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Macedonian cavalry vs infantry
#1
I've been reading many conflicting accounts of Macedonian cavalry and whether or not it attacked infantry. I think the 'hammer and anvil' theory can be thrown out - however, in the latest issue of Ancient Warfare Magazine, included is an article about the Macedonian cavalry wedge and how it interacted with infantry. I haven't had a chance to completely read the article yet, but I was under the impression that Alexander's cavalry is not once recorded as coming into melee against infantry - not the allied Greeks at Chaeronea, nor the Persian infantry in any of the many battles there.

This evidently was not true during the Hellenistic era - at the Battle of Magnesia, Seleucid cavalry routed Roman infantry(a rare occurrence in this period, I note) and I believe Pyhrrus engaged enemy infantry leading his cavalry several times, though I may be mistaken.

Could someone clear this up for me? Thanks!
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#2
Was it really Roman infantry though? weren't those Socii legions? If I recall it right, there were 2 Roman and 2 Italic legions at Magnesia, with Roman Legions in the center.
Jaroslav Jakubov
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#3
(10-03-2016, 05:06 PM)Rizzio Wrote: I've been reading many conflicting accounts of Macedonian cavalry and whether or not it attacked infantry. I think the 'hammer and anvil' theory can be thrown out - however, in the latest issue of Ancient Warfare Magazine, included is an article about the Macedonian cavalry wedge and how it interacted with infantry. I haven't had a chance to completely read the article yet, but I was under the impression that Alexander's cavalry is not once recorded as coming into melee against infantry - not the allied Greeks at Chaeronea, nor the Persian infantry in any of the many battles there.

This evidently was not true during the Hellenistic era - at the Battle of Magnesia, Seleucid cavalry routed Roman infantry(a rare occurrence in this period, I note) and I believe Pyhrrus engaged enemy infantry leading his cavalry several times, though I may be mistaken.

Could someone clear this up for me? Thanks!

"Antiochus from his position on his right wing had noticed that the Romans, trusting to the protection of the river, had only four squadrons of cavalry in position there, and these, keeping in touch with their infantry. had left the bank of the river exposed. He attacked this part of the line with his auxiliaries and cataphracti, and not only forced back their front, but wheeling round along the river, pressed on their flank until the cavalry were put to flight and the infantry, who were next to them, were driven with them in headlong flight to their camp." Livy, 37.42

The Roman infantry at Magnesia weren't hit by a frontal charge, there were only four squadrons/turmae of Roman horse on the left wing, approximately 120 horsemen, these were routed by Antiochus' cavalry, who then wheeled and threatened the Roman flanks, who routed immediately in panic and fled to their camp. There is  no actual mention of the Seleucid even making contact with the Roman infantry. Appian only says that Antiogus' right broke through the Rome left's line, causing great mayhem. 

In addition, based on the standard battle formation of the Roman army's infantry, the left wing infantry at Magnesia was likely not actually Roman, but Socii allies of the Ala Sinistra. However, Appian describes the Romans in front, in triplex acies, with the Latins Socii behind, also in triplex acies, making for six lines of infantry, but this doesn't sound plausible at all, especially since those six lines doesn't include skirmishers, and elephants station in the rear, which would add even more to the depth, and take away from the width of the line, which needed everything they could since Antiochus' army was massive. . 
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#4
(10-04-2016, 01:31 AM)Bryan Wrote: "Antiochus from his position on his right wing had noticed that the Romans, trusting to the protection of the river, had only four squadrons of cavalry in position there, and these, keeping in touch with their infantry. had left the bank of the river exposed. He attacked this part of the line with his auxiliaries and cataphracti, and not only forced back their front, but wheeling round along the river, pressed on their flank until the cavalry were put to flight and the infantry, who were next to them, were driven with them in headlong flight to their camp." Livy, 37.42

The Roman infantry at Magnesia weren't hit by a frontal charge, there were only four squadrons/turmae of Roman horse on the left wing, approximately 120 horsemen, these were routed by Antiochus' cavalry, who then wheeled and threatened the Roman flanks, who routed immediately in panic and fled to their camp. There is  no actual mention of the Seleucid even making contact with the Roman infantry. Appian only says that Antiogus' right broke through the Rome left's line, causing great mayhem. 

