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By “Nomadic Empire” I am referring to an expansionist power that resembles the empires created by Eurasian Nomads throughout history ranging from the Scythians, Huns, and of course Mongols. Their power came from the rapid mobility and tactical effectiveness endowed from their nomadic and horseborne lifestyle.

While the use of skilled horse archers and lancers has carried nomadic empires to victory numerous times, in my setting there is one additional type of soldier these nomads use; mounted infantry.

Mounted infantry are soldiers who ride horses to battle, but dismount to fight. They are distinct from cavalry in that they don’t fight on horseback. Mounted infantry in real history was actually very effective at countering nomadic armies, as seen in the Battle of Mobei in which the Han used mounted infantry to counter the Xiongu’s mobility while retaining the power of their infantry and crossbow formations.

The nomadic empire in my setting has numerous vassals that are not nearly as mobile as they are, but are nonetheless have well trained archers and infantry. The Khagan wants to use every advantage he has against a much more powerful foe, but to have his settled vassals accompany his army on foot would lead to an unacceptable decrease in mobility and would further harm logistics. So instead he provides the allied infantry and foot archers with horses so that they may ride with the nomads to the battles. They then dismount and take part in the fighting, with the nomad light cavalry covering their initial formation and the heavy cavalry using them as an anchor point for Hammer and Anvil tactics.

I figure that it’s much faster and easier to teach an infantryman to simply ride a horse than it is to train him as a proper cavalryman, and that his increased mobility would be worth the additional time and resources spent.

So is my logic that mounted infantry would be an effective asset for a nomadic army sound?

Edit: The enemy uses tactics and units similar to the Song Dynasty’s military.

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    $\begingroup$ o.m. has a point. Who is the enemy matters a lot here. You can have improvised mounted infantry and it will work but if the enemy force is not something that becomes easier to defeat with access to that infantry, you just wasted lots of resources you could have used for something else. More is not always better. Sometimes easy logistics or mobility is more important than numbers and focussing on using the cavalry you already have has more value. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Feb 26 at 6:44
  • $\begingroup$ True, to answer that question the enemy has a numerical advantage, is mostly infantry and has a significant amount of archers. This question is more focused on if this tactic is viable at all $\endgroup$ – NixonCranium Feb 26 at 6:46
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    $\begingroup$ Well, it works better than trying to make cavalry of them. Other than that it just depends on what you use them for. If you have a defensible position you can drop them in to form a proper anvil, mounted infantry is much better than most cavalry in defending fixed positions. But it depends on having that position. Making it there in time would make good reason to mount infantry. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Feb 26 at 6:51
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    $\begingroup$ so far i dont see any problem with yours, especially you also bring light and heavy cavalry as a support and not slow them down during marching due to them also riding horse, beside if i remember correctly there also napoleon era warfare which use this kind of unit. $\endgroup$ – Li Jun Feb 26 at 7:05
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    $\begingroup$ i realize that the enemy use the song dynasty tactic and unit, i wonder how it can fare against wagon fort though, also do the enemy has gunpowder technology and vice versa ? after all wagon fort is essential in the battle of mobei, or your mounted infantry also use that ?. $\endgroup$ – Li Jun Feb 26 at 8:16
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I think that the thought behind this question is sound, but I'd take the advice of the many commenters on this question. To an extent, you are asking 'Why are horses good?' Mounted infantry have a number of benefits, but also a number of disadvantages:

Benefits:

  • Speedy movement: your infantry are on horses, horses move faster than most people. Enough said.
  • Logistics: speed of your army is important, but so is the speed of the food, tents, and war-machines at getting to a battle-site (if applicable).

Disadvantages:

  • Horses are expensive: they eat a lot, they may need their own armour, horseshoes, etc, even if they're not getting into combat. Plus, you'll have to raise them, breed them over generations, etc.
  • You'll need a lot of them: For maximum speed, you want a horse for every man, which is very impractical for massive armies, and will become an even bigger problem in the long run. Even having a buddy-system is impractical. The other problems that come as side-effects to this are to do with losses. Horses get lost in battles (either they die or they run away in fear) randomly anyways, and whatever %age of horses disappear is the percentage of your infantry that is stuck where it is, most likely either holding back the entire army on their next move or lagging behind, making them sitting ducks for the enemy.
  • Chaos: Horses get freaked out by any and all loud noises unless specifically bred to handle the din of battle. This will not only cause more losses but even if left to the side as your infantry go to fight, they'll need attendants to calm them down and un-spook them. Worst case scenario, it is possible that an enemy infiltrator could free these horses and have them stampede into the battle, hurting you and your enemy equally (in the best case scenario). It's a good idea to manage your variables when in a fight, and having extra horses may not be the best way to do so if they're not being actively used.

