Battle of Didgori (1121)

A conflict between the kingdom of Georgia and a Muslim coalition at Didgori near Tbilisi in August 1121.

The settlement of large numbers of nomadic Turcomans in Transcaucasia in the late eleventh century turned the occupied territory into pastures, undermining local agriculture and economy. In 1089, a bloodless coup d’état forced King Giorgi II of Georgia to abdicate in favor of his sixteen-year-old son David IV. In 1099, taking advantage of the arrival of the First Crusade in Syria and Palestine (1096-1099), David ceased paying annual tribute to the Great Saljūqs and stopped their seasonal migrations into Georgia. He then continued his expansion throughout south ern Transcaucasia and Armenia in 1105-1120. In 1118, he also reorganized the Georgian army, resettling some 40,000 families of Qipchaqs from the northern Caucasus, who provided him with a steady supply of manpower.

Concerned about the rapid rise of this Christian state, in 1121 the Great saljūq sultan Maḩmūd formed a coalition of Muslim states and declared a holy war on Georgia. The coalition included the Artūqid ruler Najm al-Dīn Īlghazī, Toghrul ibn Muḩammad, the Saljūq ruler of Arran (in modern Azerbaijan) and Nakhichevan, Dubays ibn Şadaqa from Hilla on the west coast of the Persian Gulf, and Tughān-Arslān, lord of Arzin, Bidlis, and Dvin. Īlghazī had just celebrated his great victory over the Franks of Antioch at the battle known as the Ager Sanguinis (1119) and enjoyed a reputation as an experienced commander. The size of the Muslim army is still a matter of debate, with numbers ranging from a fantastic 600,000 men (as given by Walter the Chancellor and Matthew of Edessa) to 400,000 (Smpadt Sparapet’s Chronicle), while estimates of Georgian historians vary between 100,000 and 250,000 men. Although all of these numbers seem to be exaggerated, all sources indicate that Muslims made massive preparations and vastly outnumbered the Georgians. In midsummer 1121, the Muslim troops advanced along various routes to Georgia and bivouacked on a plain near Didgori, about a day’s march from Tbilisi, in early August. The Georgians mustered some 56,000 men, including 500 Alans and 200 Franks from the Holy Land. On 11 August 1121, King David split them into two divisions with a larger force under his personal command and a smaller detachment under his son Demetre hidden in reserve behind the nearby heights with orders to strike the enemy flank at a given signal.

According to David’s battle plan, on the morning of 12 August some 200 cavalrymen left the Georgian camp and rode over to the enemy side, indicating that they wanted to defect. The Muslim commanders not only allowed them into the camp but also gathered to meet them. At a signal, Georgians attacked them, killing and wounding most of the Muslim leadership. Observing confusion in the enemy camp, King David ordered a general attack on the enemy positions while Prince Demetre charged the enemy flank. With their leadership in disarray, the Muslims in the front line failed to offer any resistance, while those at the rear soon became so disorganized that the entire army eventually fled in disorder. The Georgian troops pursued them for three days, putting many of them to the sword. Following their triumph, Georgian armies were victorious in the neighboring territories of Armenia, Shirwan, and the northern Caucasus, greatly expanding Georgia’s sphere of influence. The battle of Did gori entered Georgian national consciousness as “the miraculous victory” (Georg. dzlevai sakvirveli) and is one of the apogees of Georgian history.

Bibliography Avalishvili, Zurab, Jvarosanta droidan (Paris, 1929). Brosset, Marie-Felicité, Histoire de la Géorgie: Depuis l’Antiquité jusqu’au XIXe siecle. 2 vols. (Saint-Petersbourg: Académie Impériale des sciences, 1849-1857). Meskhia, Shota, (Tbilisi: Metsiniereba, 1974). Metreveli, Roin, Davit Aghmashenebeli (Tbilisi: Ganatleba, 1990).


Battle of Valcour Island

Royal Savage is shown run aground and burning, while British ships fire on her (watercolor by unknown artist, ca. 1925)


The British followed up their success in clearing Canada of American invaders in May and June 1776 by cautiously advancing south to Lake Champlain. This advance revealed a facet of their capability because, on 11 and 13 October 1776, on the lake near Ile Valcour, a British flotilla that had been built from scratch under the command of Captain Thomas Pringle defeated an American flotilla under Benedict Arnold, destroying eleven American ships.

