Ancient Roman Horse Equipment (and Medieval eqp.)

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Pat Holscher
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<blockquote id="quote"><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica" id="quote">quote:<hr height="1" noshade id="quote"><i>Originally posted by JV Puleo</i>
<br />We have to also assume that the war horses were very valuable - its sort of like moving tanks on flat cars or tank transporters until you get them to where they have to be for action.
JV Puleo
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Very interesting analogy!

Pat


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Gentlemen,

During the course of this discussion, I've been straining to recall something that the professor in my undergrad archeology class related regarding human height. I can recall what I think I was taught, but because it's a dim recollection, I've been hesitant to state it, as it's clearly subject to the errors of recollection.

Anyhow, what I think I recall him teaching was this.

Very ancient humans, according to what I think I recall, were very near as tall or taller than modern humans. That is, Cro Magnon man was more or less as tall as modern Europeans or Americans. As an aside, their cranial capacity was definitely bigger than modern humans (which any trip to the Mall will sadly verify).

Human height, I dimly recall, declined in the Pleistocene (the last Ice Age). This was probably due to lack of food, but also tends to reflect the odd fact that a lot of folks who live in really cold climates have fairly short, but stocky, body types.

I can't recall what happened in the large expanse of time from the end of the Ice Age until the Middle Ages, but I do recall the prof stating that people in the MIddle Ages were on average more or less as tall as modern Europeans or Americans.

In the Industrial Revolution, I recall, people became much shorter. Bad diet and lack of food.

And then they started getting big again recently.

Unable to really do much with this recollection, I finally resorted to the Internet. Sure enough, here's an article stating more or less what I recalled. Here's the URL:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/20 ... 090552.htm

Some items from this:

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"Men living during the early Middle Ages (the ninth to 11th centuries) were several centimeters taller than men who lived hundreds of years later, on the eve of the Industrial Revolution," said Richard Steckel, a professor of economics at Ohio State University and the author of a new study that looks at changes in average heights during the last millennium.

"Height is an indicator of overall health and economic well-being, and learning that people were so well-off 1,000 to 1,200 years ago was surprising," he said.

Steckel analyzed height data from thousands of skeletons excavated from burial sites in northern Europe and dating from the ninth to the 19th centuries. Average height declined slightly during the 12th through 16th centuries, and hit an all-time low during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Northern European men had lost an average 2.5 inches of height by the 1700s, a loss that was not fully recovered until the first half of the 20th century.
Steckel believes a variety of factors contributed to the drop – and subsequent regain – in average height during the last millennium. These factors include climate change; the growth of cities and the resulting spread of communicable diseases; changes in political structures; and changes in agricultural production.
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and;

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Reasons for such tall heights during the early Middle Ages may have to do with climate. Steckel points out that agriculture from 900 to 1300 benefited from a warm period – temperatures were as much as 2 to 3 degrees warmer than subsequent centuries. Theoretically, smaller populations had more land to choose from when producing crops and raising livestock.

"The temperature difference was enough to extend the growing season by three to four weeks in many settled regions of northern Europe," Steckel said. "It also allowed for cultivation of previously unavailable land at higher elevations."
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and;

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* The climate changed rather dramatically in the 1300s, when the Little Ice Age triggered a cooling trend that wreaked havoc on northern Europe for the following 400 to 500 years.

Colder temperatures meant lower food production as well as greater use of resources for heating. But many temperature fluctuations, ranging in length from about 15 to 40 years, kept people from fully adapting to a colder climate, Steckel said.

"These brief periods of warming disguised the long-term trend of cooler temperatures, so people were less likely to move to warmer regions and were more likely to stick with traditional farming methods that ultimately failed," he said. "Climate change was likely to have imposed serious economic and health costs on northern Europeans, which in turn may have caused a downward trend in average height."

* Urbanization and the growth of trade gained considerable momentum in the 16th and 17th centuries.
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A link to this professors Ohio State item is here: http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/medimen.htm

While this is only one article, having run across it makes me confident enough that this data must have been out in some form for quite awhile, or I'd not be able to dimly recall what I'd heard some twenty five years ago. And it makes sense to me. Human genetics are not changing. So the only thing that really changes with us is diet. When we have a good diet, and good exercise, and are not plagued with other external factors, we'll generally reach a a genetically determined (for each individual) height. When diet is thin, we'll never reach it, and will stop growing below it. When the diet is rich, but poor, or we lack exercise, we'll generally get thick waistlines. This latter factor has probably only been a factor for a large number of people recently, where it has come to afflict a lot of Americans, at the very least.

