Author Topic: cavalry wheeling  (Read 1174 times)

Erpingham

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Re: cavalry wheeling
« Reply #30 on: July 17, 2017, 11:10:45 AM »
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The Imperial Romans often had specific exploratores units which specialised in scouting for the army.  Escorting and patrolling were indeed part and parcel of cavalry duties, but I suspect mainly of the auxiliary cavalry rather than the main-line alae we are (or at least I think we are) discussing here.  This of course raises the question of how the auxiliary cavalry were trained, manoeuvred, fought and generally operated, and one would expect they would not differ too much from their first-line brethren.  Perhaps more to the point is that our Hadrian's Cavalry chaps are not touting themselves as displaying their scouting, escorting and patrolling capabilities but rather what they think is their exercise and/or battle formation as per (or more accurately, not quite as per) Arrian's Tactica and Hadrian's period.

Could you clarify your distinction between auxiliary cavalry and "main-line alae"?  My understanding has been that Roman auxiliary cavalry were the regular Roman cavalry in Hadrian's time.  Have I missed something in Roman military studies? (not at all unlikely).

So far, attempts to understand Hadrianic cavalry tactics have focussed on hypothetical reconstructions based on Greek historians of several hundred years previously.  Yet I'm sure I recall there is a large inscription - perhaps in Africa? - of a speech by Hadrian himself about watching a cavalry demonstration.  Does this tell us nothing useful?  Also didn't Arrian write something on Roman cavalry?
 

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Duncan Head

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Re: cavalry wheeling
« Reply #31 on: July 17, 2017, 11:40:56 AM »
You're thinking of the Lambaesis inscription, CIL VIII 18042/ILS 2487. It's fragmentary, particularly the bits addressing the cavalry, and I am not sure that it helps the present discussion. The bit addressed to the Equites VI Cohortis Commagenorum does suggest that wheeling is something that some "lesser" Roman units had trouble with.

http://www.livius.org/sources/about/the-lambaesis-inscription/
https://tigerpapers.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/hadrian-at-lambaesis.pdf
https://tigerpapers.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/hadrian-presentation.pdf
  • Duncan Head

Erpingham

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Re: cavalry wheeling
« Reply #32 on: July 17, 2017, 12:00:48 PM »
The bit addressed to the Equites VI Cohortis Commagenorum does suggest that wheeling is something that some "lesser" Roman units had trouble with.
These appear to be the cavalry component of a mixed cohort.  These do not seem to be expected to do as well as the cavalry of the alae
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Andreas Johansson

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Re: cavalry wheeling
« Reply #33 on: July 17, 2017, 03:08:36 PM »
It occurs to me that the Byzantine military treatises (Strategicon, Praecepta Militaria, etc), while talking a lot about cavalry, don't describe how you wheel, or otherwise change the direction of, a cavalry formation either.
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Patrick Waterson

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Re: cavalry wheeling
« Reply #34 on: July 17, 2017, 08:55:37 PM »
I had rather assumed that members would be at least passingly familiar with Polybius' At the most cavalry in a regular engagement is drawn up eight deep

Which casts serious doubt on the whole idea that the 30-man turma operated in ten-deep files.

Were the turmae Greek, I would agree. ;)

You're thinking of the Lambaesis inscription, CIL VIII 18042/ILS 2487. It's fragmentary, particularly the bits addressing the cavalry, and I am not sure that it helps the present discussion. The bit addressed to the Equites VI Cohortis Commagenorum does suggest that wheeling is something that some "lesser" Roman units had trouble with.

From the context, it looks as if this 'wheeling' represents  delivery of a missile (lancea or hasta) or missiles followed by a change of direction - by the individual rather than the unit, albeit each file would presumably be performing simultaneously.

These appear to be the cavalry component of a mixed cohort.  These do not seem to be expected to do as well as the cavalry of the alae

As Hadrian mentioned:

"It is hard for horsemen of a cohort to please, even as they are, and harder still not to displease after a show by horsemen of an ala: the training field differs in size, spear throwers are fewer, the right-wheel is tight, the Cantabrian formation is cramped, the condition of the horses and the maintenance of the equipment in keeping with the pay level."

Spear throwers are fewer ... a 128-man display will be less spectacular than a 512-man display, though if the translation is accurate and truly conveys the original intent (which I doubt) it would have the 512 men of a cavalry ala in a single Cantabrian circle.

