ArthurianThis is the first part in a multi-part  examination of Britain in the so-called Age of Arthur: the 5th though the mid-6th Century A.D. It is a fascinating period, with the Classical Age of Greece and Rome giving way to the Germanic “Dark Ages”. Unique among the territories of the Western Roman Empire, Britain succeeded in holding back and even reversing the tide of Germanic expansion and conquest for nearly two centuries. The heroes of this struggle, and the “barbarian” warlords who opposed them, are the subject of this  discussion.

If he indeed existed, and it is the opinion of this author that he did, Arthur was a warlord who successfully led the British resistance to the Saxon threat, in the late 5th century, and into the early 6th century. Using historical analysis of the disparate chronicles, poems, legends, archeological evidence, and applying deductive logic backed by a lifetime of military study and practice we will develop a working theory of who Arthur was and the events of his life.

This was in the sunset of Roman culture in Britain; itself once the jewel in the crown of the Roman Empire. Arthur was the champion who kept the flame of civilization alive as the rest of Western Europe sunk into the Dark Ages.

But before we can discuss Arthur, it is important to understand the world in which he lived.


In the first two decades of the 5th century, Roman Britain (Britannia) was gradually abandoned by the Roman Empire. While some among the Romans and the Britons may have considered the island to be a part of the Empire until the Germanic generalissimo Odoacer forced the last Western Emperor, Romulus, to abdicate in 476; for all practical purposes Roman Britannia became an independent Romano-British state after 410 A.D.

Britain was prosperous, mostly Christian, and outside of the tribal hill country a thoroughly Romanized province. The Celtic inhabitants of the cities and towns spoke Latin as a first language. Throughout the province they were governed by elected magistrates; drawn (as elsewhere in the Roman world) from the aristocratic curiales class. In the southern part of the island, the countryside was dotted with prosperous villas, inhabited by this same Romano-British aristocracy and their retainers. Britannia contributed financially to the Empire as a whole; it was not a drain upon its resources, except in one respect: the military.


British Canterbury (Durovernum Cantiacorum) in the Roman Era

The Late Roman Empire experienced drastic military manpower shortage; due to a variety of  causes. Trained troops capable of relocation to trouble spots (as opposed to the numerous garrison troops of the frontier fortresses) were relatively few and  worn down by a very high (to use a modern term) “mission tempo”.

In the first decade of the 5th century, the mobile forces stationed in Britain would be needed elsewhere, to save the “motherland” province of the Empire, Italy, from foreign invasion.


The Western Roman Empire found itself caught in a death-spiral of cause-and-effect that began in 401 AD, and would continue for the next 75 years; slowly strangling the life out of the Western Empire.

This destructive loop of events began with the Visigoths under  their leader, Alaric invading Italy for the first time in 401. Indirectly, one could trace this even further back to the victory of the Goths over the Romans at Adrianople; which victory had guaranteed a large, independent,  and potentially threatening Gothic force in the Balkans for a generation.

The Visigoths  rampaged through the Balkans periodically in decades after Adrianople; plaguing the Eastern Roman government. Accommodation with the Visigoths was reached in 397, whereby they were settled in Illyria, and their new leader, Alaric….

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Last stand at Adrianople

On August 9, 378 A.D., on a hot and dusty plain miles from the Roman city of Adrianople, the elite field army of the Eastern Roman Empire and a tribal army of refugee Visigoths fought one of the most celebrated battles in western military history.

The Goths and Romans had been enemies for centuries.

Originating in Sweden (the southern region of which is to this day called East and West Gautland: “Gothland”), the Goths had migrated in the early Christian Era onto the plains of western Ukraine and northern Rumania. By the mid-4th century, under their greatest king, Ermaneric, the Goths had created a powerful kingdom.



