Heavy cavalry

Ottoman Sipahi heavy cavalry, c. 1550
Early 16th-century French gendarmes, with complete plate armour and heavy lances
Spanish Heavy Cavalry - Royal Armoury of Madrid, Spain
Alexander the Great on horseback
The oldest known relief of a heavily armoured cavalryman, from the Sasanian Empire, at Taq-i Bostan, near Kermanshah, Iran (4th century)
Northern Wei heavy cavalry
A recreation of a medieval joust between heavily armoured knights at a modern Renaissance fair
Contemporary depiction in the Liber ad honorem Augusti, of Dipold of Acerra, an early 13th-century knight, when the knight was undisputed master of the battlefield
Mongol heavy cavalry in battle (13th–14th century)
Christian the Younger of Brunswick in the armour of a cuirassier
A re-enactor dressed as a Winged Hussar, who served as the heavy cavalry of the Polish Commonwealth
French cuirassiers, 19th century

Class of cavalry intended to deliver a battlefield charge and also to act as a tactical reserve; they are also often termed shock cavalry.

- Heavy cavalry

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Shock tactics

Name of an offensive maneuver which attempts to place the enemy under psychological pressure by a rapid and fully-committed advance with the aim of causing their combatants to retreat.

Attack of the French 4th Hussar Regiment at the Battle of Friedland, 14 June 1807

Shock tactics were usually performed by heavy cavalry, but were sometimes achieved by heavy infantry.


Spear designed to be used by a mounted warrior or cavalry soldier .

Norman cavalry attacks the Anglo-Saxon shield wall at the Battle of Hastings as depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry. The lances are held with a one-handed over-the-head grip.
Lance head, Warring States period
Warring States lance head (pi)
A lance head from the reenactment of the Eglinton Tournament (1839)
Drawing from The War Illustrated representing a Russian Don Cossack lancing a German infantryman.
Russian lance "cavalry pike", type of 1910.

The term from the 17th century came to refer specifically to spears not thrown, used for thrusting by heavy cavalry, and especially in jousting.


Historical reenactment of a Sassanid-era cataphract, complete with a full set of scale armor for the horse. The rider is covered by extensive mail armor.
Sculpture of a Sasanian cataphract in Taq-e Bostan, Iran. It is One of the oldest depictions of a cataphract.
The extent circa 170 BC of the Iranian Scythians and Parthians, to whom the first recorded use of true cataphract-like cavalry can be attributed in antiquity.
Chanfron, Northern Yan
A stone-etched relief depicting a Parthian cataphract fighting against a lion. Housed in the British Museum.
Three examples of the various styles of interweaving and wire threading that were commonly employed in the creation of cataphract scale armor to form a stiffened, "armored shell" with which to protect the horse.
Breakdown of a fully armoured Chinese cataphract
Equestrian relief at Firuzabad, Iran showing Cataphracts dueling with lances
The cataphract-style parade armor of a Saka (Scythian) royal from the Issyk kurgan, dubbed "Golden Man". The overlapping golden scales are typical of cataphract armor.
Two heavily armored noblemen dueling on horseback with kontos; Sasanian era silver plate with gold coating, Azerbaijan Museum, Tabriz, Iran
A depiction of Sarmatian cataphracts fleeing from Roman cavalry during the Dacian wars circa 101 AD, at Trajan's Column in Rome

A cataphract was a form of armored heavy cavalryman that originated in Persia and was fielded in ancient warfare throughout Eurasia and Northern Africa.


Skirmishers are light infantry or light cavalry soldiers deployed as a vanguard, flank guard or rearguard to screen a tactical position or a larger body of friendly troops from enemy advances.

Austrian pandur, c. 1760, using a tree for cover while skirmishing
As with most other modern foot soldiers, the US 6th Marine Regiment, on patrol near Marjah, 2010, routinely uses skirmish formation.
An Agrianian peltast holding three javelins, one in his throwing hand and two in his pelte hand as additional ammunition
Slinger from the Balearic islands, famous for the skill of its slingers
Austrian Jäger around 1800, showing the relatively drab uniforms of soldiers specializing in skirmishing in Napoleonic times, as an aid in using cover
Modern reconnaissance vehicles can perform skirmishing duties, as is shown here by members of the British 4 Mechanised Brigade, Brigade Reconnaissance Force mounted on Jackals, on a training exercise in Jordan, in preparation for deployment to Afghanistan in 2009

Though often critical in protecting the main army from sudden enemy advances, skirmishers are poor at taking or defending ground from heavy infantry or heavy cavalry.

Horses in warfare

The first evidence of horses in warfare dates from Eurasia between 4000 and 3000 BC. A Sumerian illustration of warfare from 2500 BC depicts some type of equine pulling wagons.

