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Gene Green





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PostPosted: Wed 30 May, 2012 6:53 pm    Post subject: Noob question of the day #1: Why heavy armor in Europe ?         Reply with quote

I know that the popular depiction of all Eastern armies as light archer cavalry and all Western armies as heavily armored melee troops is way too generalized and not very accurate - during early Crusades it appears that armor and tactics of Europeans was similar to the armor and tactics of Muslims, there were heavy cavalry in some Eastern countries (Parthian / Iranian, I beleive ?)

Still, it seems - to me - that by at least XIII century, and definitely later, the Western Europeans were much more heavily armored and reliant on close quarters combat than most other cultures. And I am curious as to why. At first I thought this was because of the Greek / Roman tradition, but the more I read, the more it seems to me that their "heavy" infantry wasn't all that heavy when it came to an individual soldier's armor. The formation was heavy, especially the phalanx. Also, there's quite a bit of time between the fall of Rome, and the emergence of heavy European armor, or so it seems.

Now, I can understand how the light cavalry may not be the best thing in some parts of the Western Europe, with forests and mountains. But there seems to be enough plains - in France, for example, - and surely the heavy cavalry was still cavalry and required plenty of horses and pasture. The light archer cavalry tactics worked wonders for invaders from Huns to Mongols, and from what I read it appears that most large scale encounters in the open between light cavalry force and typical Western European style close combat cavalry and infantry didn't end up well for the Westerners.

So, the question is, why ? Why not adapt the tactics that were used time and again to whip their own rears ? Am I missing something here ?
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Jason Daub




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PostPosted: Wed 30 May, 2012 11:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gene,

In my opinion the reason that European armies never adopted light horse tactics is that it didn't work as well as everyone seems to think. I cannot recall a single battle that was won by light horse archers against a "Western Heavy" force without major tactical mistakes being made by the heavies. Contrast the battles of Legnica and Mohi to the battle of Lechfeld, here are battles of nomadic horse archers against "heavy" men at arms. Contrast the battles of Hattin and Arsuf in the middle east as well, here are the "muslim horse archers" of stereotype versus the "Crusader knight". Don't forget as well that both the Mongol and Muslim forces used heavy shock cavalry. It may or may not have been as heavy, or proportionately as numerous, as the "Western Heavy" standard but it was there, and it was used. The western armies used crossbowmen and archers as well, in fact the Mongol armies took quite heavy casualties at the battle of Mohi during the fight at Sajo bridge, if the Hungarian forces had exploited their advantage rather than retiring to their camp perhaps the entire Mongol destruction of Hungary might have been adverted.

Hopefully this is somewhat coherent, I'm writing it after midnight off the top of my head, someone please point out where I went wrong.

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Sjors B




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PostPosted: Thu 31 May, 2012 3:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

there are several examples of light armoured, ranged cavalry being effective on the european battlefield.
Think of the invading huns in the roman empire and Crassus major defeat in the battle of Carrhae in 53 bc.

However, since the early middle ages the armoured knight is dominant on the battlefield.
My gues for the reason why is that they had the option. Many european country's ( in particular germany) produce high quality steal, and on top of that, ever since Charles Martel defeated the muslim invaders at tours/poitiers the armoured knight proofed to be very effective. Merovingian and Carolingian kings continued adding armoured knights to there army's.
Also, heavy armour proofed to be good protection against light ranged weapons. I remember once reading an article on crusader knights being shot at by bedoein archers, though none of there arrows actually pierced the armor itself.
Not untill the battles of Agincourt and Crecy does the heavy cavalry loses its dominant role in european warfare>

All this is offcourse based on my own opinion and limited knowledge of medieval warfare, so dont take this for granted and feel free to correct me on flaws

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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Thu 31 May, 2012 5:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would argue that a decent suit of plate armour actually weighs less than many eastern types of armour that cover a similar proportion of the body.

Agreed with Jason about light cavalry. It isn't all that effective against heavy cavalry assuming the commander is halfway competent. Especially if you combine them with units of crossbomen and longbowmen who have weapons that can outrange horsebows.
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Ryan S.





