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Thread: How were the Hetairoi used (And other heavy cavalry)?

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    Default How were the Hetairoi used (And other heavy cavalry)?

    Now, from my readings across the internet and such (I know, such wonderful sources) it seems that cavalry wasn't really used for "shock" like we see in RTW and ALL of its mods, including EB. What I mean by this is a block of cavalry moving together, lowering their lances and plowing into the enemy infantry (usually in a vulnerable state), letting the lance pierce a man or two and the horse plowing over the rest, causing instantaneous rout.

    Now, from what I hear horses were reluctant to charge into a solid block of infantry (even a less solid formation, perhaps?) so how did Alexander and others put these magnificent troops to use, other than other Cavalry to Cavalry fighting and chasing routers/ spread out troops? Were the Hetairoi ever used to plow into even loose infantry formations? What DID commanders do with their cavalry?

    Also, how would Hetairoi approach and enemy fleeing them? Did they ever use an overhand spear motion?


    PS: I don't just mean this for Hetairoi, any civilizations cavalry is up for grabs, but the most pressing question to me is Hetairoi.. (In NO way do I doubt their potency, I just.. want to be further enlightened on how these elite troops did their business so effectivly)
    Last edited by mikil100; 12-17-2008 at 04:12.

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    Back door bandit Member Apgad's Avatar
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    Default Re: How were the Hetairoi used (And other heavy cavalry)?

    Steven Pressfield has written a novel about Alexander, and it seems he's done quite a bit of research into the use of cavalry in that period. I read it over a year ago now, but one point I remember is that horses tend to go wherever the herd goes. So only the horses at the front of the formation will see the spear points ahead. The other horses will follow where they're led.

    That was a good read actually, I might get that one again.
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    Ming the Merciless is my idol Senior Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Default Re: How were the Hetairoi used (And other heavy cavalry)?

    Close-combat cavalry is next to impotent when faced with a solid, unwavering wall of infantry in close order. (There *are* ways to get horses to charge even such, but AFAIK they're anything but reliable and don't seem to have worked too often. Although I'm under the impression some of the later cataphract types got around that by *walking* their horses into contact and simply slowly hacking their way into the ranks by the virtue of brute superior mass and armour...) Which is why it has always by preference attacked weakened and/or wavering formations, unformed flanks and rears instead, where the quirks of horse psychology don't get in the way of driving the momentum home.

    The usual "division of labour" was really to have foot engage foot and horse engage horse, and the victorious cavalrymen then hopefully remembering to reform and come back to attack the preoccupied enemy infantry in the flank thus precipitating a wholesale rout. The "Alexandrian" tactical system, with pikemen holding the center line and heavy strike cavalry delivering the decisive blow on either flank (the other wing was usually left to lighter cavalry with orders to keep on the defensive and keep enemy horsemen from turning the flanks of the pikemen), is really a pretty purebred example.
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    Member Member geala's Avatar
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    Default Re: How were the Hetairoi used (And other heavy cavalry)?

    Heavy cavalry were indeed used as shock troops charging against the enemy. At least this is told us in the sources. How exactly this was done remains far less clear.

    What is seemingly more or less accepted in the meantime is that the stirrup had no great impact on cavalry attack performance. I think brutal frontal attacks against dense infantry formations were the exception, in the ancient world as well as in the Middle Ages. If you attacked formations from the side or back or you attacked already shaken and wavering formations cavalry shock attacks could be extremely effective. Alexanders move with the cavalry parallel to the Persian lines at Gaugamela for example was imho made to create a gap in the front lines to attack at a weak point. In the 3rd c. the importance of the cavalry decreased in the Hellenistic world when the successor states more and more relied on huge phalanx blocks but nevertheless good generals (Hannibal f.e.) used cavalry extremely well. Normally the victory depended more on the number and quality of cavalry than of infantry.
    Last edited by geala; 12-17-2008 at 10:35.
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    Default Re: How were the Hetairoi used (And other heavy cavalry)?

