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Would a cavalry force mounted on giant lizards be effective against unmounted pikemen?

The lizards are roughly horse-sized, with a large reptilian head which they keep down when they run. It seems that this feature would allow the lizards to push aside the pikes with their skull while only receiving minor skin wounds, at least in cases where the pikes don't strike the nose or eyes. The lizards have enough intelligence to be trained like horses

Is this thinking correct? Have I made an error somewhere?

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    $\begingroup$ It's worth noting that the invention of pikes came after the invention of cavalry. It's no surprise that the pikes are, therefore, effective against cavalry. It's not unreasonable to conclude that in your world the invention of pikes would come after the invention of lizard cavalry, meaning that the pike would be designed to combat the lizard... not a horse. Perhaps a better question is to provide the details of your lizard-mount and ask what developments could be expected for a weapon, possibly called a "pike," used to defend against them. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jun 15, 2023 at 5:23
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    $\begingroup$ It would be more effective if they could be trained like dogs, i.e to go without a rider. Pikemen were only effective because there were very few suicidal riders - Every rider knew that charging into pikes would bring their mount down, and thereby spell their own death. A cavalry horse just plowing into a line of pikemen would punch a sizeable hole into that line. A charging lizard even more so. I concur with JBH though - if your world has reptilian cavalry (lucertolary) they will soon after have anti-lucertolary weapons (pikes with super long spiky hammerheads to nail them from above?) $\endgroup$
    – bukwyrm
    Jun 15, 2023 at 9:05
  • $\begingroup$ As ever in warfare, part of "effectiveness" depends on fear - horses are too intelligent to easily charge straight at a wall of pikes, but maybe lizards are stupid enough? If so, and if you have enough of <anything>to be expendable, then the equation changes. $\endgroup$
    – MikeB
    Jun 15, 2023 at 11:58
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH pikes were used in non cavalry fighting by the greeks and macedons. $\endgroup$
    – Trish
    Jun 15, 2023 at 13:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Stef a javelin is like a pike in the way a row boat is like a trireme. Pikes are much larger (several meters), and are designed to fill a very different role. $\endgroup$
    – Izzy
    Jun 15, 2023 at 18:27

5 Answers 5

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This application of cavalry is suicidal

It doesn't matter whether you have horses, lizards, or elephants. You do not charge into pike formations head-on unless you can out-range them with your own lances, concentrating the momentum from the animal's charge into the lance's head to punch through the enemy's armor...and then pull back before you get bogged down in the melee and slaughtered.

When attacking infantry, cavalry does not want to stop: a horse is a huge target and a cavalryman – even an armored one – at a stop is a terribly vulnerable target. Since (say it with me), horses are not battering rams, that means you need space in the enemy formation to ride in and around the enemy infantry, spearing and slashing as you go (you can trample a lone infantryman, but not a dozen in a pack).

If your strategy is to have your mount headbutt the enemy's pikes away, you are too close.

Which brings us to density. Pike formations look something like this: enter image description here

Pikemen are heavy infantry, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, in multiple rows. They are numerous, largely because they are cheap. By comparison, cavalry is expensive and loosely packed (since each animal needs room to maneuver). Your lizards will be far looser than horse cavalry because of the way their legs are - lizards splay out their legs when they stand, meaning that they cannot stand shoulder-to-shoulder like horses would.

enter image description hereenter image description here

Each individual lizard will be facing twice as many pikes as a horse due to the width it takes up (and the space it will need for its tail when it turns around), and will not be able to headbutt all of them away. The pikes will catch on its splayed-out legs before the head reaches the pikemen's bodies, breaking the charge.

The only application of cavalry that stands a chance at a frontal assault is to scatter the formation of pikes, either by breaking their morale with a fearsome charge, or by feinting a retreat to get them to advance (or by skirmishing with ranged weapons).

But what you should actually be doing is flanking them, because the best way to break a formation is to strike it from the side or rear. Cavalry can move faster than infantry can pivot, unless the pikes have formed square.

