Did anyone have a good mounted infantry arm in the ancient world?

Mar 2012
2,347
#1
It is pretty much a given that cavalry and infantry work best in mutually supporting packages. From the chariots used at the battle of Kadesh, to modern tanks, infantry support is key. Alxander could not have won at Jaxartes River and Caeser could not have won against the flower of Gaulish cavalry before Alesia had they not taken pains to place cavalry and infantry in supporting positions.

Which is why it puzzles me that you don't hear a lot about a good mounted infantry arm in the ancient world. Generally, light infantry was sent to support cavalry attacks. The problem is two-fold: A) Of course they would have difficulty keeping up, and B) if the cavalry has to retreat, they are left to die.

Is there any example of someone using, say, wagons filled with light troops to support the cavalry, or men who dismounted from horseback to fight in support of proper cavalry, or teams of two men on one horse- one of whom dismounted to fight?

The only things that I can think of that come close are Caesar's description of Germans who dismounted to fight and Brits who rode chariots into battle and dismounted, but since there were not really combined arms tactical armies, they are not really what I am asking about.
 

Salah

Forum Staff
Oct 2009
23,284
Maryland
#2
The Gauls and Spaniards come to mind immediately. The Celtiberians would train their horses to lie down and wait for their master to return from battle.

During the Gaulish attacks on Greece c. 279 BCE, three warriors would share the same horse, alternating between riding it and fighting on foot.
 
Mar 2012
2,347
#3
The Gauls and Spaniards come to mind immediately. The Celtiberians would train their horses to lie down and wait for their master to return from battle.

During the Gaulish attacks on Greece c. 279 BCE, three warriors would share the same horse, alternating between riding it and fighting on foot.
Nice!

Thanks for the answer.

Did any ancient author write about these things? I am guessing Herodotus for the Gauls?
 

Mrbsct

Ad Honorem
Jul 2013
2,629
USA
#4
It is pretty much a given that cavalry and infantry work best in mutually supporting packages. From the chariots used at the battle of Kadesh, to modern tanks, infantry support is key. Alxander could not have won at Jaxartes River and Caeser could not have won against the flower of Gaulish cavalry before Alesia had they not taken pains to place cavalry and infantry in supporting positions.
The support package is usually for skirmish phases like the begining of the Battle of Gaugemela where Alexander hid his light infantry to skirmish, or at Pharasphalus where the cavalry of Caesar lured Pompey's cavalry. Engagements like shock actions rarely have cavalry and infantry intertwined in the same unit,(unless the cavlary charges the rear of the enemy and sandwhich a hammer and anvil) it would cause a breakup and confusion plus the cavalry can't charge and is vulrable.

Which is why it puzzles me that you don't hear a lot about a good mounted infantry arm in the ancient world. Generally, light infantry was sent to support cavalry attacks. The problem is two-fold: A) Of course they would have difficulty keeping up, and B) if the cavalry has to retreat, they are left to die.
Probally because of light cavalry is good enough. Usually mass cavalry engagements were loose charge arounds like a dogfight like today's airforce are rarely in a mass clash I don't think. Cavalry usually don't want to be in a pronlonged engagement of melee and often withdraw to charge again. In the situation of mass charges of cavalry the last thing I want to do is get off my horse and try to spear a enemy rider. (when dismounted, your dismounted infantry still has to get into formation and is impractical) Dragoons would never charge alongside with Cuirasseer in a sudden shock action and then dismount.

This only happens in skirmish phases. But in in mass cav engagements, the cavalry doesn't dismount.

Is there any example of someone using, say, wagons filled with light troops to support the cavalry, or men who dismounted from horseback to fight in support of proper cavalry, or teams of two men on one horse- one of whom dismounted to fight?
Like a modern Amoured personnel carrier? It would still be very very slow or not enough to carry a whole Infantry to effect the battle that much. The Chariots that the Britons used were only used for skirmishing and carried only a few troops not enought to match a Roman century. Sure you could have more chariots but it is very impractical spreading all your men in carts of 3s and then having to dismount and get into formation if they ever face a charge from enemy cavalry and infantry.

With modern firearms+plus firearms on the APCs and the operation spread out over miles of land mounted infantry is understandable, but in the Ancient World its very impractical.
 
Last edited:
Mar 2012
2,347
#5
The support package is usually for skirmish phases like the begining of the Battle of Gaugemela where Alexander hid his light infantry to skirmish, or at Pharasphalus where the cavalry of Caesar lured Pompey's cavalry. Engagements like shock actions rarely have cavalry and infantry intertwined in the same unit,(unless the cavlary charges the rear of the enemy and sandwhich a hammer and anvil) it would cause a breakup and confusion plus the cavalry can't charge and is vulrable.



Probally because of light cavalry is good enough. Usually mass cavalry engagements were loose charge arounds like a dogfight like today's airforce are rarely in a mass clash I don't think. Cavalry usually don't want to be in a pronlonged engagement of melee and often withdraw to charge again. In the situation of mass charges of cavalry the last thing I want to do is get off my horse and try to spear a enemy rider. (when dismounted, your dismounted infantry still has to get into formation and is impractical) Dragoons would never charge alongside with Cuirasseer in a sudden shock action and then dismount.

