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heavy cavalry engaging heavy cavalry
#1
Cavalry has always played a very secondary role in the classic-era warfare, but gained greater importance in the late antiquity, especially when the Eastern Roman Empire had to fight against Sassanians and Central Asian steppe nomads.
In many battles, engagements between light cavalry with heavy infantry, heavy calvary with heavy infantry, light cavalry against heavy calvary were described, yet there seemed to be relatively few engagements between heavy cavalry against heavy cavalry.

When such a situation happened, what was the typical tactic?
DId the horsemen charge at each other and penetrate each others' ranks with the lances and swords, like in the movies, with the opposite fractions often charging pass each other to regroup of the other side?
Or did the horsemen charge at each other in close formation, and then slow down to a trot when they closed in, where the front ranks would engage in hand-to-hand combat, like in heavy infantry?
Or would one side always try to charge the other on the flanks and the rear, doing everything to avoid head-to-head confrontation?
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#2
like in the movies
Probably not, as you might predict. My guess, based on nothing documentable, is that they would try to hit a flank when they could, bringing force to bear against weakness, hoping to scatter and rout the enemy cavalry. That would give them free rein (heh) to flank and surround that end of the infantry.

From looking at battle diagrams of various infantry + cavalry battles, it seems the first objective of cavalry was to run the other cavalry off and break up their lines, so to speak. But the 300 meter charge across the open field that we see on the screen seems a little silly, and very tiring for the horses. Just as likely would be that they'd begin the charge just after they entered javelin range, hoping to cross through that zone as quickly as possible to get to the task they came to do. That might be only 75 meters or so. I suspect that the other cavalry would charge forward about the time the volleys of javelins found their way to the ground.
M. Demetrius Abicio
(David Wills)

Saepe veritas est dura.
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#3
Well when you look at Byzzie and Sassanid Cataphract warfare, what is commonly recorded is that Horse Archer Cavalry engaged at long range with bows, then retreated into the cataphracts, who would come through the other side of the horsearchers. The horsearchers would then support the cataphracts through missile and lancing attacks. The cataphracts probably would expel any missiles they had, then charge. Flanking attacks are probably ideal.

That's all I know.
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#4
Horses seldom charge into enemies, who are noisy, smelly, freaky and look deadly. They are pretty smart animals, a lot of training is needed even to charge into common spear levies.
Kis György Márk (by western standards, György Márk Kis)

Legio Leonum Valentiniani

http://www.legioleonum.hu
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#5
They will charge though, that much we know. There was a big debate about it on TWC I think, between Renatus, ValentinianVictrix, and someone else.
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#6
Charging through was done, but was considered a desperate method for trapped cavalry to escape (see Arrian, battle of Gaugamela).
Macedon
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George C. K.
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#7
But has there been any documentation or description of hand-to-hand combat between 2 heavy calvary units?

While it is known that cavalrymen, especially in the late Roman/Byzantine period, had been trained to form "cavalry phalanxes", but was it most for the purpose for charging loosely-formed infantry, or confronting another cavlary phalanx?

Did a head-on confrontation between 2 cavlary phalanx ever happen or was it avoided at all cost?
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#8
If you look to the formation of some battles, e.g. Cannae, the job of the cavalry was, to defeat the enemies cavalry and then flank the infantry. So obviously cavalry fighting each other was rather the norm than the exception imho.

Unfortunately, I have no clue, how exactly Hannibals numidian cavalry defeated the roman cavalry at Cannae. Which was the beginning of the desaster.

I remember, that the romans often used mixed forces. So the cavalries job was to just hold the enemies cavalry, until nearby light infantry could close up and slaughter them. Caesar vs. Pompeius was such a fight, if I remember right. Or these famous palaestinian clubmen slaughtering cataphracts in late empire. Or the early german cavalry, which sometimes used 2 men on 1 horse. So the tactics might have been pretty versatile and situational.

And what does cavalry phalanx mean? Imho, it works best with heavy cavalry. But this was rather seldom and low numbers, even in the parthian cavalry or the late roman cavalry. And they always fighted together with horsed archers or light cavlry. Heavy cavalry without light cavalry support was propably just a sitting (dead) duck in ancient times.
Ut desint vires, tamen est laudanda voluntas
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#9
I can't recall any all heavy cavalry battles but I assume there maybe examples of heavy vs light or medium cavalry or mixed. I think heavy cavalry's role was to drive off enemy light units like horse archers & skirmishers etc. & an all heavy cavalry battle seems pointless to me. Besides protecting the flanks of an army from enemy cavalry, speed & mobility are the advantage of cavalry & heavy cavalry horses although probably bigger would tire & becme spectators in a battle or become an easy target for enemy horse archers or lancers. Against a tiring enemy force an attack by fresh heavy cavalry would be devastating so a wise commander would hold them back & keep them fresh till he saw an advantage. How long would a heavy cavalry horse carrying extra weight last against lighter armed & smaller horses swarming around them continually. From Sarmatians to Mongols, steppe armies made extensive use of remounts which probably gave them a big advantage over heavier, but tiring heavy cavalry.
Regards
Michael Kerr
Michael Kerr
"You can conquer an empire from the back of a horse but you can't rule it from one"
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#10
A cavalry phalanx is a quite often met term and is nothing more (in its original context) than a long line of cavalry as opposed to a cavalry formation by squadron, that is squadrons one next to each other with gaps usually as wide as the length of the squadrons. I think that Desmond here means the Roman cavalry chelone (testudo) (Arr.Tactica, ch.16, p.3)

Regarding the physical contact between enemy cavalry units, in the ancient times it was rare tactically, although some instances of single combat did take place. They usually avoided contact since they were missile units and their power lay in their mobility. At Cannae, for example, Polybius is very clear on the fact that the "infantry-like" combat that ensued among the cavalry on the left of the Carthaginian line was not the way they were supposed to be fighting. However, the more cavalry units were armed with cavalry long spears, the more actual hand-to-hand combat between them occurred. Do not forget that most cavalry troops in antiquity were not doratophoroi. It is the Companions of Alexander who are credited as the first actual cavalry shock unit and of course their task was to engage enemy horse and not allow it to act as usual (that is withdraw, regroup, recharge). In much later years, doratophoroi were much more common.