The broad rivers of the Ukraine flow southward, draining into the Black Sea. Throughout the 3rd Century A.D., these alluvial highways gave Gothic longships access to the Black Sea. Like proto-Vikings, Gothic fleets raided the civilized communities along its shores. Passing through the Bosporus and into the Aegean, they brought fire and sword to the ancient towns and cities of Greece and Asia Minor. Ephesus was one of the many cities sacked and pillaged. There the Great Temple of Diana, one of the “Seven Wonders of the World”, was finally destroyed for all time.


Romans living along the Aegean Coast might well have prayed for deliverance from the “furore Gothicnorum”, the fury of the Goths!

On land, the Goths were equally formidable. In 249 an army of Goths and other barbarian warriors under the Gothic king, Cniva, crossed the lower Danube River; raiding into the Roman province of Moesia. After nearly 2 years, they were brought to bay by the Roman Emperor Decius, near the town of Forum Terebronii (modern Razgrad, Bulgaria). On swampy ground, the advancing Roman heavy infantry and cavalry bogged down; and were overcome by showers of Gothic javelins and arrows. Decius was killed, becoming the first Roman emperor to be slain in battle.

This defeat by the Goths made a deep impression on the Romans. And though the Gothic menace abated after their crushing defeat at the hands of the Emperor Claudius “Gothicus” at the Battle of Naissus in 269 A.D.; they remained a “bogeyman” in the minds of later Romans.

Then, in the 4th Century of the Christian Era, a greater “bogeyman” stormed out of the vast steppes of Central Asia: the Huns!

hun horde

These nomadic herdsmen had been driven from the borders of China centuries earlier by the Han Chinese. (It is the subject of a great deal of scholarly debate as to whether or not the Huns are the same people as those known in Chinese sources as the Xiongnu. To date there is no consensus on this question.) Over a century, they had drifted ever westwards, across the “sea of grass” that covers the Eurasian hinterland. Along their westward trek, they subjugated or displaced other tribes of nomads. In 370 (approximately), after subjugating the Alans, they entered the lands of the Gothic king, Ermaneric.

The Goths, whose armies were….

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At the Mission Inn


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Cuirassiers charging


At Ligny the battle raged, as Napoleon drew Blücher and Gneisenau’s reserves into the vicious fighting around the villages and farms that warded the front of the Prussian position.

The battle began with the French columns advancing with bands playing and banners waving; against the cordon of villages behind the Ligny Creek.

All day, the French hammered the Prussians, with villages and buildings frequently exchanging hands, the battle swinging first one way and then another. Artillery took its toll of both sides, but particularly so the French heavy guns upon the Prussians. The fighting was often at close-quarters, house-to-house, even amidst burning buildings; set alight by the heavy bombardments. Thirty-two years later, Captain Maduit of the Grenadiers of the Old Guard recounts the intensity of the fighting:

“Ligny… Consisted of hand-to-hand fighting that lasted for hours together; and with this was combined, not a fusillade and cannonade carried out at ranges of four or six hundred yards as occurred in most other battles, but these were replaced by point-blank discharges of musketry and canister fired at fifty yards range. At Ligny, more than 4,000 dead soldiers were piled in an area less in measurement than the Tuileries’ (Napoleon’s palace in Paris) garden; some three or four hundred yards square.”

After hours of fighting, Blücher was beginning to run out of reserves to throw into the fight. He and Gneisenau kept looking for Wellington to march down the Nivelles-Namur Road from Quatre Bras; or for the arrival on the opposite (east) flank for von Bülow’s IV Corps, marching hard to arrive on the battlefield (it would fail to do so that day).


Across the field, Napoleon watched from his windmill perch, as the battle developed. By late afternoon the time was near for the final push that would see the Prussians streaming from the field.

Napoleon was unaware of the magnitude of the battle raging at the crossroads….

