Cavalry: Turmae Fighting Model

This section is an attempt to model the cavalry in a more realistic manner. The infantry is the 4 legion army shown in the 11 frame sequence in Models of Legion Warfare . The cavalry formations from Cavalry Introduction are used. The movements of the individual turmae within those formations follow some of the ideas developed in the previous section, Cavalry Details. The sequence was developed in 30 step by step frames, each one allowing the cavalry formations to move a set distance. In the page that follows some frames were omitted because they showed only minor changes from those on either side.

Frame 1

The starting position. This is the same starting position as Frame 1 in The Infantry Fighting Model, with the cavalry units added on either side.

The two armies are 600 feet apart. Preliminary maneuver is completed, the infantry is ready to march to its forward position from which it will begin its charge. The cavalry is ready to begin trotting to its charging distance.

This model has the cavalry and infantry starting their attacks at the same time. The cavalry begins its charge with 600 feet separation. That gives each side just 100 yards to cover until they meet. If one wing is to panic and run away before they come in contact then any shorter distance does not give time for that to happen.

An alternative would be for the cavalry to hold at this location while the infantry marches forward to its charging position (Frame 7) so that both charges could begin at the same time. The actual timing of the cavalry attack could well have been different from one battle to the next, or from one side to the other for that matter. It is not hard to imagine the cavalry action being sufficiently disconnected from the infantry action that there is no close coordination between them. In that case the cavalry wings could well sit there watching each other, working up courage, waiting for the other side to make the first move.

Frame 2

This image requires a little explanation. To make the image size larger the center portion -- where the 4 legions are -- has been omitted from some frames. Because the cavalry moves so much more quickly than the infantry, in many frames there would be no discernible difference in the infantry positions between one frame and the next. By leaving the center section out and bringing the two wings together it is possible to view the cavalry action in more detail.

In Frame 2 the cavalry units have just begun to move forward. In the previous section the cavalry was described as trotting in its early maneuvers, beginning an easy gallop at a separation of 150 yards and a fast gallop at 50 yards. In this frame the cavalry are trotting. The lines are shown as staggered and uneven right from the beginning, in an attempt to underscore the effect of terrain and the differences between units.

Frame 3

the approach continues.

In this frame the front line of the blue wing on the left shows a slight curve. Cavalry are said to have often, perhaps usually, veered away before contact was made. Given the distances, the speed of the horses and the time it would take for a long line to decide to veer away, it would seem likely that in at least some cases the initial holding back might have begun very early in the charge. That is what is shown above. The 4th-6th turmae from the left of the first line are shown as holding back just slightly, not galloping as fast as the rest of the line. On the right flank the two sides engage normally.

All left-right references will be to the blue army's left or right, which is also the reader's.

What this model supposes is that both sides begin a forward charge but that one side flees before coming into contact. Another way it could happen is that one side, blue in this case, never mounts a charge at all but looses courage as soon as it sees the enemy start to come in its direction. That would be much easier to model. The blue line would simply turn around and start galloping away as soon as the red line began to move. What this model is trying to do is show how a charge once it began could still stop and turn around -- how much time and distance would that take.

Frame 4

The blue army left wing turns and runs away.

The retreat of the blue left wing has begun with this frame. This scenario is built around the idea that an extended cavalry formation could not have turned to flee upon command. Even if such a command were decided upon, there would hardly be any way to communicate it to the soldiers once they are galloping forward. Therefore, for a wing to turn away before contact is made, the model supposes that the panic starts with a few turmae and spreads from there. In this frame the few turmae that began to turn away are now seen to be drawing neighboring turmae with them. The turmae in the second line begin to react to what they see happening in front of them.

On the right flank the attack of both sides proceeds normally. The far right group of turmae of the red second line begin to move up to cover the flank.

Frame 5

A large part of the left wing is in full flight as more and more turmae flee. As far as I can determine, no one has definitively described just how a cavalry wing could turn around. To create a model of how it might have happened it was necessary to come up with some kind of scenario.

