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Thread: Question About Cavalry in General, during Ancient Times

  1. #1

    Default Question About Cavalry in General, during Ancient Times

    Hello,

    I think this question was asked many times before, but I came across this interesting discussion on Roman Army Talk when searching about Gallic Cavalry. The comment that was really enlightening was this one, made by L.C.Cinna (who is also a Citizen in the TWC forums):

    hmm here's something i posted over at onother forum. it's rather disorganized and short but maybe it helps>

    It's a rather complicated thing and there are ongoing discussions about how cavalry charges work in real life. there are several misconceptions, people often get a wrong picture because of some stories and myths and it's hard to test it.

    most ancient cultures used some kind of skrimishing tactics with their cav instead of a "medieval" style. read Josephus description of engagements between Roman cav and the Judaeans or Arrian's description for example. It's skrimishing with javelins and then engaging with swords or stuff like that, chasing fleeing or broken units.

    Not too sure about the actual charge. the cavalry might actually engage at rather slow speed instead of a heavy charge.Modern experiments and texts from Napoleonic times (the closest sources we still have on the actual use of cavalry) show that it's close to impossible to get even a trained horse to run into a mass of people, besides that you don't want to lose a trained horse and resupplyment in the field might be very difficult.

    Note that this tactic of the slow advance and mellee engagement instead of full charges has NOTHING to do with the stirrups myth. You don't need stirrups to fight on horseback or to charge. they are only helpful for horsearchers. The saddle is the important feature in ancient and medieval warfare. Considering that the Macedonian cavalry didn't use saddles you can actually exclude the possibility of a real charge. They proably used to get into close range fast and then used to advance slowly wearing the enemy down with their long lances. To counter something like that is hard enough for an infantryman. I don't think Alexander's cavalry was able to perform something coming close to what usually is understood as a charge.

    The Roman and Parthian cavalry (talking about around 100bce onwards) performed much better and where able to outperform any other cavalry because of the horned saddles they used. These saddles are not as strong in the back as medieval saddles were but they allow to charge cavalry and fight mellee with swords or spears very well. Note that it's the same for medieval warfare, the saddle is the important thing, you don't even use the stirrups for the charge.
    Still as I said above, you can't force a horse to run into a group of people.
    Now, general knowledge tells us that the Hetairoi were skilled lancers, well able to charge at infantry formations with just slight hints of a lack of organization. But I'm really interested in knowing whether it is true that Macedonian Cavalry did not use saddles and whether they resorted to full shock tactics or to the attrition described in the post. I've read somewhere here that the bulky 2h grip as depicted on the EB Hetairoi was also a later invention and that the Alexandrian cavalry used 1h ones, which would be slightly more appropriate for close combat in my knowledge.

    On to the question, did the bulk of the Eastern Heavy Cavalry, and Cavalry in General (such as the Brihentin and Curepos) use saddles during the EB timeframe, or were they a later invention? Any insight would be welcome. Also did their tactics consist of massive charging or more like the engagements mentioned above?
    Last edited by A Terribly Harmful Name; 12-28-2008 at 03:08.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Question About Cavalry in General, during Ancient Times

    I am no expert on this subject, but can say for sure that there are several elements of that post you quoted which are hotly disputed. The most controversial being the slow advance. In fact the last time a thread like this popped up the majority view from the "experts" was that powerful cavalry charges were a reality not a myth in ancient times.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Question About Cavalry in General, during Ancient Times

    I know, that's why I ask.

  4. #4
    Sharp/Charismatic/Languorous Member Novellus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Question About Cavalry in General, during Ancient Times

    Quote Originally Posted by Basileos ton Ellenon View Post
    I've read somewhere here that the bulky 2h grip as depicted on the EB Hetairoi was also a later invention and that the Alexandrian cavalry used 1h ones, which would be slightly more appropriate for close combat in my knowledge.
    I got smacked in the face for thinking that the Makedonian Hetairoi commonly used the two-handed grip.

    https://forums.totalwar.org/vb/showthread.php?t=110724

    The arguments made were that it would take near-perfect horsemanship in order to utilize a two-handed grip. And many of the depictions I've seen of the Hetairoi seem to show the lance couched in only one arm while the other was used for steering. I'm sure The Persian Cataphract and Meinpanzer will comment. They seem very knowledgeable in this area.
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    Ming the Merciless is my idol Senior Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Question About Cavalry in General, during Ancient Times

    At least the original technique for the xyston can't really be termed "couching", as AFAIK that refers to the nifty trick of trapping the shaft in the armpit a bit behind the actual grip point. The Mac technique seems to have been to hold the weapon "low and back" at about hip level with just the hand.

