Author Topic: Classification of infantry - the return of the revenge of the extra medium foot!  (Read 1195 times)

Duncan Head

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Are you also suggesting that Persian cavalry were all cataphract armoured albeit some were archers only?

IMO it would be a perfectly valid reading of the passage.

It would, however; it would mean our wargames view of Sasanian armies would have to undergo a radical reassessment. :)   I'm not averse to that, but a lot of people would be horrified.
Isn't it, rather than "a radical reassessment",  essentially the old Phil Barker interpretation? All cavalry are armoured men on armoured horses, some with lance alone (SHC/Kn(X)) and others (a bit less completely armoured, but still armoured men on armoured horses) with bow and optional lance (EHC/Cv(S))?

Compare XXIV.6.8 "The Persians opposed to us serried bands of mail-called horsemen in such close order that the gleam of moving bodies covered with densely fitting plates of iron dazzled the eyes of those who looked upon them, while the whole throng of horse was protected by coverings of leather."
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DougM

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It may be a parallel to the early WRG classification, but it's very different to how they are graded in DBM/DBMM, and by extension, by all the other sets that have derived their classifications from those army lists.  It also isn't reflected in how many cavalry are graded as kontos armed cataphracts and when the cataphracts disappear from the lists.
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Duncan Head

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It may be a parallel to the early WRG classification, but it's very different to how they are graded in DBM/DBMM, and by extension, by all the other sets that have derived their classifications from those army lists.

I don't see a major difference; in AEIR, old WRG lists, DBMM lists, and this suggestion alike, we have two lots of armoured cavalry on armoured horses, one of which uses archery and one which doesn't  :)

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It also isn't reflected in how many cavalry are graded as kontos armed cataphracts and when the cataphracts disappear from the lists.

There is nothing in the Ammianus passages that gives us a handle on numbers of lancers vs archers, surely? So I don't see how this suggestion is "not reflected" in numerical terms at all.

I forget when the Kn(X) disappear in the DBMM list, but I think it's after Julian, so also completely unaffected by this suggestion.
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nikgaukroger

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Are you also suggesting that Persian cavalry were all cataphract armoured albeit some were archers only?

IMO it would be a perfectly valid reading of the passage.

It would, however; it would mean our wargames view of Sasanian armies would have to undergo a radical reassessment. :)   I'm not averse to that, but a lot of people would be horrified.
Isn't it, rather than "a radical reassessment",  essentially the old Phil Barker interpretation? All cavalry are armoured men on armoured horses, some with lance alone (SHC/Kn(X)) and others (a bit less completely armoured, but still armoured men on armoured horses) with bow and optional lance (EHC/Cv(S))?

Compare XXIV.6.8 "The Persians opposed to us serried bands of mail-called horsemen in such close order that the gleam of moving bodies covered with densely fitting plates of iron dazzled the eyes of those who looked upon them, while the whole throng of horse was protected by coverings of leather."

I think a difference from Phil Barker's old interpretation is that in the two bit quoted there is no distinction between the armour of differently armoured cavalry - but only one mentions the horse armour.
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Patrick Waterson

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One point to consider about Ammianus is that he is not necessarily providing a complete description of everyone in the Sassanid army; he seems to be focussing on the points that registered most strongly with the Romans.  The cataphracts and elephants get detailed descriptions; the archers do not.  Anyone else is simply not mentioned.

The question of whether the archers mentioned are horse or foot is subject to two considerations: they are 'iuxta', next to, the cataphracts, as opposed to behind them, and they fight the Roman infantry 'shield to shield', which would be possible only for very small cavalrymen on very small horses. :)  They also have elephants behind them, which would make horses nervous even if they were 'used to' elephants, which itself suggests the archers mentioned were infantry.

This need not mean they were the only archers in the Sassanid army, just that the archers mentioned a) were archers and b) were attacked by the Roman infantry in what looks very much like an infantry fight.  The Sassanids might well have had mounted archers with or behind their cataphracts, or, although I am somewhat hesitant about this suggestion, we may have lost a phrase or two from Ammianus which would have filled in the gaps.

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but if they perceived that their forces were giving way, as they retreated they would shoot their arrows back like a shower of rain and keep the enemy from a bold pursuit.

Though it is a long way from the MI debate, I'd suggest this sounds like a description of the Parthian Shot, which is usually considered a cavalry tactic.

And it may be that Sassanid infantry archers also considered it a useful infantry tactic.  The 'shower of rain' suggests periodic volleys, which tend to be associated with infantry; some will doubtless disagree, but the context in which this is mentioned is the context of a recognisably infantry fight, and I think that has to be the governing consideration.

This all began when the question arose of how well 'MI' archers performed against 'HI' foot.  This particular example suggests the archers can hold but will ultimately lose.
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PMBardunias

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Julian the Apostate used a simple system to evade Sassanid archery: he started his infantry advancing at a walk, then when the first enemy volley was released, they moved up to a quick walk (and the arrows landed behind them); for the next volley, as it released they stepped up to a slow jog, then for the next one a quick jog, by which time they were well on the way to closure and out of the indirect shooting 'beaten zone'.  For some reason, few armies seem to have used this elegant countermeasure.

Patrick, what is reference?  By the way, as I have come to believe with many things, the author may be assigning an intentional function to a side effect of the way men are constrained to move in groups.  If you want to maintain cohesion, and you do in the face of arrow fire, you need to ramp up your acceleration in this manner. That is not to say that it did not work in the manner described, but only that the "purpose" of the staged advance may not have been to throw off archery. Of course, a wily general knew how to harness such group effects and turn them into tactics.
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Patrick Waterson

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Patrick, what is reference?

