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    Posted: 16-Aug-2007 at 11:43

Throughout military history both Asian and European armies were to face warriors from the Steppes. The tactics these warriors brought with them would have a profound influence on the armies they had contact with. This post will highlight not so much the impact as the actual tactics used by the Central Asian Steppe warriors themselves.

 

The Central Asian Steppe covers a wide area. Plains of short grass interspersed with mountainous regions, lakes, rivers and desert. Living off the lands were numerous tribes of nomadic herders and city dwellers. This wide expanse provided a lifestyle of mobility thanks to the extensive use of the horse, ox, camel and pony. In this landscape were people whose lifestyle fit this terrain. The lifestyle bred not only seasonal migrations but swift communications and transportation. Most of all livelihoods, on the steppe, fostered hunting skills conducive to their own brand of military training. It is this skill that enabled the Steppe residents to become some of the most fluid and aggressive warriors of their time.

 

Since the history of this region is immense there would be too much to cover in one post.  The multitude of tribes and empires that the Steppe had fostered would need separate threads of their own. Instead, I’ll jump right into the battle tactics that some of the most famous Steppe warriors used.

 

Steppe climate, transport and technology were the basis for a unique brand of military tradition. Eventually weapons were manufactured to suit these warriors. Such weapons regularly consisted of composite reflex bows with numerous varieties of arrows. Curved sabers, daggers, spears, mace, lassos and straight double edged sword were also weapons of choice.

 

Battle tactics evolved with the times. From the ancient use of the stirrup to medieval use of long range Ottoman and Mughal bow the use of steppe weapons fostered a tactical style that needs further discussion. Some of the most successful tactics are mentioned.

 

The main tactics revolved around the light horse and her mobile archery. By remaining at long range from an adversary the Steppe warriors used various hit and run tactics in waves while showering the enemy with arrows. After a sufficient barrage of fire the warriors often went into close combat mode in order to reap a decisive outcome. At times they would naturally weave out of a battle and retreat. This would appear appetizing to any foe yet more often than not this was a safe and effective defensive maneuver, as well as, a ploy to entrap an enemy.

 

What were some of the detailed tactics used by Steppe warriors? I’ll present a small list and description of each (note – siege weapons not included).

 

 

Parthian Shot

 

This was a method of retreating while still shooting arrows at a foe. The warrior would shoot over their shoulder, turn their hips or bend over backwards.

 

Arrow Barrage

 

While surrounding and enveloping an enemy they would shoot a hail of arrows from about 100 to 300 yards out. This tactic would have anticipated consequence of disrupting enemy formations. The arrows would be fired at an angle towards the sky. This high trajectory rate enabled long distance and diminished enemy morale, while killing a few in the process.

 

Harassing Tactics

 

By combining an arrow barrage with hit and run tactics the Steppe armies would send out small waves of attackers to first fire arrows. The waves would gallop as close to the enemy as possible without hand-to-hand fighting. After zeroing in on the enemy sharp shooters would deliver arrows then wheel back to the safety of their own waiting comrades. Horses would be changed and the remounted warrior would maintain this barrage again. By running around and shooting at the enemy the Steppe warrior avoided high casualties. When pursued by the enemy the attacking waves would retreat into friendly lines of heavy cavalry at which point close combat would occur. Examples of this sort of formation was used in the Battles of Carrhae (Parthians vs. Romans -this tactic and feigned retreat), Malazgirt and many Mongol battles.

 

Feigned Retreat

 

This tactic could cover the short distance of moderately sized battles to long distances of carefully planned engagements. At the spur of a moment or a prearranged location the Steppe middle, after engaging the enemy, would flee. When a pursuit followed the Steppers would intentionally wheel around and reface the enemy. This time they would not be alone since help was often waiting on the flanks. Once an enemy was surrounded a decisive moment in the battle would often favor the Steppe warrior. Close combat wound ensue. A classic example of this tactic was at the Battle of the Kalka River.

 

Flanking and Double Envelopment

 

Encircling a foe was the hallmark here. By attacking from several directions and feinting and reforming during a battle the Steppers would often confuse an enemy. This made it look like the Steppe armies were larger than they actually were. They would also leave a gap (Mongols at Mohi) in the encirclement. Instead of feeling surrounded the foe would escape to seemingly fortunate territory. Instead this trap would lead to their ruin.

 

Fabian tactics

 

Picture a pack of wolves or harassing plains Indians and you get the picture. By dividing into small groups the Steppe warrior would surprise an enemy with new points of attack. However, the key was to avoid hand-to-hand combat. Close quarters would have to wait.

 
Classic Medieval Style
 

Often large Steppe armies would face each other in a style not all too foreign to European armies. By lining up in a center, left and right flank with reserves such armies would be ready for defensive andoffensive orders. The front lines would include irregulars of infantry. In the middle would be the Sultan flanked by reserves of heavy horse or skilled infantry. Three classic examples of this is traditional setup were used at the Battles of Kosovo, Nikopol and Angora.

