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Toni Šušnjar




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PostPosted: Mon 24 Feb, 2020 5:19 am    Post subject: Menavlion vs Pike         Reply with quote

After Arabs introduced heavy cavalry (cataphracts), Byzantines responded by introducing the short, thick pike - menavlion; a spear with a shaft so thick that one could barely, if at all, wrap a hand completely around it (basically, when you held it, your thumb and index fingers would not touch). Yet I have found no mention of similar weapons in 15th and 16th centuries, despite heavy cavalry having even more advanced armour in those times; instead, much longer but relatively flimsier pikes seem to have been preferred (menavlion was 2,7 - 3,6 meters long, while pikes were often 5,5 - 7,5 meters long, much closer to sarissa, but with a smaller spearhed and narrower shaft than menavlion). So the question is why, and how did it impact tactics? The only reason I can think of for this difference lies in cavalry itself: Sassanid, Byzantine and Arab cataphracts appear to have used maces and similar one-handed weapons for shock combat, while lancers were used exclusively against opposing cavalry. Meanwhile, Western knights used long lances, which would have significantly outranged menavlion, thus necessitating the pike to also increase in length as an answer. But if menavlion was necessary to stop the charge of cataphracts, how would have thinner pike fared against much more heavily armoured knights of 14th and 15th century? Or was horse armour (barding) uncommon enough among Western knights to make such a question moot?
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Dashiell Harrison




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PostPosted: Mon 24 Feb, 2020 10:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Long pikes were deployed in dense formations. For every rank in the pike square, there's another rank of pike-points projecting out in front of the formation. A horse charging into a pike formation wouldn't just be running into a single pike, but would instead be running into numerous successive pikes. My guess would be that this would more than make up for each individual pike being slimmer and less capable of stopping the horse in its tracks alone.
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Anthony Clipsom




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PostPosted: Tue 25 Feb, 2020 12:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dashiell Harrison wrote:
Long pikes were deployed in dense formations. For every rank in the pike square, there's another rank of pike-points projecting out in front of the formation. A horse charging into a pike formation wouldn't just be running into a single pike, but would instead be running into numerous successive pikes. My guess would be that this would more than make up for each individual pike being slimmer and less capable of stopping the horse in its tracks alone.


Whereas the Byzantine manuals show that there was only 1 rank of menaulion carriers and these stood in front of the first spear armed ranks, having moved from the rear. Or they were deployed to make a flank attack. So use is certainly different - it doesn't seem to rely on a dense mass of men with these weapons.

Anthony Clipsom
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Toni Šušnjar




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PostPosted: Tue 25 Feb, 2020 11:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dashiell Harrison wrote:
Long pikes were deployed in dense formations. For every rank in the pike square, there's another rank of pike-points projecting out in front of the formation. A horse charging into a pike formation wouldn't just be running into a single pike, but would instead be running into numerous successive pikes. My guess would be that this would more than make up for each individual pike being slimmer and less capable of stopping the horse in its tracks alone.


That is true, but disciplined cavalry - which admittedly was a rare occurence - was still able to shatter pikes through successive charges. IIRC, Polish hussars had a procedure for it - running at pikes at an angle - but they were not the only ones to pull it off. Menaulion, as Anthony points out, was deployed just one rank deep, but was designed so it was harder to shatter.

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Wyatt W




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Jul, 2020 7:48 am    Post subject: Re: Menavlion vs Pike         Reply with quote

Toni Šušnjar wrote:
After Arabs introduced heavy cavalry (cataphracts), Byzantines responded by introducing the short, thick pike - menavlion; a spear with a shaft so thick that one could barely, if at all, wrap a hand completely around it (basically, when you held it, your thumb and index fingers would not touch). Yet I have found no mention of similar weapons in 15th and 16th centuries, despite heavy cavalry having even more advanced armour in those times; instead, much longer but relatively flimsier pikes seem to have been preferred (menavlion was 2,7 - 3,6 meters long, while pikes were often 5,5 - 7,5 meters long, much closer to sarissa, but with a smaller spearhed and narrower shaft than menavlion). So the question is why, and how did it impact tactics? The only reason I can think of for this difference lies in cavalry itself: Sassanid, Byzantine and Arab cataphracts appear to have used maces and similar one-handed weapons for shock combat, while lancers were used exclusively against opposing cavalry. Meanwhile, Western knights used long lances, which would have significantly outranged menavlion, thus necessitating the pike to also increase in length as an answer. But if menavlion was necessary to stop the charge of cataphracts, how would have thinner pike fared against much more heavily armoured knights of 14th and 15th century? Or was horse armour (barding) uncommon enough among Western knights to make such a question moot?