Ammianus XXV.1.17:
To prevent the preliminary volleys of the archers from disrupting our ranks he advanced at the double and so ruined the effectiveness of their arrows.

I have inferred Julian's method from the slow start Nick mentions in XXIV.6.10 and the subsequent phrase in idem.11:

... the soldiers were freer from the danger of the arrows the more quickly they forced their way into the enemy's ranks.

I should add that the slow pace in XXXIV.6.10 was connected to skirmishers operating ahead of the legionary infantry, so my conclusion that speed was progressively ramped up would, if correct, apply only after the skirmishers had been pulled back - or if they were not deployed in the first place in the action mentioned in XXV.1.17 (alternative translation):

And in order that the onset of the bowmen might not throw our ranks into confusion, he advanced at a swift pace, and so ruined the effectiveness of the arrows.

The original Latin is:
Et ne sagittariorum procursus nostrorum cuneos disiectaret, illatis concitatius signis ...

'Concitatus' is the key word, to 'put into quick or violent motion'.  The stepping up of pace is not explicitly described, but would make eminent sense in the circumstances.

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By the way, as I have come to believe with many things, the author may be assigning an intentional function to a side effect of the way men are constrained to move in groups.  If you want to maintain cohesion, and you do in the face of arrow fire, you need to ramp up your acceleration in this manner. That is not to say that it did not work in the manner described, but only that the "purpose" of the staged advance may not have been to throw off archery. Of course, a wily general knew how to harness such group effects and turn them into tactics.

A point worth considering; in this case, I would be inclined to believe that intention and action were for one and the same reason, if only because Ammianus, an officer himself, would have known what was said in the briefings.  However the point that formations did certain things for reasons of cohesion in particular circumstances is a very good one and well worth remembering for the future.
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Erpingham

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Although it wanders further off topic, I think we ought to note that others have pointed out a lack of any reference to a change in pace, rather than a single shift to higher speed, and have requested clarification on the passage where the Persians are said to use regular volleys.  I presume the word translated as "volleys" does actually mean that, rather than "discharge of arrows"?
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Duncan Head

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Although it wanders further off topic, I think we ought to note that others have pointed out a lack of any reference to a change in pace, rather than a single shift to higher speed, and have requested clarification on the passage where the Persians are said to use regular volleys.  I presume the word translated as "volleys" does actually mean that, rather than "discharge of arrows"?

Ammianus XXV.1.17:
To prevent the preliminary volleys of the archers from disrupting our ranks he advanced at the double and so ruined the effectiveness of their arrows.

The Latin for this bit is Et ne sagittariorum procursus nostrorum cuneos disiectaret, which the Loeb translation at Lacus Curtius renders as "And in order that the onset of the bowmen might not throw our ranks into confusion". No explicit "volleys" here.
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Patrick Waterson

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The Latin for this bit is Et ne sagittariorum procursus nostrorum cuneos disiectaret, which the Loeb translation at Lacus Curtius renders as "And in order that the onset of the bowmen might not throw our ranks into confusion". No explicit "volleys" here.

Unless 'procursus sagittariorum' actually signified volleys ...

Procursus usually means an onset or sally or charge or similar (cf. Ammianus XX.11.18; XXIX.1.3); it is a curious word to use in connection with archers, who usually shot rather than stormed or sallied.  I wonder if, when used with archers, it actually means they volleyed.  Checking the six uses of 'procursus' in Ammianus reveals only this one use in connection with archers, so we have no comparison, confirmation or refutation, just a very unusual usage.
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Jim Webster

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This is one of those cases where you just wish for another example or two of the usage because as Patrick says, you can imagine it being a military term that soldiers would understand in context
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PMBardunias

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Patrick, what is reference?

Ammianus XXV.1.17:
To prevent the preliminary volleys of the archers from disrupting our ranks he advanced at the double and so ruined the effectiveness of their arrows.

I have inferred Julian's method from the slow start Nick mentions in XXIV.6.10 and the subsequent phrase in idem.11:

... the soldiers were freer from the danger of the arrows the more quickly they forced their way into the enemy's ranks.

I should add that the slow pace in XXXIV.6.10 was connected to skirmishers operating ahead of the legionary infantry, so my conclusion that speed was progressively ramped up would, if correct, apply only after the skirmishers had been pulled back - or if they were not deployed in the first place in the action mentioned in XXV.1.17 (alternative translation):

And in order that the onset of the bowmen might not throw our ranks into confusion, he advanced at a swift pace, and so ruined the effectiveness of the arrows.

The original Latin is:
Et ne sagittariorum procursus nostrorum cuneos disiectaret, illatis concitatius signis ...

'Concitatus' is the key word, to 'put into quick or violent motion'.  The stepping up of pace is not explicitly described, but would make eminent sense in the circumstances.


I am not sure I see the ramping up in the description. Perhaps it makes more sense that they marched up behind a screen of lights that obscured them, and then charged at the run.  Charging at speed would be more disruptive than ramping up in any case unless the archers had range markers in the beaten zone.
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Patrick Waterson

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I am not sure I see the ramping up in the description. Perhaps it makes more sense that they marched up behind a screen of lights that obscured them, and then charged at the run.  Charging at speed would be more disruptive than ramping up in any case unless the archers had range markers in the beaten zone.

Could be, or it might be that having used the move-up-behind-skirmishers method in the first action Julian ditched this in favour of a more rapid advance in the second.  One consideration in my mind was that it was a very hot day (Ammianus XXV.1.18) and 200+ yards of uniformly fast jogging in armour might not be the ideal preliminary to an upcoming combat.
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