    Anyway, unlike the Central Asian kontos the xyston was light enough to be used that way; the big eastern "barge pole" needed two hands to support and control the weight. The downside seems to have been that the xyston broke way easier due to being thinner, but then, sticking a spare spearhed at the other end for that occasion was hardly a new trick in the Greek equestrian arsenal.

    Be that as it may, the Companions fought in deep and rather dense wedges with long lances and entirely without anything that could be used as a missile weapon; every aspect of that seriously screams "dedicated shock tactics".
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    Sharp/Charismatic/Languorous Member Novellus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Question About Cavalry in General, during Ancient Times

    Quote Originally Posted by Watchman View Post
    At least the original technique for the xyston can't really be termed "couching", as AFAIK that refers to the nifty trick of trapping the shaft in the armpit a bit behind the actual grip point. The Mac technique seems to have been to hold the weapon "low and back" at about hip level with just the hand.
    I guess I learn something new everyday!

    I actually have a few questions along these lines to ask anyway. When it comes to cavalrymen armed with the xyston, how effective was the "low and back" technique used by the Makedonian Hetairoi versus the "couching" as we would see used by say, a medieval knight?

    Also, how much damage did horses suffer from impact? There is some armor on the horses, but still it's possible to break limbs from colliding into enemy soldiers (even from behind).
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    Ming the Merciless is my idol Senior Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Question About Cavalry in General, during Ancient Times

    I don't think big horses on the average suffer more than minor bruises when they collide with a lone human. They're big animals with strong bones, decently thick hides and lots of muscle.

    Anyway, at least the couching technique used in the Middle Ages flat out required the presence of both a relatively specialised war-saddle and stirrups to keep the horseman seated (the Europeans developed these into very distinctive and specialised forms over time); the whole point of the technique is to push up the "break point" where the lance starts sliding back in the user's grip and is no longer being driven into the target by the momentum of the rider-horse combination, ie. where the impact power begins to go to waste. Obviously, that requires some "technological assist" for the rider to not simply slide over the animal's back as there's no way he can grip its flanks with his legs hard enough...

    Thus, not really an option for the Classical lancers who in the beginning didn't even have saddles to work with. Also, I understand the "low and back" grip has the benefit that it's relatively easy to extract the weapon from the target after impact by rotating the arm up and back.
    "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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    Arrogant Ashigaru Moderator Ludens's Avatar
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    Lightbulb Re: Question About Cavalry in General, during Ancient Times

    L.C. Cinna actually posted that in a discussion on the TWC EB forum.

    Quote Originally Posted by Watchman View Post
    Thus, not really an option for the Classical lancers who in the beginning didn't even have saddles to work with. Also, I understand the "low and back" grip has the benefit that it's relatively easy to extract the weapon from the target after impact by rotating the arm up and back.
    Out of interest, what kind of saddles do the Hetairoi and other Hellenic shock cavalry use in EB? Are they also using four-horned saddles?
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  9. #9

    Default Re: Question About Cavalry in General, during Ancient Times

    Yes he does mention of it as beimng previously posted elsewhere, thanks for the insight.

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    Sharp/Charismatic/Languorous Member Novellus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Question About Cavalry in General, during Ancient Times

    Quote Originally Posted by Ludens View Post
    L.C. Cinna actually posted that in a discussion on the TWC EB forum.

    I had no idea that this discussion has taken place so many times already! What a mess!
    My Balloon! -Strategos Alexandros- "What to do with the Epeirotes?"

    Why did the Romans fall?

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  11. #11

    Default Re: Question About Cavalry in General, during Ancient Times

    Quote Originally Posted by Ludens View Post
    L.C. Cinna actually posted that in a discussion on the TWC EB forum.



    Out of interest, what kind of saddles do the Hetairoi and other Hellenic shock cavalry use in EB? Are they also using four-horned saddles?
    During the EB timeframe Greek and Macedonian cavalry, according to the evidence (with one or two exceptions), seem to have used saddle blankets only.