 

Not only were basic Steppe tactics used in any given battle but extensive planning was made beforehand. Spies would be sent to gather Intel. Intensive training and hunting were often called upon. Adherence to protocol was enforced. The most successful Steppe armies consisted of highly trained and intensively disciplined soldiers. Every person had a significant role to play in order for the Steppe armies to succeed. They were tactics born out of a lifestyle over two millennium in the plains of Central Asia.



Edited by Seko - 16-Aug-2007 at 14:59
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Adalwolf Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16-Aug-2007 at 12:30
Very nice overview Seko, that was a fun read!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Roberts Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16-Aug-2007 at 13:06
Originally posted by Seko Seko wrote:

 

Often large Steppe armies would face each other in a style not all too foreign to European armies. By lining up in a center, left and right flank with reserves such armies would be ready for defensive and offensive orders. The front lines would include irregulars of infantry. In the middle would be the Sultan flanked by reserves of heavy horse or skilled infantry. Three classic examples of this is traditional setup were used at the Battles of Kosovo, Nikopol and Angora.


In my opinion Ottoman empire armies weren't steppe armies. Infantry was quite important for them.
Genuine steppe army would have only mounted forces and come from steppe region (North west Anatolia doesn't look like steppe)


Edited by axeman - 16-Aug-2007 at 16:13
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Seko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16-Aug-2007 at 14:03
 Seemingly untraditional the Ottomans carried over many facets of Steppes tactics. The use of horsetail standards was a Steppe tradition carried over from the Gok Turks. The use of infantry was often used by Mongols such as in the assault of Samakand. The Khans ritinue of bodyguards were not only composed of heavy horse but infantry. The use of cavalry flanking maneuvers were a consistant pattern of steppe warfare (Scythian, Parthian, Hun, Avar, Got Turk, Magyar, Seljuk, Chagatai and Ottoman).  
 
Ottoman raids started out with Akinjis as scouts. They would use the same harrassing tactics as a Hun (Hu) would while raiding Chinese or European villages. Though the Ottomans apparently seemed cumbersome and had more diverse branches of military duty than a typical Steppe army they utilized the benefits of sturdy infantry with Steppe tactical cavalry. 
 
Steppe tactics were not necessarily used only on the plains. As long as there was enough room for implementation the tactics could be used anywhere. In the Battle of Mohi you could see that these tactics were carried into Europe.


Edited by Seko - 16-Aug-2007 at 14:12
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote rider Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16-Aug-2007 at 15:13
Improve the descriptions of the tactics... Please?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Seko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16-Aug-2007 at 15:38
I asume you want more details within each tactic. I new you would send me to the books. Will do soon enough.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote rider Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16-Aug-2007 at 15:59
Lol.. if you knew... why didn't you do so in the beginning?

Oh, and could you please also write a description of battle where it was used with success? Thanks,
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Seko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16-Aug-2007 at 16:17
Dude. I'm going to stick some bubblegum in your mouth to keep you from yapping too many demands.
 
My post was made so as to introduce some tactics. I did include a few examples of battles within the paragraphs if you had noticed. Being the swell guy that I can be I will provide some more info though. Now go back to bed.Smile
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Seko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16-Aug-2007 at 22:50
See if you can identify a tactic in this battle. 
 
The Battle of Kunduzcha (east of the Volga river in what is now the Republic of Tatarstan)
 
- Timur and his Jagatais versus Tokhtamish and the Kipchaks
 
 
The following is a report on Timur's tactic. After a game of cat and mouse the Jagatai warriors (Chagatai) "moved forward in precise battle formations based on the traditional plan of a center and two wings, but with the additions of a vanguard to each wing and a vanguard  and reserve for the center." Justin Marozzi, 'Tamerlane'. Timur took charge of the rearguard. After a prayer and the thunder of drums the battle began with a charge from the King's (Timur could not take the designation of Khan. He was not a bloodline of the royal Jagatai stemming back to Cengiz' Khakan's son) right wing against the Kipchak's left. "HOrses careered wildly at each other, their riders unleashing vicious volleys of arrows at their adversaries. At closer quarters the sabers and scimitars were unsheathed, and steel blades rained down from the sky, slashing through anything that opposed them."
 
After this melee Timur attacked the enemy's right and center flanks. Tokhtamish directed his right wing against the Jagatai left which detached it from the main body and seemed to engulf it completely. That is until a fate of fortune. The Kipchaks were gripped in confusion since they couldn't see the horned standard of Tokhtamish. Thinking he had vanished from the field and a sign that he may have been killed, the Kipchaks panicked. When in fact Timur's horse tail standard bore down on him. Tokhtamish wasn't dead. He fled the battlefield. "For forty leagues" the beaten enemy was chased down. Tokhtamish escaped to fight another day.
 
In this battle there can be found the classic medieval style formations. "moved forward in precise battle formations based on the traditional plan of a center and two wings, but with the additions of a vanguard to each wing and a vanguard  and reserve for the center."
 
Though the details are lacking one can correctly assume the descriptions are about light and heavy cavalry styles of fighting. "HOrses careered wildly at each other, their riders unleashing vicious volleys of arrows'...and 'At closer quarters the sabers and scimitars were unsheathed".
 
Another interesting note. Steppe armies had a knack for chasing down their enemies. Like prey in the hunt  "For forty leagues" the beaten enemy was chased down.
 