Scotland Forever! [crop] depicting the cavalry charge of the Royal Scots Greys at the Battle of Waterloo.
A soldier in World War I with his mule.
Chariots and archers were weapons of war in Ancient Egypt.
Haniwa horse statuette, complete with saddle and stirrups, 6th century, Kofun period
The "War Panel" of the Standard of Ur
A Qin dynasty sculpture of a chariot with horses and rider from the Terracotta Army unearthed near the tomb of China's first emperor Qin Shihuangdi, Xi'an, China, 3rd century BC
Depiction of a Sasanian Persian Cataphract from Taq-e Bostan
Life-size model depicting c. 1850 horse artillery team with a light artillery piece
A horserider of probable Xiongnu origin: the rider wears a hairbun characteristic of the oriental steppes, and his horse has characteristically Xiongnu horse trappings. 2nd–1st century BC. Excavated in Saksanokhur (near Farkhor), Tajikistan. National Museum of Antiquities of Tajikistan.
Manuscript illustration of the Mahabharata War, depicting warriors fighting on horse chariots
Yabusame archers, Edo period
Spanish and Moorish light cavalry (jinetes) skirmish at the 1431 Battle of La Higueruela
A re-imagination of Louis III and Carloman's 879 victory over the Vikings; Jean Fouquet, Grandes Chroniques de France
Jousting is a sport that evolved out of heavy cavalry practice.
Chasseurs of the Guard (light cavalry) to the left and cuirassier (Heavy cavalry) to the right, at the battle of Friedland.
"Napoleon I with his Generals" by Ludwig Elsholtz. This painting shows light cavalry horses which come into use as officer's mounts in 18th- and 19th-century Europe.
Kanem-Bu warriors armed with spears. The Earth and Its Inhabitants, 1892.
Native Americans quickly adopted the horse and were highly effective light cavalry. Comanche-Osage fight. George Catlin, 1834
Confederate general Robert E. Lee and Traveller. Cavalry played a significant role in the American Civil War.
Australian Imperial Force light horsemen, 1914
Polish Cavalry during a Polish Army manoeuvre in late 1930s.
A memorial to the horses that served in the Second Boer War.
U.S. Special Operations Forces, members of Task Force Dagger, and Afghanistan Commander Abdul Rashid Dostum on horseback in the Dari-a-Souf Valley, Afghanistan, in October 2001.
US Air Force Special Operations Command Combat Controller Bart Decker rides a horse in Afghanistan in the early stages of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Mounted police in Poznań, Poland
Horse Cavalry Detachment of the U.S. Army's 1st Cavalry Division demonstrating a mock cavalry charge at Fort Bliss, Texas

Muslim warriors relied upon light cavalry in their campaigns throughout Northern Africa, Asia, and Europe beginning in the 7th and 8th centuries AD. Europeans used several types of war horses in the Middle Ages, and the best-known heavy cavalry warrior of the period was the armoured knight.

Charge (warfare)

Offensive maneuver in battle in which combatants advance towards their enemy at their best speed in an attempt to engage in a decisive close combat.

Greek infantry charge with the bayonet during the Greco-Turkish War of 1897
The Charge of the Light Brigade, a charge of British light cavalry against a larger Russian force, was made famous because of Lord Tennyson's poetic retelling of the events.

Heavy cavalry lacking even a single part of this combination – composed of high morale, excellent training, quality equipment, individual prowess, and collective discipline of both the warrior and the mount – would suffer in a charge against unbroken heavy infantry, and only the very best heavy cavalrymen (e.g., knights and cataphracts) throughout history would own these in regards to their era and terrain.


Historically, cavalry (from the French word cavalerie, itself derived from "cheval" meaning "horse") are soldiers or warriors who fight mounted on horseback.

