Historum - History Forums  

Go Back   Historum - History Forums > Themes in History > War and Military History
Register Forums Blogs Social Groups Mark Forums Read

War and Military History War and Military History Forum - Warfare, Tactics, and Military Technology over the centuries


Reply
 
LinkBack Thread Tools Display Modes
Old February 15th, 2010, 06:46 AM   #1

Salah's Avatar
Baltimorean
Blog of the Year
 
Joined: Oct 2009
From: Maryland
Posts: 23,284
Blog Entries: 182
The Development of Heavy Cavalry


My recent thread on the early development of stirrups got me to thinking about this...

How much do we know about the early development of heavy cavalry in ancient military forces - particularly those using a lance or heavy spear to unhorse opponents? When and where were the first horses sturdy enought to be used for such tactics bred?

Some of the first truly "heavy cavalry" in history that I am aware of would be the cataphracts of the Scythians, Sarmatians, Persians, Parthians, and some Indo-Iranian people - though I'm thinking that cataphract warfare initially evolved in China in the 4th/3rd Centuries BC.

The Assyrians did have moderately armored cavalry that fought hand-to-hand with spears, but I am thinking the closest thing to heavy cavalry that the ancient Near East had would have been their chariots.
Salah is offline  
Remove Ads
Old February 16th, 2010, 12:50 AM   #2
Suspended indefinitely
 
Joined: Nov 2009
From: Queensland, Australia
Posts: 3,760
Re: The Development of Heavy Cavalry


Quote:
Originally Posted by Salah ad-Din View Post
My recent thread on the early development of stirrups got me to thinking about this...

How much do we know about the early development of heavy cavalry in ancient military forces - particularly those using a lance or heavy spear to unhorse opponents? When and where were the first horses sturdy enought to be used for such tactics bred?

Some of the first truly "heavy cavalry" in history that I am aware of would be the cataphracts of the Scythians, Sarmatians, Persians, Parthians, and some Indo-Iranian people - though I'm thinking that cataphract warfare initially evolved in China in the 4th/3rd Centuries BC.

The Assyrians did have moderately armored cavalry that fought hand-to-hand with spears, but I am thinking the closest thing to heavy cavalry that the ancient Near East had would have been their chariots.
Without stirrups there was no heavy cavalry. Heavy cavalrymen needed good footing to operate lance or sword. As far as I know, there was no heavy cavalry in ancient time (I could be wrong as I do not have any source to support it-it is just my opinion)
Edward is offline  
Old February 16th, 2010, 04:43 AM   #3
Historian
 
Joined: Jul 2009
Posts: 9,263
Re: The Development of Heavy Cavalry


On another forum, maybe a couple of years ago, there was an extensive discussion of the stirrup. The concensus was that no one knows when it began to be used, nor really by whom. I do agree with Edward that without such an advantage, the concept of heavy cavalry is difficult to accept.

More of the "Scythians" seem to have been mounted archers, obviously using mobility and their missile weapons to the best advantage. The Gothic tribal groups did not seem to be as efficient as others such as Huns and so forth. If the Parthians/Persians had a cataphract type horseman, maybe they had some kind of a stirrup. I am not knowledgeable on the eastern armies.

The heavy cavalryman of the Europeans does not seem to have developed until quite late. The Franks of Charlemagne were not the Franks who rode down Saracens in the first Crusade. The stirrup may have made it's way to Europe either from interaction with eastern Byzantine types of soldiers, or from the Avars, etc. on the eastern marches. No one seems to know.

I don't think the Moors in Spain had any heavier types until they came up against the mounted "knight" in Francia.
pikeshot1600 is offline  
Old February 16th, 2010, 04:58 PM   #4

Cedar Brown's Avatar
Scholar
 
Joined: Oct 2009
From: Ontario, Canada
Posts: 831
Re: The Development of Heavy Cavalry


The stirrup isn't necessary to have heavy cavalry. Heavy cavalry is just a horse and rider equipped and trained to engage in head on shock action. A powerful horse and a possibly semi-armoured man.