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    Ming the Merciless is my idol Senior Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Question About Cavalry in General, during Ancient Times

    Well, that was around Alexander's time anyway. At which point the Thracians and Persians were apparently already starting to adopt the early frame-saddle from the Scythians. Given that it's a fairly helpful little item - what with increasing the comfort of both horse and rider and distributing the weight better across the mount's back, hence allowing heavier armour to be worn without wearing on the beast too much, and certainly doesn't hurt riding stability either - one would find it rather odd if the Successors hadn't picked it up in short order too.

    I know the Germans refused to use saddles for really rather silly machoBS reasons, but the Hellenics AFAIK didn't have those going when it came to horse harness. Especially the more equestrian ones.

    The four-horn saddle was more of a Celtic thing, wasn't it ? I recall seeing it mentioned that the way the things allowed you to "leverage" with your thighs and hips was useful for Crassus' Gallic horse at Carrhae in their rather doomed struggle with the Parthian cataphracts (who used less leaborate saddles) - since their weapon kit didn't make much of an impression, they apparently went for grappling...
    "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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  13. #13

    Default Re: Question About Cavalry in General, during Ancient Times

    Quote Originally Posted by Watchman View Post
    Well, that was around Alexander's time anyway. At which point the Thracians and Persians were apparently already starting to adopt the early frame-saddle from the Scythians. Given that it's a fairly helpful little item - what with increasing the comfort of both horse and rider and distributing the weight better across the mount's back, hence allowing heavier armour to be worn without wearing on the beast too much, and certainly doesn't hurt riding stability either - one would find it rather odd if the Successors hadn't picked it up in short order too.
    Only the evidence doesn't really support this. I only know of one source that unambiguously shows a Hellenistic cavalryman with a saddle, a 2nd c. BC stele from Apollonia, and concurrent with this we find depictions of cavalrymen unambiguously riding with saddlecloth only. It's a difficult subject to investigate because much of the time artists either omitted the riding equipment altogether or it is covered by some object (usually a large shield).

    I know the Germans refused to use saddles for really rather silly machoBS reasons,
    What source(s) is this based on?

    The four-horn saddle was more of a Celtic thing, wasn't it ? I recall seeing it mentioned that the way the things allowed you to "leverage" with your thighs and hips was useful for Crassus' Gallic horse at Carrhae in their rather doomed struggle with the Parthian cataphracts (who used less leaborate saddles) - since their weapon kit didn't make much of an impression, they apparently went for grappling...
    I don't know when the Celts are supposed to have adopted the four-horned saddle, but Parthians probably had them by the 2nd-1st c. BC according to a fresco from Old Nisa.

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    Default Re: Question About Cavalry in General, during Ancient Times

    Quote Originally Posted by MeinPanzer View Post
    What source(s) is this based on?
    Caesar, De Bello Gallico(sp?)...? I understand he observes the German mounted warriors thought saddles a "crutch" unbecoming and unworthy of a true horseman.

    Only the evidence doesn't really support this. I only know of one source that unambiguously shows a Hellenistic cavalryman with a saddle, a 2nd c. BC stele from Apollonia, and concurrent with this we find depictions of cavalrymen unambiguously riding with saddlecloth only. It's a difficult subject to investigate because much of the time artists either omitted the riding equipment altogether or it is covered by some object (usually a large shield).
    Nevermind now the man's assorted body parts, clothes, armour etc. getting in the way. Most artists probably wouldn't have bothered, certainly, but that's not very useful one way or another. You don't happen to know of any archeology that might shed light on the subject ?
    Last edited by Watchman; 12-28-2008 at 21:45.
    "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: Question About Cavalry in General, during Ancient Times

    Quote Originally Posted by Watchman View Post
    Nevermind now the man's assorted body parts, clothes, armour etc. getting in the way. Most artists probably wouldn't have bothered, certainly, but that's not very useful one way or another. You don't happen to know of any archeology that might shed light on the subject ?
    With some sources the artist clearly is knowledgeable about what he is representing and we have all reason to think that he was not omitting any details. I don't know of any studies that have been published on this matter, so a survey of the depictions of Hellenistic cavalrymen in art would be necessary.

    A good area of study is northwestern Asia Minor, because we have so many funerary stelae of cavalrymen from this region. The one depiction that I know of that shows a Galatian cavalryman (on a Bithynian tombstone from the 2nd c. BC) shows some kind of round saddlecloth or rudimentary saddle without any horns, while three contemporary stelae of Bithynian cavalrymen (who were entirely hellenized by the late 3rd c. BC), one of which is very detailed, show simple saddlecloths and nothing more. From a wider chronological and geographical range, we have, for instance, the depiction of a Hellenistic battle scene on a painted cup from Begram, probably deriving from a 2nd c. BC Ptolemaic source, and a 3rd c. BC funerary stele from Alexandria, both of which which are very detailed but only show saddlecloths in use.

