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Thread: Origins of the Cantabrian Circle

  1. #1
    Clear the battlefield... Member Tarkus's Avatar
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    Default Origins of the Cantabrian Circle

    Been doing a bit of research on this topic. All information points to its origins in the Cantabri region of Hispania...hence its name . Hadrian and others note how the Romans adopted it for their own use after the Cantabrian wars.

    Given this accepted far-western location for the tactic's origins -- how did the eastern steppe factions come up with the maneuver? Do we know from ancient accounts that they actually employed it in their own battle tactics? For example, any mention of its use in the accounts of Alexander's eastward expansion? Did the Romans see it in their Parthian/Mithridatic Wars?

    It's a tactic that's simple enough in its own right...perhaps it was developed spontaneously across cultures through the years?

    Please enlighten me...
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    EB TRIBVNVS PLEBIS Member MarcusAureliusAntoninus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Origins of the Cantabrian Circle

    It is probably one of those things that existed in many different places but the Roman terminology became the one known today. It is quite common for something to be named after the place it was first seen rather than the place of origin or even place where it is most common.


  3. #3

    Default Re: Origins of the Cantabrian Circle

    As far as Alexander's campaigns against the Scythian tribes, we know that they preferred to surround their enemy. Other than that I'm not positive.

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    Ming the Merciless is my idol Senior Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Origins of the Cantabrian Circle

    That's a standard "steppe envelopement" tactic. Anyway, the tactic or something very close to it is a logical and intuitive enough one for mounted skirmishers and thus nigh certain to have been extremely common wherever such cavalry now was found - the Romans just named it after the first large-scale users *they* met, much like the ubiquitous "Parthian" shot.
    "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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    Clear the battlefield... Member Tarkus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Origins of the Cantabrian Circle

    Thanks for your thoughts on this, guys...makes total sense. I would indeed suspect that the steppe armies would have come up with this quite independently of -- and earlier than -- their western counterparts.
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    Member Member Cyclops's Avatar
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    Default Re: Origins of the Cantabrian Circle

    The Skythian approach seems a sensible one for long-ranged missile-armed cav. I have a vague memory of rifle-armed Native American horse tribes using the Skythian tactic of "a bloody big circle firing on the move" (as opposed to the smaller Cantabrian circle). This was from a real military history source not a shoddy John Wayne piece-o-crap movie but I cannot for the life of me recall where.

    Perhaps the smaller Cantabrian circle (which cycles around itself adjacent to the enemy) is more suited to the western situation of relatively small cavalry forces using javelins, remaining in a more constrained area to remain in contact with foot formations (ie not straying too far from the inf). It might also reflect the profile of the javelin as a weapon with shorter range, perhaps taking longer to re-load and reset for the attack: the javelin cast only needs a short time (sector of the circle) to be "live" and its better to be out of range of counterfire for the rest of the cycle.

    Contrast the Skythian profile: a "big circle" (ie surround the enemy, not cycle away beside them) suiting a higher proportion of horsemen used to fluid engagement so they are happy to be strung out over a wider area and not afraid of seperating up so much. The "big circle" might give more opportunity for a desirable "rear shot".

    It would make most sense against an inf heavy enemy than another nomad army, because the side profile of a horse would be a bigger target for another HA foe than head on.

    The Skythian circle could also leave the rider in range of the enemy for extended periods: I wonder if the bow has a better rate of fire? Certainly they can carry more ammo. I think the Skythian encircling tactic would have a far greater morale effect too. "I got signals. I got readings, in front and behind!" More scary than "hey, they look like a merry-go-round only pointy".

    Just speculatin'.
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    Ming the Merciless is my idol Senior Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Origins of the Cantabrian Circle

    There's also the detail European battlefields more often than not were somewhat cramped if not downright claustrophobic - there was usually only so much maneuvering space available before you bluntly ran out of room and hit a river, dense forest, rugged terrain or any of the numerous other obstacles that invariably formed the edges of the battlefield and tended to make getting around the enemy line something of a challenge.

    There being a reason why European warfare patterns were so concentrated on the direct frontal clash...
    "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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    Xsaēapāvan é Skudra Member Atraphoenix's Avatar
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    Default Re: Origins of the Cantabrian Circle

    I mostly do not use this formation. Square, loose formation is more effective for HAS.
    against phalanx from rear 2 lines in close formation is a good tactic.
    CC is worth trying against another HA, but AI also uses it two HAs circling around like crazy
    But I must confess, I can watch them for hours cos , it is a wonderful scene especially you face the enemy from front with infantry and rear with 4 - 6 HAs circling around.
    Last edited by Atraphoenix; 05-21-2009 at 10:38.



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    AtB n00b Member chairman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Origins of the Cantabrian Circle

    Actually, as regards Alexander's encounter with the Skythians, Luke Ueda-Sarson has a theory that instead of the Skythians circling around the entire Makedonian force, they instead rode in small "Cantabrian Circles". This is based on what he says is an anamoly in the original source concerning the word for "circle". He suggests that the passage should be read with smaller circles in mind.

