restricted access Appendix II. Historical Documents
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159 Appendix II Historical Documents 1. Cavalry (Extract from Xenophon) The unexpectedness of an event accentuates it, be it pleasant or terrible . This is nowhere better seen than in war, where surprise terrorizes even the strongest. When two armies are in touch or merely separated by the field of battle , there are first, on the part of the cavalry, skirmishes, thrusts, wheels to stop or pursue the enemy, after which usually each goes cautiously and does not put forth its greatest effort until the critical part of the conflict. Or, having commenced as usual, the opposite is done and one moves swiftly, after the wheel, either to flee or to pursue. This is the method by which one can, with the least possible risk, most harm the enemy, charging at top speed when supported, or fleeing at the same speed to escape the enemy. If it is possible in these skirmishes to leave behind, formed in column and unobserved, four or five of the bravest and best mounted men in each troop, they may be very well employed to fall on the enemy at the moment of the wheel. (Xenophon did not mention a shield, only a band on his left arm.) 2. Marius against the Cimbrians (Extract from Plutarch’s “Life of Marius”) Boiroix, king of the Cimbrians, at the head of a small troop of cavalry, approached Marius’ camp and challenged him to fix a day and place to decide who would rule the country. Marius answered that Romans did not ask their enemies when to fight, but that he was willing to satisfy the Cimbrians. They agreed then to give battle in three days on the plain of Verceil, a convenient place for the Romans to deploy their 160 Appendix II cavalry and for the barbarians to extend their large army. On the day set, the two opponents were in battle formation. Catulus had 20,300 men. Marius had 32,000, placed on the wings and consequently on either side of those of Catulus, in the center. So writes Sylla, who was there. They say that Marius gave this disposition to the two parts of his army because he hoped to fall with his two wings on the barbarian phalanxes and wished the victory to come only to his command, without Catulus taking any part or even meeting with the enemy. Indeed, as the front of battle was very broad, the wings were separated from the center, which was broken through. They add that Catulus reported this disposition in the explanation that he had to make and complained bitterly of Marius’ bad faith. The Cimbrian infantry came out of its positions in good order and in battle array formed a solid phalanx as broad as it was wide, thirty stades or about 18,000 feet. Their 15,000 horsemen were magnificently equipped. Their helmets were crowned by the gaping mouths of savage beasts, above which were high plumes which looked like wings. This accentuated their height. They were protected by iron cuirasses and had shields of an astonishing whiteness. Each had two javelins to throw from a distance, and in close fighting they used a long heavy sword. In the battle the cavalry did not attack the Romans in front, but turning to the right they gradually extended with the idea of enclosing the Romans before their infantry and themselves. The Roman generals instantly perceived the ruse. But they were not able to restrain their men, one of whom, shouting that the enemy was flying, led all the others to pursue. Meanwhile the barbarian infantry advanced like the waves of a great sea. Marius washed his hands, raised them to heaven, and vowed to offer a hecatomb to the gods. Catulus for his part also raised his hands to heaven and promised to consecrate the fortune of the day. Marius also made a sacrifice, and when the priest showed him the victim’s entrails, cried, “Victory is mine!” But, as the two armies were set in motion, something happened, which, according to Sylla, seemed divine vengeance on Marius. The movements of such a prodigious multitude raised such a cloud of dust that the two armies could not see each other. Marius, who had advanced first with his troops to fall on the enemy’s formation, missed it in the dust, and having passed beyond it, wandered for a long time in the plain. Meanwhile fortune turned the barbarians toward Catulus, who had to meet their whole attack...