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Soldiers or warriors fighting from horseback

Top 10 Cavalry related articles

A trumpeter of the Representative Cavalry Squadron in the Polish Army.

Cavalry (from the French word cavalerie, itself derived from "cheval" meaning "horse") are soldiers or warriors who fight mounted on horseback. Cavalry were historically the most mobile of the combat arms, operating as light cavalry in the roles of reconnaissance, screening, and skirmishing in many armies, or as heavy cavalry for decisive shock attacks in other armies. An individual soldier in the cavalry is known by a number of designations depending on era and tactics, such as cavalryman, horseman, trooper, cataphract, knight, hussar, uhlan, mamluk, cuirassier, lancer, dragoon, or horse archer. The designation of cavalry was not usually given to any military forces that used other animals for mounts, such as camels or elephants. Infantry who moved on horseback, but dismounted to fight on foot, were known in the early 17th to the early 18th century as dragoons, a class of mounted infantry which in most armies later evolved into standard cavalry while retaining their historic designation.

Cavalry had the advantage of improved mobility, and a soldier fighting from horseback also had the advantages of greater height, speed, and inertial mass over an opponent on foot. Another element of horse mounted warfare is the psychological impact a mounted soldier can inflict on an opponent.

The speed, mobility, and shock value of cavalry was greatly appreciated and exploited in armed forces in the Ancient and Middle Ages; some forces were mostly cavalry, particularly in nomadic societies of Asia, notably the Huns of Attila and the later Mongol armies.[1] In Europe, cavalry became increasingly armoured (heavy), and eventually evolving into the mounted knights of the medieval period. During the 17th century, cavalry in Europe discarded most of its armor, which was ineffective against the muskets and cannons that were coming into common use, and by the mid-18th century armor had mainly fallen into obsolescence, although some regiments retained a small thickened cuirass that offered protection against lances, sabres, and bayonets; including some protection against shot from a distance.

In the period between the World Wars, many cavalry units were converted into motorized infantry and mechanized infantry units, or reformed as tank troops. However, some cavalry still served during World War II, notably in the Red Army, the Mongolian People's Army, the Royal Italian Army, the Romanian Army, the Polish Land Forces, and light reconnaissance units within the Waffen SS. Most cavalry units that are horse-mounted in modern armies serve in purely ceremonial roles, or as mounted infantry in difficult terrain such as mountains or heavily forested areas. Modern usage of the term generally refers to units performing the role of reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition (RSTA).

Cavalry Intro articles: 38

Role of cavalry

In many modern armies, the term cavalry is still often used to refer to units that are a combat arm of the armed forces which in the past filled the traditional horse-borne land combat light cavalry roles. These include scouting, skirmishing with enemy reconnaissance elements to deny them knowledge of the disposition of the main body of troops, forward security, offensive reconnaissance by combat, defensive screening of friendly forces during retrograde movement, retreat, restoration of command and control, deception, battle handover and passage of lines, relief in place, linkup, breakout operations, and raiding. The shock role, traditionally filled by heavy cavalry, is generally filled by armored units in modern warfare.[2]

Cavalry Role of cavalry articles: 8

Early history


Before the Iron Age, the role of cavalry on the battlefield was largely performed by light chariots. The chariot originated with the Sintashta-Petrovka culture in Central Asia and spread by nomadic or semi-nomadic Indo-Iranians.[3] The chariot was quickly adopted by settled peoples both as a military technology and an object of ceremonial status, especially by the pharaohs of the New Kingdom of Egypt from 1550 BC as well as the Assyrian army and Babylonian royalty.[4]

The power of mobility given by mounted units was recognized early on, but was offset by the difficulty of raising large forces and by the inability of horses (then mostly small) to carry heavy armor. Nonetheless, there are indications that, from the 15th century BC onwards, horseback riding was practiced amongst the military elites of the great states of the ancient Near East, most notably those in Egypt, Assyria, the Hittite Empire, and Mycenaean Greece.[5]

Cavalry techniques, and the rise of true cavalry, were an innovation of equestrian nomads of the Central Asian and Iranian steppe and pastoralist tribes such as the Iranic Parthians and Sarmatians.