French 4th Hussars at the Battle of Friedland, 1807
A trumpeter of the Representative Cavalry Squadron in the Polish Army
A Polish winged hussar
Assyrian cavalry
Parthian horseman, now on display at the Palazzo Madama, Turin
Warrior's departure; an Athenian amphora dated 550–540 BC
Tombstone of a Roman auxiliary trooper from Cologne, Germany. Second half of the first century AD
Reenactor as a Roman auxiliary cavalryman
Chinese caltrop jar
Mongols at war 14th century
A bas-relief of a soldier and horse with saddle and stirrups, from the tomb of Chinese Emperor Taizong of Tang (r 626–649), c 650
The Qianlong Emperor in ceremonial armor on horseback, painted by Giuseppe Castiglione, dated 1739 or 1758
A mounted samurai with bow and arrows, wearing a horned helmet. Circa 1878
In the Battle of Ichi-no-Tani, Japanese cavalry moving down a mountain-side
Manuscript illustration of the Battle of Kurukshetra
Coin of Chandragupta II or Vikramaditya, one of the most powerful emperors of the Gupta empire during times referred to as the Golden Age of India
Rajput warrior on horseback
Akbar leads the Mughal Army during a campaign
Horse-mounted Normans charging in the Bayeux Tapestry, 11th century
A 13th-century depiction of a riding horse. Note resemblance to the modern Paso Fino
A Hussite war wagon: it enabled peasants to defeat knights
Arab camelry
A Moroccan with his Arabian horse along the Barbary coast
Kanem-Bu warriors armed with spears in the retinue of a mounted war chief. The Earth and Its Inhabitants, 1892
Knighted cavalry and noblemen, painting by Jan van Eyck (c. 1390–1441)
Husarz (Polish Hussar) by Józef Brandt
Cavalry charge at Eylau, painted by Jean-Antoine-Siméon Fort
British infantry formed into anti-cavalry squares at the Battle of Quatre Bras
The charge of the Venezuelan First Division's cavalry at the Battle of Carabobo
"The Thin Red Line" at the Battle of Balaclava, where the 93rd Regiment held off Russian Cavalry
Monument to the Spanish Regiment of light cavalry of Alcántara
The charge of the 21st Lancers at Omdurman
19th Lancers near Mametz during the Battle of the Somme, 15 July 1916
Algerian spahis of the French Army 1886
Union Cavalry capture Confederate guns at Culpepper
Italian cavalry officers practice their horsemanship in 1904 outside Rome
Austro-Hungarian cavalry, 1898
German cavalryman in September 1914, German South-West Africa
Dead German cavalry horses after the Battle of Halen - where the Belgian cavalry, fighting dismounted, decimated their still mounted German counterparts
A British cavalry trooper in marching order (1914–1918)
German dragoons, armed with lances, after the capture of Warsaw, August 1915
Lithuanian lancers training in the 1930s
Turkish cavalry during mopping‐up operation 1922
Polish uhlan with wz. 35 anti-tank rifle. Military instruction published in Warsaw in 1938
A German cavalry patrol in May 1940, during the Battle of France
Mongolian cavalry in the Khalkhin Gol (1939)
U.S. Special Forces and Combat Controllers on horseback with the Northern Alliance of Afghanistan, which frequently used horses as military transport
Italian Army regiment “Lancieri di Montebello” (8th) on public duties in Rome 2019
Horse-mounted color guard from Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow
A cavalryman of Hakkapeliitta, the Finnish cavalry of Thirty Years' War, featured on a 1940 Finnish stamp
Mongol mounted archer of Genghis Khan late 12th century.
Tatar vanguard in Eastern Europe 13th–14th centuries.
Manikin of a Safavid Qizilbash, showing characteristic red cap (Sa'dabad Palace, Tehran).
Persian Zamburak.
Ottoman Sipahi.
An Ottoman Mamluk cavalryman from 1810, armed with a pistol.
Akinci of the Balkans.
Ottoman Ghazi cavalrymen during the Battle of Nicopolis.<ref>{{cite web|last=Lokman |url=http://warfare.atwebpages.com/Ottoman/Ottoman.htm |title=Battle of Nicopolis (1396) |year=1588 |work=Hünernâme |url-status=dead |archive-url=https://web.archive.org/web/20130529094441/http://warfare.atwebpages.com/Ottoman/Ottoman.htm |archive-date=2013-05-29 }}</ref>
Washington National Guard cavalry pictured in Tacoma, Washington in 1907.
French cuirassiers, wearing breastplates and helmets, parade through Paris on the way to battle, August 1914.
Spanish light cavalry (cazadores) during the Rif War 1921.
Polish PZL W-3 Sokół of the 66 Air Cavalry Squadron, 25th Aeromobile Cavalry Brigade.
The mounted President's Bodyguard of the Indian Army
French Republican Guard – 2008 Bastille Day military parade
The President's Body Guard of the Pakistan Army, 2006.
Troopers of the Blues and Royals on mounted duty in Whitehall, London
Turkmenistan ceremonial cavalry in the Independence Day parade 2011
A Mongolian military horseman, 2013
Representative Cavalry Squadron of the Polish Army on military parade in Warsaw, 2006

Cavalry were the most mobile of the combat arms, operating as light cavalry in the roles of reconnaissance, screening, and skirmishing in many armies, or as heavy cavalry for decisive shock attacks in other armies.


Type of cart driven by a charioteer, usually using horses to provide rapid motive power.