Your question: So is my logic that mounted infantry would be an effective asset for a nomadic army sound?

I like the idea, but it's expensive, it's chaotic, and will most likely help you win battles, not wars. Even if you win a war, the upkeep of an entire army like this can't be easy. I understand the Mongol empire of old had a predominantly cavalry army, but these weren't mounted troops, but a very diverse range of cavalry trained from a young age to handle the chaos of war. In fact, even the subspecies of horse used by Mongols were superior in many ways, as they had natural instincts that made them capable survivors (like being able to dig for food, or run relatively slowly for incredibly long periods of time, increasing long-term mobility). But the Mongols based their entire society around horses, so it was doable, but more importantly, they took full advantage of their horsepower. Your horses aren't just taxis for your soldiers - treat them with respect and understand the advantage they provide to you.

I'd argue that it's way too much effort training an entire army to ride horses and then have to maintain said not-a-cavalry forever. Instead, I'd argue for the creation of special forces units instead: small units (overall 1000ish soldiers) of highly trained combatants that specialize in showing up to a battle unannounced and unexpected, with a very high K/D ratio. Genghis Khan used troops like these in many of his campaigns, from his initial fights to unite the tribes of Mongolia till his campaign in Khwarezmia.

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  • $\begingroup$ I really really like your idea for small units $\endgroup$ – NixonCranium Feb 26 at 7:51
  • $\begingroup$ if we use mongol as example they have alot of mongol horse as spare even to their messenger (i forgot the number but i remember even a single person has a lot) they even has enough spare horse to create dummy troop to trick enemy, i dont think it would be a problem. $\endgroup$ – Li Jun Feb 26 at 8:14
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    $\begingroup$ @LiJun en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horse_culture_in_Mongolia#As_warhorses "It is said that a Mongol warrior's horse would come at his whistle and follow him around, doglike. Each warrior would bring a small herd of horses with him (3 - 5 being average, but up to 20) as remounts. They would alternate horses so that they always rode a fresh horse.[25] Giovanni de Carpini noted that after a Mongol warrior had ridden a particular horse, the man would not ride it again for three or four days." $\endgroup$ – Adrian Colomitchi Feb 26 at 9:46
  • $\begingroup$ "Horses get lost in battles" I have this feeling that the horse of a footman have better chances of survival in a battle than the footman himself :) $\endgroup$ – Adrian Colomitchi Feb 26 at 9:49
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    $\begingroup$ @cyber101 "I'd be ok with that" I think you may start to give this one second thoughts during wet seasons, with your buses stuck in mud up to the axles. Maybe during winter too, when the roads that you built to support heavier traffic are full of potholes. Not sure you'll be elected next time if you raise the fuel taxes to make up for the ever increasing road maintenance, especially if you just introduced mandatory conscription for your vassals (those dam'd hippies and their make love not war) ;) $\endgroup$ – Adrian Colomitchi Feb 26 at 14:38
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While mounted infantry may have some plausible uses, imagine your enemy shows up days or weeks before you expect them because they rode in on horses, you would also face a fair few issues.

Abandon your horse
Dismounting before battle should be done away from the battlefield, and the horses should be tied up sufficiently and tended to during the battle. This takes time and manpower, which could be used elsewhere. Running up to the enemy and hopping of your horse to fight them is pretty much impossible, or at least a very bad idea. First of all a line can't be formed (as quickly) due to the chaotic mix of men and horses. Secondly, there will be no time to properly secure your horse. Thirdly, when battle commences there is often an exchange of arrows. When the battle is won, but the mounted infantry returns to their horses only to find half of them dead or wounded, and the other half fled, them being mounted would be short lived.

costs
Feeding an army is already expensive. Add a horse to feed to every soldier and the costs will spiral out of control. Not only the costs, but the availability of food for such a potentially large army would become an issue as well, if large pastures of grass aren't available in the area.

Unless the tactics used by this force is precisely tailored to counter a specific enemy, or extreme speed of deployment is needed at a moments notice, I don't see any massive advantages to mounting your infantry.