Parthian horseman, now on display at the Palazzo Madama, Turin.

The photograph above left shows Assyrian cavalry from reliefs of 865–860 BC. At this time, the men had no spurs, saddles, saddle cloths, or stirrups. Fighting from the back of a horse was much more difficult than mere riding. The cavalry acted in pairs; the reins of the mounted archer were controlled by his neighbour's hand. Even at this early time, cavalry used swords, shields, spears, and bows. The sculpture implies two types of cavalry, but this might be a simplification by the artist. Later images of Assyrian cavalry show saddle cloths as primitive saddles, allowing each archer to control his own horse.[6]

As early as 490 BC a breed of large horses was bred in the Nisaean plain in Media to carry men with increasing amounts of armour (Herodotus 7,40 & 9,20), but large horses were still very exceptional at this time. By the fourth century BC the Chinese during the Warring States period (403–221 BC) began to use cavalry against rival states,[7] and by 331 BC when Alexander the Great defeated the Persians the use of chariots in battle was obsolete in most nations; despite a few ineffective attempts to revive scythed chariots. The last recorded use of chariots as a shock force in continental Europe was during the Battle of Telamon in 225 BC.[8] However, chariots remained in use for ceremonial purposes such as carrying the victorious general in a Roman triumph, or for racing.

Outside of mainland Europe, the southern Britons met Julius Caesar with chariots in 55 and 54 BC, but by the time of the Roman conquest of Britain a century later chariots were obsolete, even in Britannia. The last mention of chariot use in Britain was by the Caledonians at the Mons Graupius, in 84 AD.

Ancient Greece: city-states, Thebes, Thessaly and Macedonia

Warrior's departure; an Athenian amphora dated 550–540 BC.

During the classical Greek period cavalry were usually limited to those citizens who could afford expensive war-horses. Three types of cavalry became common: light cavalry, whose riders, armed with javelins, could harass and skirmish; heavy cavalry, whose troopers, using lances, had the ability to close in on their opponents; and finally those whose equipment allowed them to fight either on horseback or foot. The role of horsemen did however remain secondary to that of the hoplites or heavy infantry who comprised the main strength of the citizen levies of the various city states.[9]

Cavalry played a relatively minor role in ancient Greek city-states, with conflicts decided by massed armored infantry. However, Thebes produced Pelopidas, their first great cavalry commander, whose tactics and skills were absorbed by Phillip II of Macedon when Phillip was a guest-hostage in Thebes. Thessaly was widely known for producing competent cavalrymen,[10] and later experiences in wars both with and against the Persians taught the Greeks the value of cavalry in skirmishing and pursuit. The Athenian author and soldier Xenophon in particular advocated the creation of a small but well-trained cavalry force; to that end, he wrote several manuals on horsemanship and cavalry operations.[11]

The Macedonian Kingdom in the north, on the other hand, developed a strong cavalry force that culminated in the hetairoi (Companion cavalry)[12] of Philip II of Macedon and Alexander the Great. In addition to these heavy cavalry, the Macedonian army also employed lighter horsemen[13] called prodromoi for scouting and screening, as well as the Macedonian pike phalanx and various kinds of light infantry. There were also the Ippiko (or "Horserider"), Greek "heavy" cavalry, armed with kontos (or cavalry lance), and sword. These wore leather armour or mail plus a helmet. They were medium rather than heavy cavalry, meaning that they were better suited to be scouts, skirmishers, and pursuers rather than front line fighters. The effectiveness of this combination of cavalry and infantry helped to break enemy lines and was most dramatically demonstrated in Alexander's conquests of Persia, Bactria, and northwestern India.[14]

Roman Republic and Early Empire

Tombstone of a Roman auxiliary trooper from Cologne, Germany. Second half of the first century AD

The cavalry in the early Roman Republic remained the preserve of the wealthy landed class known as the equites—men who could afford the expense of maintaining a horse in addition to arms and armor heavier than those of the common legions. Horses were provided by the Republic and could be withdrawn if neglected or misused, together with the status of being a cavalryman.[15]