I suspect that Hadrian was not describing a Cantabrian circle as wargamers understand it, but rather a formation of caracole-style 'racetrack' circulating files.  If this is the correct understanding, then Hadrian's comments seem to describe more feasible activities: 'spear throwers are fewer' because 8 files of 16 would have only 8 men shooting at a time as against the 32 of the 512-man ala*; 'the right wheel is tight' remains enigmatic; 'the Cantabrian formation is cramped' perhaps indicates the narrower frontage as opposed to less space per individual, although 'the training field differs in size' could account for 'cramped' manoeuvres as the auxiliary cavalry would have matched its routines to the available space in its training ground.

*or 16 files of 8 against 64 files of 8 - either way a less impressive display
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Mark G

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Re: cavalry wheeling
« Reply #35 on: July 18, 2017, 06:46:55 AM »
Go on then pat, explain how you can have a tight wheel without a frontage to maintain.

 
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Re: cavalry wheeling
« Reply #36 on: July 18, 2017, 07:46:50 AM »
As I mentioned, the manoeuvre described seems to be not what we would understand by 'wheeling'; it seems rather to refer to the circulation of individual files within the larger formation while shooting.  In such circumstances, the frontage looks after itself.

If you disagree, Mark, or if you are referring to something else, could you explain what you understand by a 'tight wheel' in this context?
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RichT

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Re: cavalry wheeling
« Reply #37 on: July 18, 2017, 10:50:42 AM »
I'm late to this party so not really sure what you all are arguing about (or discussing or whatever).

But just to go back to the 'all manoeuvres are by files' thing, there's really no evidence for this at all. The tacticians (Asclepiodotus, Aelian, Arrian) have remarkably little to say about wheeling, and such as they do say is really about the heavy infantry, though there's a hint that the same rules applied to cavalry (the fact that Asclep says 'turning to the shield' is called 'turning to the rein' in cavalry). But infantry wheels are specifically carried out by the whole formation (syntagma in this case) 'turning as one body', ie exactly what we would expect by a wheel, the body as a whole turning by pivoting on the front inside corner.

They do say more about cavalry rhombus and wedge, which are said to be especially good for manoeuvring because of the 'flight of cranes' thing - which is rather negative evidence but does at least indicate (for rhombuses and wedges) manoeuvres by the whole body, not by files.

I haven't found anything in Byzantine manuals about cavalry wheeling either (surprisingly) - Maurice does talk about outflanking manoeuvres which read to me very much as the sort of manoeuvres, by largish bodies, that we would expect (ie turning the whole body in the traditionally understood way). But no details.

There aren't any Roman manuals of course, except Vegetius, who seems to have nothing useful to add.

Agreed that Lambaesis, and Arrian's cavalry sections, appear to descibe some sort of caracole/cantabrian type of individual manoeuvres, not turns by larger bodies.
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Chris

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Re: cavalry wheeling
« Reply #38 on: July 18, 2017, 01:09:48 PM »
Following this thread with a level of interest (as an amateur bystander, not as an academic or quasi-academic well versed in the ancient authorities) and wondering what impact or influence it might have or should have on the rules in use currently?

Understanding that each published set is an abstraction of what happens on the actual field, it is interesting to note the differences between sets of rules. For brief and informal examples: Hail Caesar is very "free" with its movement process. You say what you want to do, roll the command dice, and then move, not move, or move partially. Armati is rather more strict; wheels are quite limited. In ADLG, one can quarter turn, half turn, slide, etc. Wheeling is done by pivoting on interior or base unit (for both infantry and cavalry). In TTS!, wheeling is a difficult activation - if memory serves.

The history, evidence, and discussion is again, interesting. But if it is not applied or applied with reservation - searching for a better term - then why should we be concerned about it, at least with regard to rules and how they play?

Chris
  • Chris Hahn

Erpingham

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Re: cavalry wheeling
« Reply #39 on: July 18, 2017, 01:47:39 PM »
The history, evidence, and discussion is again, interesting. But if it is not applied or applied with reservation - searching for a better term - then why should we be concerned about it, at least with regard to rules and how they play?

Chris

Quasi-academic.  What an excellent job description.  Reminds me of a conference I went to recently where I noticed one person had filled in the "post held" section of the attendence list as "autodidact polymath".

Anyway, leaving aside the historical organisation of ancient armies is interesting of itself, I think in game terms the importance of the conversation is that wheeling was more difficult than some wargames rule allow.  To do it right needed drill and training, not just as individuals but also in formation.  We know our Hadrianic Roman trained and could wheel, because Hadrian himself said so.  But what about some warbands bought together for a campaign, or a bunch of medieval men-at-arms?   Without all that formation training, what would happen to them if they tried to wheel?  Ignore the detail for the moment and think what penalties we might apply in rules terms?  Reduced rate of turn (45 degrees a move, perhaps)?  Unit disordered?  And what was a cavalry "slide" ADLG?  And does it attract a disorder penalty? 
  • Anthony Clipsom

RichT

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Re: cavalry wheeling
« Reply #40 on: July 18, 2017, 02:09:09 PM »
Quasi-academic. That's me.