You're conflating Kataphraktoi and Arab Cataphracts with the shock cav of the Early Modern Era, which is a mistake and should not be conflated. The lances of the late knights were incredibly long and often used for cycle charging. The role of the Knight was not to get 'stuck in' so to say in the thick of the enemy; but to charge, make impact, then disengage, grab another lance, and charge again. Breaking the cycle either because he was unhorsed or the enemy breaks and the cavalry pursues.

This isn't how cataphracts fought - they do not cycle charge. They are a guided missile judging by Roman descriptions of their own cavalry tactics in the 900's, escorted by light and medium cavalry to make impact with an enemy formation and get 'stuck in' after the charge is completed. It is unknown if the Romans or Arabs actually even used couched lance tactics at this time, and they did not charge at full speed either. Not a trot as is often claimed but certainly not just throwing themselves into the enemy. Their job was to break the lines after they had been softened by earlier fighting, and act as a chisel to the infantry and light/medium cavalry hammer to break apart the enemy army and put them to rout, or at least punch a hole in their line. Only after an enemy formation was shattered were they supposed to retreat, as at most there was only a couple hundred in an entire army and it was the job of the light/medium cavalry to harry in the rout.

So firstly, the menavlion is not being used against cavalry with super long lances charging at full tilt with a couched grip. They're facing slower, arguably more heavily armored cavalry in terms of sheer weight and scale of armor coverage, and both are lacking in reach and impact force compared to Early Modern knights. You absolutely do not want to be in reach of a lance in the 15th and 16th centuries due to the sheer brutal impact energy possibly even punching through plate armor by virtue of imparting 400+ joules judging by Tobias Capwell's numbers with an arret and taking into account the durability of a war lance compared to the numbers he derived with tourney lances. Which could explain the arms race between pike and lance length in the Early Modern Era.

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Martin Kallander




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Jul, 2020 8:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I don't understand where people got the idea that roman cavalry charged at the trot, like Eric literally translated canter as trot in sowing the dragon's teeth and I've never got an explanation as to why he did it beyond "most scholars agree that they charged at the trot"

It's really odd Confused
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Wyatt W




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Jul, 2020 8:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Martin Kallander wrote:
I don't understand where people got the idea that roman cavalry charged at the trot, like Eric literally translated canter as trot in sowing the dragon's teeth and I've never got an explanation as to why he did it beyond "most scholars agree that they charged at the trot"

It's really odd Confused

I don't either, considering that in no way would a trot actually be devastating at all. There certainly is a distinction to be made between the canter and gallop, but "trotting" cavalry would be like a phalanx "charging" by moving a whopping 5mph. It's basically just marching speed. One thing that is interesting to note though is how Roman cavalry at least (no idea if Arabs used it) used throwing maces to help break up formations, which took me aback when I first read of it considering how unusual it is. Although it makes sense, people tend not to be able to hold bikes if you're tossing hefty maces with spiked brass or iron heads that embed in shields or spike lamellae.

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Martin Kallander




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Jul, 2020 9:35 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

That is actually part of a hypotheses I have about why they insist the romans charged at the trot. You see the part about the maces being throwing maces seems to be a modern conjecture too as far as I'm aware. I have so far not found any contemporary source claiming they were intended to be thrown. There is even a bit in Coniates where it is implied that the maces were just backup weapons for when their swords were blunted. (it should be noted that Coniates is 200 years later however)

There were however a french unit of cavalry during the napoleonic wars that charged at the trot called dragoons if memory serves me correct. These riders each carried a carbine or a pistol that they would fire just before they made contact with the enemy. Apparently because of the weight of their equipment combined with this unit not being issued big strong horses and a desire to maintain formation, they only charged at a trotting pace.

Whenever I read modern commentaries about the roman cataphracts I usually get the impression that there is a desire to draw comparisons between these two units for some reason, this is quite evident in Eric's notes especially.

If I'm correct in this then what they have done is assumed the cataphracts were 10th century dragoons and then bent the sources where they don't conform. Because after all, if the dragoons trotted due to the weight of their equipment then surely the cataphracts wouldn't be able to canter! Likewise the maces must have been for throwing if you assume they fight like dragoons because they don't carry anything else that even can be thrown effectively (aside from the 16 lances out of 504 men).

In reality there seems to be very little similarities between cataphracts and dragoons and the maces were probably not for throwing. The 16 lances are also an argument against them trotting since lances need speed to work and despite only making up 3% of the cataphracts, it makes absolutely no sense to go out of your way to equip even a tiny portion of your troops with weapons that don't work.
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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Jul, 2020 10:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Interesting discussion! I know very little about cavalry tactics but I'm really enjoying this thread so far!