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PostPosted: Thu 31 May, 2012 7:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There certainly were cultural reasons. I think the basic difference between light and heavy is light relies more on mobility and tricks, whereas heavy is a bit more straight forward. What made horse archers effective is that they would feign retreat, turn and fire. I suppose the reason that horse archers weren't adopted in western Europe is they favored longbows and crossbows, unsuitable for horseback. Also, foot archers are more effective and cheaper.
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Thu 31 May, 2012 7:33 am    Post subject: Re: Noob question of the day #1: Why heavy armor in Europe ?         Reply with quote

Gene Green wrote:
Why not adapt the tactics that were used time and again to whip their own rears ?


I believe the answer is at least partly that Eastern tactics did not defeat Western tactics frequently enough for most Westerners to see any advantage in changing. European knights did not lose *every* battle, obviously, or the West would have ceased to exist. On crusade, they often used local troops to augment their own infantry and heavy cavalry, so in fact they *did* adopt some use of Eastern tactics sometimes. But they knew their own heavy cavalry charge was devastatingly effective! No reason to give it up. And remember, the Crusaders WON the First Crusade! They had some successes in a couple of the others, too, I think.

Even a defeat was often not proof of inferior tactics. After all, most battles had a winner and a loser, even between identical forces. So just losing didn't mean you had to change, it just meant you didn't win this time. And as has been pointed out, many defeats were due to things like poor leadership, or being stuck in an impossible situation. Granted, there was undoubtedly a certain amount of "Bah! They fight as cowards! I would rather die than change!" But it wasn't complete cultural stupidity.

Bottom line, European combat was based on heavy cavalry, and Europe stayed European. Looks like it worked well enough!

Matthew
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Bartek Strojek




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PostPosted: Thu 31 May, 2012 8:11 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mounted shooters were very widespread from around half of the 14th trough the whole 15th century, at least in Poland, Prussia, some German Lands and so on.... They weren't obviously very similar to Asian ones - they were using predominately crossbows, but still.

As for the question in title.. Well, heavy armor to protect your gut from nasty injuries that could happen, nothing more, nothing less. Wink
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Thu 31 May, 2012 10:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It wouldn't have been that easy for Western European nations to recruit large numbers of horse archers even if they had wanted to. England didn't have sufficient horses or much tradition of shooting from the saddle. France had trouble raising competent units of common archers to begin with. The military elite likely could have made effective horse archers with a little training - Bertrandon de la Broquière learned to shoot in the Turkish style during his trip to Middle East - but for cultural and practical reason they preferred close combat with lance and sword. France did field a number of well-armored mounted archers who at least occasionally shot their bows and crossbows from horseback.

More broadly, I think Kenneth Chase's thesis in Firearms: A Global History to 1700 has merit. Consider the similarities between Japan and Western Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. When warfare centers on sieges and pitched battles in a geographically constrained area, pike, lance, heavy armor, and gun dominate. On the other hand, mobile opponents - such as those China faced - demand swift cavalry forces to combat them. Weapons and tactics both suit their environment and don't change without great effort.

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Gary Teuscher





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PostPosted: Thu 31 May, 2012 10:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Interesting question, I don't think there is one good answer.

I think part of it may have had something to do with the fact that a pastoral economy was more common in the east than the west. Not that either was totally pastoral or agrarian, but I think the east in general was more pastoral, and free range pastoral as opposed to manorial pastoral.

I would think a tradition of wide ranging pastoralism males horses more prevalent among the everyday people, whereas many manors could get by without a horse, using oxen instead. Not that they did not have horses - but they were less cost effective than oxen for beast labor.

I think this in turn made the horse more prevalent among the common man.

As armour is a sign of wealth, particularily metallic, the westerners that were wealthy would own a horse, and being wealthy were often capable of having armour as well. Those not as wealthy would often not have horse or armour.

With horses being owned more by "commoners" in the east, the common man that may have been a footman in the west owned a horse. Maybe not armour, but they still filled the role that some western foot did, as archers.

And while the steppe nomads are not all encompassing of eastern people, the horse archer model came predominantly from these types. The Fatimid cavalry was not a horse archery based cavalry, other than the minority of Turks that were horse archers, though these grew in number towards the end of the caliphate. Most Fatamid cavalry was melee cavalry, particularily early Fatimid, though perhaps in general a bit lighter than their western counterparts.

Sometimes you see an active attempt by a state to incorporate these styles - such as the Earlier Byzantine heavy cavalry - though they as well used foreign (steppe) horse to carry out the horse archer role as well, and the true native lancer and archer formations had pretty well died out by the 11th century.