 


Edited by Seko - 16-Aug-2007 at 22:58
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Seko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16-Aug-2007 at 23:15
While I'm on Timur a small blurb on the Battle of Delhi brings home another tactic.
 
While guarding his hill Timur dug a ditch and had captured water buffalo, with oil-soaked straw on their backs, ahead of his lines. Aside from this wierdness he detached his elite cavalry to the flanks. The Indians came forth with elephants. They were met by the scared buffalo and eventually, while seperated from the adjoining infantry, fell into the mess of a trap. But the thing that got them lured in was the usual steppe tactic of attack with an accompanying feigned flight. The flanking elite horseman took care Indian cavalry and foot soildiers.


Edited by Seko - 16-Aug-2007 at 23:18
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote rider Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17-Aug-2007 at 02:47
The Flanking/Double + Classical Medieval would be the first one.

Though I can't really know if they fit when I don't know more about the tactics...
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote kurt Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27-Sep-2007 at 16:04
Regarding the Parthians .... they were certainly familiar with steppe tactics, as the battle of Carrhae demonstrates, but how on earth did settled Persians learn nomadic Turkic/Scythian/Hunnic warfare?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Tar Szerénd Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27-Sep-2007 at 19:31
They learned it in the past:-)
 
-612 BC, siege of Ninive(or Babilon?) with scythian units in the attacking forces
-cc. 500 BC : persian-scythian war by the Danube
-scythian archers in the persian army probably between the 6. and 4. Century BC.
-connections with the Kao kü, Kushan (and generally with the heavy armoured middle and late sarmatian tribes)
 
etc.:-)


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Temujin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27-Sep-2007 at 19:44
Originally posted by kurt kurt wrote:

Regarding the Parthians .... they were certainly familiar with steppe tactics, as the battle of Carrhae demonstrates, but how on earth did settled Persians learn nomadic Turkic/Scythian/Hunnic warfare?


Parthians were just another Saka (scythian) tribe. so Persians learned from the steppe people. in the Achaemenid empire, the persian army was mostly infantry archers, while the Sassanian army were mostly horse archers.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote kurt Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Oct-2007 at 06:03
Did Sassanian horse archers employ steppe tactics?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Seko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Oct-2007 at 16:03
The Sassanian armies resembled that of Byzantium instead of the traditional Steppe style of warfare. The Byzantine Strategicon gives details on warring methods which were similar to those that the Sassanians used. Sassanians relied on heavy cavalry more than traditional steppe cavalry. They tended to come from nobility and had hard professional training as well. Since the Sassanians did not create a wing of light horse cavalry they tended to buy them as mercenaries from other tribes.
 
The infantry was used in seige warfare and had consisted of archers and regular hand to hand combative arms.
 
Archers, both horse mercenaries and foot soldiers, would be used for defensive purposes and for cover for other troops. The Heavy horse cavalry would be lined up in the front ranks and often use the lance as the weapon of choice.
 
The heavy cavalry based Sassanians were good and strong shock and awe troops but they lacked mobility. When encountered by Arab or Asiatic skirmishers, the Sassanian heavies were generally no match for the fast maneuverability and nimble light horse of her enemies. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pekau Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Oct-2007 at 17:08

Learning tactics are not difficult. Creating new effective tactic is a different story.

Quite honestly, the most effective way that I know of to deploy inexperienced but ambitious hordes is to simply pick their axes, mount on the horse and scream "Hussar!!!!" and charge. Brutally simple, and moral rise as well. Planning and executing tactic by using inexperienced armies is among the common mistake in war,
     
   
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote kurt Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12-Oct-2007 at 15:08
One last query: when crusader armies met turkic armies in anatolia, who which side had more victories? The reason I ask is because im aware of the extensive metal armour that Europeon knights would wear, and it would be interesting to learn how steppe tactics coped with this.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Temujin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12-Oct-2007 at 18:43
at the times of the Crusades, european soldiers were only clad in chainmail, if at all...
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Seko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12-Oct-2007 at 19:28
Originally posted by kurt kurt wrote:

One last query: when crusader armies met turkic armies in anatolia, who which side had more victories? The reason I ask is because im aware of the extensive metal armour that Europeon knights would wear, and it would be interesting to learn how steppe tactics coped with this.
 
True. Chainmail was the latest and greatest of the day.
 
Tactics rarely changed for the Asiatics. They still peppered from a distance and waited for opportune moments or they left the field of battle. However, the Crusaders figured out a way to handle the harrassing tactics. Richard the Lionheart, for instance, on his way to Jaffa (?) made a few columns of diverse troops during his march. He had the crossbowman on the outer side facing the Turks, Arabs, and Kurds. Wagons of seige weapons and cargo on the inner seaside column and heavy knights in the middle. The idea was to keep the Muslims at bay with the crossbow. If the Saracens got too close then the Knights would charge. This would disperse the crowd of attackers just enough times to continue with the quest.
 
The one adjustment the Saracens did do is try to seperate the rear guards from th epack by attacking with long range horse archers. This usually killed the horse, thus making the rider (knights) an infantry soldier.
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