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Hannibal’s double envelopment and destruction of a Roman army sets a high (and chimerical) bar for future generals


On the morning of August 2, 216 B.C., perhaps the largest Roman army ever assembled prepared for battle on the dusty plain of Cannae, in southeastern Italy. Commanding this mighty force were both of the elected Consuls for that year: Lucius Aemilius Paullus and his junior colleague, Gaius Terentius Varro. It was unusual for both Consuls to operate in the same theater of war, much less the same battlefield. But these were extraordinary times. They faced an enemy who had for two years triumphed on Roman soil, destroying two Roman armies in battle, killing a Consul of Rome in the process: Hannibal Barca. They were determined that here they would bring him to a final, decisive battle; one favorable to Rome.

The Second Punic War was in its third year. Since its beginning, the war had thus far been one long catalogue of disaster for the Romans.

When war had been declared by the Senate of Rome against its bitter rival, Carthage, it was expected in Rome that this war would follow the same victorious course that the First Punic War had taken a generation before. Namely, that Roman fleets would sweep the sea of Punic opposition; Roman armies would land in Africa; and Carthage would be forced to submit.

But Hannibal, Carthage’s leading statesman and general, had other ideas.

1357657 a

Hannibal Barca (Hannibal: “Grace of Baal”; Barca: “The Thunderbolt”) was the son of Hamilcar Barca, the most successful Carthaginian general in the otherwise stunningly unsuccessful First Punic War. He’d grown to manhood in his father’s camp, surrounded by soldiers. He had learned well the lessons his capable father had taught him; and one of these was an undying hatred for their Roman enemies. Upon a sacred alter, the sons of Hamilcar had all sworn an oath to bring destruction to Rome……

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When it comes to war, a great general once said that God sides with “whichever side has the biggest battalions”.

While numbers and material do not always a successful campaign make, history demonstrates that military victory tends to go to the side with: More men, more supplies, more (and better) weaponry, etc. Against this purely physical equation must be factored the morale and quality of the soldiers involved, the ability of their commanders, terrain, and other and intangibles that impact on the final outcome.

That said, numbers matter: As Lenin famously expressed it, “Quantity has a quality all its own”. In a punching contest, the biggest kid usually wins the fight.

Like boxers, a larger and heavier fighter might be slower than the feisty banter-weight. In the first rounds, the quicker fighter can often land many more shots on the lumbering heavy-weight.


But if his lighter blows don’t achieve a knock-out, if the big guy can take a punch, then time is against the light-weight. In a slugfest, the longer it goes on the more likely the big man will land a heavy blow; and beat the little guy down.


Throughout history we have seen examples of smaller but better trained and led armies winning victories over larger, less tactically adroit opponents. However, if initial tactical victories cannot be parlayed into a quick and victorious conclusion to hostilities, time tends to favor the “big battalions”.

In military terminology, a “force multiplier” is any factor or set of circumstances (or combinations of either) which make a given fighting force more effective than it would otherwise would be. As example, due to increased firepower and lethality of modern weapons and weapon’s systems, a platoon of infantry today can often accomplish a mission it might have taken an entire company to achieve in WWII. Force multipliers can have a dramatic, even decisive result on the outcome of any given conflict.

Some common force multipliers are:

- Morale: Both the positive morale of one side, or the poor morale of their opponent. Confidence greatly enhances fighting ability; and even desperation and fatalism can become powerful force multipliers.

- Leadership: Second only to moral, effective leadership is all important in war. Great generals can impose their will upon the chaos of battle, achieving remarkable victories. Wellington once said of Napoleon, “His presence on the battlefield is worth 60,000 men”.

- Training and Experience: There is perhaps no greater force multiplier; ten trained veterans are more effective than 100 times as many untrained levies.

- Technology: The greater the technological imbalance, the greater the force multiplication.

- Deception and Surprise: As the Chinese military philosopher, Sun Tzu said more than two millennia ago, “All warfare is based on deception”.

- Terrain and Weather: Few factors impact combat as obviously as terrain or weather.