Other possibilities - For whatever reason, there was not a great deal of use of composite bows in western europe. Whether due to the climate, the cost and time of a composite bow vs a selfbow, or other factors, the west saw little use of composite bows. For a selfbow to have the power of a composite but be short enough to use on horseback was very difficult, main reason being selfbows were not able to be drawn to the same drawlength as composites assuming both were the same length.

Personally I think having light cavalry in an army is a big plus - not only for what it does and the battlefield, but for what it does in regards to scouting and attacking the enemy supply routes. Heavy cavalry can do this as well, though not as well, and you are comitting "expensive" troops for the same job that could be accomplished by "cheaper" horse archers.


Quote:
In my opinion the reason that European armies never adopted light horse tactics is that it didn't work as well as everyone seems to think. I cannot recall a single battle that was won by light horse archers against a "Western Heavy" force without major tactical mistakes being made by the heavies.


What I would say here - heavy cavalry vs light cavalry has a similar disadvantage that infantry has vs cavarly - it is very difficult for them to force their opponents to engage, so the more mobile force often chooses when and where to engage.

If the Crusaders at Hattin were a light cavalry force, they could have forced the Ayubbids to combat, as opposed to being harried by them until the Ayubbids decided when and where the engagement would take place.

It could also be said that light cavalry did not lose a battle unless they made a major tactical error - At Arsouf, the result could have been very similar to Hattin had the Ayubbids not allowed the Crusader cavalry to make contact with them (apparently many of the Turkish archers had dismounted just prior to the Hospitaller charge). The crusaders were running desperately low on horses due to attrition and combat losses - had the light cavalry not allowed an engagement by continuing to use their mobility to their advantage, they could have continued to harrass the Crusaders until a point there they were in a better position for a melee.
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Gary Teuscher





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PostPosted: Thu 31 May, 2012 10:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
The military elite likely could have made effective horse archers with a little training - Bertrandon de la Broquière learned to shoot in the Turkish style during his trip to Middle East -


Indeed. What is interesting is there are many Western European names among a record of "Turkoman" troops - which indicates the name "Turkomans" had become no longer a descpription for turkish mercenaries fighting for the crusaders but instead had merely become a troop classification.
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David Gaál




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PostPosted: Thu 31 May, 2012 10:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

At the battle of Muhi the leading was the biggest problem. It has been said that when Batu khan saw the army of Hungary his belief in victory decreased, but as he had seen how it was lead he became confident: the tents in the Hungarian camp were so close to each other that the ropes were side by side and around the camp there were carts and in the holes between two carts there were shields, so it was such a formation which was in any case against heavy cavalry tactics there was no place for man and horses to go out and make formation before they met the enemy, moreover much had been fought on a bridge which is not good for any cavalry and after the bridge was lost the Hungarians were knit to this camp and the Mongols started tho shoot the camp with seven catapults. So it is no wonder that this battle had been lost...

I agree with Jason, Mongols used heavy cavalry too. As well as siege engines and were capable to adopt new techniques from every nation whom they fought against from the Chines to Iranians as Ghenghis Khan sad: Your enemy is your greatest teacher.

Why didn't fully adopted light cavalry archers?
I think the the answer is beyond the question. Light cavalry and especially archers are mobile forces, they retreat from greater enemies trying to fight so that not get in hand to hand combat with heavy forces because than they would loose. Muslims never fought great battles they don't made big sacrifices before Mohamed, he changed the whole fighting style of Arabs because he made fanatics from fighters and made face to face fights which was new for their opponents and he won. But the victories of that fighting style were mostly fought against nomadic people and not against heavy forces and many victories against heavy forces were because of the weakness of them rather than the strength of horse archers, so there is no clear evidence why this technique would be better. So the nations who used this army formations were nomadic or semi nomadic people taking their home with them and wandered through the year. If Western Europeans would like to fully adopt this techniques they would have to adopt this lifestyle too. In one place living and farming could not be defended by mobile forces which retreat from a greater heavy armoured enemy. Just imagine as someone would attack Paris with heavy forces and the light cavalry of France what could do against that? Retreat and sacrifice a city with all the people? Or go face to face against them into certain death? Or left the cities and live nomadic life which couldn't be lived in the Europe's climate and terrain? And why would they turn into nomads if they were that before and changed purposeful?
Moreover think about that the Huns were effective but they lost at the end. Mongolia fell into parts and surely the same death would be writen for Hungary too if it hadn't change. No fully nomadic fighting style using empire was long living!
So there are many reasons against the fully adoption of the nomadic fighting style. BUT the partly use of horse shooters was still used in Europe as Bartek sad. Ohh... and Hungarian nobles still kept the ability of horse archery far after their setting in Middle East Europe side by side heavy cavalry tactics so they don't forget it but not used mainly.