This only happens in skirmish phases. But in in mass cav engagements, the cavalry doesn't dismount.


Like a modern Amoured personnel carrier? It would still be very very slow or not enough to carry a whole Infantry to effect the battle that much. The Chariots that the Britons used were only used for skirmishing and carried only a few troops not enought to match a Roman century. Sure you could have more chariots but it is very impractical spreading all your men in carts of 3s and then having to dismount and get into formation if they ever face a charge from enemy cavalry and infantry.

With modern firearms+plus firearms on the APCs and the operation spread out over miles of land mounted infantry is understandable, but in the Ancient World its very impractical.
Disagree with that first part. The good commanders knew to make them mutually supporting, using either the infantry as bait to "fix" the position of the enemy cavalry or a cavalry attack to "fix" the enemy cavalry whiles brining up the infantry.

I stick my three examples. Alexander at Jaxartes, and Caesar before Alesia defeated massive cavalry superiority by using infantry in close support with their cavalry.

The third example is of course Kadesh- but sides had infantrymen supporting the chariots, the Egyptians using big enough chariots to carry the infantry support and the Hittites using "runners."

When you say that infantry was rarely supported after the skirmish phase- you are talking about exactly what this thread is about. It was extremely effective when done and there should have been more examples. History would have been very different had a Caesar been fighting on the Roman side at Cannae.

Although in fairness, it did not always work. At Carrahe, legionaries and archers were cut down with the Gallic cavalry...

...now maybe it they had been mounted!
 

Mrbsct

Ad Honorem
Jul 2013
2,629
USA
#6
Disagree with that first part. The good commanders knew to make them mutually supporting, using either the infantry as bait to "fix" the position of the enemy cavalry or a cavalry attack to "fix" the enemy cavalry whiles brining up the infantry.
Luring is skirmish. Cavalry and infantry would never operate in the same parralel like the same tactical unit when engagaging an enemy formation in melee.

Same with tanks and modern infantry. Yes there are "Panzergrenadier regiments" of both Tanks and mechanized infantry but mostly the Tanks' job is to charge on masse with other tanks to smash enemy lines in their individual tank Divisions.

I stick my three examples. Alexander at Jaxartes,
A light cavalry unit from lets say Alexander's army doesn't have the capability to dismount on mass in a formation to do much damage of a typical infantry formation like the Phalanx or Alexander's Cretan archers.
If Alexander decided to dismount his cavalry it would be just trampled to death by the Scythians. The Phalnx and the supporting archers is what counted.
Also horses are expensive.

and Caesar before Alesia defeated massive cavalry superiority by using infantry in close support with their cavalry.
Didn't Caesar use a hammer and anvil charge in the rear of the Gallic infantry and cavalry where in two different parralels? Also Alesia was a siege so the intermingled Melee was more common.


The third example is of course Kadesh- but sides had infantrymen supporting the chariots, the Egyptians using big enough chariots to carry the infantry support and the Hittites using "runners."
Chariots are slower and less manuverable, Kadesh was probally a mass clash of chariots were they got bogged down letting the infantry dismount and to take on the chariots.


When you say that infantry was rarely supported after the skirmish phase- you are talking about exactly what this thread is about. It was extremely effective when done and there should have been more examples. History would have been very different had a Caesar been fighting on the Roman side at Cannae.
How would dismounted cavalry change Cannae at all? The Romans didn't have the horses to support a mass cavalry army like the Mongols.

How would dismounting your cavalry change anything?Unless you have Legionaires to help out you will get trampled by to death before you get into formation.


Although in fairness, it did not always work. At Carrahe, legionaries and archers were cut down with the Gallic cavalry...

...now maybe it they had been mounted!
Again the Gallic cavalry were operating on different parrallels than the infantry no intermingled in the same tactical unit and deployed on the wings of an army. Their job was to skirmish, the Crassus ordered his son Publius to charge the Parthians(actually leaving the infantry lines)

The Job of Mounted infantry IS to skirmsh. They are not expected to hold the line against a cavalry charge or dismount and take on an infantry formation head on.
 
Last edited:
Mar 2012
2,347
#7
Luring is skirmish. Cavalry and infantry would never operate in the same parralel like the same tactical unit when engagaging an enemy formation in melee.

Same with tanks and modern infantry. Yes there are "Panzergrenadier regiments" of both Tanks and mechanized infantry but mostly the Tanks' job is to charge on masse with other tanks to smash enemy lines in their individual tank Divisions. .
Please go back and read the accounts of the battles. You can define it any way you want- it was using cavalry and infantry in close conjunction that won these battles. There is no debating that. The Caesar example was written by Caesar himself.



A light cavalry unit from lets say Alexander's army doesn't have the capability to dismount on mass in a formation to do much damage of a typical infantry formation like the Phalanx or Alexander's Cretan archers.
If Alexander decided to dismount his cavalry it would be just trampled to death by the Scythians. The Phalnx and the supporting archers is what counted.
Also horses are expensive.
No one said Alexander dismounted his cavalry. You are badly missing the point. It is an example of the use of cavalry and infantry mutually supporting. The thread merely asks the question if there are examples of ancient generals using mounted infantry.