So, what to make of all of this?

Taking into account that the knightly class was made up of men who lived active outdoor lives, for the most part, and who trained in warfare, etc., and who had a least the means to by armor and keep horses, that overall they were likely pretty well fed and exercised, as Joe notes. But I'd also guess, as JV suggest, that they were likely larger than we popularly imagine. Relying mostly on my memory, but also on the article cited above, I'd guess than on average they were only slightly smaller, if smaller at all, than the average present day European or American, keeping in mind that not all peoples now, including well fed ones, obtain a tall stature.

Really going out on a limb, I'd guess that perhaps the average European peasant of the Middle Ages, or at least the early Middle Ages, might have been taller on average than we imagine.

The citations to them being smaller, of course, are widespread. But I suspect that's explained by the reasons JV mentions above. And also, we have to keep in mind that stacked armor doesn't sit the same way worn armor does.

Now, if all that's correct (and that's a lot of suppositions on my part) what does that mean about the Medieval War Horse? I'm not sure. Knowing what we know about their current day descendants, I'd guess that the the draft horses of the early 20th Century or 19th Century might be representative of them. That is, they would be big horses, but not like modern day Clydesdales. They would have been like that in part to carry the weight of a mounted man with armor, and in part also because, it seems to me, that part of the role of Medieval cavalry was shock. Up until the Crusades anyway, what seems to have happened in mounted actions is that competing bands of men would crass into each other, in combat. To crush the enemy's shield wall, etc., shear mass would likely have been useful, but quick agility might not have been. Indeed, battles were almost arranged as to locations in some instances, so even the ability to maneuver would likely not have been as important as later. So I guess I'm going for pre 1950 Belgian Draft Horse as a likely model for much of the Middle Ages, but at the same time I would have to concede that at least in some instances the horses were not large ones, such as the Norman example mentioned earlier.

Finally, are people today getting bigger? I guess that's where I have to express some doubt in my own post, but only a little. I do think that, very recently, Americans are getting bigger. That is, the generation now reaching adulthood. Kids in high school and junior high definitely look a lot bigger to me that my contemporaries did when we were that age, at least according to my unscientific observation. They are also getting a whole lot fatter. That's not a good trend, but I'm pretty sure it is true.

Well, I've stated a lot of stuff here that subjects myself to being knocked down as to various points, which I invite those with opposite opinions to do. It's an interesting topic.


Pat
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Pat,
A very interesting article. I confess to being a little gratified that my educated guesses have such academic support. I was actually thinking of something I either read or heard years ago that made a similar comparison between the remains of peasants and the baronial class...that drew the conclusion that the "big men" were literally that. Bigger and stronger than the general pooulation. In my own family the increase in physical size, especially height from the generation of my grandparents (all born between 1875 and 1893) to my nieces and nephews is really dramatic...as if the rapid advances in nutrition and health care of the twentieth century mirror and have accelerated the changes Professor Steckel catalogs.
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<blockquote id="quote"><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica" id="quote">quote:<hr height="1" noshade id="quote"><i>Originally posted by JV Puleo</i>
<br />Pat,
A very interesting article. I confess to being a little gratified that my educated guesses have such academic support. I was actually thinking of something I either read or heard years ago that made a similar comparison between the remains of peasants and the baronial class...that drew the conclusion that the "big men" were literally that. Bigger and stronger than the general pooulation. In my own family the increase in physical size, especially height from the generation of my grandparents (all born between 1875 and 1893) to my nieces and nephews is really dramatic...as if the rapid advances in nutrition and health care of the twentieth century mirror and have accelerated the changes Professor Steckel catalogs.
Joe Puleo
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Joe,

I'm sorry to say that in my family, we've remained uniformly the same size for a century or so. Indeed, we may be getting a little smaller.

Having said that, my son shows every indication that he'll be much taller than either my wife or I.

Pat
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After posting the item above, I recalled reading an item on the Norse pioneers to Greenland. It was a very intersting item. They emigrated to there from Iceland during the Medieval climatic optimon, and were actually able to grow wheat there.

Their colonies were located about a decade ago or so. When their graves were examined, it was found that the first people there were of fairly normal stature. However, when the Climatic Optimon ended, they began to decline in size. In the Miny Ice Age they were really small, until they finally died out. The last ones showed the signs of very meager diet and being in ill health. Sadly, their final days were really not all that far off (can't recall if it was decades, or up to a century or more) before Columbus made his trip. In the terms of overall history, their colonies almost made it into the colonial era.