Dávid
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Thu 31 May, 2012 11:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Not trying to side line the interesting posts above but there were examples of western European light cavalry.

Spain, Ireland, Scotland all had light cavalry in use and I cannot help but think that hobelars were intended to fight mounted at least in part because unlike the average footman who is not required in English records to have any specific melee weapon the Hobelar is almost always required to have a shield and lance.

In the 15th we have both France and Burgundy employing types of light cavalry in the Ordinance comps.

Though these groups never took the prime place of cavalry from the heavies they were vital in many campaigns.

Now why did light cavalry not dominate as they did in other places.... well we'd have to establish areas where light cavalry was dominant over the remainders. My feeling is few troop types actually ever did this.

RPM
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Gary Teuscher





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PostPosted: Thu 31 May, 2012 12:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Spain, Ireland, Scotland all had light cavalry in use and I cannot help but think that hobelars were intended to fight mounted at least in part because unlike the average footman who is not required in English records to have any specific melee weapon the Hobelar is almost always required to have a shield and lance.


For Spain it was important, fighting an opponent that was mobile as well.

Come to think of it, English Mounted Longbowmen or mounted select fyrd from Saxon times could probably function strategically as Cavalry, though not in the tactical sense and not as effectively as true cavalry.

Also I think often troop types and their functions are looked at just in the tactical sense - their battlefield performance. The Strategic and Logisitics factors of these troop types are often overlooked.

For example, I'm thinking of the Scots and their Fell ponies. They were in essence light cavalry, though they may not have fought that way in a stand up battle. But their mobility on the strategic sense was very important for raids and the type of guerilla warfare they carried out.

One thing to rememebr as well about the battle of Mohi and others conflicts with the Mongols and Europe - The Hungarians, though technically European did not use the same army model as for instance France. The Hungarians had their own light cavalry as well, even though it was not the predominant troop type.
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Gary Teuscher





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PostPosted: Thu 31 May, 2012 12:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Retreat and sacrifice a city with all the people? Or go face to face against them into certain death? Or left the cities and live nomadic life which couldn't be lived in the Europe's climate and terrain?


The French, if a light cavalry based army would likley use the same strategic and tactical tactics that the Muslims used against the Crusaders - harrying the opponents until such time came that they felt was ripe to attack.
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Gene Green





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PostPosted: Thu 31 May, 2012 1:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:

Agreed with Jason about light cavalry. It isn't all that effective against heavy cavalry assuming the commander is halfway competent. Especially if you combine them with units of crossbomen and longbowmen who have weapons that can outrange horsebows.


Matthew Amt wrote:
Gene Green wrote:
Why not adapt the tactics that were used time and again to whip their own rears ?


I believe the answer is at least partly that Eastern tactics did not defeat Western tactics frequently enough for most Westerners to see any advantage in changing. European knights did not lose *every* battle, obviously, or the West would have ceased to exist. On crusade, they often used local troops to augment their own infantry and heavy cavalry, so in fact they *did* adopt some use of Eastern tactics sometimes. But they knew their own heavy cavalry charge was devastatingly effective! No reason to give it up. And remember, the Crusaders WON the First Crusade! They had some successes in a couple of the others, too, I think.

Even a defeat was often not proof of inferior tactics. After all, most battles had a winner and a loser, even between identical forces. So just losing didn't mean you had to change, it just meant you didn't win this time. And as has been pointed out, many defeats were due to things like poor leadership, or being stuck in an impossible situation. Granted, there was undoubtedly a certain amount of "Bah! They fight as cowards! I would rather die than change!" But it wasn't complete cultural stupidity.

Bottom line, European combat was based on heavy cavalry, and Europe stayed European. Looks like it worked well enough!

Matthew



From what I read, my impression was that most of the light cavalry forces invading Europe en masse were rather successful.

