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8-08-2015, 16:46

Maintaining Cavalry Traditions

That evolution of medieval Europe’s elite class of killers on horseback, as some modern observers have called them, had its roots in the Roman Empire. In Roman times, the region now occupied by the nation of France was called Gaul. Beginning in the 300s CE, a Germanic tribal people known as the Franci, better known as the Franks, settled in Gaul. As time went on the area came to be called Francia after them. (Over subsequent centuries Francia became France.) Rome had long kept large horse-breeding estates in Gaul, which had contributed many of the mounts used by cavalry units across the Roman Empire. When that vast realm collapsed in the i fth and sixth centuries, the Franks inherited these estates and maintained them. Partly for this reason, medieval France’s i rst two royal dynasties (ruling families), the Merovingians and Carolingians, had strong cavalry traditions from the outset. h e Merovingians ruled from the late 400s to the 750s, at which time the Carolingians took the throne. Subsequently, the Carolingians held sway in most of France until the late 900s. Both of these lines of rulers recognized a major reason for their maintaining large units of horsemen in warfare: Two of the Franks’ most dreaded enemies employed mobile armies made up principally of cavalry. One was the Avars, a i erce tribal people originally hailing from central Asia. h e other consisted of Muslim Arabs, who had recently swept across northern Africa and entered and conquered Spain. h e Franks realized that they could not ef ectively counter and defeat these foreign horsemen without maintaining strong cavalries of their own. By the close of the Carolingian era, these Asian and Muslim intruders had ceased to be a threat to Europe. Even then, however, the Franks and other Europeans who had built up large cavalry units felt it would be unwise to dismantle them. In the words of historian Bernard S. Bachrach, none of Europe’s “post-Carolingian states that supported such forces could give them up as long as their potential domestic adversaries [i.e., their neighbors] did not. Without a broad and enforceable general agreement regarding the elimination of [those forces], any government that might undertake partial disarmament on its own would face the risk of placing itself in a disadvantaged position.”13 As a result, European military cavalry traditions continued, as did the ongoing transformation of these cavalrymen into a class of elite warriors. h e forerunners of the classic medieval knight, they came to see themselves as special in part because they tended to be wealthier than infantrymen and other soldiers. Horses were expensive to buy and raise. It was also very costly to equip and train a mounted ighter, so over time many such warriors acquired enhanced social status.