Alexander in AsiaA commander of genius can be a powerful “force multiplier”. Alexander of Macedon, perhaps history’s greatest of “Great Captains”, was able to defeat the much larger Persian Empire with a small but elite Army. He accomplished this in just a few short years. His campaigns were characterized by rapid movements and bold action; and he possessed a gift for finding his enemy’s strategic jugular. Darius III made many mistakes as well, never managing to effectively leverage Persia’s vast resources of money, manpower, and geographic space to his advantage (in Darius’ defense, Alexander was a master of overcoming such adversities). Alexander’s leadership gave the Macedonians enormous confidence, and they followed him further and longer into unknown territories than any army in history.

Hernán Cortés provides another example of the effect of leadership: with an army of less than 1,000 Spanish adventurers he managed, in just two years, to overthrow the greatest power in the “New World”: the Aztec Empire. Though the Aztecs had…. (Continue reading here)



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(Part One can be found here)

Looking over the valley below from his position at Le Belle Alliance, Napoleon surveyed a strangely quite scene. It was 3:00 pm, and the tide of battle had temporarily receded. The ground between the two opposing armies was littered with the debris of battle. In the previous two hours, his plan of battle had come undone. The attack by d’Erlon’s Corp, his one fresh strike force, had made great progress, decimating Wellington’s left before being in turn shattered by the devastating charge of two British heavy cavalry brigades (see Part One).

At this point his staff presented a messenger from Field Marshal Grouchy, the officer commanding the detached force of some 33,000 men tasked with pursuing Blücher’s Prussians and preventing them joining Wellington at Waterloo. Grouchy’s man had been delayed for over an hour, as the Emperor’s attention was fixed upon the repulse of d’Erlon and organizing the bloody counter-attack against the British cavalry. Now he read the man’s dispatch, sent 4 hours earlier. It outlined Grouchy’s failure to stay apace and stop Blücher from intervening in the present battle. Three Prussian Corps were on their way, and the closest, Von  Bülow’s IV Corps would soon be threatening the French right-rear near Plancenoit.

Napoleon was not unaware of this threat. Earlier in the morning he had detached the 7th Hussars under the gallant  Marcellin Marbot to scout the woods to the right of the French army, towards Wavre. His men had captured and sent to the Emperor a Prussian officer; who had bragged that Blücher had concentrated at Wavre  and was

1 Napoleon learns the Prussians are on his flank pledged to march to Wellington’s aid that afternoon. In response, Napoleon had deployed the 10,000 men and 28 guns of Lobau’s VI Corps earlier in the day to his right, facing at right angle to the main French line; prepared to fend off Prussian attacks from the east.

Orders had already been sent earlier in the day to Grouchy, ordering him to march with all haste to link-up with the right of the French mainbody fighting before Mont-Saint-Jean. Gouchy had been marching at a snail’s pace, a plodding one-mile per hour. However, the Emperor still had high-hopes of victory, and told his staff that if Grouchy were to 1 Waterloo tour_main_campaign_mapmarch west Von  Bülow’s Corps could be caught between his force and Lobau’s, and crushed along with Wellington.

The problem was that while he had begun the day with an advantage over Wellington of 4,000 men and 90 guns, that advantage was now gone. Nearly twice this amount had been lost with d’Erlon’s reverse, killed, wounded or taken prisoner. Now, of Napoleon’s four infantry Corps on the battlefield, Reille’s was tied up in fierce struggle over Hougoumont on his left; Lobau’s was now facing east, awaiting the Prussians; and d’Erlon’s survivors (some 13,000) were demoralized and  reassembling to the east of La Belle Alliance, and would not be ready for battle for some hours. Were Wellington to attack at this point, Napoleon had only 13,000 infantry uncommitted and ready to fight; the 10,000 men of the Imperial Guard and three reserve brigades.

With the Prussians coming, he was in no position to stand on the defensive; but must continue to attack and break Wellington before Blücher could arrive in force. While putting together a new plan of attack, he covered his weakness by renewing the intense barrage by his Grande Batterie upon Wellington’s position.