    Hmm. Well it seems people have some-what different views on Cavalry. I already knew Alexanders "Hammer and Anvil" tactics, I just wasn't so sure how he proceeded with his cavalry. I understand that once the cavalry is at the flanks of the infantry it may shake them up a bit, possibly leading to a rout..

    That fact about the horses going with the herd is very intersting- although I wonder how the horse on the frontline manges, haha.

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    Formerly Wigferth Ironwall Senior Member Philippus Flavius Homovallumus's Avatar
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    Default Re: How were the Hetairoi used (And other heavy cavalry)?

    Horses at the gallop will tend to panic, horses in a group will stampede, after a certain point the ones at the front will keep going foward because they are being pushed by those behind.
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    Ming the Merciless is my idol Senior Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Default Re: How were the Hetairoi used (And other heavy cavalry)?

    Although as far as I understand you can't make the rear-ranker horses bodily "push" those in front of themselves the way infantrymen quite commonly did. Heck, the poor beasts would be squeezing their windpipes against the rather noticeably bony and muscular hind bits of their mates, and probably ramming their muzzles into the backs of the riders...

    I doubt it much improves matters if the riders are sporting pointy things, either. Far as I know even the closest-order cavalry only ever closed in tight by rank, not by file.

    Triggering the animals' stampede instinct is neat when it works, but from what I've read of the lenghty history of cavalry combat that's much more easier said than actually done, requires a reasonably onerous set of prereqs and, frankly, isn't something to bet the farm on by what I know of it.

    Most of the time, cavalry that insisted on charging steady heavy infantry only got a bloody nose for their troubles. This could be quite disastrous if they both formed the primary strike element of the army and were bad at the disengage-and-reform trick - a combination unfortunately common among Medieval chivalry for example.
    "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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    Formerly Wigferth Ironwall Senior Member Philippus Flavius Homovallumus's Avatar
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    Default Re: How were the Hetairoi used (And other heavy cavalry)?

    I wasn't thinking of physical pushing. Even today, soldiers are conditioned to think of "foward" as the path of least resistance.
    "If it wears trousers generally I don't pay attention."


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    Ming the Merciless is my idol Senior Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Default Re: How were the Hetairoi used (And other heavy cavalry)?

    Oh, that. Yeah, that's another matter entirely. If I've understood correctly the effect there really relies more on the rest of the herd blocking the way and keeping the individual beast from veering off course. But, then again, isn't stampeding a sort of offensive employement of mass hysteria for herd grazers? Might cost a few members trying to run over any obstacle to escape, but if the rest survive as a result...

    'Course, humans quite long ago learned to abuse that response to drive whole herds off cliffs or into other traps.
    "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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    Formerly Wigferth Ironwall Senior Member Philippus Flavius Homovallumus's Avatar
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    Default Re: How were the Hetairoi used (And other heavy cavalry)?

    Oh, we're briliant, aren't we? Constantly finding new ways to kill each other and all God's creatures.

    As I said before, I think the "charge" is a controlled stampede as much as anything else.
    "If it wears trousers generally I don't pay attention."


  11. #11
    Ming the Merciless is my idol Senior Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Default Re: How were the Hetairoi used (And other heavy cavalry)?

    Methinks "controlled stampede" is a bit of an oxymoron...

    Not really, by what I know of it. After all most cavalry forces readily enough aborted the attempt if the infantry looked like they'd hold steady - or their horses did it for them. Doesn't quite sound like the single-minded "only way is forward" mentality stampeding herd beasts tend to go into AFAIK.
    "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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    Default Re: How were the Hetairoi used (And other heavy cavalry)?

    Quote Originally Posted by Watchman View Post
    Methinks "controlled stampede" is a bit of an oxymoron...

    Not really, by what I know of it. After all most cavalry forces readily enough aborted the attempt if the infantry looked like they'd hold steady - or their horses did it for them. Doesn't quite sound like the single-minded "only way is forward" mentality stampeding herd beasts tend to go into AFAIK.