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    $\begingroup$ Your painting doesn't show a feinted retreat, it shows a caracole, the cavalry equivalent of musketeers firing by ranks. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Jun 16, 2023 at 3:00
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, thanks - I had a different image before then updated it and forgot to edit $\endgroup$
    – SPavel
    Jun 16, 2023 at 18:30
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    $\begingroup$ To the point of the answer here, one advantage lizard mounts would have over horses is greater ability to climb / scramble over rough terrain. Terrain which IRL would hinder or maybe even be impassible to flanking by horse calvary could be vulnerable to lizard calvary. $\endgroup$
    – user62171
    Jun 16, 2023 at 22:06
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What you describe is how a boar charges, and it doesn't make pike ineffective against them.

Also, don't forget that while pikes can be kept raised before the impact, they can also be raised with a delay while pivoting on their back end, to work past the head on the abdomen of the creature, in which case the head can do little or nothing against them.

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    $\begingroup$ Lizards of this size have scales, or are usually depicted as scaled creatures, so attacking the lizard's abdomen might just slide off its "armor". $\endgroup$
    – Vesper
    Jun 15, 2023 at 10:40
  • $\begingroup$ There is also the weight/ force issue. A horse and a mounted lizard are much heavier than a human being. If one is charging at you holding a pike without being just overrun is non-trivial. $\endgroup$
    – quarague
    Jun 15, 2023 at 18:04
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    $\begingroup$ @quarague that's why pikes can b used by blocking their rear end against the ground. The momentum of the charger becomes a problem for the charger itself, at that point $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jun 15, 2023 at 19:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Vesper isn't a reptile abdomen usually where the scales are the thinnest/non-existent? $\endgroup$
    – justhalf
    Jun 16, 2023 at 4:57
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A pike is still good to hit the rider

A cavalry unit consists of a rider and a mount, hitting either would destroy at least a part of that unit. In real world, pikes were used to target the horse, since horses are broad in frontal projection and usually are less heavily armored than the rider. With lizards being mounts, their frontal projection is broad but not tall, and reveals the rider to be hit with the pike. So, using unmounted pikes targetting riders and not mounts is more feasible with lizards being lower profile than horses. And finally, if a knight has been lowered somehow, he had ridiculously low mobility to remain a combat capable soldier, so even if a pike hitting a knight just managed to dislodge him off the lizard, that knight is no longer a threat. And lizards could still be captured and reused by the defenders, eventually.

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Nope

enter image description here

These Australian men killed two crocodiles using spears and hatchet. Yum yum.

Realistically your big lizards will not have hide much tougher than a crocodile. Crocodile hide is tough as balls, by the way. Your lizards will be bigger then a croc in the picture, but the pike will also be much heavier than the spear they used to kill it. So it balances out.

Your lizards still have use of course. Nude, they are more armored than a horse. Maybe half as strong as chainmail. So you might field 100 lizards for the price of 30 armored knights, since you only need to armor the rider.

If I am breaking pike formations I want a small group of metal armored knights (or metal lizards). If I am flanking and eating up the archers I want a large number of mobile unarmored lizards.

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    $\begingroup$ You might want to point out that pikes braced to the ground use the mount's momentum against itself. No amount of armour will help. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Jun 15, 2023 at 22:24
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Yeah, I think the pikes would be almost useless.

Let's assume the premise. The lizard's head is indeed tough enough to divert blades with minimal injury to the animal.

A pike would do nothing against this cavalry. A pike wall, on the other hand, might.

The defending army would fare worse than if against a horse cavalry charge. But a wall of well-braced pikes would still cause major damage against the lizards. Hitting the rider, like @Vesper mentioned, is one such way to neutralize the animals.

However, you forgot to evolve your world alongside the new mount.

Unless the lizards came from another world (e.g. like the anime "Gate"), the world evolved alongside the lizards.

An army who is well aware of the lizards and has known them for centuries or even millennia, as it is common in fantasy, wouldn't use pikes against the lizards if they were so effective.

What weapons would be effective against the lizards? That might be its own followup Q&A on this site. Check this post by our favorite diamond:

https://worldbuilding.meta.stackexchange.com/a/8466/353

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