The appearance of cavalry
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The appearance of cavalry


Evidence and accounts from many sources, including the Bible, indicate that cavalry was in at least limited use by the twelfth century BC and that by the tenth century some kings were deploying thousands of horsemen in their armies. Mounted horsemen appear in earlier Egyptian reliefs, but we cannot be sure if they represented scouts, messengers, or combatants. 
Following the catastrophe, cavalry began appearing in armies, both replacing and supplementing chariots. By the mid-ninth century, cavalry was well developed, at least in parts of Mesopotamia. In that period the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III claimed to have 2000 chariots and 5500 cavalry at the battle of Qarqar where he faced troops on both horses and camels. 

Advantages of cavalry over chariots 
An Assyrian relief carving from the ninth century B.C. shows archers shooting from horseback. The cavalrymen fight in pairs- one man controls both horses while the second man shoots. This evidence implies that the first mounted soldiers fought as archers from horses, essentially performing the same role as chariots did previously, but with some important differences.  Mounted men were much more agile than chariots and could cross almost any terrain. Chariots, in contrast, were relatively cumbersome to turn and to move in groups, and were restricted generally to flat open terrain. It was much easier for a cavalryman to escape if events turned for the worse. If his horse was lost, it was possible to double up on another to get away. The crew of a disabled chariot was in serious danger, especially if skirmish troops were accompanying enemy chariots. A chariot was an investment in two horses and two men, plus the car, to put one archer on the field. An investment in two horses and two men as cavalry also put one archer on the field because at first only one man could shoot while the second controlled the horses. A reference from the Bible( 2 Chronicles 1.17) reports that in the tenth century, the chariot car cost twice as much as the horse team to purchase and maintain.

Chariots effectively disappeared from battlefields in the eight century B.C. following the technical innovation of new ways to rein horses. This innovation allowed cavalrymen to operate independently rather than in pairs. From this point on, two horses supported two archers, not one, doubling the firepower from the horses committed. This innovation is displayed in reliefs from the reign of Assyrian king Tiglath- Pileser III from around 750 B.C.

Light cavalry tactics

Cavalry archers did not dominate battlefields as chariots had in a similar role previously. Iron Age battlefields dominated by infantries. The initial battlefield role for cavalry was to defeat the opposing cavalry and drive them away. This protected friendly infantry from harassment and freed the friendly cavalry to help destroy the enemy infantry by encircling them, shooting into their unprotected rear and flanks, and generally lowering morale prior to the moment of infantry combat. If the enemy infantry panicked and fled, cavalry could pursue and run them down. Assyrian reliefs show cavalry dispatching fleeing foot troops with lances.

Heavy cavalry

From 1200 to 400 B.C. cavalry was primarily a light (unarmored) mounted skirmishing force, useful also as scouts, screens, and in pursuit. In Macedonia during the fourth century B.C. a new type of cavalry came into use- heavy cavalry for shock attack. The people of this region were noted horsemen and developed a tradition for using a lance from horseback. this was difficult skill to master because the stirrup did not yet exist. The lance had to be released just prior to impact to prevent the horsemen from being pulled off his mount.

The Macedonian army built by Philip and Alexander was unique for the last millennia of antiquity because its decisive arm was its cavalry. The Macedonians had not adopted the phalanx of their southern neighbors for their entire army because the terrain of their homeland was very broken and enemies to the north were mainly horsemen.

The very best of the Macedonian cavalry were the Companions, mainly aristocrats who had ridden since their youth. They wore a metal breastplate or coat of mail armor, fought with the lance as mounted spearmen, and attacked as shock troops. Their spear was nine feet long and had an iron point on both ends. It weighed only 4.2 pounds and could be thrown. The back end could be stabbed down or the front end held forward as a lance. The men also carried a long curved sword.

Macedonian heavy cavalry was the finest of antiquity. No other cavalry approached their effectiveness in battle until the stirrup was invented and the mounted knights appeared in Europe during the Middle Ages.