1 grand batterie

Fortunately for Napoleon, Wellington was in no position to attack, nor had he planned to do so. His right was tied-up defending Hougoumont; and though he still had considerable reserves behind this position, Wellington was determined to leave these in place. Throughout the long day, he was alert to a potential French turning movement on this flank, which could cut his line of retreat to the northwest. His left-wing, composed largely of his dark-uniformed Belgic, German and Dutch allies, leavened with red-and-green coated British regiments, had been thoroughly savaged. Huge holes exited in what had been a solid line. Officers were conspicuously absent, and in some regiments sergeants were left to command whole battalions.[1] The senior leadership had not been spared: General Thomas Picton was dead and General Bylandt of the 1st Brigade, 2nd Netherlands Division so wounded he had to turn over his command to a subordinate (Lt.  Colonel de Jongh, so wounded in turn he had to be tied with rope into his saddle). Wellington filled the gaps in Picton’s division with the 10th Brigade, veterans of the Peninsula War commanded by Major General Sir John Lambert. Lambert was only recently returned to Europe from America, where he had commanded the reserve at the Battle of New Orleans. One of his two veteran regiments was the 27th Inniskillings; who within hours would earn the dubious honor of taking the highest casualties of any British regiment on the field that day.

The constant bombardment from Napoleon’s Grand Batterie was taking its toll of the Allied regiments waiting in reserve beyond the ridge. Though they could not be targeted directly, the thousands of French cannon balls fired had skimmed over the ridge and landed among the formations massed beyond; inflicting terrible casualties. Lt. General Sir Charles Alten, commander of the British 3rd Division, said, “Never had the most veteran soldiers heard such a cannonade”. In response, Wellington ordered the line to withdraw 100 paces.

Waterloo Haye-Sainte

At this junction, Napoleon ordered Ney to begin an assault on La Haye Sainte farmhouse, forward of Wellington’s center; preparatory to a larger assault. One of Quiot’s Brigades was tasked with the mission, and the fighting around the farmhouse was soon bloody and ferocious. Once again, the farmhouse would hold out.

Meanwhile, the Prussians were coming.


True to his pledge to Wellington, Blücher’s Prussians were moving as rapidly as they could to join their British allies. In contrast to the moribund Grouchy, Blücher had set his army in motion at daybreak; three hours before the now distant Grouchy had broken camp. However, the terrain and roads were atrocious even by the pitiful standards of the day, and frustrated every effort to hasten the pace. In some places the tracks through the Bois de Paris woods were so narrow that the Prussian columns had to pass along in single file.

Blücher and his Chief of Staff, the methodic and cerebral August Wilhelm von Gneisenau had scouted ahead of their spearheads, and assessed the ongoing battle at Waterloo. They immediately comprehended that Wellington could hold his position, fixing Napoleon’s attention. Gneisenau argued for making the main Prussian effort towards Plancenoit with the purpose of cutting the Charleroi Road and trapping Napoleon’s army. When Blücher suggested this threat might bring the whole wrath of Napoleon’s main force down upon their isolated spearheads and destroy them piecemeal before they could be supported, Gneisenau keenly (and accurately) deduced that on the contrary, Napoleon would reply by attempting even more vigorously to pierce the British position; only throwing against the Prussians enough forces to delay them till this was achieved. [2]

Gneisenau knew his enemy: Napoleon reacted in exactly this manner.

Blücher was convinced, and Von Bülow’s IV Corps, followed by Pirch’s II Corps were to attack toward Plancenoit. Only Zieten’s I Corps was to take the northern route along the Wavre Road, and link-up directly with Wellington’s left flank north of Papelotte.


The vanguard of Von Bülow’s Corps would begin arriving around 4:30 in the afternoon, where they would battle Lobau’s troops over the hamlet of Plancenoit; at precisely the moment Napoleon was attempting to break Wellington’s line elsewhere.


At 3 pm, June 18th, as the lull before the next storm gave him time to consider his next move, Napoleon had two options: Withdraw or continue to fight. The first was the better military decision (and not just retrospectively, as he knew at the time the Prussians were threatening his flank and line of retreat); the second the better political decision.