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  • $\begingroup$ All very good points, although I should have noted that the environment is steppe, so like the Mongolian horses they can simply graze $\endgroup$ – NixonCranium Feb 26 at 7:50
  • $\begingroup$ "the horses should be tied up sufficiently and tended to during the battle. This takes time and manpower" - well, true, TANSTAAFL. But getting the infantry to the battlefield less tired and faster has to amount for an appetizing lunch, worth the price of tethering them and assigning a small percentage of your manpower to tender them. $\endgroup$ – Adrian Colomitchi Feb 26 at 8:00
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    $\begingroup$ @NixonCranium "like the Mongolian horses they can simply graze" ... does it happen to know what is the minimal grazing area required for a horse/day? I'm seeing numbers in "2-3 acres to keep a 1000lb happy horse on your property". Back of the envelope estimation: a hectare (1e4sqm)/horse allows the grass to grow back between grazing, so let's say 180days to graze it completely and start again. Comes to about 550 sqm/horse/day, which is a square of a 23m side. Ummm... how many horses you said you need for your army? $\endgroup$ – Adrian Colomitchi Feb 26 at 8:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Adrian Colomitchi The Mongols were able to field armies that had nearly 100,000 men, and considering the mongols averaged about three horses per soldier (one to ride, one to carry gear and one to rest between rotations.) The army in this scenario isn’t nearly as large as the mongols $\endgroup$ – NixonCranium Feb 26 at 8:22
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    $\begingroup$ @NixonCranium I would suggest to look on how they actually tended those horses and see if a population without the horse culture of the Mongolians could pull the same trick. Suggested: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horse_culture_in_Mongolia#As_warhorses Seems like a nice story within the story ("horses needed little water... forage beneath the snow... drawback was compensated for by the fact that it was typically required to carry less weight...after a Mongol warrior had ridden a particular horse, the man would not ride it again for three or four days"). Otherwise, handwave at will. $\endgroup$ – Adrian Colomitchi Feb 26 at 8:50
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It depends ...

Your tactic is sound if the stirrup hasn't been introduced.

All cavalry used this method, fighting dismounted until the second century B.C. when the stirrup was introduced. Until the stirrup, soldiers had to compensate for any force of an attack by gripping their mount with their thighs and this will only get you so far. I think only mounted archers using short bows could effectively fight from horseback. And you might be able to throw a spear or javelin but not a long-distance -- just at some poor ground pounder in front of you.

enter image description here Note the absence of stirrups in the 3rd century roman depiction of an equites

But on the other hand, if the stirrup is in wide use for your story, then a mounted fighter can be more powerful on their mount than on the ground. They can use lances and wield weapons from with greater impact and height advantage.

But, horses are easy targets for the enemy. So getting in and getting out fast has always been a hallmark of cavalry attacks. This leaves room for troops riding in, and dismounting and fighting on foot.

During the US Civil War, cavalry armed with rifles rode into battle but dismounted to fight. So the tactic lasted for nearly two millennia after the stirrup changed how fighting on horseback was conducted which suggests its not a bad plan when used in the appropriate situation.

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    $\begingroup$ Nope, it is simply not true that all cavalry fought dismounted before the invention of the stirrup. As in, it is blatantly false. I cannot even imagine the thought process by which someone would reach such a ridiculous conclusion. Have you never heard of battle chariots? The Parthian armoured horse archers? What stirrups did was allow the development of mounted lancers, but lance charges are far from the only way cavalry can fight. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Feb 26 at 10:45
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP, back to trolling again. Plying your skills at dubious misinterpretation again. Charioteers don’t mount horses. They fight from a platform towed by the horses. So not mounted cavalry. And, I stated that archers did fight from horse back. $\endgroup$ – EDL Feb 26 at 16:20
  • $\begingroup$ Battle of Gaugamela, 331 BCE. Decisive battle between the Greek/Macedonian invaders and the Persian empire. Cavalry (both charioteers and riders) was most important, including a legendary mounted cavalry charge led by Alexander himself. (And what's charioteers were cavalry. It doesn't matter that they did not ride the horses. I brought them up only because you claimed that all cavalry fought dismounted in the classical world. This is very obviously not the case.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Feb 26 at 17:30
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP, Your foolish objections are based on taking my answer out of context. I am obviously referring to mounted cavalry. When you troll my answers you are consistently, and deliberately, misconstruing an inartful phrase or miswording as a fault of reasoning or fact. You really should find a different hobby. First of all, you don't troll very well. And secondly, its a waste of time and effort. I really have to wonder what is in it for you. $\endgroup$ – EDL Feb 26 at 17:50
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Use wagons

Two horses per wagon means you can carry 8-10 infantry or supplies, and use them as a modern APC would. If you want to get fancy, make the wood reinforced and use the wagons as part of the tactic besides carring troops.

