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János B. Szabó

Reflections on Hungarian warfare in the 11-14th century

Issues of armour, strategy and tactics


Although the Hungarian Kingdom, in all probability, disposed of considerable heavy cavalry in the 12th century, Hungarian forces seem to have kept their basic character of light cavalry until the end of 14th century, the period in focus. The existence of a third arm of service, the so-called transitional type of cavalry, may only be referred to as a hypothesis, since neither material, nor written resources prove that certain parts of the army disposed of an armour, strategy or tactics sharply different from those of the light and heavy cavalry.

Hungarian leaders, having taken advantage of the favourable characteristics of both arms of service, in all certainty, applied different strategy and tactics against enemies different in character. It is probably due to this fact that resources, from time to time, lay stress on the activity of units different in armour. Provided that one considers it obvious that commanders of the Byzantine Empire, a state having been stuck among peoples with military customs dissimilar to each other, advised different strategies against different enemies, it should not be too surprising that commanders of Hungary, a country also fighting against several kinds of enemies, might have reached the same conclusion. The lack of tactical literature should not indicate the denial of this hypothesis, as all military knowledge was transmitted orally and through experience, for want of organised officers' training. Occasionally, the appliance of different tactics could not cause a problem for the Hungarian army, as it did not create extreme requirements towards fighters. It meant a change purely in the position that the different troops occupied in the battle order, and in the timing of throwing them into battle, while soldiers could maintain the usual method of weapon usage and moving drills, thus their strategy could remain unaltered. However, apart from this approach, the role of chance or the subjectiveness of the informator should not be precluded when examining the events immortalised by battle descriptions. Considering this, one must be very careful making declarations of tactics applied in certain clashes, when the analogy of that cannot be discovered in other military events. It seems to be obvious that light cavalry was not applied independently as a decisive striking force, in the well-known battles, in spite of the customs of the steppe nomads and Hungarian commanders of the 10th century. However, traditions of the ancient light cavalry tactics came into operation in the 13-14th century activity of small troops, consisting of a few hundred, possibly one or two thousand people. One should by no means undervalue the role of the light cavalry bowmen, for the military historical literature of the West also pays increasing attention to such important fields of medieval warfare as the indispensable activity of light armour troops, having been influential in wars of the middle ages.

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