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Arthur's Army


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Towards the end of the 2nd C. Marcus Aurelius sent 5,500 Sarmatian heavily armoured cavalry to Britain.  The Sarmatian's carried a dragon standard, later adopted by the Roman legions. Reputedly the god of war worshipped by the Sarmatians was symbolised by a sword standing upright in the ground or in a stone.

In the later Roman Empire the cavalry units became more heavily armoured while the infantry became steadily lighter armed . 

Complete sets of Roman horse armour were discovered during the excavations at 'Dura Europus.'

Without armour infantry cannot stand against heavy cavalry; conversely cavalry cannot stand and fight against infantry. 

Cavalry relies on surprise, putting the enemy to flight and then turning a retreat into a rout. 

Raising an army of men on foot has the danger of leaving their homes exposed to the ravages of a mounted force. 

However a cavalry force would have been powerless against a stockaded settlement defended by all its inhabitants. 

In the case of a surprise attack infantry can respond instantly, cavalry have to mount or fight at a disadvantage. 

Archaeological excavations have shown that many iron age hill forts were reoccupied at this time.

'There is evidence, as at Castle Dore, that byres & stables & paddocks were provided within the defended areas so that farm animals and horses could be kept secure' - Ross, The traveller's guide to Celtic Britain.

Some became permanent settlements, others protection for forces while in the area.

The armies of the Britons were mainly cavalry those of the Anglo - Saxons, whether sea - borne or land based, were infantry. 

Not until the late 6th C. does horse furniture start to appear among excavated Anglo - Saxon grave goods in Britain and then only as that of a leader who rode while his men marched. 

Early Welsh poets tell of resplendent well -mounted sword -armed warriors fighting spear equipped foot -soldiers.

 One early poem specifically tells of the defeat of Arthur's horsemen by Anglo -Saxon infantry. 

There is no direct evidence that Arthur and his companions were fought as mounted warriors, but there is absolutely no evidence at all that they fought differently. There is no contemporary evidence as to how the late Romans fought back against the barbarians in Britain, but on the continent the successful defeat of the Germanic invaders was almost entirely due to the use of cavalry.

A unit of cataphracts, heavily armoured cavalry, are recorded as having fought Saxon pirates in Armorica during the reign of Valentiian I. A marauding army of Gothic foot -soldiers was defeated with great loss in 471 AD at Clermont -Ferrand by a small force of cavalry under Ecdicius. 'Surprise attacks wiped out entire regiments ... (Ecdicius' cavalry) never lost a moment in following up the rout.' - as reported by Sidonius ).

Like the Gauls, the 6th C. Britons, relied on a well equipped force of cavalry to defeat their enemies. 

Tradition tells that 5th C. Britons fought in the same manner as their successors. 

Maintaining an effective cavalry army requires a secure homeland, not only to breed the horses and to grow the corn for fodder, but also for rest, recruitment and training.

"The only impact the Saxon eruption made on the far west was the appearamc of longships off the N.coast,Whether they came to raid or settle,once more the war horns rallied the tribes & by the time the inv.had turned into the Hayle est.the Cornish were ready.They hurled the heathen back to their boats and hanged the captured chiefs at the haven-mouth" from 'Stories of the North Cornwall Coast.


related pages

Mount Badon
Arthur's Navy
Arthur's Battles



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