that's why it's been universally adopted but it's not that big of a deal in a real fight.

  7. #7
    Ming the Merciless is my idol Senior Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cavalry charge without stirrups?

    Aw jeez, not this shit again.

    Look kids, neither saddle nor stirrups are *needed* for shock cavalry. Just ask Alex's Hetairoi for a famous example, or the Thessalians and Thebans for even earlier and at least as saddle-less, impressive equestrian feats of arms.
    They're just *useful to have* and let you do more things - wear more armour etc.
    "Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. --- Proof of the existence of the FSM, if needed, can be found in the recent uptick of global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. Apparently His Pastaness is to be worshipped in full pirate regalia. The decline in worldwide pirate population over the past 200 years directly corresponds with the increase in global temperature. Here is a graph to illustrate the point."

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  8. #8

    Default Re: Cavalry charge without stirrups?

    Indeed. The introduction of the saddle increased the effectiveness of shock cavalry. It didn't 'allow the creation of' shock cavalry.

    With a saddle to brace against, the rider can deliver a slightly stronger blow with his couched spear (lance) and the risk of being unhorsed is reduced. So the saddle was a good invention, but not a critical one. The main benefit of the saddle was to make the training of new recruits a bit quicker (with a saddle, the rider doesn't have to be quite so skilled (well trained) to be effective at shock action.)

    Without a saddle, and charging at full gallop, the rider would normally need to help keep his seat by absorbing some of the shock of impact by moderating the blow of his couched lance. This can be done by pulling back slightly on the lance just before the tip makes contact. Alternatively, if the horse is travelling more slowly, the lancer can increase the weight of his strike by 'punching' the lance forward just before impact.

    Read this article for an excellent examination of the physics of shock action.

    http://www.classicalfencing.com/articles/shock.php
    Last edited by Titus Marcellus Scato; 04-18-2008 at 17:47.

  9. #9

    Default Re: Cavalry charge without stirrups?

    I presume they had a bridle to hang on to and that would be all you need if you are accustomed to not having a saddle or stirrups.
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  10. #10
    Ming the Merciless is my idol Senior Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cavalry charge without stirrups?

    The reins are used to control the horse. Pulling hard on them AFAIK usually gets the animal to hit the brakes and/or rear up.

    What they did was grip pretty firmly with their legs. Didn't Xenophon discuss the specifics in Peri Hippikes or something ? I seem to recall seeing it mentioned...
    Last edited by Watchman; 04-18-2008 at 22:23.
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  11. #11

    Default Re: Cavalry charge without stirrups?

    ive always wondered what the rider does at the moment of impact. Does the rider let go of the lance at the point of impact? or does he hold on to it?

    Also Im thinking what happens to the lance. I would think that it breaks on impact.

  12. #12
    WotD 2D graphic Dude Member Gebeleisis's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cavalry charge without stirrups?

    uhm,i woder why doesnt the lance at the mom of impact just jump out of the weilders hands

  13. #13
    Voluntary Suspension Voluntary Suspension Philippus Flavius Homovallumus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cavalry charge without stirrups?

    Yes, the reins are in fact in many ways irrelevant. In combat they might even be a liability.

    Basically though the answer to all of the above in that in antiquity people were just better at riding and handling horses than they are now, it's largely a lost skill today.
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  14. #14

    Default Re: Cavalry charge without stirrups?

    Quote Originally Posted by Watchman
    The reins are used to control the horse. Pulling hard on them AFAIK usually gets the animal to hit the brakes and/or rear up.
    Bit-less bridles don't really make the horse want to stop, they're intended for you to use it to hold yourself in place.

    I used one when I was helping my aunt train a horse to not be afraid of gunfire.
    "I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams." -Hamlet, II, ii

    "Historians and others attempt to pin the tail on the reluctant monkey of change." -excerpt from a real college essay, from Ignorance is Blitz by Anders Henriksson

  15. #15
    Ming the Merciless is my idol Senior Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cavalry charge without stirrups?

    I've read many cavalry forces actually trained their soldiers in the basics of stirrup-less riding, though, as a backup - since the feet might slip out of the things or their straps might get cut in battle, etc.
    Quote Originally Posted by artavazd
    ive always wondered what the rider does at the moment of impact. Does the rider let go of the lance at the point of impact? or does he hold on to it?
    That was actually a major limiter on the actual terminal impact power of the couched lance. However firmly it was held between the body and the arm and grasped by the hand to boot, there was a saturation point at which it simply began sliding backwards.

    Not much could be done about this until the appereance of plate armour. The solid breastplate swiftly aquired the lance-rest which, in combination with suitable modifications to the weapon itself (it is at this point that the heavy-cavalry lance began to develop its peculiar "double conical" shape), allowed the impact to be transferred to the armour and thus spread over a much larger area, leaving by far more of the impact energy for the purpose of skewering the other guy.
    (Some rather more complex and quite interesting-looking additional devices were developed for tournament jousting - a sort of hinged support frame pivoting at the right side of the cuirass was apparently pretty much the norm in the 1500s - but that's not really relevant here.)

    ...although by 1500s high-end plate armour had reached such levels of perfection even this was no longer enough, and the weapon more often than not simply glanced off the other knight's formidable defenses. Got replaced by pistol as a result.
    Also Im thinking what happens to the lance. I would think that it breaks on impact.
    Not usually. Remember that unless you've done something wrong it's sinking into someone's innards, plus the "post-plate" heavy lances were also made rather thick (albeit also tapering and "fluted" to save weight) for structural resiliency. Tournament lances were specifically weakened for good reasons after all.

