Throughout time horses have played an important role in society. Since their first introduction, they have continued to prove that they are a valuable asset. The horse fulfilled this role durning the middle ages to almost a key, in both personal and state affiars. It was in state affairs during the middle ages that the Cavalry rose to become an important part of the battle stratagies of medieval commanders.
The unit of choice went from Northren Europes intialy based infantry system into a largely dependent cavalary based system. During the cavalarys rain as quaterback of the medieval battlefield, it did not go through untouched, but took some setbacks from certian counter messures designed to combat cavalary . Despite these setbacks, the cavalary managed to maintian it’s high level of importnace in medieval battle stratgy. The rise of the calavary in western Europe began for a number of a reasons that all happened around the same time. One of the most influintial of these events was the lose of the Franks to the Romans in 554 A.D. .
This lose lead to an increase in the overall size of the average westren European cavalary . It was at this battle that the infantry based Franks faced a tough defeat at the hands of the Romans. The Romans of that day unlike their opponents had come to the battle field with a wide variety of tatical units at its disposal. The unit that proved to be the most effective of them all still was the cavalary, both that day in 554 A.D.and for many future days in European warfare . These horse and rider tandums of the Romans proved to be effective both as heavy cavalry, and mounted archers agianst the Frankish footmen. It was then after this deafeat during the sixth to ninth century that the number of cavalry units per solider in the Frankish military system began to increase. Not only were the Europeans at the time taking lessons from the Romans in the benifiets of a strong cavalry, but they were also being schooled in the beniefits of a good mobile cavalry by the Byzantine empire.
The Byzantine Strategos (commanders) like the romans made good use of the many different facets of their army but still used the cavalry as it’s focal point. Unlike the Romans though the Westerners learnt of the Bzyantine tatics more through cooperation then through battles agianst each other. These times of cooperation came during the first crusades, when eastern and western Europe united thier forces agianst the infidels of the middle east and sought to reclaim the Holy City. Although the Byzantines used both their Heavy and Light infantry throughout the campaign it was the first of these two styles that was taken up by the Western Europeans.
It is this heavy cavalry that would later lead to the developmeant of knights, in medieval warfare. With all of this in mind, the Europeans early on used their cavalry mainly for defensive purposes agianst quick raids from Turks, Ukrainians and Vikings. It wasn’t until the fall of Constantinople in 1204 at the hands of Western knights that the western cavalry finally had its place of importance secured in Medieval warfare tatics. It was then with this combination of Western European courage, mixed with Byzantine and Roman military tatics that produced the ever powerful and long standing cavalry of the middle ages. Although the cavalary made great leaps and bounds in securing its position of importance in medeival war tatics, it didn’t come with out its fair share of problems.
One of the biggest problems facing the medeival cavalary was the archer . A favorite weapon of the English archer, common for causing this type of trouble is the long bow. Used agianst the Turks in 1432 the long bow proved to be far superior weapon agianst the opposing Turkish cavalary as did the short bows of the Turks agianst the European Cavalary. Although the long bow had good success at first, advancements were made in European armour technology that greatly reduced its effectivness.
By the 1350s armour was beening developed that was 75% effective in keeping out long bow arrows. But while the armourers were gaining in skill, weapons where changing and the weapon of choice for the continintal European archer went from the long bow to the cross bow. Although the origins of the crossbow are not positively know, what is know is its effectivness as an infantry counter messure agianst cavalary . The average crossbow used by the infantry of the late 1400s would have been able to shoot up to 500 yards and was still capable of penetrating a knights armour if it hit at the right angle. The crossbow capable of doing this was called the arblet, not only did it prove to be very lethal, but it was also very expensive. It was this high price that made it too expensive for it to be a part of any natioanl armies standard equipment.
So to gain the benefiet of this new found weapon professional forces of crossbowmen could be found for regular work at a price that any commander would be willing to pay . The reason they were in such high demand by army commanders was because a well trained group of crossbow men would be able to fend off almost any cavalarys charge with very little damage sustained on their part. An example of this is at the battle of Jaffa in 1192, King Richard the I stayed safe in the middle of his crossbowmen as they turned aside all of the attackers cavalary charges . The immurgence of a new missle weapon that could also peirce a knights best armour was called the gun. It was first developed and used in Germany in 1381. At that time the hand gun was no more then a small cannon attached to a wooden shaft, that weighed about 10 pounds and had a dismal reload rate .
This inferiority to other missle weapons of the time lead to a retardation in its development and its overall lack of popularity. Although very deadly at close range the hand gun never gained general usage until the invention of the wheel-lock in 1517 . An other style of weapon that proved to be a thorn in any cavalary mans side was the pike Used mainly by Swiss forces, the pike could range any where from 12 to 18 feet in length and had langets that were at least 24 inches long. A phalanx of such pikes and pikeman would be impregnable to any cavalry attack and any other attack for that matter . In the same weapons category as the pike are also the Halberds and Partizans.
The halberds another Swiss weapon, were nothing more then a 12 inch blade on the end of a seven foot pole, with a spike on the top. The halberd when used properly was capable of delivering a blow of such great force that even armour with a double armourer’s mark would not be able to with stand such a blow . The partizan, developed in Italy, also proved to be a very simple yet effective weapon agianst the cavalry. The partizan consited of a foot long spike attached to the end of an eight foot long pole and so was very easy to make. This weapons effectivness and simplicity led to its spread through out Europe, fairly quickly in the late 1400s.