Considering that the particular cavalry being represented here is comprised of tribal recruits with various degrees of training and command sophistication and differing organizations it would be difficult to imagine how a whole cavalry wing could be ordered to wheel around within the few seconds it would take horses to gallop 100 yards. Since the whole wing cannot turn in unison -- there being no command structure that could make this happen during a galloping charge -- and since a turma located in the middle of a long line cannot turn and wheel to either side, the only way for a formation to turn around is for each turma to turn around within its own confines. That is, the individual horsemen stop, wheel about, and begin to run in the opposite direction pretty much in place. For the turma to turn itself around there would be some lateral movement but not so much that one turma would bump into adjacent turmae when doing it. When shown at this scale, each turma appears to simply stop and reverse direction.

The retreat is considered to be something that happens spontaneously as several turmae loose courage and panic. They start to flee, others around them follow suit and the whole wing eventually follows suit. That is the scenario the model attempts to present.

On the right, the two sides are nearly at the point where they will engage each other. On both wings the second lines are holding their positions except as already noted.

Frame 6

In some ways this frame seems identical to Frame 5. The retreat of the left flank continues unabated. On the right, however, there is less movement than before. As the two sides begin to realize that neither will break and run their charge slows down. As noted earlier, cavalry probably did not collide at a full gallop but rather at a very slow pace or even a dead stop.

Frame 7

At this point the entire army is shown. About 30 seconds have elapsed since Frame 1. In that time, while the cavalry have closed the distance between them, the infantry have closed to 300 feet. At this point they are ready to begin their running charge.

The retreat of the left flank has spread to the second line. Over half the first line is retreating; only a few units are continuing to hold their own. This could be because they simply have more confidence, are braver, or because they are unaware of the flight taking part on the far left. Charging soldiers would be focused on what is in front of them and might well not know that half their line has turned tail and run for it.

On the right, the two sides are fully engaged in a skirmish encounter. Neither side actually closes to the point of intermingling. The model shows a slight distance between the units but it is supposed that braver individuals would advance forward to harass the enemy during these skirmishes. On the far right the blue contingent has taken advantage of the right wing weakness and continues to press its attack at full speed.

Frame 8

The main event in this frame is the infantry. They have closed to the distance at which they can throw their pila and start the final phase of their charge. In the few seconds between Frames 7 and 8 the cavalry has not moved much.

Frame 9

The infantry lines collide (this was Frame 5 in the 11 frame infantry scenario). On the left the retreat continues. The red army second line begins to follow the first line in chasing the blue army. On the right the red line begins to pull back from skirmishing.

Frame 10

The blue left wing begins to fragment into two parts. On the far left the turmae are fleeing back and away, leaving some turmae isolated. This would seem to be a natural occurrence when end of a line broke and ran and the other, for whatever reason, did not react as quickly.

On the right the tentative withdrawal by elements of the red line are more pronounced. The blue line stays in place. In this compressed time frame the blue line would not be exhausted, but in actual combat one or both sides would tire at some point. In this model the blue first line on the right is considered to be tired from the fighting and therefore does not pursue the red army as it backs away. Instead, the fresher men from the blue second line charge forward to take over the fighting.

Frame 11

The retreat and chase on the left continues. The splitting of the blue army left wing has now spread to the red army as they chase the blue army turmae.

On the right the second line of blue turmae are passing through the first line turmae. There is sufficient space in the more open cavalry formations for the horses of one line to pass through another line without the necessity of opening specific gaps. The red army on the right continues its retreat.

Frame 12

With frame 12 the entire army is shown again. The infantry has fallen back from close combat and a lull in the fighting occurs. The battleline between the two opposing infantry armies is now sharply slanted and jagged. On the right flank the second blue line has fully passed through the first line and pursues the red army at full speed.

For the next few frames the movements of the cavalry continue along the lines already described. The sequence skips to Frame 16.