E.g. we have Huns - win, Magyars - win, Arabs - lose (not completely, they won a good chunk of Spain), Mongols - win (and it appears they were more than capable of crushing the Europe had they set to do it). Now, the Huns and Magyars probably didn't face much of heavy cavalry / infantry, but the Mongols certainly did. Actually, how "heavy" was the army of Carl Martel at Toors ? In mid-VIII century, probably not all that heavy ?

Gary Teuscher wrote:
Quote:
Retreat and sacrifice a city with all the people? Or go face to face against them into certain death? Or left the cities and live nomadic life which couldn't be lived in the Europe's climate and terrain?


The French, if a light cavalry based army would likley use the same strategic and tactical tactics that the Muslims used against the Crusaders - harrying the opponents until such time came that they felt was ripe to attack.


Yes, most nomadic tribes avoided pitched battles and used to slowly wear down their opponents by hit & run tactics when they least expected - but the Mongols, from what I read, were all too happy to engage in a pitched battle against more numerous opponent, as long as they had a battlefield wide enough to maneuver. Actually, it almost seemed to me that they had a more "European" attitude of aggressively getting into battle & having it done with, only instead of close-quarter combat they preferred using bows.
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Thu 31 May, 2012 1:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gary,

I think the issue with a narrow view is it is stating a very limited role and function tactically and logistically to light cavalry. Light cavalry and stand up battles are likely a small part of their role.We have many examples of Scot and Irish light cavalry being used for very similar functions such as harrying and flanking. One could argue Ireland did not have in and of itself a heavy cavalry tradition at all and was very much tied to light cavalry use.

The battle of Muhi or Mohi is a very complex example. Not sure Belas or army make up was the reason the Mongols won over the fact Belas was working with a very fractured force and the Mongols did not. By the 1240s much of Hungary's light cavalry was provided by the Cumans who largely were not present at the battle due to further infighting. I agree they were not the average Western European army but they were not Eastern either. That said average Western, Eastern or what ever army is likely too broad a generalization.

RPM
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Quinn W.




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PostPosted: Thu 31 May, 2012 1:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I also recall hearing from my professor in a medieval warfare class I took last year that one reason the bows used by nomadic horse archers like the mongols did not catch on is because the glue used in its construction didn't hold up as well in damper climates like Western Europe.
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Gary Teuscher





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PostPosted: Thu 31 May, 2012 1:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
I also recall hearing from my professor in a medieval warfare class I took last year that one reason the bows used by nomadic horse archers like the mongols did not catch on is because the glue used in its construction didn't hold up as well in damper climates like Western Europe


I am familiar with that, and it makes sense to a point. However, composite crossbows seem to have been poular in western europe.

I think it might be a little bit of the bows not "wearing" as well, but just as much due to the cost and time needed for construction. Composite bows were more labor intensive, as well as taking longer to make.

I forgot where I read this, but somewhere I remember reading that composite bows took well over a year to make properly - much of the time was the drying of the glue.
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Gene Green





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PostPosted: Thu 31 May, 2012 2:03 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Randall Moffett wrote:
Gary,

I think the issue with a narrow view is it is stating a very limited role and function tactically and logistically to light cavalry. Light cavalry and stand up battles are likely a small part of their role.We have many examples of Scot and Irish light cavalry being used for very similar functions such as harrying and flanking. One could argue Ireland did not have in and of itself a heavy cavalry tradition at all and was very much tied to light cavalry use.

The battle of Muhi or Mohi is a very complex example. Not sure Belas or army make up was the reason the Mongols won over the fact Belas was working with a very fractured force and the Mongols did not. By the 1240s much of Hungary's light cavalry was provided by the Cumans who largely were not present at the battle due to further infighting. I agree they were not the average Western European army but they were not Eastern either. That said average Western, Eastern or what ever army is likely too broad a generalization.

RPM


So the Bela's army lost due to lack of leadership, lack of discipline, and lack of communication / coordination.

But this would be fairly typical of pretty much any European knightly army of his time, wouldn't it ?
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Bartek Strojek




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PostPosted: Thu 31 May, 2012 2:30 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gary Teuscher wrote:


I am familiar with that, and it makes sense to a point. However, composite crossbows seem to have been poular in western europe.

.


Well, there are certainly stories about this being an issue sometimes, Crecy, most famously.
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