Wyatt W wrote:
like a phalanx "charging" by moving a whopping 5mph.

I imagine a phalanx charge like a rugby scrum. It's not about the speed itself but about the kinetic energy (Ek = ˝mv2), where the lack of speed is compensated by mass. A phalanx, like a scrum, is a large body of interlocked men pushing forward, and if you ever played rugby I think you'll remember the first time you felt this power. But a phalanx was of course much larger and heavier than a scrum. An enemy unfamiliar with such tactics would have a difficult time dealing with that push.
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Toni Šušnjar




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Jul, 2020 11:27 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Martin Kallander wrote:
In reality there seems to be very little similarities between cataphracts and dragoons and the maces were probably not for throwing. The 16 lances are also an argument against them trotting since lances need speed to work and despite only making up 3% of the cataphracts, it makes absolutely no sense to go out of your way to equip even a tiny portion of your troops with weapons that don't work.


1) cataphract lancers were likely used against cavalry
2) Byzantine lance IIRC was used with a stabbing motion, not for a couched charge, so speed was much less important

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Martin Kallander




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Jul, 2020 12:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Toni Šušnjar wrote:

Byzantine lance IIRC was used with a stabbing motion, not for a couched charge, so speed was much less important

You don't, we have no treatises on how the romans used their lances. We do however know that lances need speed to work regardless of whether or not you couch them. While a stabbing motion works just fine on foot to deliver a powerful attack, on horse you can't use the rest of your body aside from the arm itself nearly as effectively which renders any thrust from horseback much weaker. We know of a Scott at Waterloo who not only survived 17 thrusts from lancers as a result of this, but he didn't even sustain any permanent injury!

Quote:
cataphract lancers were likely used against cavalry

While you probably aren't wrong about this, the manuals aren't specific on how the lances are used. We only know that 16 out of the 504 riders in the cataphract wedge carried lances. They were probably used against whatever the cataphracts engaged, not just cavalry.
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Mark Millman





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PostPosted: Thu 09 Jul, 2020 12:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dear Toni,

On Wednesday 26 February 2020, you wrote:
That is true, but disciplined cavalry - which admittedly was a rare occurence - was still able to shatter pikes through successive charges. IIRC, Polish hussars had a procedure for it - running at pikes at an angle - but they were not the only ones to pull it off. Menaulion, as Anthony points out, was deployed just one rank deep, but was designed so it was harder to shatter.

Surely you mean that the Polish hussars shattered the pike formations, not the pikes themselves. If I recall correctly, Polish hussars attacked the corners of pike blocks--charging them at oblique angles, as you say--and carried exceptionally long lances meant to equal the pikes in length, to be able to reach the pikemen. But in order to break the pikes themselves, the hussars would have had to get their horses in among them, which even with an oblique attack seems like an excellent way to get your horse killed in very short order if attacking a late-sixteenth- or seventeenth-century pike block.

To return to your original question, the purpose of a pike is not necessarily to physically resist the impact of armored cavalry, although it's certainly possible for a well-trained company with high morale to do so. It's to discourage the cavalry from completing their charge in the first place, whether by diminishing the riders' morale or by convincing the horses (who get a vote in all cavalry actions, although it often isn't the winning one) that there is a spiky solid object in front of them that it would hurt to run into--thus the need for deep, dense pike blocks. Single ranks show gaps.

Best,

Mark
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Martin Kallander




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Jul, 2020 12:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

That brings us neatly back to the menaulion, because it was designed to combat the fact that the actual pikes of the roman formations would be smashed to pieces by the charge och the cataphracts which would lead to said formations shattering.

I'm guessing you think hussars were also capable of this feat since the cataphracts did it as standard practice Toni? If so, then they probably could but it would be a lot more costly since their horses weren't protected by armour.
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Bartek Strojek




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Jul, 2020 1:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mark Millman wrote:
Dear Toni,

But in order to break the pikes themselves, the hussars would have had to get their horses in among them, which even with an oblique attack seems like an excellent way to get your horse killed in very short order if attacking a late-sixteenth- or seventeenth-century pike block.



Well, as far as I recall, for every killed/wounded hussar, there would be around 10 dead or wounded horses. Poor horsies.

I can find some sources from the battles with some time.

Of course not all those horses were killed by pikes, that's a different matter.
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Mark Millman





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PostPosted: Thu 09 Jul, 2020 1:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dear Bartek,

Yes; that is certainly true. I only argue that hussars would not needlessly waste their horses. Of course what may be needful against what may be needless is open to considerable argument.

