The Cavalry General

By Ace_Cataphract

The name for this article was conveniently borrowed from the Greek general Xenophon’s book, The Cavalry General. In it he outlined the many duties of being the commander of a large force of cavalry, or more specifically, an Athenian Hipparch.

Cavalry has proven its effectiveness in battle throughout history. The Romans used them (although to little success) as support troops, Alexander the Great led his fierce Companions into battle himself, which formed the decisive element of his army, Attila, and Genghis Khan used almost exclusively cavalry. The knights of Europe were the most elite soldiers in their armies. As cavalry served thousands of armies throughout history, it can serve you just as well in Rome Total War. I’m writing this article to instruct on the use of horse cavalry as the decisive element of an army, not as the sole element of an army and not as a secondary support role in an army. Also, keep in mind that when I refer to cavalry in this article from now on, I’m referring to horsemen, not camelry, elephants, or chariots.

First off, you must create your army. When I create an army following this doctrine, I create a substantial amount of cavalry. My bare minimum is 6 units of the strongest cavalry available and that is only at a low budget. My favorite types of cavalry are Praetorian, Companion, and Cataphracts. I’ve heard that Gothic Cavalry, Scythian Noble Cavalry, Head Hunting Maidens, Nile and Desert Cavalry are all very competent (also Carthage’s Sacred Band Cavalry, but I often use them as support and elephants as my main cavalry force). In ideal conditions, my cavalry makes up 9/20 of my army, with infantry only making up about 5/20 and the other 6/20 being divvied up between archers and siege weapons. My cavalry is the decisive element always. It isn’t merely support, nor is it ever the only element. I follow Alexander’s opinion of military roles. Heavy Infantry form an army’s backbone. Light, ranged Infantry support the Heavy Infantry, and finally, Cavalry is the decisive branch of an army that wins the battle with thunderous charges on the enemy.

When upgrading your troops, make sure that you upgrade your cavalry first. Next you should upgrade your archers or slingers. If you have siege weapons don’t upgrade them at all. If you have enough money after upgrading your lighter infantry, upgrade your line infantry, or your front line infantry should you favor double line formations like I occasionally do. The importance is that your line holds. Your cavalry can’t operate to maximum effectiveness without your infantry, and your infantry are likely doomed if your cavalry hasn’t done massive damage. Your light infantry and siege are there for the purpose of winning the skirmish that often happens before any battle starts.

When you begin the battle, you should deploy your cavalry in a massive formation. Using this doctrine, your goal isn’t to have your cavalry guard your flanks; it’s to have your cavalry threaten the enemy’s. You must be proficient enough with your infantry to be able to command them in such a way that they can hold their own against flanking threats and use everything including terrain, broken or otherwise useless Onagers, or anything else possible to give themselves some advantages. Even your archers or onager crewmen can be used to protect your main line. But now back to your cavalry. You must know your preferred cavalry, its statistics, its weaknesses, its strengths and anything else relevant about its performance in combat. Using this doctrine your worst threat is probably the enemy’s cavalry. Unless they have something like Militia Cavalry, Numidian Cavalry, or some other cavalry that just doesn’t match up to your own, you must take them out first. My preferred method is to charge them with the front rank cavalry, then use the cavalry in the second or even third ranks to flank them and smash them from both sides. After the enemy’s cavalry is dealt with, you have little opposition. Spearmen are easily death with if you have cavalry like Companions for example who have tremendous charge values. You simply split up your cavalry so that for every unit of spearmen the enemy sends against you, you have two units of cavalry fighting it. If the spearmen don’t give chase, you’re clear to attack their main infantry from behind while they fight your own infantry. Then they’ll be forced to do something. If they do give chase to your cavalry, you use one unit to lure them away from everyone else, and the second to charge their rears while they’re helpless. Then you charge them again with the other unit if they’ve turned to face the first unit. This clears the way for you to attack their main infantry that’s engaging you. Archers and skirmishers should be left until the end as part of your mop up operation unless they’re a real nuisance and can’t be ignored.

This tactic is however not very good against cavalry intensive armies. In that situation I often opt to get 3 units of Heavy Infantry instead of 5, and 2-3 siege units or archers and simply get more cavalry. This way you have some of the old structure, but can compete against enormous cavalry forces. Your goal against all cavalry or really cavalry intensive armies is to engage their cavalry as soon as possible. Ideally you want to do this with infantry who do very well locked in close combat and have your cavalry charge them while your support troops do no more than screen and pepper the enemy. They could also be used to act as cannon fodder for a while.

This is all my advice to you a player that believes strongly in cavalry. I believe in cavalry, but believe that they rely on infantry using my style. Though they rely on infantry, do not mistake my saying this as my testifying that according to my strategy infantry are equal to cavalry. They are not. Cavalry are the decisive and most important element of this army. They will win the battle for you. The infantry will only hold the enemy and the battle line. They give you something to operate around.

If you have read my Seleucid Shock and Awe strategy, that is my doctrine put in stricter terms and formed into a strategy. This is a very general article and therefore isn’t a strategy but a battlefield doctrine – no more than a style of play. Of course to each his own, so if this strategy doesn’t work for you, don’t give it a second thought. I’m extremely effective with this style myself; while I cannot effectively use all cavalry armies for the life of me having only been defeated using them, and barbarian armies are as well mysteries to me, with their intimidation tactics and the paradox that is their organized blind rushes into the enemy lines. I hope that this article has produced some Cavalry Generals, or at least has given insight into this type of army, or provoked you to experiment. Who knows maybe my article served no better than to make it easier for you to use your own style to beat this style even worse than before. No matter what the case, I hope you gained something by reading this article.