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Chapter 6

This webpage reproduces a chapter of the


(Loeb Classical Library edition, 1928)

The text is in the public domain.

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Chapter 8
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.


 p277  VII. The Cavalry

Asclep. vii.1 = Ael. VII.4‑51 Now the cavalry, like the light infantry, take their positions according to the demands of battle, and especially is this true of the skirmishers; for these are the most useful to draw first blood, to provoke the enemy to battle, to break their ranks, to repulse their horse, be the first to occupy points of advantage, carry such positions as the enemy have already occupied, reconnoitre terrain that looks suspicious, lay ambuscades, and in general to open and support the struggle; for by their swift manoeuvring they render many valuable services in battle.32

Asclep. vii.2 = Ael. XVIII.1‑32 Now some order the horsemen in a square, others in an oblong rectangle, others in a rhomboid, and still others in a wedge-like or pointed formation. But all agree in calling the formation of the body a squadron. It appears that the Thessalians​33 were the first to use the rhomboid formation for their squadrons in cavalry fighting, and this with great success both in retreat and in attack, that they might not be thrown into disorder, since they were able to wheel in any direction; for they placed their crack troopers on the sides and the very best of these at the angles; and they called the man at the fore angle a squadron-commander (ilarches), the one at the rear angle a squadron-closer (uragos), and those on the right and left angles flank-guards (plagiophylakes).

 p279  Asclep. vii.3 = Ael. XVIII.43 It is said that the Scythians and Thracians invented the wedge formation, and that later the Macedonians used it,​34 since they considered it more practical than the square formation; for the front of the wedge formation is narrow, as in the rhomboid, and only one‑half as wide, and this made it easiest for them to break through, as well as brought the leaders in front of the rest, while wheeling was thus easier than in the square formation, since all have their eyes fixed on the single squadron-commander, as is the case also in the flight of cranes.35

Asclep. vii.4 = Ael. XVIII.5‑94 The Persians, Sicilians, and Greeks regularly used the square formation since it can hold the squadrons in both rank and file; but the Greeks modified the squadron formation by making it an oblong in mass, while giving it to the eye the appearance of a square. For they drew up the riders with a front of sixteen and a depth of eight, but they doubled the interval between the riders​36 because of the length of the horses. And some made the number of men in length three times that of the depth and then tripled the interval in depth, so that it again appeared to be a square, and these, in my opinion, had the better plan; since the depth of the cavalry unit, provided it is enough to hold the squadron firm and in line, does not have the same importance as in the infantry, rather it may work  p281 more havoc than the enemy themselves, for when the riders run afoul of one another they frighten the horses. Hence, if the number of the cavalry is a square number, they will have to be drawn up in an oblong rectangle, but if the number of men is not a square number and a square must be formed, the depth will have to be fixed at three or four horsemen and the front arranged accordingly.37

Asclep. vii.5 = Ael. XIX.1. 3º5 And yet the rhomboid formation has seemed more necessary for manoeuvring because it bears toward a leader and because, like the square, it is capable of both rank and file arrangement, for which reasons some have ordered it with this in mind, namely that attention be paid to both rank and file, others have paid attention to neither rank nor file, some to rank only and not to file, and still others the opposite.

Asclep. vii.6 = Ael. XIX.46 Now by those who prefer to order the squadron by both rank and file the longest line is stationed in the middle, consisting of an odd number such as eleven, designated by the line α α in the following diagram; then before and behind this line are two others, each two men less in number, the front β β, the rear γ γ, ordered so that each man in β and γ is in file with each in α except the two end men in α; then again after the line β there comes the line δ δ, also two less in number, and after the line γ there comes the line ε ε, and this also is two less than the line γ, so that each man in the line δ δ is in file with  p283 each man in the line β β except the end men, and each man in the line ε ε is in file with each man in the line γ γ except the last men; then the lines β and γ will be formed of nine men, and the lines δ and ε of seven men, and in the same manner will be ordered the lines after these, i.e., the lines ζ ζ and η η will have five men, and the lines θ and κ three men; and of the remaining lines of one man each let the front one λ be a squadron-commander (ilarches) and the rear one μ be a squadron-closer (uragos); and the flank-guards will be the men on the ends of line α, so that the strength of the entire squadron will be sixty‑one men. The triangle from the middle line to the squadron-commander is called a ram and wedge-shaped. The figure follows:

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Asclep. vii.7 = Ael. XIX.137 Those who prefer to order the squadron by rank and not by file, make the longest and centre rank odd in number as above, as α β γ δ ε ζ η,​38 and then place, before and behind, ranks one man less in number, as the ranks θ ι κ λ μ ν, so that θ is not in  p285 file with either α or β but stands before and between them, and in the same manner ι between β γ, κ between γ δ, λ between δ ε, μ between ε ζ, and ν between ζ η. When the ranks are so ordered not a man in the rank θ ι κ λ μ will be in file with a man in the rank α β γ δ ε ζ η. After the same fashion they place the rank ξ ο π ρ σ before the rank θ ι κ λ μ ν, so that ξ is not directly before either θ or ι, but is in their interval and in line with β of the first rank, ο is between ι κ and in line with γ, π is between κ λ and in line with δ, ρ between λ μ and in line with ε, and σ between μ ν and in line with ζ. For by this arrangement the rank ξ ο π ρ σ will not be in file with the nearest rank θ ι κ λ μ ν, but with the second rank α β γ δ ε ζ η. So also the next rank τ υ φ χ will not be in file with the one immediately preceding it ξ ο π ρ σ, but with the second rank θ ι κ λ μ ν, the rank ψ ω ϛ will not be in file with τ υ φ χ, but with the one beyond it ξ ο π ρ σ, and the rank 𐌣 𐌣 will not be in file with the rank ψ ω ϛ, but with the one beyond it τ υ φ χ; and the squadron-commander α will be between 𐌣 𐌣, and directly before someone in the rank ψ ω ϛ. Now since they place a wedge behind, exactly like the one in front, they complete the squadron, which will have α as a squadron-commander, α the last man in the two wedges as a squadron-closer, and αη as flank-guards. And it is apparent that in such a squadron, though the  p287 successive ranks are not in file, the alternate ones are.

Asclep. vii.8 = Ael. XIX.118 Though, when considered in the foregoing manner, the squadron happens to be ordered by ranks and not by files, it is still said to be in file formation, if only we regard the formation of the first file from squadron-commander to squadron-closer, namely the file α ω π δ π ω α, and those on each side of it, namely 𐌣 υ κ κ υ 𐌣 and 𐌣 φ λ λ φ 𐌣, then the following files ψ ο γ ο ψ and ϛ ρ ε ρ ϛ, further the next in order τ ι ι τ and χ μ μ χ, then the next ξ β ξ and σ ζ σ, the successive ones θ θ and ν ν, and finally the flank-guards. Now such a formation will in no way differ from that called the ordering by rank and not by file, and yet in our apprehension and conception of the ordering it will be by file, because the men are contiguous in file, but it will not be by rank, since the first man in the first file, namely α, is not directly before the first man in the second file, namely 𐌣, by rank.

Asclep. vii.9 = Ael. XIX.6‑109 But those who wish to draw up the squadron neither by rank nor by file, prefer another arrangement for this formation; for they first station as a  p289 face and kind of rank of the squadron the opposite sides of the rhomboid α θ ξ τ ψ 𐌣 α 𐌣 ϛ χ σ ν η, like the letter Λ, then, in order, the line two men less in number θ β ι ο υ ω φ ρ μ ζ ν, then the line ξ ι γ κ π λ ε μ σ also two men less than the one before it, with the man at the centre corner leading each line, i.e., the men α ω π; then the line τ ο κ δ λ ρ χ whose leader is δ, then the line ψ υ π φ ϛ, behind it 𐌣 ω 𐌣, and last a squadron-closer α. It is clear, then, that such an arrangement will not different from the former ones save in conception only, as will be evident from the diagram.39

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Asclep. vii.10 = Ael. XX.110 The cavalry force is stationed, like the light infantry, sometimes before the phalanx, sometimes  p291 behind it, and at other times on the flanks, for which reason this arm of the service is called a supporting force (epitagma), as in the case of the light infantry, and not a phalanx, because it is attached to the phalanx according as need for it arises.

Now two squadrons are called a battalion (epilarchia), two battalions a Tarentine regiment (Tarantinarchia), two Tarentine regiments a brigade (hipparchia), two brigades a division (ephipparchia), and the double of the division a complement (telos), corresponding to the wing of the phalanx. The two complements form the entire supporting force (epitagma), corresponding to the phalanx.40

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

32 According to Aelian XVII these and other similar services are performed by the light infantry.

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33 Aelian adds that this was under Jason, but thinks that the formation was actually much older, and later attributed to him.

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34 According to Aelian, under Philip.

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35 Compare the numerous passages on the flight of cranes collected by J. B. Mayor and J. E. B. Mayor in the former's edition of Cicero, De Natura Deorum, on II.125. See also Greg. Naz. Orat. 28.25 (Patr. Gr. 36.61A), where the invention is ascribed to Palamedes, and the Schol. of Elias Cretensis (Patr. Gr. 36.788B).

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36 That is, in the files, as compared with the interval between them in the ranks.

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37 The idea behind these words is more clearly expressed in Aelian XVIII.9: "When the number of riders in rank equals the number in file, the number is a square number, but the formation is an oblong rectangle, the depth of which is greater than its length; but when the formation of the squadron is a square the number of the horsemen in rank is different from that in file."

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38 From here on the diagram after § 9 is in mind.

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39 After one has observed the great care with which our author dwells upon these different formations, man by man, rank by rank, file by file, he is rather surprised to find that they differ only in the way one looks at them — that, in fact, paragraphs 7‑9 are to be taken in a Pickwickian sense.

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40 That is, the phalanx of light infantry (cf. vi.3).

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