As the class grew to be more of a social elite instead of a functional property-based military grouping, the Romans began to employ Italian socii for filling the ranks of their cavalry. The weakness of Roman cavalry was demonstrated by Hannibal Barca during the Second Punic War where he used his superior mounted forces to win several battles. The most notable of these was the Battle of Cannae, where he inflicted a catastrophic defeat on the Romans. At about the same time the Romans began to recruit foreign auxiliary cavalry from among Gauls, Iberians, and Numidians, the last being highly valued as mounted skirmishers and scouts (see Numidian cavalry). Julius Caesar had a high opinion of his escort of Germanic mixed cavalry, giving rise to the Cohortes Equitatae. Early emperors maintained an ala of Batavian cavalry as their personal bodyguards until the unit was dismissed by Galba after the Batavian Rebellion.[16]

For the most part, Roman cavalry during the early Republic functioned as an adjunct to the legionary infantry and formed only one-fifth of the standing force comprising a consular army. Except in times of major mobilisation about 1,800 horsemen were maintained, with three hundred attached to each legion.[17] The relatively low ratio of horsemen to infantry does not mean that the utility of cavalry should be underestimated, as its strategic role in scouting, skirmishing, and outpost duties was crucial to the Romans' capability to conduct operations over long distances in hostile or unfamiliar territory. On some occasions Roman cavalry also proved its ability to strike a decisive tactical blow against a weakened or unprepared enemy, such as the final charge at the Battle of Aquilonia.[18]

After defeats such as the Battle of Carrhae, the Romans learned the importance of large cavalry formations from the Parthians.[19] At the same time heavy spears and shields modelled on those favoured by the horsemen of the Greek city-states were adopted to replace the lighter weaponry of early Rome.[20] These improvements in tactics and equipment reflected those of a thousand years earlier when the first Iranians to reach the Iranian Plateau forced the Assyrians to undertake similar reform. Nonetheless, the Romans would continue to rely mainly on their heavy infantry supported by auxiliary cavalry.

Late Roman Empire and the Migration Period

Reenactor as a Roman auxiliary cavalryman.

In the army of the late Roman Empire, cavalry played an increasingly important role. The Spatha, the classical sword throughout most of the 1st millennium was adopted as the standard model for the Empire's cavalry forces.

The most widespread employment of heavy cavalry at this time was found in the forces of the Iranian empires, the Parthians and their Persian Sasanian successors. Both, but especially the former, were famed for the cataphract (fully armored cavalry armed with lances) even though the majority of their forces consisted of lighter horse archers. The West first encountered this eastern heavy cavalry during the Hellenistic period with further intensive contacts during the eight centuries of the Roman–Persian Wars. At first the Parthians' mobility greatly confounded the Romans, whose armoured close-order infantry proved unable to match the speed of the Parthians. However, later the Romans would successfully adapt such heavy armor and cavalry tactics by creating their own units of cataphracts and clibanarii.[21]

The decline of the Roman infrastructure made it more difficult to field large infantry forces, and during the 4th and 5th centuries cavalry began to take a more dominant role on the European battlefield, also in part made possible by the appearance of new, larger breeds of horses. The replacement of the Roman saddle by variants on the Scythian model, with pommel and cantle,[22] was also a significant factor as was the adoption of stirrups and the concomitant increase in stability of the rider's seat. Armored cataphracts began to be deployed in eastern Europe and the Near East, following the precedents established by Persian forces, as the main striking force of the armies in contrast to the earlier roles of cavalry as scouts, raiders, and outflankers.

The late-Roman cavalry tradition of organized units in a standing army differed fundamentally from the nobility of the Germanic invaders—individual warriors who could afford to provide their own horses and equipment. While there was no direct linkage with these predecessors the early medieval knight also developed as a member of a social and martial elite, able to meet the considerable expenses required by his role from grants of land and other incomes.[23]

Cavalry Early history articles: 101


Chinese caltrop jar

Central Asia

Modern reenactment of Mongol military movement

Xiongnu, Tujue, Avars, Kipchaks, Khitans, Mongols, Don Cossacks and the various Turkic peoples are also examples of the horse-mounted groups that managed to gain substantial successes in military conflicts with settled agrarian and urban societies, due to their strategic and tactical mobility. As European states began to assume the character of bureaucratic nation-states supporting professional standing armies, recruitment of these mounted warriors was undertaken in order to fill the strategic roles of scouts and raiders.