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    $\begingroup$ Rrrright... "Nomadic empires" building roads to transport troupes without bogging them down after a rain or snow thaw. It seems that I remember something on the line of "apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Mongols ever done for us?" ;) $\endgroup$ – Adrian Colomitchi Feb 26 at 12:34
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    $\begingroup$ Nomands did use wagons. Travelling by wagon in the steppe is quite practicable in summer; of course, spring, autumn and winter are a different thing altogether. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Feb 26 at 14:21
  • $\begingroup$ Wagons need roads, or at least reasonably smooth areas of fairly short grass. Horses don't. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 27 at 19:38
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Use of mounted infantry is a viable tactic for sedentary societies and nomads alike. There were some cases where an army was majority cavalry - such as Black Army of Hungary, Byzantine Tagma and a couple of others. In other cases, army was cavalry with mounted infantry - I believe Belisarius had used that combination, and English armies of 100 years war were often entirely mounted, but longbowmen and such would dismount before battle. Combination could also be used in impromptu situations; Byzantine Emperor Basil II mounted infantry on mules when he had to relieve Aleppo in hurry. Journey which should have taken 60 days he completed in quarter that time, but out of 40 000 men, only 17 000 made it. It should be noted that this was travel through very mountainous terrain. You can find more on logistics here: https://books.google.hr/books?id=ntMeWddadwAC&pg=PA144&lpg=PA144&dq=Byzantine+Emperor+Basil+II+mounted+infantry+on+mules&source=bl&ots=1m3yQT7S5s&sig=ACfU3U0riL8ufDoEyu-Jzigg42pSAJH9Gw&hl=hr&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwid3snPsfLnAhXPwosKHbcTBGQQ6AEwFHoECA0QAQ#v=onepage&q=Byzantine%20Emperor%20Basil%20II%20mounted%20infantry%20on%20mules&f=false

I do not think however that nomads would have mounted infantry by default. Nomads had very sophisticated tactics, which included heavy cavalry, light lancer cavalry and light missile cavalry (mounted archers). These were all highly trained, and could be used as infantry if situation required it. Sedentary societies also sometimes pulled that off: Byzantine kataphraktoi were trained to fight as infantry if necessary (at least those of Belisarius were), English men-at-arms also occasionally fought as infantry, and so did Polish Winged Hussars. As such, having strictly mounted infantry is not really necessary if you already have cavalry. But more to the point, in open, flat terrain, cavalry reigns supreme. I had spent some time researching infantry-vs-cavalry clashes for my blog, but long story short: 1) heavy cavalry beats all infantry 2) missile cavalry beats heavy cavalry 3) missile infantry beats missile cavalry

Main reason why pike squares could stand against heavy cavalry was the general lack of discipline and training of the latter, what with them being composed of nobles. But well-disciplined heavy cavalry - such as French Compagnies d'Ordonnance and, later, Polish Winged Hussars - was capable of disciplined mass charges. As such it could, and did, break infantry pike squares, especially if you combined heavy cavalry with missile troops (e.g. horse archers). Disadvantage of cavalry was that its effectiveness is highly dependant on terrain. As I already stated, cavalry reigns supreme in open plains. But send them into mountains, canyons, forrests, riverbeds? They lose their advantage. That is what happened to Mongols: they beat Hungarian-Croatian army stupid at open plains, but they achieved absolutely nothing once they came to rather mountainous Southern Croatia.

This, of course, assumes that nomads have stirrups - which, if they had managed to build an empire, they probably do. Cavalry without stirrups is rather less effective in fighting from horseback, either with melee or missile weapons, though high-backed saddles, or four-horned saddles, do help somewhat. It should be noted that it was precisely nomads - Sarmatians - who introduced stirrups to Romans. Before that, cavalry usually dismounted to fight, or else fought with missile weapons (e.g. cavalry at Hastings used throwing spears, I think). Melee combat was not exactly out of the question, but couched lance technique was straight out - "charge" of pre-stirrup heavy cavalry consisted of trotting up to the enemy, slamming into them with their horses, and then using spear for stabbing, or else other melee weapons. For example, Byzantine kataphraktoi - which may or may not have stirrups - were shock cavalry... which fought with maces. Cataphracts with lances were positioned on flanks and used to guard from enemy cavalry, not to engage enemy infantry. Attack on infantry was done by a mix of mace-wielding melee cataphracts, and bow-wielding cataphracts behind them. If you want details, you can read Eric McGeer - Sowing Dragon's Teeth. Byzantines often fought nomads, and it is not out of question to think that some of their cavalry tactics were adapted from nomads. Further, The Byzantine Art of War, from the same author, gives details on tactics and organization of some of Byzantium's enemies, as well as Byzantine responses to the same. This also includes nomadic groups, though he does not go into detail of particular groups.