Best,

Mark
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Wyatt W




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Jul, 2020 4:15 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Toni Šušnjar wrote:
Martin Kallander wrote:
In reality there seems to be very little similarities between cataphracts and dragoons and the maces were probably not for throwing. The 16 lances are also an argument against them trotting since lances need speed to work and despite only making up 3% of the cataphracts, it makes absolutely no sense to go out of your way to equip even a tiny portion of your troops with weapons that don't work.


1) cataphract lancers were likely used against cavalry
2) Byzantine lance IIRC was used with a stabbing motion, not for a couched charge, so speed was much less important

Kataphraktoi were specifically not supposed to get involved in fights with enemy cavalry unless absolutely necessary. They're an anti-infantry unit, the escorts leading them into contact with an enemy formation were there for fighting cavalry. Remember, the maximum number of Kataphraktoi in an entire army is 504. The treatise also imply that numbers of just 300 or so may have been more common, which would not be surprising given the sheer expense of their panoply.

Mark Millman wrote:
Dear Toni,

On Wednesday 26 February 2020, you wrote:
That is true, but disciplined cavalry - which admittedly was a rare occurence - was still able to shatter pikes through successive charges. IIRC, Polish hussars had a procedure for it - running at pikes at an angle - but they were not the only ones to pull it off. Menaulion, as Anthony points out, was deployed just one rank deep, but was designed so it was harder to shatter.

Surely you mean that the Polish hussars shattered the pike formations, not the pikes themselves. If I recall correctly, Polish hussars attacked the corners of pike blocks--charging them at oblique angles, as you say--and carried exceptionally long lances meant to equal the pikes in length, to be able to reach the pikemen. But in order to break the pikes themselves, the hussars would have had to get their horses in among them, which even with an oblique attack seems like an excellent way to get your horse killed in very short order if attacking a late-sixteenth- or seventeenth-century pike block.

To return to your original question, the purpose of a pike is not necessarily to physically resist the impact of armored cavalry, although it's certainly possible for a well-trained company with high morale to do so. It's to discourage the cavalry from completing their charge in the first place, whether by diminishing the riders' morale or by convincing the horses (who get a vote in all cavalry actions, although it often isn't the winning one) that there is a spiky solid object in front of them that it would hurt to run into--thus the need for deep, dense pike blocks. Single ranks show gaps.

Best,

Mark


Hussars also did not charge straight into pike formations that were unsoftened. Hussars would often engage the vanguard cavalry of an enemy army, soundly defeat it in the battles where all went as planned, and rout the enemy cavalry right into the infantry formations to break them up, then charge.

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Martin Kallander




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PostPosted: Thu 09 Jul, 2020 9:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Wyatt W wrote:

Kataphraktoi were specifically not supposed to get involved in fights with enemy cavalry unless absolutely necessary. They're an anti-infantry unit, the escorts leading them into contact with an enemy formation were there for fighting cavalry.

I guess this depends on how you define absolutely necessary, but the cataphracts would always partake in the main cavalry v cavalry battles and would be in the very center of these. The reason they were held back often doesn't have to do with them being specifically for fighting infantry, but because they were part of the general's units and so would not partake in minor engagements most of the time. When the general formed up to decisively engage the enemy cavalry, the cataphracts would always be deployed and they would be formed up in the very front and center of the cavalry battle.

Quote:
Remember, the maximum number of Kataphraktoi in an entire army is 504. The treatise also imply that numbers of just 300 or so may have been more common, which would not be surprising given the sheer expense of their panoply.

It's not that simple. It is made clear that there are to be 12 thematic units of heavy cavalry and 4 tagmatic units to make up a total of 16 units. I don't have the text at hand sadly but I am entirely certain that at least 2 of the tagmatic formations are cataphracts as both Ouranos and Phocas describe formations that require 2 and "the two triangular formations of cataphracts" are often referenced. There could be 4 units as I don't remember the exact text but I'm pretty sure the other 2 tagmatic units are the armoured light cavalry for scouting, ambushing the enemy and escorting the cataphracts.

The part about units of 384 cataphracts (304 proper cataphracts and 80 armoured horse archers) instead of 504 (354 cataphracts and 150 horse archers) is describing how to divide up the cataphracts if there aren't enough of them so as to maintain the wedge formations. 384 isn't a more common amount of cataphracts, it is just the required number to make the first rank of the formation half as wide which is convenient for learning. In most cases there would probably be 1008 cataphracts in an army, if they suffered attrition or if that number could not be aquired then they would divide up their cataphracts so that both units were of the same strength and the wedge was maintained but with a more narrow front.
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Henry O.