Upon collapse of the ill-fated Canada invasion, the British prepared a counteroffensive. In June 1776 they forced the Americans to withdraw from Canada, pursuing them as far as Fort Chambly on the Richelieu River. Control of Lake Champlain was critical to operations in northern New York because the only passable road hugged the western shore of the lake and troops or supplies moving along it would be vulnerable to waterborne attack. Thus, both sides hastened to assemble fleets.

Major General Sir Guy Carleton established a base at St. Johns on the Richelieu River and spent the summer constructing vessels, while the Americans did the same at Skenesboro at the southern end of Lake Champlain. On 10 September, Carleton’s army, including Major General von Riedesel’s five thousand German mercenaries, began moving southward. Leaving four regiments and part of a fifth with some artillery to secure St. Johns and Fort Chambly, Carleton sent a younger brother, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Carleton, south with four hundred Indians in canoes; these were reinforced later with one hundred Canadian volunteers and thirteen hundred Germans. Brigadier General Simon Fraser went into position about five miles north of the New York state line with the light infantry, grenadiers, and the Twenty-fourth Foot. Ile aux Noix, which the British had taken in August and later organized into a fortified base, was occupied by Burgoyne with six regiments (the Ninth, Twenty-first, Thirty-first, Forty-seventh, Riedesel, and Hanau). Captain Thomas Pringle, Carleton’s naval commander, set sail with twenty-five vessels on 3 October, the day after work was completed on the sloop of war Inflexible. On 14 October, Burgoyne and Fraser started forward with all but two of Carleton’s British regiments (the Twentieth and Sixty-first garrisoned Ile aux Noix). (All German troops were left in Canada except the Hanau artillery, which was on the Thunderer.)


Having left Crown Point on 24 August with the ten craft that were ready, Brigadier General Benedict Arnold moved north to Windmill Point, near the Canadian border. Threatened in these narrow waters by some of Carleton’s Indians, he had withdrawn to the vicinity of Cumberland Head by 19 September. Then, having taken soundings of the half-mile channel between rocky Valcour Island and the west shore, Arnold skillfully anchored his ships in a crescent-shaped formation across the channel on the 23rd. The day of the battle he had fifteen vessels under his command: the sloop Enterprise ; the schooners Royal Savage and Revenge ; the galleys Congress, Trumbull, and Washington ; the cutter Lee; and eight gundalows. (The Gates galley was still under construction at Ticonderoga, the schooner Liberty had been sent after supplies, and there is no record of a ninth gundalow, Success, being present.)

Carleton sailed southward cautiously until 11 October, when he rounded Cumberland Head with a strong wind behind him and overshot his quarry by two miles before he realized it. The Revenge sighted the oncoming British fleet as it cleared Cumberland Head at 8 A.M. and scurried into Valcour Channel to inform Arnold, who quickly assembled his commanding officers on the Congress, went over his brilliantly unorthodox plan, and exhorted them to put up a ‘‘resolute’’ defense. When Brigadier General David Waterbury, his second in command, advised executing a fighting retreat to Ticonderoga, Arnold overruled him, explaining that given the uncertainty of winds and inexperience of his crews, such a maneuver would be more dangerous than making a stand. Arnold ordered the Revenge to sail toward the enemy until spotted, then return and join the line of battle; ordered his four fastest vessels, Royal Savage, Congress, Trumbull, and Washington, to sally forth to inflict what damage they might, but also to draw the enemy into the southern end of the channel and minimize the chance that Carleton might be smart enough either to anchor out of range and await a southern wind or return up the lake to come around the northern end of Valcour; and ordered his (Arnold’s) other craft to form a line of battle across the channel, facing south.

