How did Companion Cavalry fare in close quarter combat?

Jun 2018
4
Makati, Philippines
Does their equipment make them vulnerable in CQC? They don't have shields to block and their long lance is no use in a cramped space and useless after their charge. They also have light linen armor called linothorax.

Do they drop their lances and stick them to the ground and draw up their shields? There are accounts in Gaugamela that Alexander rolled with his guard to the Persian center to help Parmenion after the Persian left collapsed. Would their charge be less powerful if they already lost their lance by that time?
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
5,260
Australia
Alexander was wounded by virtually every weapon known to man by the time he died and the casualty rate of his cavalry was high. However, that doesn't mean that they were not effective in battle.

FWIW the armour was never called a "linothorax". That is a modern term. The Macedonians sometimes used the term "kotthubos" to refer to their non-metallic armour but it is unclear whether it was made from textile or hide. IMO they likely used both. This armour is not "light". Cloth and leather armour weighs more than bronze and iron. The whole point of going to the trouble and expense of using metal to make armour is that it was lighter than any of the alternatives. That never changed until the invention of aramid (Kevlar).
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: arrhidaeus
Sep 2019
211
Vergina
The companions were extremely effective. However cavalry could be vulnerable in a melee, Alexander was nearly killed at Granicus and Hephastion, commander of Alexander's bodyguard, took a spear wound at Gaugamela see Curtius below. Some evidence exists that Alexander used a shield a times, Diodorus below. Lance loss in combat was a serious issue Alexander faced this problem at Granicus normally they would turn to their groom for a spare see Arrian below.

"Hephastion suffered a spear wound in the arm"
(Curtius 4.16.32)
"he hurled his javelin first at Alexander with so mighty an impluse and so powerful a cast that he peirced Alexander's shield and right epomis and drove through the breastplate."
(Diodorus 17.21.2)

"Though he took two blows on the breastplate, one on the helmet, and three on the shield"
(Diodorus 17.20.3.)
"At a certain point in the fighting Alexander's spear was shattered. He asked Aretis, a royal groom, for another, but as Aretis' spear had also been shattered he showed it to Alexander and urged him to ask someone else. Demaratos the Corinthian, one of the Companions, gave Alexander his spear."
(Arrian 1.15.6.)
 
Last edited:
Sep 2019
211
Vergina
Wanted to mention that the lance was actually a pretty good weapon in close quarter. The cavalryman could also rely upon his powerful horse and short blade for assistance. Gabriel summarizes the usefulness of the lance in close quarters, even when broken the lance still had the butt spike.

"The lance was also an effective close combat weapon....the lance could thrust, parry and cut. Held at the balance, the lance could be used to thrust in all directions-front to rear, side to side- with the thrust to the front being the most effective... In the press of close combat, the lance or, if broken, its butt spike could be used to stab an adversary. With the shaft of the lance pressed tightly against the trunk of the horseman's body for leverage, its blade could be swept horizontally to parry other weapons or to inflict deep cuts on both cavalry and infantry."
(Richard Gabriel, Philip II of Macedonia, pg 75-76.)
 
Last edited:
Nov 2018
221
Wales
Does their equipment make them vulnerable in CQC? They don't have shields to block and their long lance is no use in a cramped space and useless after their charge. They also have light linen armor called linothorax.

Do they drop their lances and stick them to the ground and draw up their shields? There are accounts in Gaugamela that Alexander rolled with his guard to the Persian center to help Parmenion after the Persian left collapsed. Would their charge be less powerful if they already lost their lance by that time?
The Romans copied the 'Greek' style of cavalry, still in use over a century after Alexander. From Polybius 6.6.25:
The cavalry are now armed like that of Greece......<edit>.....which ensures that the first stroke of the lance-head shall be both well aimed and telling, since the lance is so constructed as to be steady and strong, and also that it may continue to be effectively used by reversing it and striking with the spike at the butt end. And the same applies to the Greek shields, which being of solid and firm texture do good service both in defence and attack. The Romans, when they noticed this, soon learnt to copy the Greek arms; for this too is one of their virtues, that no people are so ready to adopt new fashions and imitate what they see is better in others.
 
Nov 2011
1,147
The Bluff
Does their equipment make them vulnerable in CQC? They don't have shields to block and their long lance is no use in a cramped space and useless after their charge. They also have light linen armor called linothorax.
Dan has dealt with the linothorax. The cavalry fought with the xyston or cavalry "sarisa" (sarisa being a word used by Macedonians for spear). Manti proposes this as being 2.75m in length and double tipped, though I would suggest closer to 3.6m. This weapon could be used in the "charge" or in close quarter combat. It bears remembering there were no stirrups at this time and so one would not be able to charge in the manner of jousting medieval knights. Arrian (1.16.1) describes how the Persian cavalry "were now being struck on their faces with the lances (ξυστοῖς / xystoi) from all sides, and were being repulsed by the cavalry". The Macedonians are shoving their xystoi into the faces of the Persians and can do so due to the reach of the weapon. Diodoros (19.84.5) describes these same cavalry charging with spears and then resorting to the cavalryman's other weapon, the kopis, a curved single edged sword used in a a slashing/chopping fashion and capable of terrible damage.