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Mounted infantry makes sense, as you yourself say in the question they have really existed in history and have been effective.

An important thing to consider is "Has the Stirrup been invented yet?".

Before stirrups were invented fighting from horseback was really difficult. It required you to have more-or-less grown up on horseback to master the skill. It also wasn't very good. If you wanted to hit someone with your sword you had to intentionally hit with less than your full strength, because if you hit as hard as you could you could dismount yourself from the recoil.

So cavalry "pre-stirrup" cannot hit as hard as a human on foot, and being able to do it at all is a rare skill. This is why people used chariots, they gave you the speed of a horse but a fighting platform where you could fight with the superior strength of a footsoldier. Once the stirrup turned up chariots became obsolete. With stirrups, not only can a cavalryman hit with his/her full human strength, they can use a spear or lance to hit with a horses strength!

So, in a pre-stirrup world, riding a horse to the battlefield, then fighting on foot, makes perfect good sense. This is exactly what some of the English soldiers fighting in the battle of Hastings would have done.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stirrup

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  • $\begingroup$ Just saw the answer of EDL and comment from AlexP. Somehow missed those. I basically cover the same stuff they said. $\endgroup$ – Dast Feb 26 at 11:35
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    $\begingroup$ There were cavalry charges in pre-stirrup days; of course, they functioned rather differently from post-stirrup lancer charges. See for example Alexander's charge at the Battle of Gaugamela. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Feb 26 at 14:20
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Infantry should use very small horses.

small horse

http://ferrandtriplekfarms.blogspot.com/2013/03/what-are-miniature-horses-good-for.html

Your infantry personnel will be happy they don't have to walk. But neither will they be charging into battle. Therefore the horse should be the minimum necessary to move the soldier. Economical small horses eat less chow and but are sturdy and strong. This horse is so small that it is pulling a one infantrywoman cart and is enthusiastic to do so; this is how it will be for your nomad infantry too. I will point out that a cart which can be pulled by a small horse could also be pulled by a goat or donkey, or a team of dogs, or even an ostrich. If there were not enough small horses to meet your needs you could diversify as available draft animals allow.

Considering practicalities - I am thinking the depicted cart might be uncomfortable for long trips. It would be hard to take a nap. I envision something more like a couch or loveseat on wheels. If you had a dog-pulled couch, you could be pretty sure where the dogs will be when you come back from your fighting on foot.

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    $\begingroup$ Too bad the lightest (and sportiest) carts of the period used to look like this: vroma.org/images/mcmanus_images/biga.jpg You'll notice the total disregard for steel spokes, rubber tires and cold-worked and stress-relieved titanium alloy frame. Barbaric times... literally. $\endgroup$ – Adrian Colomitchi Feb 26 at 15:28
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    $\begingroup$ @AdrianColomitchi - Maybe runners, then. A troika. Because I like the blankets you can have on a troika. They would be camouflage blankets because this would be a war troika. $\endgroup$ – Willk Feb 26 at 16:00
  • $\begingroup$ mongol horse is pretty small actually almost like phony $\endgroup$ – Li Jun Feb 27 at 4:03
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Who (what) is the enemy?

Mounted infantry is limited in the length of spear/pike they can carry. You might be able to get a Roman legion onto horses, but not a Macedon phalanx or a Swiss pike block or a Spanish Tercio. So if the mounted infantry comes up against leg infantry, it has an advantage in mobility and a disadvantage in combat power.

Mounting and dismounting takes time. So the mounted infantry could not catch other light horse, it would be hard-pressed to fight heavy horse because of the relatively short spears they can carry, and it would be problematic against heavy infantry. That leaves it as skirmishers.

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  • $\begingroup$ The Macedonian Sarrisa could be broken down into two pieces for ease of carry, so I take issue with the idea that there can be no pikemen at all, although I concede it could be a major issue. As for infantry power, I think you’re really selling a Roman like infantry army short, they were one of the most powerful empires of all time for a reason, their heavy infantry was far from weak. Furthermore, the nomad cavalry would be a major headache to any enemy cavalry. $\endgroup$ – NixonCranium Feb 26 at 6:39
  • $\begingroup$ To answer your question, the enemy is mostly infantry composed of spear men and crossbowmen, but with cavalry as well $\endgroup$ – NixonCranium Feb 26 at 6:44
  • $\begingroup$ Lances used by Polish Hussars (type of heavy cavalry) reached generally up to 6.2m in length, often out-ranging contemporary pikes. There's no reason why pike length would be a limiting factor, especially if one is not supposed to use it on horseback. $\endgroup$ – M i ech Feb 26 at 11:21

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