Napoleon was not just a general, he was also the political leader of France. Upon his return from Elba on a wave of Republican sentiment against the returned Monarchists, he was forced to make political concessions to regain the throne. Unlike his previous tenure as Emperor of the French, this time he was constrained by a constitutional system in which he shared power with a Parliament (the Chambers). As within any such system, he had political supporters and he had (sometimes bitter) opponents. Even now, as the battle raged in Belgium, his enemies back in Paris worked against him. To maintain his authority as Emperor, it was vital to continue to maintain an aura of invincibility; to appear to be the world-conqueror he had been before 1812.

Faced with d’Erlon’s defeat, and the blood-bath at Hougoumont; with Grouchy’s 30,000 effectively out of the battle and the Prussians soon to join it, his plan was in shambles. To fall back now, his battered infantry covered by the still-intact mass of his cavalry, was undoubtedly the prudent plan. Lobau’s unengaged Corps had yet to fight that day, and could form a rearguard with the cavalry; Grouchy could fall back and join the mainbody further south. This would preserve the army intact to fight again another day, on more favorable terms.


But to retreat back into France and repeat the situation of 1814 would be a political disaster. The sense of  déjà vu created by such a retreat would bolster his enemies in Paris and demoralize his allies (and perhaps the army as well). He could well face the same outcome, his political enemies and even some of his Marshals treating with the Allies behind his back. Retreat risked political disaster every bit as much as fighting on, here at Waterloo, risked military disaster.

On that afternoon, on the field of Waterloo, Napoleon the politician overruled Napoleon the great captain. Ever the gambler, he now decided to risk all and play on.

Militarily,  had been in a similar situation before, at Eylau in 1807. There, by mid-day he had lost one Corps, Augereau’s; his center was stripped bare with nothing to plug the gap but the Imperial Guard (which he dared not commit). His response then had been to throw in Murat and the massive cavalry reserve  against the advancing Russians. In one of history’s greatest charges, they had shattered the first and second Russian line; and then, covered by the Imperial Guard Horse, withdrawn back to safety, the situation restored.

Here perhaps he saw himself in similar circumstances; and resorted to the same response.

He ordered Ney to mass Milhaud’s IV Cavalry Corps (Cuirassiers), to be covered and supported by Lefèbvre-Desnoëttes’ Guard Light Cavalry Division: some 5,100 men; in the space before La Belle Alliance, between and south of Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte.

Much has been written and debated as to the circumstances of this cavalry assault on Wellington’s center. Often it is blamed on Ney alone, acting on his own initiative while Napoleon was distracted (or, due to illness, taking an untimely nap). It is often cited that Ney, seeing Wellington’s forces withdraw 100 paces (to lessen the effect of the French artillery bombardment) as noted above , interpreted this move as the start of a general withdrawal. That, masked by the ridgeline, Ney could not see the British forming squares on the reverse slopes around Mont-St-Jean.  However, many facts weigh heavily against this interpretation of events.

First, Wellington’s lines had been beyond observation on the reverse slopes all day; only the artillery and skirmishers exposed on the forward slopes in plain sight to the French (the defenders of Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte excepted). How, then, could Ney have based his decision to launch what is sometimes described as a cavalry pursuit if he couldn’t see the British retrograde movement in the first place? Besides, the smoke of hours of cannon and musket fire had shrouded the battlefield in a fog-like smoke; so thick that at times one could not see a regiment of cavalry until it was thundering down upon you. So it is doubtful if Wellington’s retrograde movement was clearly observed at the time.

