Five Decisive Battles of the World
by Edward Creasy
The Catapult and the Balista
By Ralph Payne-Gallwey
A three title volume on warfare in the ancient world
No student of warfare in the ancient world should be without Eugene S. McCartney’s brilliant work on the subject. This book appears in its entirety as the first piece in this special Leonaur edition which also includes campaign and battlefield maps absent from other editions. McCartney’s research is exemplary; he not only gives examples of every aspect of Roman and Greek military tactics, formation, organisation, logistics, engineering and weapons but also provides numerous examples of how and when they were employed—successfully or otherwise—by describing relevant campaigns and engagements. What makes this Leonaur volume particularly important for military historians is that reference is frequently made to Creasy’s classic work on the fifteen most decisive battles in history. Five of these conflicts took place in the ancient period and Creasy’s learned essays on these battles have been included here for easy reference when reading the principal text. Also cited in the principal text is Ralph Payne-Gallwey’s work on ancient artillery, such as the balista and catapult; that, complete with its excellent and detailed line drawings, concludes an essential volume that will enhance any library on warfare in the ancient world. Recommended.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
In very early times, the Athenians used horses as a quick means of conveying foot-soldiers. The first horsemen were simply mounted infantrymen. They seem to have been the first dragoons. The idea that a man could fight more effectively on horseback was of slow growth. On one occasion during the Peloponnesian War, a contingent of five hundred Boeotian horse was accompanied by an equal number of men trained to fight on foot. In his youthful campaign in Illyria, Alexander gave orders, in anticipation of an engagement with a detachment of the enemy, for half of his horse to dismount and fight on foot.<br>
It would seem that the ancient cavalryman with his javelin or lance was almost as well equipped as is the modern horseman. Frederick the Great forbade the use of firearms since he wished his men to rely upon the charge at full speed, sword in hand. At the beginning of the Great War, Uhlans were still using long lances and the Cossacks were equipped with a similar weapon.<br>
At Marathon, the first great battle in Greek history, neither the Athenians nor their Plataean allies had cavalry. During the entire fifth century in fact the cavalry branch of the Greek armies was not highly developed. The reason is obvious. About four-fifths of the country is mountainous and ill-adapted to horse-breeding. As a result Thessalians with their broad plains were the only nation that laid great stress on cavalry. Lack of pasturage, then, caused the Greeks in general to depend at first almost solely upon infantry.<br>
There were, however, among the Greeks men who were especially skilled in horsemanship. Xenophon tells us that the majesty of men is best disclosed in the graceful handling of animals. It is said that there is nothing so perfect in equestrianism as the riders on the frieze of the Parthenon. The Greeks themselves are the best exemplification of their mythical creations, the centaurs, in which rider and horse are one being.<br>
The Persians developed cavalry earlier than did the Greeks. After his defeat at Salamis in 480 B.C, Xerxes withdrew from Greece leaving Mardonius in command of a large army. In the following year the Greek forces operating against the Persians in Boeotia were receiving reinforcements and provisions by way of the passes of Cithaeron that led to Plataea. One night Mardonius sent a force of horsemen to get in the rear of the Greeks and strike at their communications. They came upon a convoy of 500 beasts carrying supplies from the Peloponnesus. This they attacked and succeeded in killing or capturing the escort and the beasts.<br>
This is probably as early a record as there is of cavalry being detached in this way to operate upon the enemy’s rear.
The struggle with the Persians probably showed the Greeks the necessity of developing the cavalry arm. At all events, in the next great conflict, the Peloponnesian War, we find cavalry employed in lines of battle, especially to protect the flanks. It has been estimated that prior to the time of Alexander the cavalry never averaged more than a fifteenth or a twelfth of the infantry.<br>
It was the irony of fate that the Greeks had to display their greatest efficiency in cavalry hundreds of miles from home. In preparation for the invasion of the Persian Empire, Alexander greatly increased the number of horsemen. Cavalry was the choice arm of the Persians, who had vast level stretches over which it could act. They relied on it so much that at the Battle of the Granicus they made the fatal mistake of using it in their effort to prevent the Macedonian crossing. At Arbela Alexander had 40,000 infantry and 7,000 horse. <br>
Alexander’s dashing, impetuous temperament naturally inclined him to the cavalry service. With it he was apt to open battles, and with it at the catastrophe of the drama he was wont to appear like a deus ex machina. He taught his cavalry above all things to attack, never to await attack. He inaugurated in fact the impetuous method of attack. He is the first European to make a practice of using the cavalry as the striking arm while the infantry, in this case the phalanx, made a solid rigid resisting power.