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PostPosted: Thu 09 Jul, 2020 10:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Entering the early modern period there were cases of cavalry trying to outrange pikes by using extremely long lances, potentially supported thanks to a rest or hollowed out to make them much lighter. Which had it's own possible advantages and disadvantages.

Perhaps a bit more closer comparison to the cataphract though would be the "men-at-arms" which came to refer specifically to the heavy cavalry wearing complete plate armor along with armored barding for their horses. These do seem to have been considered fairly okay-ish at breaking up pike squares for quite a while, though i think Thomas Digges still considered ranks of pikemen better at resisting barded lancers than weapons like bills or halberds. Most notably the battle of Marignano saw the French heavy cavalry charge multiple times head on into swiss pikemen with even King Francis supposedly being struck on the breastplate by pikes more than a dozen times and seem to have eventually gained the upper hand or driven them back enough for some contemporaries to see it as heavy knights once again gaining the advantage over massed, pike infantry. In practice however, the men-at-arms with barded horses started to fall out of use for a number of various reasons, not the least of which was that pikemen were being guarded by increasing numbers of arquebusiers and musketeers which could easily punch through their armor.


Regarding the menavlion, one thing you might consider is that the early modern pike tactics developed from those being used by the swiss, where the idea was for the pikemen to be a very mobile, offensive arm, the large, solid pike squares essentially doubling as both a defensive square and an attack column. The Byzantine pikemen though according to the treatises seem to have had almost an entirely defensive role. ie they'd form a large, hollow square that could act as a mobile fortress or base of operations on the battlefield, but the actual attacking would primarily be done by the cavalry or light infantry using bows, slings, or javelins who when threatened or repulsed could then retreat back to safety inside the square to regroup. If its expected that they're going to be standing around in place much more often then it perhaps makes a bit more sense to have the first rank armed with extra thick, heavy pole weapons braced against the ground to help better stop the momentum of any charging horse that happens to keep going despite all the sharp pike points. Secondly, while making sure they would be able to outreach any enemy lances may have been a concern at times, the main reason early modern authors give for allowing no short weapons in the front ranks tends to be the threat posed by enemy pikemen if they come to a push. If the byzantine pikemen on the other hand were generally expected to remain defensive during battles, and any similar enemy pikemen they might encounter is likewise expected to remain on the defensive, then being able to handle a head to head engagement against an attacking pike formation probably wasn't as much of a concern.
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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Fri 10 Jul, 2020 6:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

'Outranging' enemy infantry seems a bit pointless to me.

Great if you decide to completely halt before opposing infantry and try to fence with them but then again if that happened the charge evidently failed. If you charge it does seem more or less irrelevant what weapon you are using.

Say your lance is a meter longer than that of the infantry opposing you. Travelling at a moderate speed of 14 miles per hour that means your range advantage is going to last all of a second before you and your horse successively have to deal with and/or slam in the three or more ranks of successive infantry.

From what I gather the Byzantine cataphracts were specially equipped to deal with infantry and given maces for this job. In the late 1590s Maurice of Nassau felt confident dropping lancers and having all his cavalry equipped with pistol and sword despite being in the midst of the so called pike and shot period.

As for infantry pikes in the 15th and 16th century. These seem to have started out a little shorter at around 12-13 feet at the beginning and lengthening to around 18 feet as a result of infantry competition, not because they had to be grown to deal with cavalry.

I suppose this does suggest that cavalry equipment (with the exception of cataphracts) was largely determined by the need to fight other cavalry with infantry really being an afterthought. Likewise most infantry also seem to be equipped primarily to deal with other infantry. The menavlion or the pikes used by the Burgundians to defend their archers being an exception but perhaps one that proves the rule.
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Martin Kallander




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PostPosted: Fri 10 Jul, 2020 7:19 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pieter B. wrote:

From what I gather the Byzantine cataphracts were specially equipped to deal with infantry and given maces for this job

Huh, I always thought maces were most effective against armoured opponents. Considering the only armours the opposing infantry would have worn were gambesons at best (while I think they wore gambesons I won't pretend like there isn't a very large faction who think they didn't) and they didn't wear helmets, aren't the cataphracts swords and sabers better suited to dealing with these infantry battalions than their maces?

Both Phocas and Ouranos spend a lot more time talking about how these cataphracts should engage cataphracts and other kinds of cavalry than they do infantry. In fact they only spend one sentence on the cataphract on infantry battle. "Then their formations will be shattered by our cataphracts, their spears will be smashed to pieces while their arrows and javelins will be ineffective, as will their menavla."

The preceeding battle between the roman and muslim cavalry seems to have been much more important to them as they spent entire pages on that part. To me the maces would work best to crush the bones of other cataphracts which is why I think they carried them.
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