In addition, based on the standard battle formation of the Roman army's infantry, the left wing infantry at Magnesia was likely not actually Roman, but Socii allies of the Ala Sinistra. However, Appian describes the Romans in front, in triplex acies, with the Latins Socii behind, also in triplex acies, making for six lines of infantry, but this doesn't sound plausible at all, especially since those six lines doesn't include skirmishers, and elephants station in the rear, which would add even more to the depth, and take away from the width of the line, which needed everything they could since Antiochus' army was massive. . 

Justin, 31.8 states that in fact one of the Roman legions was beaten back and fled to their camp.  Bar-Kochva in his book on the Seleucid Army, takes this view and believes that Seleucid heavy cavalry staged a frontal charge on the Roman legion and routed it (based largely on his calculations of the frontages of the opposing armies, and which units he believes faced each other).  Appian's statment that "Antiochus, on the right, broke through the Roman line of battle, dismembered it, and pursued a long distance," also seems to imply a frontal charge more than a flanking movement.

I'm not sure I agree with this interpretation, but there are ancient and modern historians who believe that one of the Roman legions was indeed routed at Magnesia, possibly by a frontal cavalry charge.
-Michael
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#5
Breaking thorugh Roman line of battle doesnt automatically mean they routed the legion... from what i read so far, Romans had part of the line guarded with velites and other infantry(mercenary Thureophoroi) supporting their weak cavalry. These men were routed and ran towards the camp. Legions were actually in the middle, fighting with opposing Infantry.


http://hannibal-barca-carthage.blogspot....90-bc.html


There are many confusions in battle description from various historians.. some for example claim Roman Pila had no effect on Seleucid Phalanx, others (Appian) claim they didnt miss the mark:

"The Romans did not come to close quarters nor approach them because they feared the discipline, the solidity, and the desperation of this veteran corps; but circled around them and assailed them with javelins and arrows, none of which missed their mark in the dense mass, who could neither turn the missiles aside nor dodge them."
Jaroslav Jakubov
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#6
(10-05-2016, 04:28 AM)Lysimachos Wrote:
(10-04-2016, 01:31 AM)Bryan Wrote: "Antiochus from his position on his right wing had noticed that the Romans, trusting to the protection of the river, had only four squadrons of cavalry in position there, and these, keeping in touch with their infantry. had left the bank of the river exposed. He attacked this part of the line with his auxiliaries and cataphracti, and not only forced back their front, but wheeling round along the river, pressed on their flank until the cavalry were put to flight and the infantry, who were next to them, were driven with them in headlong flight to their camp." Livy, 37.42

The Roman infantry at Magnesia weren't hit by a frontal charge, there were only four squadrons/turmae of Roman horse on the left wing, approximately 120 horsemen, these were routed by Antiochus' cavalry, who then wheeled and threatened the Roman flanks, who routed immediately in panic and fled to their camp. There is  no actual mention of the Seleucid even making contact with the Roman infantry. Appian only says that Antiogus' right broke through the Rome left's line, causing great mayhem. 

In addition, based on the standard battle formation of the Roman army's infantry, the left wing infantry at Magnesia was likely not actually Roman, but Socii allies of the Ala Sinistra. However, Appian describes the Romans in front, in triplex acies, with the Latins Socii behind, also in triplex acies, making for six lines of infantry, but this doesn't sound plausible at all, especially since those six lines doesn't include skirmishers, and elephants station in the rear, which would add even more to the depth, and take away from the width of the line, which needed everything they could since Antiochus' army was massive. . 

Justin, 31.8 states that in fact one of the Roman legions was beaten back and fled to their camp.  Bar-Kochva in his book on the Seleucid Army, takes this view and believes that Seleucid heavy cavalry staged a frontal charge on the Roman legion and routed it (based largely on his calculations of the frontages of the opposing armies, and which units he believes faced each other).  Appian's statment that "Antiochus, on the right, broke through the Roman line of battle, dismembered it, and pursued a long distance," also seems to imply a frontal charge more than a flanking movement.

I'm not sure I agree with this interpretation, but there are ancient and modern historians who believe that one of the Roman legions was indeed routed at Magnesia, possibly by a frontal cavalry charge.

There is as much written evidence to say it didn't happen than it might have. But let's look at the dynamics of battle. 

