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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Formidable genus armorum: the horse archers of the Roman Imperial Army McAllister, David W.


The equites sagittarii formed a considerable force in the auxilia of the early and middle empire, but they, and particularly their role and employment, have received little scholarly attention. This paper will attempt to define their place on the battlefields of the high Empire. While horse archers are known to have been used in eastern armies such as the those of the Persians and Parthians with great effect, they were recruited into and employed by the Roman army in strength only starting at the reign of Augustus. Units of horse archers were almost exclusively recruited from eastern lands and were employed there as well, not only in war, but also as the border garrisons of Pannonia, Dacia, Africa, and the Levant. Chapter one discusses the equipment in use by horse archers. The bows in use were invariably compound recurved bows of eastern design. Other specialized archery equipment was also eastern in origin while their general military and cavalry equipment seems to have been standard Roman military issue. Horse archers, like all military systems, can be defined in terms of their characteristics: qualities which determine their pattern of effectiveness, and therefore role, on the battlefield. The characteristics of horse archers are: flexibility, mobility, vulnerability, and firepower. Chapter two analyzes mounted archers' characteristics to explain in detail the reasons for their effectiveness. Chapter three looks at the question: "Were these units invariably bow-armed?" It appears that they had at their disposal a variety of weapons (including javelins and other weapons) for useaccording to the situation. Chapter four analyzes the evidence of the role of horsearchers in all phases of war: the advance to contact, the attack, the pursuit, the defence, and the withdrawal. They were were especially valuable in independent battlefield operations, due to their mobility. Appendix one is a list of known and suspected units of sagittarii, together with a brief commentary on certain of the mounted units. Mounted bowmen's firepower has a certain pattern of effectiveness. Appendix two analyzes arrow fire through application of the Theory of Small Arms Fire in order to explain certain paradoxes of archer employment on the battlefield.

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