    Either way, the "Cantabrian circle is most likely just the logical result of missile armed cavarly tactical evolution. It is possible that multiple cultures independently developed the tactic or that it dates back to the period of the original Indo-European migrations, specifically those of the Iranian nomad peoples. If so, then this would square with one theory concerning the origin of the Celts, namely that in the pre-Halstatt period, nomadic migrations from the European steppe into Central Europe heavily influenced the creation of the "Celtic" ethnos. For instance, the Celtic fascination with horses, gold, movable property (livestock, treasure, etc.) and certain religious similarities. If this is true, then the Cantabrians, being of Celtic stock originally, would have inherited their equestrian practices from their early PIE ancestors.

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    Marzbān-ī Jundīshāpūr Member The Persian Cataphract's Avatar
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    Default Re: Origins of the Cantabrian Circle

    It served obviously as a tactic which bolstered defence by mobility, multi-directional archery, and could have been "economically positive" in adjusting firing rates (Support archery from the back release in organized volleys, while these circling light horse fire from all possible frontal angles); with such a military philosophy in mind, the mobile nature of this doctrine would also allow for riskier tactical movements, such as treading forth for an even clearer shot... Or as a lure, in order to retreat with a parting shot (The "Parthian Shot" as given by the Classics). Foremostly, the formation creates a dust which is difficult to screen to the opposing party. We can allude several lessons from the battle of Carrhae, with sun gleaming on the cataphract armour and the dust which the horse-archers kicked up in their feigned retreat. Immensely important tactical tidbits.

    The downside, as we must take into account, for any mounted unit organized and fitted without stirrups or at least the Sassanian-type saddle, are two-fold: Fatigue, no matter how hardy the Iranian light horse were, was always a liability. Second of all, perhaps even more dangerous, heat-loss, and cold-legs. Eventually, it could get so bad that the knees which nomads were famous to use in order to steer their mounts, without having to use their reins or a whip, could be incapacitated. Now of course, light cavalry tend to be quite agile and move around a lot, riding side- or even back-saddle... But in the tactical end of the matter, cavalry of any type is always more time-sensitive than infantry. This is largely in due to the eventual unpredictability of the horse itself, and its conditioning.

    The origins... Well, obviously, we can be quite confident in that the tactic is about as old as the adoption of the horse in steppe warfare, and over time refined into a tactic suitable for light horse armed with bows and/or javelins. After all, what use is a hundred horse-archers, costing several times more than a hundred foot-archers if their tactical span are identical? Foot-archers fire in volleys or platoons because they are limited in their role; horse-archers firing entirely in organized volleys seems rather incongruent with their mobile nature, and does not fit historical reality.


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  11. #11
    Ming the Merciless is my idol Senior Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Origins of the Cantabrian Circle

    Steppe horse-archers (and for that matter, most light javelin-armed skirmishers in other locales AFAIK) usually seem to operate as "clouds" of skirmishers if most accounts are to be believed (not that they are necessarily all that accurate and/or insightful...). Well, it's not like that wasn't a perfectly workable approach to it...
    "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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    EBII Bricklayer Member V.T. Marvin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Origins of the Cantabrian Circle

    Quote Originally Posted by Watchman View Post
    Steppe horse-archers (and for that matter, most light javelin-armed skirmishers in other locales AFAIK) usually seem to operate as "clouds" of skirmishers if most accounts are to be believed (not that they are necessarily all that accurate and/or insightful...). Well, it's not like that wasn't a perfectly workable approach to it...
    That, however, raises the question, whether it would be possible to give the horde (or mob or whatever they called it) formation (as the vanilla peasants had) as default formation to these light HAs and HSkirmishers rather than the regular rectanguar one? Cantabrian circle would of course remain as their "special" formation.
    What would the effects be? Is such formation even available to horse units? I really do not know, it just occured to me that it might be nice...

  13. #13
    Ming the Merciless is my idol Senior Member Watchman's Avatar
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    Default Re: Origins of the Cantabrian Circle

    I did test that once, a long time ago. Pain in the ass, it turned out, as the RTW "horde" formation is a nightmare to maneuver properly; went back to the "ragged square" default as a much more user-friendly solution withing the hour.

    Plus, it's not like those guys couldn't spread out into loose "skirmish lines" or compact into long snaking columns according to circumstances, after all. They may not have been formally drilled, but they did get a lot of all kinds of practice in group maneuvers and their open order leaves a lot of room for individual adjustements as needed.
    "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

  14. #14
    Clear the battlefield... Member Tarkus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Origins of the Cantabrian Circle

    Good reading, guys...the last handful of posts makes me wonder just how frequently various formations were used as tactical elements on the ancient battlefield, and under what conditions they were best employed.

    chairman -- interesting reference to Luke Ueda-Sarson...I found his website. Who is this guy? How did you find him?

    I know it's a little outdated and it's focused on M2TW, but this thread has a detalied discussion of Cantabrian circle use and more general tactics. Perhaps relevant to this evolving discussion...
    I have seen the future and it is very much like the present, only longer -- Kehlog Albran, The Profit

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    EBII Bricklayer Member V.T. Marvin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Origins of the Cantabrian Circle

    Thank you Watchman, I am glad that someone actually tested that formation. You are right, it is much better as it is now. Case closed.
    Sorry for off-topic diversion.

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