Charging a line of Roman legionnaires frontally is very risky. They have disciplined ranks, large shield protecting them, pilum to throw and thrust with, swords in which they can do damage. In other battles, with little to no instruction or training, Roman infantry took down cataphract in hand to hand combat (Lucullus and Pompey). I'm not saying it couldn't be done, that heavily armored horses moving at the canter, trot, or gallop couldn't break through an infantry line, but its very risky. Seleucid era cataphracts likely did not have horned saddles, that's a later invention. They sat on blankets or skins and used their legs wrapped around the horse's barrel to keep their seat. It isn't entirely sturdy, especially for the shock of hitting stationary targets with the horse or the two handed spears they used. Very easy to be unhorsed, and the worst sort of people they'd want to get unhorsed around. More so, its unnecessary. 

To be victorious Antiochus does not need to frontally charge any Roman maniples. Why would Antiochus risk a personally led frontal charge against heavy infantry (likely he was at the front of the Royal Agema at the tip of the first wedge)? His large and elite force of cavalry wasn't actually facing off with the infantry, they were mirrored off of a measly 120 Roman horsemen holding the left flank. Antiochus can easily charge into them in wedge formation (designed to attack other cavalry, not infantry), rout them with little to no difficulty or friendly casualties, and it instantly opens up the entire left flank of the Roman line. Seeing a large force of enemy cavalry plow through the left wing would have probably terrorized the Roman infantry and caused instant chaos with the most left hand infantry maniples of all three lines. I can imagine that men would have panicked and started running before all of Antiochus' cavalry was even through the Roman line. That flight starts its own response in Antiochus' horsemen, who give chase and start butchering everyone they can, which furthers the rout as the maniples break formation and the men seek the protection of their camp.
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#7
(10-05-2016, 03:55 PM)Bryan Wrote: There is as much written evidence to say it didn't happen than it might have. But let's look at the dynamics of battle. 

Charging a line of Roman legionnaires frontally is very risky. They have disciplined ranks, large shield protecting them, pilum to throw and thrust with, swords in which they can do damage. In other battles, with little to no instruction or training, Roman infantry took down cataphract in hand to hand combat (Lucullus and Pompey). I'm not saying it couldn't be done, that heavily armored horses moving at the canter, trot, or gallop couldn't break through an infantry line, but its very risky. Seleucid era cataphracts likely did not have horned saddles, that's a later invention. They sat on blankets or skins and used their legs wrapped around the horse's barrel to keep their seat. It isn't entirely sturdy, especially for the shock of hitting stationary targets with the horse or the two handed spears they used. Very easy to be unhorsed, and the worst sort of people they'd want to get unhorsed around. More so, its unnecessary. 

To be victorious Antiochus does not need to frontally charge any Roman maniples. Why would Antiochus risk a personally led frontal charge against heavy infantry (likely he was at the front of the Royal Agema at the tip of the first wedge)? His large and elite force of cavalry wasn't actually facing off with the infantry, they were mirrored off of a measly 120 Roman horsemen holding the left flank. Antiochus can easily charge into them in wedge formation (designed to attack other cavalry, not infantry), rout them with little to no difficulty or friendly casualties, and it instantly opens up the entire left flank of the Roman line. Seeing a large force of enemy cavalry plow through the left wing would have probably terrorized the Roman infantry and caused instant chaos with the most left hand infantry maniples of all three lines. I can imagine that men would have panicked and started running before all of Antiochus' cavalry was even through the Roman line. That flight starts its own response in Antiochus' horsemen, who give chase and start butchering everyone they can, which furthers the rout as the maniples break formation and the men seek the protection of their camp.

My personal opinion is that the information we have is simply not sufficient to accurately reconstruct what happened, but in the interest of presenting a differing point of view, Bar-Kochva's reconstruction of the battle does in fact have the Seleucid agema and cataphracts facing a Roman legion.

I suppose one possible interpretation is that the Roman horsemen were quickly routed and Seleucid forces began to outflank the Roman and allied infantry, inducing a panic which spread into the Roman  legion opposite the cataphracts.  If at this moment the cataphracts charged the front of the legion, it seems more supportable that the Romans there might unable to withstand the attack.  I think this may have been the first time the Romans faced cataphracts, so there may have been an element of surprise as well.

Again, I think that the information we have is too limited and sometimes contradictory to really come to a firm conclusion on what happened.  Reconstructions rely on picking and choosing which evidence fits one's theory and also making many assumptions to fill in gaps in the evidence.

I do find it interesting that this battle is kind of a repeat of the Battle of Raphia--Antiochus leads a successful cavalry charge on the right, but pursues too far, while his center and left wing are defeated.
-Michael
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#8
Been thinking about it even more about difficulties involved in frontally attacking Roman infantry.