    This would ESPECIALLY make sense for Alexander and the Hetairoi, as we know the spears from the phalanx were super important, not just to hold the enemy infantry in place, but think of this. You have two thousand Companions, and maybe even a host of several thousand light infantry, you are a light spearman, you have TWO choices and only two, run deeper into the spear wall, or go in Cavalrys direction. This would maybe cause a massive panic, causing MANY men to push their comrads into the wall of spears, impaling thousands, while the others get trampled by Cavalry. Pretty much what all my sources said, but they didn't specify in detail is much.


    Does this seem correct, this little theory? =P

  13. #13
    Ming the Merciless is my idol Senior Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Default Re: How were the Hetairoi used (And other heavy cavalry)?

    What I've read of it seemed to rather suggest the Persian armies were wont to effectively disintegrate and go home once "decapitated", ie. the King was chased off. Which has always been pretty common with all manners of quasi-feudal arrangements really.

    Anyway, from what I gather it was plenty rare for enemy infantry to actually get trapped between the pikemen and the triumphant Hetairoi strike force - the Greek mercs at Granicus would be around the only example that springs to mind, and that was mostly because they stood their ground after the Persian horse took a hike and basically allowed Alex all the time he needed to get them surrounded. Plus there were few enough of them proper envelopement was actually physically possible.

    Conversely the Persian royal armies were sodding HUGE, which is of course exactly why Alex took the "decapitation" option to defeat them. Had the tried to take out the huge masses of infantry with direct attacks his horsemen would just have been swamped (before Philip's reforms this used to be a real problem for the Macs when dealing with Thracian incursions; their noble cavalry could charge the light barbarian infantry effectively enough, but in the absence of effective infantry of their own for support ran a very serious risk of flat out getting bogged down in and dragged down by the sheer numbers of the enemy). It duly follows that the Macedonian cavalry elements that had penetrated into the Persian rear (to try to kill the High King) in no way had the numbers required to trap the Persian frontline against the pikes, all the more so as they often had to fend off still-cohesive reserve formations on the side. When the Persian infantry line broke and legged it, they for the most part simply streamed around the Hetairoi wedges.

    Not that the Macs' cavalry couldn't thereafter rake up a ghastly body count running down routers of course - light cavalry has always been particularly brutally effective at that - but that's hardly the same.
    "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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    Marzbān-ī Jundīshāpūr Member The Persian Cataphract's Avatar
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    Default Re: How were the Hetairoi used (And other heavy cavalry)?

    That is a slightly simplistic outlook, in particular as far as the battle of Granicus is concerned; the western satrapal forces were apparently in as far as the noble cavalry was concerned, caught up in a vicious melee where each satrap and high noble were taking turns at charging Alexander's cavalry. Needless to say, already at Granicus, Alexander's campaign could have ran short. The idea was iterated at Gaugamela where Bessus lead his heavy Sacae and Bactrian cavalry to charge the Hetairoi. As Alexander wheeled to charge the fresh gap in the Achaemenid formations, we don't really hear that much more about Bessus in that particular battle, and may in fact have staged a premature retreat.

    The Macedonian cavalry did its work simply because their Iranian counter-parts failed in reciprocating sufficiently, and because of differing paradigms between the two belligerents. It could be a number of reasons. Different tactical means, or even the tides of fortune. However, it is disputed that Darius III Codomannus fled the fields at Gaugamela, even if a tactical retreat was staged at Issus to safeguard the possibility of reforming for the next battle.


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    Ming the Merciless is my idol Senior Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Default Re: How were the Hetairoi used (And other heavy cavalry)?

    I've read quite a few writers suggest Bessus may have had certain fairly obvious ulterior motives for, shall we say, not quite "giving it his all" at Gaugamela. Ah, royal power games...
    "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."

    -Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

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