Reconstructed Roman chariot drawn by horses.
Approximate historical map of the spread of the spoke-wheeled chariot, 2000–500 BCE
Han dynasty bronze models of cavalry and chariots
The area of the spoke-wheeled chariot finds within the Sintashta-Petrovka Proto-Indo-Iranian culture is indicated in purple.
Hittite chariot (drawing of an Egyptian relief)
Krishna Arjun Rath Monument at Brahma Sarovar. Bronze statue, by Ram V. and Anal R. Sutar, 2008.
Chariot detail at Airavatesvara Temple built by Rajaraja Chola II of the Chola Empire in the 12th century CE.
Stone chariot at Hampi, built under the Vijayanagara Empire, early 16th century CE.
A golden chariot made during Achaemenid Empire (550–330 BCE).
Relief of early war wagons on the Standard of Ur, c. 2500 BCE
Ramses II fighting from a chariot at the Battle of Kadesh with two archers, one with the reins tied around the waist to free both hands (relief from Abu Simbel)
The Charioteer of Delphi was dedicated to the god Apollo in 474 BCE by the tyrant of Gela in commemoration of a Pythian racing victory at Delphi.
Chariot, armed warrior and his driver Greece 4th century BCE
Two female charioteers from Tiryns 1200 BCE
A petroglyph in a double burial, c. 1000 BCE (the Nordic Bronze Age)
Detail of the Monteleone Chariot at the Met (c. 530 BCE)
A winner of a Roman chariot race
Fresco depicting an Italic chariot from the Lucanian tomb, 4th century BCE.
A mosaic of the Kasta Tomb in Amphipolis depicting the abduction of Persephone by Pluto, 4th century BCE.
The goddess Nike riding on a two-horse chariot, from an Apulian patera (tray), Magna Graecia, 4th century BCE.
Procession of chariots on a Late Geometric amphora from Athens (c. 720–700 BCE).
Sculpture by Thomas Thornycroft of Boudica and her daughters in her chariot, addressing her troops before the battle.
Procession of chariots and warriors on the Vix krater (c. 510), a vessel of Archaic Greek workmanship found in a Gallic burial.
Modern reconstruction of a Hussite war wagon.
Chariot burial of Zheng
Bronze Chinese charioteer from the Warring States period (403–221 BCE).
Powerful landlord in chariot (Eastern Han, 25–220 CE, Anping County, Hebei).

It was initially used for ancient warfare during the Bronze and Iron Ages, but after its military capabilities had been superseded by light and heavy cavalries, chariots continued to be used for travel and transport, in processions, for games, and in races.

Light cavalry

Polish-Lithuanian light cavalry during the Battle of Orsha in 1514, by Hans Krell
The famous Charge of the Light Brigade, in the Battle of Balaclava in 1854 (painted by William Simpson in 1855)
Mongol soldier on horseback, preparing a mounted archery shot
French 4th Hussar at the Battle of Friedland, 14 June 1807. "Vive l'Empereur!" by Édouard Detaille, 1891.
Polish cavalry at the Battle of Somosierra in Spain, 1808

Light cavalry comprises lightly armed and armored cavalry troops mounted on fast horses, as opposed to heavy cavalry, where the mounted riders (and sometimes the warhorses) were heavily armored.

Northern and Southern dynasties

Period of political division in the history of China that lasted from 420 to 589, following the tumultuous era of the Sixteen Kingdoms and the Eastern Jin dynasty.

Northern Zhou Daoist stele made of limestone
Polychrome sandstone statue of Guanyin, 575
Northern Wei Buddha Maitreya gilt-bronze figurine, 443
The stone tomb gate and couch of An Jia, Northern Zhou period Sogdian nobleman, excavated from Xi'an. Anjia held the title of Sar-pav of Tongzhou prefecture and was in charge of commercial affairs of foreign merchants from Middle Asia, who made businesses in China. Two lions flank the stone gate, and the horizontal tablet is carved with sacrificial scene of Zoroastrianism.
Soldiers of Northern Qi
A scene of two horseback riders from a wall painting in the tomb of Lou Rui at Taiyuan, Shanxi, Northern Qi dynasty (550–577 AD)
Portrait of Emperor Wu of Liang
Northern Wei wall murals and painted figurines from the Yungang Grottoes
Northern and Southern Dynasties circa 460: Northern Wei and Liu Song
Northern and Southern Dynasties circa 497: Northern Wei and Southern Qi
Northern and Southern Dynasties circa 541: Eastern Wei, Western Wei and Liang
Northern and Southern Dynasties circa 562: Northern Qi, Northern Zhou, Liang and Chen
Army of Northern Wei terracotta soldiers in Xianbei uniform, tomb of Sima Jinlong, 484 CE.
Northern Wei officer. Tomb statuette, Luoyang Museum.
The eastern qilin of the Chuning Tomb, Liu Song dynasty.
Liu Yu, Emperor Wu of Liu Song
Brick relief from the Dengxian tomb, Dengxian, Henan. Southern Dynasties, circa 500 CE.

The invention of the stirrup during the earlier Jin dynasty (266–420) helped spur the development of heavy cavalry as a combat standard.