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Pat,
What I didn't add is that my grandparents were really short...even by the standards of their own day. I'm not sure about my grandfathers as I never met either of them but my fathers mother wasn't five feet tall and my mother's mother about 5'2". My father, at 5'6, is the giant of his whole immediate family so its easy for us to have a dramatic increasein height and still be short!
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It's my understanding (and I can't recall the specific source) that a knight on campaign had a signifcant "baggage train."

For transit he would be riding a normal "saddle horse." His armor, along with his tent, furnishings, food, weapons, etc. would be carried in a cart driven by a servant. If he had page or squire they would have been mounted, but not always well mounted (unless from wealthy famiilies). His charger(s) would have been tied to the back of the cart. He would have also been supported by a groom, cook, and other assorted servants. These would have walked behind the cart.

As I understand the battle tactics of the day, when combat loomed he would have been "armored up" then mounted his charger. It took one or two extra persons to get the armor on the knight. Even assuming low average for size (say, 170 lbs) when you add a 70 pound suit of armor, 15 lbs. for saddle, and maybe 15 lb. more for sword, mace, shield, etc. the total load would run in the 270 lb. range. The horse would likely not carry this load all that long (in either distance or time).

I've seen examples of horse armor, also. I don't know how much was used in the field, but even a few pieces would add up and drive that total load toward 300 pounds.

If his side came out on top he would likely have taken some spoils, maybe even capturing an enemy knight (who could be held for ransom). If he lost, he might be the captive. Or maybe he would have just lost is baggage train and escaped with his horse and what he had on his back. In that latter case he would still be in some trouble, as he would be lacking in the extra hands necessary to don and remove his armor.

This thread started off discussing Roman equipment. I guess a drift into an exploration of later armored knight should be balanced by some consideration of earlier mounted warriors. Those who have not read Xenophon's "The Cavalry Commander" should do so. There are discussions here on weapons and armor. His "On Equitation" (sometimes translated "On Horsemanship") is also a classic that should be read by any aspiring horseman.

I would also have to presume that horse losses on campaign were also high from combat loss. In close quarter work with edged weapons I would think that missed and deflected strokes sometimes hit the horse. I wonder how many died the "death of a thousand cuts"?



Bill Kambic

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<blockquote id="quote"><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica" id="quote">quote:<hr height="1" noshade id="quote"><i>Originally posted by wkambic</i>
<br />
I've seen examples of horse armor, also. I don't know how much was used in the field, but even a few pieces would add up and drive that total load toward 300 pounds.
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You are the first to mention horse armor here, which is a good point, and makes for an intersting topic. I think I'll seperate that one out for it's own thread, which isn't to say that it can't also be discussed here.

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Now theres a name I have not heard for along time, Xenophan, who was amember of corps elite, who also wrote the book on the cavalry commander {Hipparchikos] written about 362 BC. Nice one Bill, as time goes by one tends to forget these things.

It was interesting that the rise of knight may not have come about, had not been for the introduction of the stirrup. But I have an interesting statement comeing from the Emperor Charlemagne, summining an important vassal, Fulrad Abbot of Altaich, to the royal army in 806.

Ye shall come to Stasfurt on the Boda, by May 20th, with your 'men' prepared to go on warlike service to any part of the realm that we may point out; that is, you shall come with arms and gear and all warlike equipment of clothing and and victuals. Every horseman shall have shield, lance, sword, dagger, abow and a quiver. On your carts you shall have ready spades, axes, picks, and iron pointed stakes, and other things needed for the host. The rations shall be for three months... On your way you shall do no damagew to our subjects, and touch nothing but water, wood, and grass... See that there be no neglect, as you prize our good grace.

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<font size="3"><font face="Book Antiqua">Greetings All,

A very interesting topic, to which I can add but little new. There is one observation I would like to make and it relates to Pat's comment: "...but quick agility might not have been. Indeed, battles were almost arranged as to locations in some instances, so even the ability to maneuver would likely not have been as important as later."