Mongols at war 14th century

The best known instance of the continued employment of mounted tribal auxiliaries were the Cossack cavalry regiments of the Russian Empire. In Eastern Europe, and out onto the steppes, cavalry remained important much longer and dominated the scene of warfare until the early 17th century and even beyond, as the strategic mobility of cavalry was crucial for the semi-nomadic pastoralist lives that many steppe cultures led. Tibetans also had a tradition of cavalry warfare, in several military engagements with the Chinese Tang dynasty (618–907 AD).

Khanates of Central Asia

East Asia


An Eastern Han glazed ceramic statue of a horse with bridle and halter headgear, from Sichuan, late 2nd century to early 3rd century AD

Further east, the military history of China, specifically northern China, held a long tradition of intense military exchange between Han Chinese infantry forces of the settled dynastic empires and the mounted nomads or "barbarians" of the north. The naval history of China was centered more to the south, where mountains, rivers, and large lakes necessitated the employment of a large and well-kept navy.

In 307 BC, King Wuling of Zhao, the ruler of the former state of Jin, ordered his commanders and troops to adopt the trousers of the nomads as well as practice the nomads' form of mounted archery to hone their new cavalry skills.[7]

A bas-relief of a soldier and horse with saddle and stirrups, from the tomb of Chinese Emperor Taizong of Tang (r 626–649), c 650

The adoption of massed cavalry in China also broke the tradition of the chariot-riding Chinese aristocracy in battle, which had been in use since the ancient Shang Dynasty (c 1600–1050 BC).[24] By this time large Chinese infantry-based armies of 100,000 to 200,000 troops were now buttressed with several hundred thousand mounted cavalry in support or as an effective striking force.[25] The handheld pistol-and-trigger crossbow was invented in China in the fourth century BC;[26] it was written by the Song dynasty scholars Zeng Gongliang, Ding Du, and Yang Weide in their book Wujing Zongyao (1044 AD) that massed missile fire by crossbowmen was the most effective defense against enemy cavalry charges.[27]

The Qianlong Emperor in ceremonial armor on horseback, painted by Giuseppe Castiglione, dated 1739 or 1758

On many occasions the Chinese studied nomadic cavalry tactics and applied the lessons in creating their own potent cavalry forces, while in others they simply recruited the tribal horsemen wholesale into their armies; and in yet other cases nomadic empires proved eager to enlist Chinese infantry and engineering, as in the case of the Mongol Empire and its sinicized part, the Yuan Dynasty (1279–1368). The Chinese recognized early on during the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD) that they were at a disadvantage in lacking the number of horses the northern nomadic peoples mustered in their armies. Emperor Wu of Han (r 141–87 BC) went to war with the Dayuan for this reason, since the Dayuan were hoarding a massive amount of tall, strong, Central Asian bred horses in the HellenizedGreek region of Fergana (established slightly earlier by Alexander the Great). Although experiencing some defeats early on in the campaign, Emperor Wu's war from 104 BC to 102 BC succeeded in gathering the prized tribute of horses from Fergana.

Cavalry tactics in China were enhanced by the invention of the saddle-attached stirrup by at least the 4th century, as the oldest reliable depiction of a rider with paired stirrups was found in a Jin Dynasty tomb of the year 322 AD.[28][29][30] The Chinese invention of the horse collar by the 5th century was also a great improvement from the breast harness, allowing the horse to haul greater weight without heavy burden on its skeletal structure.[31][32]