Heavy cavalry doesnt just charge into an enemy, they need to attack through it. Stopping is very dangerous, the cavalry troops and squadrons can't reform while fighting a melee halfway through an enemy formation. Instead they charge straight through, reform after coming out the back, and then have the option to wheel around and attack again.

Now at Magnesia there is a good chance the Roman infantry were formed in Polybius' open order, with about the feet between files, six feet between ranks. That makes for a good target as far as infantry formations go for charging through. Michael Taylor's research into depth of Roman maniples, I believe five ranks seemed about average. Doesnt sound impossible, sounds very possible.

But let's say the leading ila of Antiochus' Royal Agema, formed in the wedge, charges through first the velites and then rides right through the first line of Roman Milites, crushing bodies with horses, stabbing with spears, slashing with swords. Successful they break out the back of the formation. And what do they find? 

Another line of formed infantry. And what is behind them? Another line of formed infantry.

So when does Antiochus reform his ila? He'll likely need to in order to break through the second and third lines. Assuming breaking the first line doesn't cause an immediate rout, which isn't guaranteed at all, then the lead ila will get stalled before the second line where they will be subject to pila all the whole the second line maniples close ranks and present pila to repel cavalry up close.

This is of course assuming the Roman line didn't need to be softened up prior, and that the Seleucid cavalry would not start falling off their horses from the shock of hitting stationary targets without losing their saddless seats.
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#9
Main problem with any cavalry unit facing infantry is that when you hit the infantry with the first line, your movement will slow down or even stop, which will present an obstacle for second rank of cavalry, and that second rank will be obstacle for the third one... so you practically end up with entire cavalry unit mixed together, with all men confused and disorganized.. and disorganized unit can be easily routed... so such attack against formed infantry is nothing but a good way how to lose your offensive strength... plus, with three lines, second line will be still able to use their pila against the mass of stationary cavalry in front of them which would have devastating effect...
Jaroslav Jakubov
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#10
While I appreciate the good discussion, my question was more to do with Companion cavalry in Alexander's day fighting against infantry or cavalry of the Persian Empire.
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#11
but these things would be true even for Alexanders Companions. Horse is not a machine, it will not intentionally hit a solid object at FULL speed, it will try to avoid it if there is space to do so.. this is why typically at chase, there is a plenty of room horse can run through, while cavalrymen can kill fleeing enemies.

With cavalry battles, its different. Horses wont hit each other while running in opposite direction, they will just pass each other. of course, some cavalrymen might be successful at hitting the enemy, killing him or horse, but dead horse present an obstacle.. thats why, even later in Napoleonic times, cavalry didn't charged cavalry at full gallop, but usually slowed down - sometimes even to a walk speed, while keeping tight formation, so enemy couldn't break through their formation. One of major reasons why French cavalry was so famous was because while they were not even close to being as good horsemen as German or British, they tend to keep formation no matter what... If I recall correctly, Wellington once said that single British cavalrymen can take two french, but single french squadron can take out two British... because of better cohesion and more discipline (British cavalry were quite impetuous,which sometimes lead them into really bad situations - like for example Royal Scott Greys charging too far at Waterloo just to be counter-charged by French lancers and beaten badly)
Jaroslav Jakubov
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#12
(10-06-2016, 04:15 PM)Rizzio Wrote: While I appreciate the good discussion, my question was more to do with Companion cavalry in Alexander's day fighting against infantry or cavalry of the Persian Empire.

Much of actual Persian cavalry was just as heavily armored as Macedonian type, their lances were just a bit shorter though so there would be that advantage. Persian infantry were spearbearers with body length wicker shields that were not very strong, but which a spear could easily become trapped in them. Archers used spearbearers in the front rank as a provisional human pavise, their arrows could have done some significant damage to cavalry, especially horses, but with a disciplined charge at a quick pace they would have little time to loose more than a few volleys before contact. At Granicus Alexander's cavalry frontally broke through Persian cavalry and routed them and then flanked the Greek mercenary hoplites. At Issus and Gaugamela Alexander attacked the center of the Persian infantry, where Darius withdrew in panic causing a complete rout of the infantry near him that usually spread through the whole battle line that was uncommitted.
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#13
Nice thread, thanks.
Ben Kane, bestselling author of the Eagles of Rome, Spartacus and Hannibal novels.

Eagles in the Storm released in UK on March 23, 2017.
Aguilas en la tormenta saldra en 2017.


http://www.benkane.net
Twitter: @benkaneauthor
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