I would like to propose that battles weren't arranged because maneuver wasn't important - the Parthians at Carrhae and the Mongols throughout their operations and horsemen of the Steppes any time in between proved that maneuver was important and possible. I propose that battles were held in convenient locations not so much by arrangement but rather because during the dark ages the ability to control maneuver had been lost. As Dupuy and Dupuy comment about Britain:

"No where in the Western world did the art of war sink lower than in Britain during this period [600 - 800 AD]. Savage ardor had overcome all vestiges of Roman system and discipline. Retaining little direct contact with continental affairs, Anglo Saxon methods of warfare had probably regressed since the time of Hengist and Horsa. Strategy and discipline were unknown; tactics simply consisted of the disorderly alignment of opposing warriors in roughly parallel orders of battle followed by dull, uninspired butchery until one side or the other fled.... In consequence warfare was, as Oman says, "spasmodic and inconsequential."

We know that Harold of England at Hastings opted for a defensive battle while two weeks before at Stamford Bridge, he had opted for an offensive action. The supposition is that he could commit to one action or the other and once committed he had little control.

Conversely the Mongols for instance had relatively sophisticated communications methods for both day and night operations, they also possessed a level of training and battle drill up to division [Touman = 10,000 men] level that was unmatched anywhere in the world between Alexander the Great and Union General George B. Thomas and his telegraph communications wagon in the American Civil War.

This is not to say that this thread ought to transmogrify itself into a discussion of the Mongol war machine but rather to point that given the socio-economic constraints of the Dark Ages, the Middle Ages and the age of Absolute Monarchs, control methodologies were not studied and applied. Knights were too proud, nobles were too independent, the fryd was too untrained, enough food to maintain operations wasn't available - whatever; the bottom line being that control of maneuver wasn't possible unless it was (a) studied, (b) applied and (c) enforced through effective discipline.

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<blockquote id="quote"><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica" id="quote">quote:<hr height="1" noshade id="quote"><i>Originally posted by Subotai</i>
<br />[font=Book Antiqua]Greetings All,

A very interesting topic, to which I can add but little new. There is one observation I would like to make and it relates to Pat's comment: "...but quick agility might not have been. Indeed, battles were almost arranged as to locations in some instances, so even the ability to maneuver would likely not have been as important as later."

I would like to propose that battles weren't arranged because maneuver wasn't important - the Parthians at Carrhae and the Mongols throughout their operations and horsemen of the Steppes any time in between proved that maneuver was important and possible. I propose that battles were held in convenient locations not so much by arrangement but rather because during the dark ages the ability to control maneuver had been lost. As Dupuy and Dupuy comment about Britain:

"No where in the Western world did the art of war sink lower than in Britain during this period [600 - 800 AD]. Savage ardor had overcome all vestiges of Roman system and discipline. Retaining little direct contact with continental affairs, Anglo Saxon methods of warfare had probably regressed since the time of Hengist and Horsa. Strategy and discipline were unknown; tactics simply consisted of the disorderly alignment of opposing warriors in roughly parallel orders of battle followed by dull, uninspired butchery until one side or the other fled.... In consequence warfare was, as Oman says, "spasmodic and inconsequential."
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I don't actually completely disagree. Rather, I'm afraid that the fact the thread covers about 2,000 years of history is the problem.

What I was referring to would be the heavily armored battles of the Middle Ages, not those that came before, or after. And that wouldn't even apply to all of them. However, some Medieval Battles do seem to feature collection at the battlefield to an unusual degree, and less mobility and maneuver as a result.

This would not apply to all battles of the period, nor would it be applicable to those of prior eras. Indeed, the thread has ebbed and flowed so much, that by the time I made my post, the topic of ancient warfare had nearly evolved, but not perfectly, into one on Medieval Warfare.

Even at that, the Medieval Period (I confess I object to the term "Dark Ages", which is an inaccurate post Medieval term intended to cast aspersions on the prior era) doesn't feature uniform combat. And, in my note, I didn't mean to suggest an actual agreement as to the field, although my post was certainly unclear.

On Early Medieval battles, which is the ones the quote refers to, it may be well to remember that many of the combatants were not professionals soldiers. Rather, as with most of the Saxons at Hastings, they were farmers who were levied for warfare. That is, called up. They weren't as bad as it as might be imagined, however. Earlier than that (Rome only fell about 450 AD), they were more tribal yet, but even then didn't devote the bulk of their time to warfare. So no doubt they did lack the polish of Roman armies, although they were more effective, as noted, than they are sometimes given credit for.