First, you need a powerful horse. Not even a draught horse but a medium horse with a lot of power. You can sacrifice stamina in the horse because skirmishing and scouting would be done by the light cavalry. The ponies the Assyrians rode and loosed arrows from would be too small. I don't know about the history of horses but I'll guess many civilizations would have suitable horses. Armour would be ideal but not necessarily vital. At least a helmet and large shield. There are different ways to keep a man on a horse. Until the development of the stirrup, the couched lance was not practical but horsemen were still used in shock action. Alexander's Companion Cavalry were used in shock action. The Parthians had kataphraktoi, just ask Crassus. You don't need stirrups to wield a sword, spear or mace. Ancient eastern civilizations made heavy use of light horse archers but they still had amounts of heavy cavalry which they used to smash into the enemy. The Norman knights fought as shock cavalry battering the Saxon shield wall at Hastings. The stirrup just honed the heavy cavalryman into a weapon more powerful than ever before.
Cedar Brown is offline  
Old February 17th, 2010, 03:46 PM   #5
Suspended indefinitely
 
Joined: Nov 2009
From: Queensland, Australia
Posts: 3,760
Re: The Development of Heavy Cavalry


Quote:
Originally Posted by Cedar Brown View Post
The stirrup isn't necessary to have heavy cavalry. Heavy cavalry is just a horse and rider equipped and trained to engage in head on shock action. A powerful horse and a possibly semi-armoured man.

First, you need a powerful horse. Not even a draught horse but a medium horse with a lot of power. You can sacrifice stamina in the horse because skirmishing and scouting would be done by the light cavalry. The ponies the Assyrians rode and loosed arrows from would be too small. I don't know about the history of horses but I'll guess many civilizations would have suitable horses. Armour would be ideal but not necessarily vital. At least a helmet and large shield. There are different ways to keep a man on a horse. Until the development of the stirrup, the couched lance was not practical but horsemen were still used in shock action. Alexander's Companion Cavalry were used in shock action. The Parthians had kataphraktoi, just ask Crassus. You don't need stirrups to wield a sword, spear or mace. Ancient eastern civilizations made heavy use of light horse archers but they still had amounts of heavy cavalry which they used to smash into the enemy. The Norman knights fought as shock cavalry battering the Saxon shield wall at Hastings. The stirrup just honed the heavy cavalryman into a weapon more powerful than ever before.
For me, heavy cavalry mean; fully armoured man, big horse, lance, sward and shield (large shield will be impractical on horseback). Such cavalry would not be possible without stirrups.
Any other form of cavalry I will regard as light horsemen. But again, it is only my opinion and I have nothing to support it.
Edward is offline  
Old February 17th, 2010, 04:18 PM   #6

Sargon of Akkad's Avatar
Backworldsman
 
Joined: Jun 2009
From: Glorious England
Posts: 6,987
Re: The Development of Heavy Cavalry


Quote:
Originally Posted by Cedar Brown View Post
The stirrup isn't necessary to have heavy cavalry. Heavy cavalry is just a horse and rider equipped and trained to engage in head on shock action. A powerful horse and a possibly semi-armoured man.

First, you need a powerful horse. Not even a draught horse but a medium horse with a lot of power. You can sacrifice stamina in the horse because skirmishing and scouting would be done by the light cavalry. The ponies the Assyrians rode and loosed arrows from would be too small. I don't know about the history of horses but I'll guess many civilizations would have suitable horses. Armour would be ideal but not necessarily vital. At least a helmet and large shield. There are different ways to keep a man on a horse. Until the development of the stirrup, the couched lance was not practical but horsemen were still used in shock action. Alexander's Companion Cavalry were used in shock action. The Parthians had kataphraktoi, just ask Crassus. You don't need stirrups to wield a sword, spear or mace. Ancient eastern civilizations made heavy use of light horse archers but they still had amounts of heavy cavalry which they used to smash into the enemy. The Norman knights fought as shock cavalry battering the Saxon shield wall at Hastings. The stirrup just honed the heavy cavalryman into a weapon more powerful than ever before.
Great assessment, this is the definition of heavy cavalry, Edward.
Sargon of Akkad is offline  
Old February 17th, 2010, 05:08 PM   #7

