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Old May 18th, 2013, 09:48 AM   #1

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Roman Cavalry


The Roman cavalry get a lot of stick, and I often come across scholars and fans of history that say they made poor cavalrymen, especially due to some of the heavy defeats they suffered during the Second Punic War (namely the Trebia and Cannae) - and that by the first century BC, perhaps by Caesar's day, Roman Citizen cavalry had been virtually 'abandoned' in favor of allied cavalry.

Some argue that this is because they were generally poor cavalry - yet I don't agree - Roman citizen cavalry performed well in a number of battles prior to the Second Punic War, and even during that war helped win notable battles, and routed the (generally better regarded) cavalry they faced (Celtic, Spanish and Numidian) during those engagements.

What is your opinion on Roman citizen cavalry? Do you think they were bad cavalry, man-for-man, compared to the enemy, or not, and why do you think they were gradually phased out?

(apologies if this has been done to death!)

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Old May 18th, 2013, 09:57 AM   #2

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The Republican era is your speciality, mark, but speaking for the Imperial era, I would say the Roman cavalry was hardly inadequate. By the reign of Hadrian, there may have been as many as 40,000 cavalrymen on the rolls of the army, and they included auxiliary horse-archers and cataphracts, as well as standard units whose equipment was a mixture of Italic and Celtic styles.

Sometimes a historical unit or troop-type will get a nasty stigma attached to it, because of its conduct at one battle or during one certain campaign. Such is the case of the Roman cavalry in regards to battles like those you mention; its hardly fair when we consider that the very same cavalry fought in countless forgotten engagements with Celtic, Spanish, and African tribesmen, as well as Hellenistic kingdoms, and more often than not, was on the winning side.

The cavalry was not the decisive arm in the ancient Roman military, either in Republican or Imperial days. But I don't believe they were noticeably inferior, or deserve the bad rap they've gotten.

Just my two cents
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Old May 18th, 2013, 10:05 AM   #3

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Thanks for your input, Salah. 40,000 cavalry, that is quite an arm!
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Old May 18th, 2013, 11:04 AM   #4
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I believe the practice of recruiting Roman citizen cavalry was phased out for the same reasons that the pre-Marian legion eventually disappeared: it was no longer worth the trouble to recruit cavalry from citizens as Rome by that time had an extensive Empire from which more natural cavalrymen could be drawn. The old-style legion with hastati, principes, triarii also fell out of use gradually as less property-owning men (from which the Roman cavalry were also recruited) were available to serve, because of losses in combat and reluctance to participate in dangerous foreign wars.
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Old May 18th, 2013, 11:25 AM   #5
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Roman cav wasn't that good compared to their enemies cav. I read in a book (don't remeber its name) that the romans didn't use cav that much and did not see it's value (pre-marian). So when they faced cataphracts and other fun cav units they were completely destroyed. They then started to recruit better cavalry and used it much more. Under the reign of the republic they recruited foreign cav (germanic, gaulic, numidian) when rome was an empire they recuited cataphracts, if I haven't got my facts wrong.

Last edited by WinterIsComing; May 18th, 2013 at 11:34 AM.
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Old May 18th, 2013, 01:39 PM   #6

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I would agree with Salah. The Roman cavalry wasn't necessary bad (it wasn't great either) but it was good in parts. The Romans always had the mindset of focusing on the legions. The infantry was the arm that would prosecute the major battles, and the infantry was the arm whereby people could gain recognition and advancement. Cavalymen were paid more money than a legionairre, on average though.

What the Romans did so ever so well though, was to adopt - and many times adapt - military techniques that they had learned from their enemies. The Roman cavalrymen copied numerous mounted techniques after fighting the Cantabrians in Spain.

The Romans also recognised where their advantages and disadvantages lay, also. Allied legions were always the same as Roman ones (numerically) but they had a substantially bigger cavalry contingent, which recognises a key area where the allies could help them.
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Old May 18th, 2013, 02:04 PM   #7
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At Romes height, how big were they?
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Old May 18th, 2013, 02:26 PM   #8

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gorge123 View Post
At Romes height, how big were they?
Click the image to open in full size.
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Old May 18th, 2013, 02:28 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mangekyou View Post
Click the image to open in full size.
Sorry I meant how big were their Calvary forces.
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Old May 18th, 2013, 02:34 PM   #10

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________________________________________________ That big!!!
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