The cavalry at Granikos (1.16.1 above) is described as working in tandem with light armed infantry (here described as ψιλῶν / psilon). This is used by Arrian to describe such infantry throughout (see 3.19.7 where Parmenion takes light armed with him). There are many who would describe this work as performed by the hypaspists but such troops could never, in my opinion, be described as psiloi / light armed.

Do they drop their lances and stick them to the ground and draw up their shields?
Interestingly, at 1.6.5 Arrian describes Alexander as ordering "τοῖς σωματοφύλαξι καὶ τοῖς ἀμφ᾽αὑτὸν ἑταίροις / the somatophylakes and the hetairois (companions) near him" to take their shields, ride to a hill and take it where some would dismount and fight as foot soldiers. There is no doubt the Macedonian elite had what we would call hoplite aspides and this may well be what is meant. They did not take these shields into cavalry combat in pitched battles though.

There are accounts in Gaugamela that Alexander rolled with his guard to the Persian center to help Parmenion after the Persian left collapsed. Would their charge be less powerful if they already lost their lance by that time?
Yes. The charge was at a gap in the Persian left and Alexander, as at Issos, aimed the "wedge" which Arrian describes towards the Persian centre. This drive resulted in men abandoning Dareios as the Macedonians closed and is likely the basis for the exaggerated headlong pursuit of Dareios by Alexander. It beggars beleif that the commander and his best cavalry would leave the field with battle still undecided elsewhere on the field.
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: arrhidaeus
Sep 2019
211
Vergina
Yes. The charge was at a gap in the Persian left and Alexander, as at Issos, aimed the "wedge" which Arrian describes towards the Persian centre. This drive resulted in men abandoning Dareios as the Macedonians closed and is likely the basis for the exaggerated headlong pursuit of Dareios by Alexander. It beggars beleif that the commander and his best cavalry would leave the field with battle still undecided elsewhere on the field.
This event has always struck me as rather strange. I know historians have questioned if Parmenion's messenger could have found Alexander in the confusion of battle. I imagine the messenger would have had an especially difficult time catching up if Alexander was riding in headlong pursuit of the Persian king.
 
Last edited:
Nov 2011
1,147
The Bluff
This event has always struck me as rather strange. I know historians have questioned if Parmenion's messenger could have found Alexander in the confusion of battle. I imagine the messenger would have had an especially difficult time catching up if Alexander was riding in headlong pursuit of the Persian king.
I can't for the life of me see a messenger reaching Alexander in the thick of this battle. Alexander is advancing to the right in a crabwise fashion and his battle line is oblique (to the Persian). Once the gap appears this rightward advance ceases and Alexander wheels from the oblique to the direct attack along with those parts of the phalanx near him. This will be perpendicular to the rightward drift and, thus, angled from Persian left to Persian centre. Once this part of the line is involved in close quarter combat there is precious little chance of anyone reaching Alexander - let alone find him - who is not already with him. This attack will have driven toward the Persian centre and it is at this stage that the Persian forces desert Dareios as recorded in the Babylonian Astronomical Diaries.
 
  • Like
Reactions: arrhidaeus

johnincornwall

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
8,118
Cornwall
I can't for the life of me see a messenger reaching Alexander in the thick of this battle. Alexander is advancing to the right in a crabwise fashion and his battle line is oblique (to the Persian). Once the gap appears this rightward advance ceases and Alexander wheels from the oblique to the direct attack along with those parts of the phalanx near him. This will be perpendicular to the rightward drift and, thus, angled from Persian left to Persian centre. Once this part of the line is involved in close quarter combat there is precious little chance of anyone reaching Alexander - let alone find him - who is not already with him. This attack will have driven toward the Persian centre and it is at this stage that the Persian forces desert Dareios as recorded in the Babylonian Astronomical Diaries.
Half time drinks break out of the question then? :lol:
 
  • Like
Reactions: arrhidaeus

tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
14,378
Actually I have wondered how they fought......

At that time and age, horses seemed to mostly be a way to move faster around the battlefield, outflank and outrun the ennemy or alternatively shock them through noise, dust and fear of horse mounted fighters, to whom the horse gave a significant weight advantage (assuming the average soldier with armor was about 100 kg, once on a horse the combination was 600kg of weight or more) and height advantage.... but when it came to fighting, apparently in many cases horsemen dismounted (unlike middle age heavy cavalry charges)... I do not know however what actually happened with the macedonian cavalry... Did they usually fight on horses, did they dismount, did they often engage in close combat ?

My understanding -correct me if I am wrong- is that macedonian cavalry had neither stirrups nor saddles....