1 Napoleon watches battle

Secondly, and most compellingly, only Napoleon could order the movement of a cavalry Corps on the battlefield; and especially so elements of the Imperial Guard.  As he clarified in his orders of June 16, when he divided the army into two wings; one commanded by Ney, the other by Grouchy: “General Officers commanding Corps will take their orders directly from me (Napoleon) when I am present.” That Napoleon was in command when Milhaud’s Corps was ordered to move is illustrated by this incident: When the order to move was given, General Delort commanding the 14th Cavalry Division refused to budge. When confronted by Ney, he responded that no order had come from the Emperor; “but (only) from Count Milhaud” (his Corps commander). Delort could not be persuaded to move till a messenger was sent and returned bearing Marshal Soult’s (Napoleon’s Chief of Staff) signature; confirming that the Corps was placed under Ney’s command for the following operation. Only then did Delort order his cuirassiers to move to the assembly area.[3]

Finally, it took at least 30 minutes to move and marshal 5,100 cavalry into a tight formation. The suggestion that Napoleon might somehow have missed the thundering of 24,000 hooves, the sound of countless trumpets sounding various and sundry calls and commands; and this directly north of his command post at La Belle Alliance is absurd. Had he wished to countermand Ney’s orders and stop this assault, he had ample opportunity to do so.

There has been an attempt by Napoleon’s admirers to shift the blame for his misconduct of the battle to Ney; much as admirers of Lee sometimes attempt to blame Longstreet for Lee’s failure at Gettysburg.

As early as 23 June 1815, five days after the event, Napoleon was already muddying the water in an effort to shift blame to Ney. In his “Bulletin to the Army of June 21″, published in Paris on the 23rd Napoleon wrote:

“The Reserve Cavalry… charged the English infantry, having noticed a retrograde movement, to shelter themselves from our batteries; which had already caused them serious loss. This maneuver (the charge by the French cavalry), made at the correct time and supported by the Reserves, must have decided the day. But made in an isolated fashion and before affairs on the right were satisfactorily settled, it was fatal.” (Italics added.) [4]

This is clearly Napoleon already attempting to shift blame by implying that Ney’s attack was delivered prematurely and without proper support.

As stated above, if he felt the attack should be delayed Napoleon had ample time to cancel it. Instead, with the Prussian threat not yet apparent, and Lobau’s men already in position to deal with it; and no reserves available, as d’Erlon’s troops would not be fit for battle till 5:30 pm and given that he was unwilling to commit his Imperial Guard, Napoleon ordered Ney to commit the mass of his cavalry reserve to an unsupported attack at or around 4 pm.

Charge of cavalry at waterloo


[1] D. Robertson, “Journal of Sergeant D. Robertson, Late of the 92nd Foot“; Perth, 1842; p. 157

[2] Von Reiche, “The French Campaigns Against Russia, Prussia, and Austria in the Years 1812-1815“; Duisberg and Essen, 1815; p.261

[3] Hamilton-Williams, David, “Waterloo: New Perspectives, the Great Battle Reappraised“; Wiley & Sons, 1993; p. 320

[4] ibid, p. 389-390, Note 19

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Faced by a numerically superior opponent, Belisarius countered with field works, maneuver and a masterful use of interior lines

 In 530 A.D., the Eastern Roman Empire’s province of Mesopotamia was invaded by a large and well equipped Sassanid Persian army. The target of the Persian incursion was the frontier fortress of Daras (or Dara).

Though large in size, the Persian expedition was but another small skirmish in the centuries old struggle between the Roman Empire and that of the Persians. Beginning with Parthian dynasty and continuing with the Sassanid the Persian Great King had been the counter to Roman ambitions in Western Asia. The war between these powerful monarchies waxed and waned. Roman Emperors and Persian Shah’s died and were replaced by men more or less capable or bellicose than their predecessor; and borders changed by small increments. Until the coming of the Islam, when the Arabs changed the equation forever, this would be a zero sum game.

Julian and Shapur

The invasion of 530 promised to be nothing unique in the annals of these age-old skirmishes. The Persians came with overwhelming force to achieve the very limited aim of forcing the Romans to dismantle the newly fortified border post of Daras; enforcing the terms of a ceasefire negotiated between the adversaries some years prior. But the battle that ensued proved anything but ordinary. The Romans were commanded by a young and dynamic commander, who was determined to contest the Persian incursion. The Battle of Daras would announce the arrival, center stage in military affairs of the day, of a new star: Belisarius.