The horse warfare of Korea was first started during the ancient Korean kingdom Gojoseon. Since at least the 3rd century BC, there was influence of northern nomadic peoples and Yemaek peoples on Korean warfare. By roughly the first century BC, the ancient kingdom of Buyeo also had mounted warriors.[33] The cavalry of Goguryeo, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, were called Gaemamusa (개마무사, 鎧馬武士), and were renowned as a fearsome heavy cavalry force. King Gwanggaeto the Great often led expeditions into the Baekje, Gaya confederacy, Buyeo, Later Yan and against Japanese invaders with his cavalry.[34]

In the 12th century, Jurchen tribes began to violate the Goryeo–Jurchen borders, and eventually invaded Goryeo Korea. After experiencing the invasion by the Jurchen, Korean general Yun Gwan realized that Goryeo lacked efficient cavalry units. He reorganized the Goryeo military into a professional army that would contain decent and well-trained cavalry units. In 1107, the Jurchen were ultimately defeated, and surrendered to Yun Gwan. To mark the victory, General Yun built nine fortresses to the northeast of the Goryeo–Jurchen borders (동북 9성, 東北 九城).

A mounted samurai with bow and arrows, wearing a horned helmet. Circa 1878.


In the Battle of Ichi-no-Tani, Japanese cavalry moving down a mountain-side

The ancient Japanese of the Kofun period also adopted cavalry and equine culture by the 5th century AD. The emergence of the samurai aristocracy led to the development of armoured horse archers, themselves to develop into charging lancer cavalry as gunpowder weapons rendered bows obsolete.

An example is Yabusame (流鏑馬?), a type of mounted archery in traditional Japanese archery. An archer on a running horse shoots three special "turnip-headed" arrows successively at three wooden targets.

This style of archery has its origins at the beginning of the Kamakura period. Minamoto no Yoritomo became alarmed at the lack of archery skills his samurai had. He organized yabusame as a form of practice. Currently, the best places to see yabusame performed are at the Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū in Kamakura and Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto (during Aoi Matsuri in early May). It is also performed in Samukawa and on the beach at Zushi, as well as other locations.

Kasagake or Kasakake (笠懸, かさがけ lit. "hat shooting") is a type of Japanese mounted archery. In contrast to yabusame, the types of targets are various and the archer shoots without stopping the horse. While yabusame has been played as a part of formal ceremonies, kasagake has developed as a game or practice of martial arts, focusing on technical elements of horse archery.

South Asia

Indian subcontinent

In the Indian subcontinent, cavalry played a major role from the Gupta Dynasty (320–600) period onwards. India has also the oldest evidence for the introduction of toe-stirrups.[35]

Indian literature contains numerous references to the mounted warriors of the Central Asian horse nomads, notably the Sakas, Kambojas, Yavanas, Pahlavas and Paradas. Numerous Puranic texts refer to a conflict in ancient India (16th century BC)[36] in which the horsemen of five nations, called the "Five Hordes" (pañca.ganan) or Kṣatriya hordes (Kṣatriya ganah), attacked and captured the state of Ayudhya by dethroning its Vedic King Bahu[37]

Manuscript illustration of the Battle of Kurukshetra

The Mahabharata, Ramayana, numerous Puranas and some foreign sources attest that the Kamboja cavalry frequently played role in ancient wars. V. R. Ramachandra Dikshitar writes: "Both the Puranas and the epics agree that the horses of the Sindhu and Kamboja regions were of the finest breed, and that the services of the Kambojas as cavalry troopers were utilised in ancient wars".[38] J.A.O.S. writes: "Most famous horses are said to come either from Sindhu or Kamboja; of the latter (i.e. the Kamboja), the Indian epic Mahabharata speaks among the finest horsemen".[39]

Coin of Chandragupta II or Vikramaditya, one of the most powerful emperors of the Gupta empire during times referred to as the Golden Age of India
Rajput warrior on horseback.