Frame 16

The infantry is shown engaged in sporadic fighting along the line. The cavalry on the left continues to split into two halves. On the right the two lines of red turmae have coalesced to resist the charge of the blue turmae. The original first line of the blue army is starting to move to support its second line.

Frame 19

The infantry are in another lull. The second lines of the legions have moved forward to support the first line. This would bring the infantry battle into something like its middle stage. The blue cavalry has been run off the field of battle on the left. On the right the red and blue armies are again engaged in skirmishing.

Frame 21

Cavalry action begins to show a different look. On the left the red cavalry has stopped its pursuit of the blue army which is now out of the action. The second line of the red army re-groups and begins to move to the right, in preparation for an attack on the infantry. The two parts of the first line have turned around and will join up with the second line. On the right the entire wing is engaged in skirmish fighting. Though not shown, it would be in fighting of this type that the intermingling of lines, if there was to be any, might happen.

Frame 30

The final frame in the sequence shows the infantry in the third cycle of sporadic fighting followed by lulls and standoffs (Frame 11 in the infantry sequence). The blue cavalry on the left flank is well out of the action; they are shown about 3,000 feet from the infantry. As noted earlier, the times and distances used in this model do not try to duplicate an actual battle in which the cavalry action might take several hours and a defeated wing such as this blue unit could be driven miles away.

Still on the left flank, the red cavalry has re-grouped and is attacking the left flank of the blue infantry.

On the right the red cavalry is is full retreat, being pursued by the blue cavalry. At this point the sequence ends. Many battles were decided when the cavalry was able to attack the infantry in the rear or on the flank. The attack by the red cavalry could trigger a rout and signal the loss of this particular battle by the blue army.

For modeling purposes the two cavalry wings were modeled differently. One reason was to explore more alternatives within the same set of illustrations. But another reason was to underscore the fact that battles were not tidy; one wing could win while the other lost. In a case like the one modeled above, one might ask what the blue cavalry on the right flank would do next. Would it keep chasing the red cavalry, perhaps unaware of what was happening on the left flank? Would it swing around and attack the red infantry on its flank or rear? Would it ride all the way around both armies to come to the aid of its own infantry and attack the left wing of the red cavalry?


The scenario illustrated in these drawings is not intended to be an accurate rendering of how a real battle would have happened. Rather, it simply tries to represent the cavalry as something other than large blocks on a grid-like battlefield. The model tries to make the cavalry units fluid and mobile. It portrays two wings with dramatically different fighting styles. On the one flank it provides mechanisms for the panic and flight of the entire wing before contact is ever made. On the other flank it tries to show a situation in which neither side loses its nerve and they do come together in a series of skirmishes before one turns tail and runs away. The model avoids neat rectangular blocks in favor of many small units that become jumbled and separated from each other as the battle goes along. Some turn and run, other follow. It attempts to picture the possible role of a second line -- sometimes supporting, even replacing the first line in the fighting, sometimes fleeing along with it.

The model has many faults. The time and distance scales used are certainly among them. The entire scenario shown here would hardly be representative of a battle that lasted several hours. During that length of time the cavalry on both sides would do much more maneuvering over far greater distances. The ways in which the cavalry units move, the speed they trot or gallop, the way the units spread out or stay together, the breakdown into small groups -- all of these elements are based on reasonable notions of cavalry fighting but cannot in any way be thought of as really accurate or definitive. At best the model is a slight improvement over the standard depictions; it may give a bit of insight into how cavalry might have fought, and it possibly presents a more fluid image of this type of combat.

Another significant defect in the model at this point is the absence of auxiliary skirmishers or light infantry. As has been noted, archers, slingers and light infantry were effective in supporting cavalry and, at least in some instances, were certainly used in conjunction with that arm. They have been omitted from these models because they would introduce yet another variable in a scenario that is already based too much on speculation. However, their absence is a serious defect.

Site Map

© 2003, Gary Brueggeman. All rights reserved world wide. No part of this work may be reproduced in part or whole, in any form or by any means, without permission from the author.