In 530 Belisarius was the newly appointed commander of Roman forces in Mesopotamia (modern Kurdish Iraq). Not yet 30 years old, Belisarius was that rarest of men: a bonafide military genius. His long life and campaigns across the Mediterranean world would earn him the title, “The last of the Romans”. However, at Daras, he was a young and untested general on the eve of this first great battle.


At the outset of the campaign, he resolved neither to abandon Daras; nor to laager within and force the enemy to besiege him. Instead, he announced to his officers and his outnumbered and poorly-trained army his intention of offering battle before the fortress!


At first blush this appeared a foolhardy course of action.

The Persians outnumber the Romans by nearly two-to-one: the force advancing on Daras numbered some 40,000, and by the advent of battle were reinforced by another 10,000. By contrast, Belisarius could muster a mere 25,000; the infantry of very poor quality and training. Numbers aside, the Persians had every reason to be confident of victory over the Romans, having won every major battle and conflict in the last several generations.

The army of the Sassanid Great Kings was a formidable fighting force. Nearly half of the Persian army were heavy armored cavalry, and by the 6th century A.D., cavalry had replaced infantry as the decisive arm on the battlefield. The striking power of Sassanid armies lay in the well-mounted and heavily armored Persian aristocracy and their feudal retainers. This type of super-heavy cavalry were known as “clibanarii” (the name translates loosely as “baking oven”; referring, no doubt, to how hot their armor was to wear in the Middle Eastern sun). These cavalry troopers were big men on bigger horses, bred to carry a man fully armored from head to toe in mail or lamellar armor! Even their horses were armored, typically at least the front portion of the charger being protected with lamellar or scale. Each rider carried a long lance, and a light composite bow. Each noble warrior was accompanied by several lesser equipped retainers; mostly lesser-equipped heavy cavalry or javelin-armed light horse.


Sassanid Persian clibanarii and standard bearer

Accompanying the superb Sassanid cavalry was a host of poorly motivated infantry, levied from amongst the peasantry. These had changed little since the days of Darius. They carried a rectangular shield made of wicker, and a short spear. But, as Belisarius was to describe them Sassanid infantrydismissively, giving them a spear no more made them spearmen then giving them a flute would have made them snake charmers! They were useless in battle; and were along only to hold down space in the battle line, and to do the drudge-work necessary in the expected siege.

By contrast, the Roman army of the 6th century was a far cry from that of Augustus Caesar, or even Constantine. It was a time of transition; and no one would be more influential in these changes from the old infantry-based army of the late Roman Empire to what we think of as the cavalry armies of the “Byzantine Empire” (as the later Roman Empire is referred to) then Belisarius. But at Daras, he had to use the tools at hand; and these were, flawed at best.

The old legions of sword-and-javelin armed infantry were long gone; or remained in name only as poorly trained garrison troops along the frontiers. Now Roman arms depended upon regiments of heavy cavalry; armed either with bow or spear. Most Roman cavalry tended to wear at least a helmet; and the regiments of heavy cavalry, which predominated, wore a scale or mail cuirass, called a “klibanon”. They were not as heavily armored as the Persian clibanarii, though they tended to be better disciplined. The infantry had degenerated into unarmored garrison troops. While some regiments were armed with spear and sword, most were archers. Unlike their Persian counterparts, they were professional soldiers. And though they were happiest when shooting from behind a fortress or city wall, they could be of some use on a battlefield.

ArchersAt Daras, Belisarius had approximately 15,000 cavalry, and perhaps another 10,000 infantry. His troops were mostly scrapped together from various frontier garrisons and the dispirited regiments from the mobile army of the East that (theoretically) backed-up the border units. Because of past defeats by the Persians, none of these troops could be relied upon to stand up to the Persian cavalry in pitched battle.

However, Belisarius had two bodies of troops upon which he could rely to perform well.

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