When Arnold and his galleys and schooners withdrew, beating against the wind, the British impetuously gave chase. Caught by winds made treacherous by the cliffs and tall timber along the shorelines, the Royal Savage grounded on the southwest tip of Valcour Island. The British schooner Carleton (armed with twelve cannon that fired six-pound shot), which aggressively led the attack, blasted the unfortunate Royal Savage with a crippling broadside and was passing, with all sails set, along the American front when it was suddenly betrayed by the same wind and whirled straight toward the American boats. Under heavy musket and cannon fire, Lieutenant James Dacres, its commander, anchored the Carleton and then, with a spring in its cable, swung it into position to fire broadside. British gunboats moved to support Dacres, but four of the five larger vessels were prevented by the northerly wind from entering the fray. By 12:30 P.M., a general engagement was in progress. At a range of 350 yards, with observation impeded by a haze of gun smoke, the two forces hammered away. In the absence of trained gunners, Arnold personally pointed most of the cannon fired from the Congress.

After about an hour, the spring was shot away from the battered Carleton, which then turned on the anchor to face helplessly toward the converging fire of Arnold’s fleet. When Pringle signaled it to withdraw, nineteen-year-old Midshipman Edward Pellew, in command since Dacres and the next-senior officer had been knocked out of action, climbed onto the bowsprit and tried to make a jib draw into the northeast wind and bring it about to sail away. Unsuccessful, he remained a conspicuous target of massed cannon and musket fire until he could throw a line to two boats that came up to tow the Carleton to safety.

The chagrined crew of the Royal Savage manned its guns until driven off by gunfire. A crew from the Thunderer boarded it and manned the guns until driven off by American fire. When the Americans tried to return, a crew from the Maria beat them to it and set the vessel afire. After dark, the Royal Savage exploded when the flames reached its magazine.

The British gunboats withdrew as dusk fell (around 5 o’clock) and continued their fire until dark from a line six hundred to seven hundred yards farther south. About the same time, the Inflexible managed to come up and deliver five broadsides that silenced Arnold’s guns.

Carleton’s Indian auxiliaries had landed on both shores of Valcour Channel and began to deliver They delivered a harassing, but generally ineffective, musket fire from the trees.


The British thought they had Arnold trapped and expected to destroy him the next day in Valcour Channel, but Arnold had not finished outgeneraling Carleton. Aided by a northeast breeze, a dark night, dense fog, and Carleton’s fear of the shoals along the shoreline, Arnold’s battered flotilla escaped by rowing with muffled oars single file between the western end of the British line and the shore. Colonel Edward Wigglesworth led with the Trumbull at 7 P.M.; the Congress and Washington brought up the rear. (Two vessels remained in the channel: the Royal Savage, which was on fire, and a gundalow, the Philadelphia, which sank an hour after the battle ended.) By midnight the last vessel had passed the British. Unfortunately, the slight north wind that had aided their escape turned, and by dawn their ten hours of backbreaking rowing and pumping had taken the last five of Arnold’s battered craft a mere eight miles. At Schuyler’s Island, desperate attempts at repair were made. The gundalows Providence and New York were unsalvageable, so their equipment was removed and they were scuttled in fifty fathoms. The Jersey foundered on a rock and, being too waterlogged to burn, had to be abandoned. At about 1:30 P.M. the hastily repaired Congress and Washington started rowing south.

When dawn revealed Arnold’s escape, Carleton sent scouts to track him, set out in pursuit himself, and then returned to his starting point to relay orders to the army to move southward. This allowed the Americans to keep ahead of their hunters on 12 October, but the next day the British closed the gap. At dawn on the 13th, after creeping six miles in sixteen hours, Arnold and his last two vessels were abreast of Willsborough, twenty-eight miles from Crown Point. When the wind turned to the northeast the British benefited first and got to within a mile before the sails of the slower-moving American vessels began to fill. At 11 A.M. at Split Rock, the end came quickly. The Maria, followed by the Inflexible and the Carleton, forced Waterbury to surrender the Washington and his 110 men. The Lee ran ashore and was abandoned. The Congress and four gundalows (that had fallen back from Wigglesworth’s group) kept up a running fight against the three enemy ships, which used their speed and maneuverability to rake the Americans at pointblank range. In a final act of defiance, the die-hard Arnold signaled his ships to windward, a maneuver the British could not follow, and the Americans rowed for Buttonmould Bay on the east (Vermont) shore. Here he beached and burned his wrecks with their colors still flying. That night Arnold reached Crown Point (ten miles away) with two hundred men, having escaped an Indian ambush en route. At Crown Point, Arnold found the Trumbull, Enterprise, Revenge, Liberty, and (according to some reports) ‘‘one gundalow.’’