<blockquote id="quote"><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica" id="quote">quote:<hr height="1" noshade id="quote">
We know that Harold of England at Hastings opted for a defensive battle while two weeks before at Stamford Bridge, he had opted for an offensive action. The supposition is that he could commit to one action or the other and once committed he had little control.
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However, we also must take into account that his troops, once again almost all farmers called up by their liege for service, were fresh at Stamford Bridge, and not at Hasting. Most of them had forced marched from Stamford Bridge to Hastings, a tiring hike in the best of circumstances.

I can't really recall all the details at Stamford Bridge, and I'd invite correction. In my dim recollection I thought that the Norwegians advnaced first, but were held off while the Saxons got around behind them, and generally overcame them. Again, I'd invite correction.

The Saxons, for their part, did fairly well at Hastings. As noted earlier, Harold had to force march his men as William was raiding in the area and a King could not ignore that. While there's some doubt as to it, it is often cited that the Saxon line broke to pursue a feint retreat, which is where they came apart. Some maintain, however, that the Norman withdrawal wasn't a feint at all, they just recovered well.

All going off memory here, by the way, making it subject to a lot of possible correction.

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Knights were too proud, nobles were too independent, the fryd was too untrained, enough food to maintain operations wasn't available - whatever; the bottom line being that control of maneuver wasn't possible unless it was (a) studied, (b) applied and (c) enforced through effective discipline.
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That'd be generally true, but again subject to variance by era. The Medieval period is long. But most of the Medieval armies were not professional armies, and generally knights retained a high degree of independance.

Of course, there's some exceptions. Knights Templar, Knights Hospitallier, and Teutonic Knights would all provide some contrary examples. Knights Templar and Knights Hospitallier were very disciplined, but that makes them the exceptions to the rule.

Pat
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As a total aside, it's intersting to note that we're discussing an expanse of time so large here, that the older items referenced in it are more distant, I suspect, from the latter ones, than we are from the latter ones.

I'll have to add that up, but I suspect that's the case. Sort of strange to realize.

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To just roughly try to guage it, Jeff mentions Carrhae above, which occured in 53 BC. I think Alexander the Great might have been mentioned here, he was born about 356 BC.

The Early Middle Ages ran from about 450 AD to 1000 AD, depending up a person's view. This would include the Medieval Rennaissance (not the Rennaissance) of the 9th Century, I think.

The High Middle Ages occured from about 1000 to 1300. The Late Middle Ages from about 1300 to 1500 (keeping in mind that putting an end date on it is a little difficult, and you could subtract that by nearly 200 years).

The point, I guess, is this. The Medieval period only ended about 500 years ago, after running for about 1,000 years. People who lived at the end of the Medieval period are closer in time to us, here today, than they are to people who lived at the start of the Medieval period.

Spooky, isn't it?

To extend it out, the Battle of Hastings, which occured in 1066, will see it's 940th anniversary this year. It is closer to us, in terms of time, than the battle of Carrahe was to those who were at Hastings. Hastings is also about equal distant from the end of the Medieval Period to our own distance from the end of the Medieval Period.

Strange to think of.

Of course, to those of us with that odd Celtic outlook, it all just happened yesterday anyway.

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I have spent the last hour catching up on this thread and found it to be most interesting. The members who commentd here are far more knowledgleable then I. I can agree completely about the size of armor being deceptive for all the reasons mentioned. While visiting the Heidleburg Castle I was shown several carved statues of nobles, knights and such (in armor) which were said to have been done "life size". Now I did not question how they knew this, but if it were so then they were all about 5'6" to 5'8", huskey, but not fat.

What I did notice was that the discussion mentioned size (both horse and men) as large, small, tall or short in most cases. Did records back then not mention "measured height" (in some fashion) for people and horses?

As horses were prised animals I would only guess that size in a measureable discription had to come into account when looking for, buying or selling horses. What measurement might they have used and when did the measurement by "hands" start?

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measurement of horses can also be deceptive. Currently we measure a horse to the wither yet in the time of Harry 8 they measured the horse at the point of the saddle. This means a horse that would seem small to us based on their measurement, suddenly gains a hand when the adjustment is made.

I would write more but the program will terminate all of it lol
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Please ignore the self distruct notice and do write more. I would like to hear more about this.

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The way it was:
http://cgi.ebay.com/HORSE-ARMORY-LONDON ... dZViewItem
The enlarged view is rewarding.

Dušan
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...and just by coincidence:

http://cgi.ebay.com/London-Postcard-Vie ... dZViewItem

Not such a good view - but what a collection!

Dušan
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Neat postcards.

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A long running archived thread on Roman cavalry.

topic.asp?ARCHIVE=true&TOPIC_ID=1665

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