Saxons on Horseback? Why Not?

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Why didn’t the Saxons fight on horseback? Some of them were trained in Roman legions, so they must have known how. It’s a mystery that hasn’t yet been solved. ,Why didn’t the Saxons fight on horseback? Some of them were trained in Roman legions, so they must have known how. It’s a mystery that hasn’t yet been solved.

Where were all the horses? It is a valid question–one that doesn’t have a valid answer.

The Saxons were, after all, serving as mercenaries in Roman Britain for a few generations before the Romans left. Having been driven back from the Gaulish borders (or even in some cases from one Roman battlefield to another), they decided to cut their losses and sign up for service in the mighty legions. It is plausible to conclude that some of these Saxons were part of the raiding parties and the settling parties that arrived in Kent and Sussex and Wessex at and after the behest of Vortigern. Why, then, did they not use their cavalry training?

Fighting on horseback must have been known to the Saxons. They served in the Roman army, after all, and Romans were adept at all forms of fighting, including the use of cavalry. So these classically trained fighters patrol the northern borders on horseback, pushing back the occasional Pict incursion, but when faced with a British army of inferior numbers stand and fight with swords and spears? Seems unlikely, but it happened. This is confirmed even by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

The success of the British with their cavalry prolonged the period of time between the Isle of Thanet settlement and the Saxon claiming of Britain. Mounted fighters could harry a much larger army and escape back into the hills, living to fight another day. In battle, cavalrymen were much harder to bring down and could blitz an enemy in the blink of an eye. (That the British were rich in cavalry skills speaks even more to their inheriting Roman traditions. This also speaks volumes for the idea that Arthur was indeed a Roman or at the very least a Romano-British commander. Arthur has even been called Comes Britanniarum, or leader of mobile cavalry forces all across the Island.

Why, then, seeing the Britons success on horseback did the Saxons not retaliate in kind? Why the persistence in standing with sword and spear? We cant really answer that question for certain. Perhaps it was because the Saxons felt more comfortable with solid ground under their feet. Cavalry training was, after all, a new phenomenon, much newer than hand-to-hand with pointed weapons. It could also be that they just didnt have the horsepower to fight large engagements with cavalry. Now, one might argue that cavalry could have been just a part of the Saxon fighting force; one would be right in pursuing that argument. We simply dont know why the Saxons preferred to stay on the ground when their persistent enemies insisted on taking to horseback. It is a question that needs to have an answer–but doesn’t.