So, wherever you see cavalry armed with long cavalry spears, you have actual hand-to-hand combat. Wherever you have javeliners (even heavily armed) you have skirmishing action with a few, usually, single exhibits of courage that ended in hand-to-hand combat. Yet, rarely, javeliner cavalry would charge into an enemy cavalry formation (examples are an account of Persian cavalry in Ionia that charged into the Greek cavalry phalanx in column, at Gaugamela, they also did so in an effort to escape, as they were surrounded and of course at Cannae) but, as a tactic, it was considered improper and unconventional.
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George C. K.
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#11
Mention of Palestinian clubmen reminds me of one description of cavalry attacking each other, or attempting to, from Zosimus's Historia Nova, describing Aurelian's Palmyrene campaign:

"(Aurelian) charged his cavalry not to engage immediately with the vigourous cavalry of the Palmyrenians, but to wait for their attack, and then, pretending to fly, to continue so doing until they had wearied both the men and their horses through excess of heat and the weight of their armour; so that they could pursue them no longer. This project succeeded, and as soon as the cavalry of the emperor saw their enemy tired, and that their horses were scarcely able to stand under them, or themselves to move, they drew up the reins of their horses, and, wheeling round, charged them, and trod them under foot as they fell from their horses. By which means the slaugther was promiscuous, some falling by the sword, and others by their own and the enemies' horses."

The order not to 'engage immediately' implies that otherwise this would have been the usual tactic! The Roman cavalry here seem to have been rather more lightly armoured and equipped than their adversaries. Later in the account Zosimus specifically mentions the Equites Dalmatae and Mauri, and implies the presence of the Equites Singulares - so a mix of light and medium cavalry, perhaps.

The following battle went like this:

"At the commencement of the engagement, the Roman cavalry receded, lest the Palmyrenes, who exceeded them in number, and were better horsemen, should by some stratagem surround the Roman army. But the Palmyrene cavalry pursued them so fiercely, though their ranks were broken, that the event was quite contrary to the expectation of the Roman cavalry. For they were pursued by an enemy much their superior in strength, and therefore most of them fell. The foot had to bear the brunt of the action."

'The foot' in this case including the aforementioned clubmen, who deal with the cataphracts. The initial tactic is a bit obscure, but it sounds like the Romans feared being flanked by the Palmyrenes, so drew the cavalry back behind (?) the infantry flank - the Palmyrenes followed this up with a quick charge and turned the tactical retreat into a rout. Either way, we seem to have cavalry deliberately pitted against cavalry here.

Source: Zosimus, Historia Nova, Book 1
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#12
Quote:Cavalry has always played a very secondary role in the classic-era warfare, but gained greater importance in the late antiquity, especially when the Eastern Roman Empire had to fight against Sassanians and Central Asian steppe nomads.
In many battles, engagements between light cavalry with heavy infantry, heavy calvary with heavy infantry, light cavalry against heavy calvary were described, yet there seemed to be relatively few engagements between heavy cavalry against heavy cavalry.

When such a situation happened, what was the typical tactic?
DId the horsemen charge at each other and penetrate each others' ranks with the lances and swords, like in the movies, with the opposite fractions often charging pass each other to regroup of the other side?
Or did the horsemen charge at each other in close formation, and then slow down to a trot when they closed in, where the front ranks would engage in hand-to-hand combat, like in heavy infantry?
Or would one side always try to charge the other on the flanks and the rear, doing everything to avoid head-to-head confrontation?

IIRC, Constantine defeated Maxentius' heavy cav. by parting his lines, allowing them to ride through the center, and then pulling his own wing cavalry to the back to surround them. I remember reading that he equipped his horse with iron-tipped clubs to beat the opposing cataphracti. I can't remember what battle this was though.
There are some who call me ......... Tim?
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#13
Milvan Bridge?
M. Demetrius Abicio
(David Wills)

Saepe veritas est dura.
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#14
Quote:I remember reading that he equipped his horse with iron-tipped clubs to beat the opposing cataphracti. I can't remember what battle this was though.

This was at the battle of Turin, with Constantine opposing Maxentius's clibanarii. It isn't clear whether the club-armed troops are cavalry or infantry though - Panegyric IV of Nazarius implies that Constantine was leading his own 'mailed cavalry' and opened ranks to draw the enemy in, but isn't clear about the identity of the clubmen!
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#15
IIRC (hazy memory from college) the panegyric speaks of Maxentius' cavalry, which normally would be "invulnerable", being beak and on the head and falling off their horses, which would imply that Constantine's mailed cavalry were using the clubs. That is also consistent with the tactical situation of Constantine pulling his cavalry from the wings to come around behind his line and surround Maxentius' heavy cavalry.
There are some who call me ......... Tim?
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