The Mahabharata speaks of the esteemed cavalry of the Kambojas, Sakas, Yavanas and Tusharas, all of whom had participated in the Kurukshetra war under the supreme command of Kamboja ruler Sudakshin Kamboj.[40]

Mahabharata and Vishnudharmottara Purana pay especial attention to the Kambojas, Yavansa, Gandharas etc. being ashva.yuddha.kushalah (expert cavalrymen).[41] In the Mahabharata war, the Kamboja cavalry along with that of the Sakas, Yavanas is reported to have been enlisted by the Kuru king Duryodhana of Hastinapura.[42]

Herodotus (c 484 – c 425 BC) attests that the Gandarian mercenaries (i.e. Gandharans/Kambojans of Gandari Strapy of Achaemenids) from the 20th strapy of the Achaemenids were recruited in the army of emperor Xerxes I (486–465 BC), which he led against the Hellas.[43] Similarly, the men of the Mountain Land from north of Kabol-River equivalent to medieval Kohistan (Pakistan), figure in the army of Darius III against Alexander at Arbela, providing a cavalry force and 15 elephants.[44] This obviously refers to Kamboja cavalry south of Hindukush.

The Kambojas were famous for their horses, as well as cavalrymen (asva-yuddha-Kushalah).[45] On account of their supreme position in horse (Ashva) culture, they were also popularly known as Ashvakas, i.e. the "horsemen"[46] and their land was known as "Home of Horses".[47] They are the Assakenoi and Aspasioi of the Classical writings, and the Ashvakayanas and Ashvayanas in Pāṇini's Ashtadhyayi. The Assakenoi had faced Alexander with 30,000 infantry, 20,000 cavalry and 30 war elephants.[48] Scholars have identified the Assakenoi and Aspasioi clans of Kunar and Swat valleys as a section of the Kambojas.[49] These hardy tribes had offered stubborn resistance to Alexander (c 326 BC) during latter's campaign of the Kabul, Kunar and Swat valleys and had even extracted the praise of the Alexander's historians. These highlanders, designated as "parvatiya Ayudhajivinah" in Pāṇini's Astadhyayi,[50] were rebellious, fiercely independent and freedom-loving cavalrymen who never easily yielded to any overlord.[51]

The Sanskrit drama Mudra-rakashas by Visakha Dutta and the Jaina work Parishishtaparvan refer to Chandragupta's (c 320 BC – c 298 BC) alliance with Himalayan king Parvataka. The Himalayan alliance gave Chandragupta a formidable composite army made up of the cavalry forces of the Shakas, Yavanas, Kambojas, Kiratas, Parasikas and Bahlikas as attested by Mudra-Rakashas (Mudra-Rakshasa 2).[52] These hordes had helped Chandragupta Maurya defeat the ruler of Magadha and placed Chandragupta on the throne, thus laying the foundations of Mauryan Dynasty in Northern India.

The cavalry of Hunas and the Kambojas is also attested in the Raghu Vamsa epic poem of Sanskrit poet Kalidasa.[53] Raghu of Kalidasa is believed to be Chandragupta II (Vikaramaditya) (375–413/15 AD), of the well-known Gupta Dynasty.

As late as the mediaeval era, the Kamboja cavalry had also formed part of the Gurjara-Pratihara armed forces from the eighth to the 10th centuries AD. They had come to Bengal with the Pratiharas when the latter conquered part of the province.[54][55][56][57][58]

Ancient Kambojas organised military sanghas and shrenis (corporations) to manage their political and military affairs, as Arthashastra of Kautiliya as well as the Mahabharata record. They are described as Ayuddha-jivi or Shastr-opajivis (nations-in-arms), which also means that the Kamboja cavalry offered its military services to other nations as well. There are numerous references to Kambojas having been requisitioned as cavalry troopers in ancient wars by outside nations.

Mughal Empire

The Mughal armies (lashkar) were primarily a cavalry force. The elite corps were the ahadi who provided direct service to the Emperor and acted as guard cavalry. Supplementary cavalry or dakhilis were recruited, equipped and paid by the central state. This was in contrast to the tabinan horsemen who were the followers of individual noblemen. Their training and equipment varied widely but they made up the backbone of the Mughal cavalry. Finally there were tribal irregulars led by and loyal to tributary chiefs. These included Hindus, Afghans and Turks summoned for military service when their autonomous leaders were called on by the Imperial government.[59]

Cavalry Asia articles: 129