Unable to hold Crown Point against such heavy odds, Arnold burned its buildings. He then withdrew to Fort Ticonderoga with his survivors of Valcour Island and with Lieutenant Colonel Hartley’s garrison of the Sixth Pennsylvania.


Benedict Arnold’s name is forever linked to treason, but on Lake Champlain, against all odds, he constructed a squadron that may well have saved the American Revolution by delaying the British invasion of 1776 until it was too late in the season for Carleton to press further southward. Arnold had lost the entire squadron, but the stout resistance of his men led Carleton to fear that if the defenders of Fort Ticonderoga fought as tenaciously, then winter would close in before it could be taken. Thus, on 2 November he began withdrawing to Canada.

“The ultimate in air superiority is a T-34 on the runway”

The capture of the airfield in Tatsinskaya by the tankmen of General Badanov. “The ultimate in air superiority is a T-34 on the runway” Alex Wood in answer to argument over German-Russian air warfare.

The Stalingrad Airlift was doomed from the start because of the Luftwaffe’s inability to consistently haul the tonnage needed to sustain the Sixth Army. The coup de grace was when T-34s broke through German lines and reached Tatsinskaya aerodrome, which was the largest and most forward base for the Ju-52s outside the pocket. Several hundred were caught on the ground and many were destroyed when Soviet tanks crossed the perimeter. After that, Stalingrad was outside the range of most Luftwaffe transports, and Paulus’ army was truly doomed.

In Tatsinskaya in the evening 23 Dec 1942 were around 180 transports [mainly Ju-52s], all ready to leave – but there was not given permit to take-off — some telephone lines were intact, specially the telephone line from the commander — other telephone lines were cut off – not by the Russians, but by the fleeing Rumanian soldiers, who used the telephone cable to lace-up their “belongings” — finally at about 0500 in the morning 24 Dec 1942, when the first Russian T-34 tanks entered the airfield and commenced shooting against the aircraft, there came the first take-off orders. — Several aircraft moved at the same time to get into take-off position — some were hit when lifting up and exploded in the air just above the ground — but the majority were lucky and escaped into the clouds — 125 transports were lucky to escape, most of which went to Novotscherkassk – 50+ aircraft and their crews were lost — exclusively due to the too late order to take-off — the following day the aircraft which had escaped went into work again – intending to supply the Stalingrad army.

A total of 125 transport planes—109 Ju 52s and 16 Ju 86s were able to take off and escape destruction at Tatsinskaya when General-Mayor Badanov’s 24th Tank Corps reached that place in the early morning hours of December 24, 1942. At least 50 aircraft were run over by Badanov’s tank troops at Tatsinskaya – 24 Ju 86s, 22 Ju 52s, 2 I./KG 51 Ju 88s, and 2 planes from 3.(F)/10. The Soviets also captured hundreds of tons of supplies — including 300 tons of gasoline and oil, and five complete ammunition stores, according to Soviet accounts – and valuable equipment such as engine-warming wagons, and tank trucks.

The last Ju 52’s left Tatsinskaya at 06:00 a.m.

….. Only one Ju 52 was still there, which was waiting for Generalleutnant FIEBIG, and some of his staff-officers.

After talking to a tank-officer – a Major BURGDORF – in a Befehlspanzer on the airfield. He told the General to leave, because the 16th Panzerdivision would be too late arrive, FIEBIG gave the order to fly to Novotscherkassk at 06:15 a.m.

This was the last and 109th Ju 52 leaving Tatsinskaya.


