Medieval Cavalry

The Medieval cavalry was the part of the medieval army that consisted of mounted soldiers or horsemen.

In any combat, medieval cavalry was the most mobile part of the army and played a decisive role in the outcome of the battle. While military forces also used various other animals for ridings, such as camels and mules, these groups of riders were not called cavalry.

Medieval Lancers - Byzantne Lancers

Medieval Cavalry

Medieval Cavalry History

The Cavalry has been part of the military since ancient times and the use of chariots was common even before the Iron Age. It was used by such civilizations as India, Egypt, Assyria, Greece, and Rome.

During the initial centuries, horses were used without spurs, saddles, saddle cloths, etc. With the passage of time, breeds of large horses were bred which made carrying the armor on the horseback easier.

Cataphract Medieval Soldier on horseback

Cataphract *Medieval Cavalry

Cavalry Weapons

From the 5th century onwards, during the early medieval times, medieval cavalry began assuming increasingly important roles.

The weapons and tools of medieval cavalry also began to be improved from this period onwards and the conventional Roman saddle was replaced by the Scythian model which used a pommel and cantle.

Other medieval cavalry weapons included stirrups, armored cataphracts, wraparound saddles, and others.

Cataphract Cavalry Soldier

Medieval Cavalry Horses

During medieval times, various types of medieval cavalry horses were used, although the three most common types were the destrier, the courser, and the rouncey.

The general term used to describe the medieval cavalry horse used in the battles was “charger”. Some of the preferred horse breeds included stallions, mares, and geldings.

Destrier The War Horse

The Destrier was typically used as a warhorse

Medieval Cavalry Types

In the ancient world, three main types of cavalry were used: light cavalry, riders, and those armed with javelins. During medieval times, the main, two types of medieval cavalry were called light cavalry and heavy cavalry.

In the light cavalry, lightly armed soldiers were mounted on horses while in the heavy cavalry, the soldiers were heavily armed.

Medieval Spears

Cavalry Training

Other than the use of good horses, successful medieval cavalry also needed extensive training. Important components of medieval cavalry training included horse riding and the efficient use of weapons on horseback. Further training was required for cavalry tactics of multiple types.

Mamluk Cavalry Battle of Homs

Cavalry in Battle

On the battleground, medieval cavalry played decisive roles with its use of tactics. The light cavalry played important role in scouting, skirmishing, and performing outpost duties while heavy medieval cavalry used tactics of using lances and ranged weapons during the main battle.

Medieval Cavalry Formations

Various formations were used by medieval cavalry on the battleground and these formations continued to evolve over time. One of the most important cavalry formations was encircling the enemy and engaging them in close combat.

This formation was very successfully used during the Crusades, particularly in the Battle of Dorylaeum in 1097.


Battle of Dorylaeum (1097)

Famous Cavalry Battles

Medieval cavalry played a decisive role during various famous medieval battles. One such battle was the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 where the Turk cavalry inflicted a decisive defeat on the Byzantine armies.

Cavalry also played a central role in various battles during the Crusades, most notably during the Battle of Dorylaeum where the Seljuks were encircled and defeated by the cavalry of Godfrey of Bouillon.

Godfrey of Bouillon

Medieval Cavalry Summary

Medieval cavalry was one of the most important components of medieval armies and played a decisive role in many important battles. Various tactics and formations were used by the medieval cavalry and these tactics evolved over time. Extensive training was used to train a successful medieval cavalry with expert soldiers.