  16. #16

    Default Re: Question About Cavalry in General, during Ancient Times

    https://forums.totalwar.org/vb/showthread.php?t=110573


    I asked this not too long ago, maybe some useful comments in there.

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    Default Re: Question About Cavalry in General, during Ancient Times

    Quote Originally Posted by Watchman View Post
    Anyway, at least the couching technique used in the Middle Ages flat out required the presence of both a relatively specialized war-saddle and stirrups to keep the horseman seated .
    As demonstrated below (Image from Marcus Junkelmann "Die Reiter Roms" Band 3), couching does not require stirrups, the four horned saddle alone is sufficient. Theoretically ancient lancers could have used it. The pose of one Roman horseman on the early imperial arc of orange can be interpreted as using the couching technique.


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    Default Re: Question About Cavalry in General, during Ancient Times

    Ah well, scratch the "stirrup" part then; apparently the four-horned saddle gives a solid enough grip. Doesn't mean stirrups aren't helpful for it though; the distinctive very long stirrups and high saddle cantles of Medieval knights developed specifically to allow "bracing" with the legs against the impact, and given that even remotely widespread appereance of the technique in military use seems to have followed the adoption of stirrups, I wouldn't dismiss the idea they're necessary to make it worth the trouble and training effort.
    "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

    Default Re: Question About Cavalry in General, during Ancient Times

    I see I'm quoted here lol

    well I have to say, this is just my opinion based mainly on Junkelmann, some ancient battle descriptions, some art and some thinking.

    I didn't want to say that charges were impossible just that most of the time they might have looked different than people often imagine, especially concerning troops without saddles (like the Macedonians i mentioned). Of course there are ppl who can ride very well without saddles, or with ordinary saddles and I guess these ppl would as well be able to charge at someone, just not as effectively as with the horned or high back saddles because they lack stability. It also needs much more energy because you'd have to work more with your legs to stay on the horse. So fighting without such saddles is probably much more tireing (I haven't tested it myself but could ask some ppl who have tried both)

    Charges against solid infantry formations seem rare, or, like in the case from the Jewish war I mentioned, worked because the infantry broke before contact.

    Another thing I wrote there (btw I discussed this topic in several other threads as well lol, not always the same post of course ). In the quoted post I made a little mistake (or actually left something out). I said that stirrups are only useful for archers, which is not true as they are of great use in melee as well as you can lean more easily sidewards than without.
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    Ming the Merciless is my idol Senior Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Question About Cavalry in General, during Ancient Times

    I've actually seen it argued stirrups are on the whole actually more useful for mounted sword-swinging than lance-charging. Not entirely convinced that checks out, though, at least unconditionally - Medieval Middle Easterners and the Moors were anything but shy of ferocious hand-to-hand combat despite riding with short stirrups, while the distinctive equestrian equipement of period European heavy cavalry (the light horse didn't normally use it) seems to have been very intimately connected with their focusing on the couched-lance charge as the end-all be-all of mounted spear use. (The technique was known and used in the Middle East too - around the Crusades the Arabs apparently called it "Syrian attack" - but wasn't similarly overdominant, doubtless due to the less "linear" character of field combat in the region.)

    On a more general benefit, stirrups apparently rather reduce rider fatigue as he doesn't need to grip the horse with his legs all the time.
    Last edited by Watchman; 12-29-2008 at 21:59.
    "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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    Arrogant Ashigaru Moderator Ludens's Avatar
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    Lightbulb Re: Question About Cavalry in General, during Ancient Times

    Thank you for the answers, MeinPanzer and Watchman.
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    Default Re: Question About Cavalry in General, during Ancient Times

    The extent to which cavalry can and can't do variour things are very difficult to judge. I was reminded of this in the shower today when I was pondering whether or not Successor pikemen were armoured or not. I was thinking that they cannot have been overly vulnerable to missiles because they would never have sttod their ground.

    Then I was reminded of the Napolionic wars.

    Without knowing the level of training the men and horses had we can't know what they were capable of. It's possible that the horses were trained to charge home into semi-solid objects until they stopped baulking. It's also possible that the lancers themselves trained exhaustively in not sliding off their mounts at the point of contact.
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