Cedar Brown's Avatar
Scholar
 
Joined: Oct 2009
From: Ontario, Canada
Posts: 831
Re: The Development of Heavy Cavalry


Quote:
Originally Posted by Edward View Post
For me, heavy cavalry mean; fully armoured man, big horse, lance, sward and shield (large shield will be impractical on horseback). Such cavalry would not be possible without stirrups.
That's not necessarily true. I don't know about the Equites but Roman Auxiliary cavalrymen certainly carried the clipeus. A large, wooden, oval shaped shield that also become the shield used by the Roman Legions. The zenith of heavy cavalry was the couched lance wielding, steel encased professionals atop plate barded chargers but that was not the beginning and end of heavy cavalry.


Thank you, Sargon.

I still can't say what the first heavy cavalry was though. The oldest I could say would be Phillip II's Companion Cavalry but there are surely older examples. Knowledge of equine history would be invaluable in coming up with a solid answer.
Cedar Brown is offline  
Old February 17th, 2010, 05:16 PM   #8
Archivist
 
Joined: Feb 2010
Posts: 173
Re: The Development of Heavy Cavalry


I read that the first cavalry that fits our usual discription of heavy cavalry was the Goths when they were invading the Romans.
KingCoel1996 is offline  
Old February 17th, 2010, 06:46 PM   #9

Salah's Avatar
Baltimorean
Blog of the Year
 
Joined: Oct 2009
From: Maryland
Posts: 23,284
Blog Entries: 182
Re: The Development of Heavy Cavalry


To respond to all the above posts collectively, heavy cavalry is definitely possible without stirrups.

Perhaps some of the most impressive cavalry the world ever saw were fielded by the Sarmatians, Parthians, and Sassanid Persians - and by extension the Romans, Byzantines, and Muslims. These were the "cataphracts", also known as clibanarii in Latin, savaran in Iranian, and ghulam in early Islamic literature.

Eastern cataphract soldiers were completely encased in several layers of armor. Their horse usually wore scale barding as well. They were heavily equipped with lances, round shields, bows, swords, axes, and maces - Sassanid savaran carried all of these weapons at the same time, and contemporary Byzantine heavy cavalry carried at least two or three swords on their person in battle. But these guys probably didn't adopt the stirrup til maybe the 7th/8th Century.
Salah is offline  
Old February 17th, 2010, 06:52 PM   #10

Cicero's Avatar
The Adequate
Mostly Harmless
 
Joined: Dec 2009
From: Tennessee
Posts: 7,829
Re: The Development of Heavy Cavalry


Quote:
Originally Posted by Salah ad-Din View Post
. But these guys probably didn't adopt the stirrup til maybe the 7th/8th Century.
Not disagreeing with you here, as I don't know diddly-squat about the subject, but how did they mount their horses with out stirrups and all that armor on? Did they have some sort of mounting platform back at camp and mount there? I did some horseback riding in my youth and it would have been very difficult to mount a horse I think with a heavy burden!
Cicero is offline  
Reply

  Historum > Themes in History > War and Military History

Tags
cavalry, development, heavy



Search tags for this page
Thread Tools
Display Modes


Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
The German "Heavy Water" Project Cunedda European History 9 June 8th, 2010 05:24 PM
The development of Agriculture Wobomagonda Ancient History 8 December 1st, 2009 09:50 AM
Spanish vs. English colony development throughthepastdarkly General History 4 June 16th, 2009 11:07 AM
Development of Rome ryder_2010 Ancient History 7 November 13th, 2007 04:02 PM

Copyright © 2006-2013 Historum. All rights reserved.