    The things had a bad habit of getting stuck in their victims though, not
    Last edited by Watchman; 04-18-2008 at 23:00.
    "Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. --- Proof of the existence of the FSM, if needed, can be found in the recent uptick of global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. Apparently His Pastaness is to be worshipped in full pirate regalia. The decline in worldwide pirate population over the past 200 years directly corresponds with the increase in global temperature. Here is a graph to illustrate the point."

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  16. #16

    Default Re: Cavalry charge without stirrups?

    Quote Originally Posted by Gebeleisis
    uhm,i woder why doesnt the lance at the mom of impact just jump out of the weilders hands

    If it doesn't glance off or break out right he will have to let go of it. There are some caveats though. For instance if he doesn't manage to keep momentum and gets stopped by whatever he is charging then he may just hang on to it. Another would be if he isn't just unseated from the impact in the first place or the horse fall or a thousand other things. So to summarize, yes sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't "just jump out of the wielders hands".

  17. #17
    Marzbān-ī Jundīshāpūr Member The Persian Cataphract's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cavalry charge without stirrups?

    Quote Originally Posted by Watchman
    Aw jeez, not this shit again.

    Look kids, neither saddle nor stirrups are *needed* for shock cavalry. Just ask Alex's Hetairoi for a famous example, or the Thessalians and Thebans for even earlier and at least as saddle-less, impressive equestrian feats of arms.
    They're just *useful to have* and let you do more things - wear more armour etc.
    Let's go even earlier. Say, the Medean cavalry allegedly organized by High King Cyaxares, the Lydian lancers of Alyattes and Croesus, and Cyrus' cavalry at the battle of Thymbra and the ever so pesky Scythians (Whether they be the Ephedra drinking bastards, or those with fruity caps or the chaps who lived in Ukraine along with their Budinoi trailer-trash). These were all armoured cavalry, and the so-called Iranian horse-vases dated around 7th century BCE attest of an early form of horse-barding, and padded saddles. The Persepolis reliefs, in particular at the Apadana portrays different breeds along with different kinds of bridles and horse-harness, where we clearly see differences for bits or reins (Where they join at the nose); Usually heavy horse have a larger leather appendage connected to the bridles and larger bits, while light horse would be more minimalistically furnished. Many Achaemenid seals display the usage of a long spear or lance used over-hand during hunts, and these beg to differ from the traditional "palta" cornel-wood javelins, even if Darius III Codomannus attempted to standardize the Graeco-Macedonian style xyston lance for the heavy horse regiments.

    To go even further back, we have got just as ample proof of Assyrians fielding armoured cavalry equipped with spears, swords and bows, along with a range of caparisons and felt bardings. It is mostly thanks to their designation of the Medes as the "Mighty Medes" that we have shed some light on the early Medean cavalry and how they kept toe-to-toe with the feared Lydian cavalry. Alexander was an excellent cavalry general, but he was not the first to use heavy horse like a battering ram to disrupt formations, to the contrary of popular opinion. The East had utilized columned formations, heavy-boned horse breeds and a similar philosophy of "anvil and hammer" and "tactical charges", at critical points such as flanks, rear and "hinges" between formations (Thymbra), and over a gradual period of time. When Alexander had performed his giant wedge at Gaugamela, his Persian colleague had already cultivated the cataphract to such a degree that over the course of the upcoming thousand years, it would turn into the embodiment of Iranian chivalry, in which parts of it still survives, in the form of "Pahlavān gymnasiums" or Zūrkhānźh (House of Strength).

    So in order to trace the roots of heavy cavalry warfare, we must choose to dismiss outdated theory and dismiss the classicist perception of the origins of heavy cavalry warfare (Usually the consensus in those circles would champion the Early Gothic cavalry, especially after the feat at Adrianople... Or ascribe the title to the Carolingians). John Keegan can go to hell, I like my neck-guard-bearers


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  18. #18
    Ming the Merciless is my idol Senior Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cavalry charge without stirrups?

    Quote Originally Posted by The Persian Cataphract
    Let's go even earlier.
    By all means. I was just a bit pressed for time when I posted that ('net café & 15 min cap), so I went with names people would presumably readily recognise which would also convey the point.

    Also, great stuff. I like learning new details.
    "Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. --- Proof of the existence of the FSM, if needed, can be found in the recent uptick of global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. Apparently His Pastaness is to be worshipped in full pirate regalia. The decline in worldwide pirate population over the past 200 years directly corresponds with the increase in global temperature. Here is a graph to illustrate the point."

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  19. #19
    Member Member Woreczko's Avatar
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    Default Re: Cavalry charge without stirrups?

    One thing worth of notice, is that cavalry doesn`t necessarily need long lances to be effective at charge. Close order heavy horses, which won`t panic in front of the infantry ranks are enough. Sheer weight of horses will do the trick of busting up enemy formation. Swedish cavalry of 30 YW or napoleonic cuiraseeurs were quite effective without possesing any polearms.

    Perhaps ancient cavalry didn`t couch their lances, like medieval knights, but used them in a more relaxed fashion - stabbing from afar.

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