So far as rules go - I wouldn't touch any rules that tried to model things like wheeling explicitly. My strong preference is for all this stuff to be abstracted away, whether overtly (like Lost Battles, where units are in big zones, all facing one of four possible directions) or clandestinely (like DBx, where it feels as if you are micromanaging manoeuvres, but in reality the manoeuvring is all completely abstract).

In terms of real life - I suspect wheeling cavalry in good order while maintaining formation was hard and slow. But also that it was fairly easy (and indeed necessary if you are a bunch of hairy barbarians) to say 'you lot go over there' and have it happen reasonably fast and without too wild a level of disorder (though still disorder enough, no doubt, to end in likely defeat if up against someone who does it better). Whether this is better represented by design for cause (max 45 degrees turn at the halt, incurring 1 disorder point per 10 degrees of turn) or by design for effect (move where you like; veterans fight at +1, levies at -1) is a matter, largely, of taste. 
  • Richard Taylor

Erpingham

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Re: cavalry wheeling
« Reply #41 on: July 18, 2017, 05:17:07 PM »
Quote
Whether this is better represented by design for cause (max 45 degrees turn at the halt, incurring 1 disorder point per 10 degrees of turn) or by design for effect (move where you like; veterans fight at +1, levies at -1) is a matter, largely, of taste. 

At the risk of drifting off topic, they are both abstracted.  We have concluded we don't know how ancient cavalry wheeled in detail.  We are even less sure what non-regular cavalry did (at least we know regulars could wheel).  If we wanted to accurately model this, we'd need to use analogy e.g. from Napoleonic or Victorian practice and I'm not sure that would help.  What I'd be looking for is a mechanism that made wheeling hard and, for non-regulars, likely to make them at least temporarily lose order, making them vulnerable to an ordered enemy.  As you say, model what you think the effect is and give the player the tactical challenge, rather than a trigonometry set.
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Andreas Johansson

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Re: cavalry wheeling
« Reply #42 on: July 18, 2017, 07:04:25 PM »
So far as rules go - I wouldn't touch any rules that tried to model things like wheeling explicitly. My strong preference is for all this stuff to be abstracted away, whether overtly ... or clandestinely (like DBx, where it feels as if you are micromanaging manoeuvres, but in reality the manoeuvring is all completely abstract).
If the DBx way counts as "completely abstract"*, is it even possible to have an explicit system on a DBx-like scale, where an element represents hundreds of riders? Whatever happens under the scale of your manoeuvre elements is perforce abstracted away.


* I struggle a bit with the "completely" part - surely a system where we ignore facing altogether is even more abstract, and if so DBx hasn't gone quite all the way to completely abstract. Perhaps oddly, the only systems I can offhand think of that do ignore facing are 1:1 skirmish affairs.
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Chris

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Re: cavalry wheeling
« Reply #43 on: July 18, 2017, 09:25:06 PM »
To be sure, did not mean to offend or impugn with the quasi- academic remark. Perhaps I should have typed "amateur academic" or "aspiring academic"? Perhaps I should learn to keep my fingers silent when listening in/reading discussion threads?

As for the slide in ADLG, this is simply a movement "accessory" applicable for both infantry and cavalry formations. As I understand it (and have employed it on occasion), it allows groups to avoid terrain or friends they cannot interpenetrate by sliding (shifting) one stand frontage to right or left during a forward move. No, there is not a disorder penalty associated with it.

Abstraction . . . oh that word. Take 10 or 12 ancient battles. Assume the standard cavalry - infantry - cavalry deployment. Contest is frontal. If one cavalry flank wins, they will - hopefully - turn around and engaged the exposed side of the enemy infantry or swing further around to take other cavalry from behind. So there is wheeling, but in terms of the large picture, it does not seem to matter than much.

In our tabletop games, however, wheeling angles and devices abound. Good thing? Not so good thing? Depends on one's taste.

Chris

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Re: cavalry wheeling
« Reply #44 on: July 19, 2017, 09:57:42 AM »
Given the constraints of tabletop rules, presumably the two aspects of cavalry manoeuvre which matter are:

1) If your unit has to change its frontal facing as part of your move, should this consume any part of your movement allowance, and if so, how much?

2) Should a unit be able to change its facing during the enemy's move, and if so, how much, when and how?
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