Didn't Caesar use a hammer and anvil charge in the rear of the Gallic infantry and cavalry where in two different parralels? Also Alesia was a siege so the intermingled Melee was more common.
Again, you are really showing that you have never actually read the histories. There was a battle before the siege in which Caesar took on the flower of Gallic cavalry from all of the tribes- he defeated them by using German horsemen in close coordination with legions.

I strongly, strongly urge you to actually read it.




Chariots are slower and less manuverable, Kadesh was probally a mass clash of chariots were they got bogged down letting the infantry dismount and to take on the chariots.
It is a historical fact that chariot teams used to employ "runners" who fought on foot.




How would dismounted cavalry change Cannae at all? The Romans didn't have the horses to support a mass cavalry army like the Mongols.

How would dismounting your cavalry change anything?Unless you have Legionaires to help out you will get trampled by to death before you get into formation.
Hannibal was able to pull off Cannae by winning the cavalry battle. Had a better general used infantry support that might not have been the case.


Again the Gallic cavalry were operating on different parrallels than the infantry no intermingled in the same tactical unit and deployed on the wings of an army. Their job was to skirmish, the Crassus ordered his son Publius to charge the Parthians(actually leaving the infantry lines)

The Job of Mounted infantry IS to skirmsh. They are not expected to hold the line against a cavalry charge or dismount and take on an infantry formation head on.
And again, I urge you to review the battles, because I am sorry, but you simply are factually wrong. The Gauls took legionaries and the Cretan foot archers with them.
 
Feb 2011
6,428
#8
Is there any example of someone using, say, wagons filled with light troops to support the cavalry, or men who dismounted from horseback to fight in support of proper cavalry, or teams of two men on one horse- one of whom dismounted to fight?
The Han dynasty used mounted infantry, and possbily the wagons you describe. I will quote from the Shiji:

Wei Qing's army, having ridden over 1000 li beyond the border, emerged from the desert just at the point where the Shanyu was waiting. Spying the Shanyu's forces, Wei Qing likewise pitched camp and waited. He ordered the armoured wagons to be aranged in a circle about the camp and at the same time sent out 5000 cavalry to attack the Xiongnu. The Xiongnu dispatched some 10,000 of their own cavalry to meet the attack...... -Shiji, on Chapter of Weiqing and Huo Qubing

On the other hand, on plains light chariots can be used and cavalry charges made; in such conditions the Xiongnu are readily thrown into confusion. The strong crossbow and the ballista shooting javelins have a long range; something which the bows of the Xiongnu can in no way equal. The use of sharp weapons with long and short handles by disciplined companies of armoured soldiers in various combinations, including the drill of crossbowmen alternatively advancing [to shoot] and retiring [to load]; this is something that even the Xiongnu cannot face. The troops with crossbows ride forward and shoot off all their bolts in one direction; this is something which the leather armour and wooden shields of the Xiongnu cannot resist. Then the [Chinese horse-archers] dismount and fight forward on foot with sword and halberd; this is something that the Xiongnu do not know how to do. .Such are the merits of the Chinese.[FONT=&quot] -Chao Cuo, as quoted from the Shiji
[/FONT]
 
Mar 2012
2,347
#9
The Han dynasty used mounted infantry, and possbily the wagons you describe. I will quote from the Shiji:

Wei Qing's army, having ridden over 1000 li beyond the border, emerged from the desert just at the point where the Shanyu was waiting. Spying the Shanyu's forces, Wei Qing likewise pitched camp and waited. He ordered the armoured wagons to be aranged in a circle about the camp and at the same time sent out 5000 cavalry to attack the Xiongnu. The Xiongnu dispatched some 10,000 of their own cavalry to meet the attack...... -Shiji, on Chapter of Weiqing and Huo Qubing

On the other hand, on plains light chariots can be used and cavalry charges made; in such conditions the Xiongnu are readily thrown into confusion. The strong crossbow and the ballista shooting javelins have a long range; something which the bows of the Xiongnu can in no way equal. The use of sharp weapons with long and short handles by disciplined companies of armoured soldiers in various combinations, including the drill of crossbowmen alternatively advancing [to shoot] and retiring [to load]; this is something that even the Xiongnu cannot face. The troops with crossbows ride forward and shoot off all their bolts in one direction; this is something which the leather armour and wooden shields of the Xiongnu cannot resist. Then the [Chinese horse-archers] dismount and fight forward on foot with sword and halberd; this is something that the Xiongnu do not know how to do. .Such are the merits of the Chinese.[FONT=&quot] -Chao Cuo, as quoted from the Shiji[/FONT]
Huge find! Thanks a million.

This make sense since the Xiongu were their main opponents. They would have had a lot of opportunity to work out these sorts of tactics.
 
Last edited:

tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
13,317
#10
I am a bit confused by the OP

I thought most "cavalry" until fairly late in antiquity was in fact mounted infantry...

They would ride into battle on horses but dismount to fight
 

Similar History Discussions