On 12 February 1756, a British naval squadron under Rear-Admiral Charles Watson demanded the surrender of Gheria, a stronghold on the west coast of India of the Angrias, a Maratha family whose fleet was a factor in local politics and had been used for privateering attacks on European merchantmen. When the Indians opened fire, Watson ‘began such a fire upon them, as I believe they never before saw, and soon silenced their batteries, and the fire from their grabs [ships]’. The five-hour bombardment also led to the destruction of Tulaji Angria’s fleet, which was set ablaze with shells. The next day, the British warships closed in to bombard the fort at pistol-shot distance in order to make a breach in the wall for storming and this breach swiftly led to its surrender. Watson noted that ‘the hulls, masts and rigging of the [British] ships are so little damaged, that if there was a necessity we should be able to proceed to sea in twenty-four hours’. Attacks in 1718 and 1720 had failed. In 1756, Watson co-operated with Robert Clive and with Maratha troops.

The storming of Gheriah would have a faintly ritualistic air. Such were the overwhelming forces at the Company’s disposal on this occasion that the outcome can never have been in doubt. It was a set piece in which the attackers agonized more over the division of the spoils than over tactical niceties. With ample time for reconnaissance, Commodore William James in command of the Bombay Marine, had volunteered to make a survey; and after another typically bold foray right into the pirates’ nest he had reported favourably on the prospects. In fact he was ‘exceedingly surprised’ to find Gheriah nothing like as formidable as it had been painted. ‘I can assure you it is not to be called high nor, in my opinion, strong’ – an opinion amply substantiated by drawings of the place made after its capture. It was big and, like Colaba, impressively sited on the end of a promontory. But there was nothing to prevent warships getting within point-blank range nor to prevent troops from landing nearby and setting up their batteries on a hill that commanded the whole position.

This last consideration was of interest in that, besides the Royal squadron with its two admirals and its six warships mounting some 300 guns, and besides the Company’s ten somewhat smaller vessels, and not to mention the Maratha contingents both naval and military, the action was to be graced with the presence of three companies of the King’s artillery, 700 men in all, plus a like number of Indian sepoys, all under the command of the then Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Clive.

Clive’s presence at Gheriah was incidental and, in the event, not particularly decisive. He and his troops had arrived in Bombay en route to some unfinished business with the French in the Deccan. That expedition was cancelled at the last minute as a result of the Anglo-French peace. And so Clive had indented for a slice of the action – and of the spoils – at Gheriah. What these spoils might amount to was uncertain but surely considerable. It was known that the contents of most of Tulaji’s prizes, including the treasure-rich Derby, had been taken to Gheriah. It was there that he kept his family and his prisoners – mostly English and Dutch; and where a pirate kept such valued possessions, there too would be his treasure.

Before setting out from Bombay, Admiral Watson summoned a meeting of the English commanders to thrash out the question of prize money. A scale was agreed on by which Watson himself would receive a twelfth of the proceeds, his rear-admiral half that, Clive and the captains of the Royal ships rather less, and James and the captains of the Company’s ships less still. It would appear that James and his commanders accepted the subordinate role that this arrangement implied. But Clive did not, demanding for himself parity with the rear-admiral. To resolve the argument Watson offered to make good the difference out of his own share. As he would put it to Clive in Bengal at the next division of the spoils, ‘money is what I despise, and accumulating riches is what I did not come here for’. But Clive, we are told, then refused to accept the Admiral’s money. ‘Thus did these two gallant officers endeavour to outvie each other in mutual proofs of disinterestedness and generosity’, wrote Ives in a footnote that was doubtless designed to deflect some of the criticism which would dog Clive’s every triumph.

Obviously if these arrangements were to be honoured, it was a matter of some consequence that the English and not their Maratha allies should actually take Gheriah. By mid-February 1756, when the armada finally arrived on station, they knew that Tulaji was already negotiating with the Maratha commander; they trusted their ally no more than the enemy, and clearly time was running out. When a first formal demand for the surrender of the fort was answered with procrastinating tactics, Watson realized that to be certain of their reward they would have to earn it. He ignored the possibility of a peaceful handover and gave the order for the fleet to move in.

The English entered the harbour in two columns, five great battleships plus the Company’s Protector forming an inner ring round the fort while the nine assorted ‘grabs’, sloops and ketches went round the outside to reach the enemy fleet as it lay penned upriver. Naturally the first shot is said to have come from the fort. It was repaid with compound interest as one after another the broadsides were brought to bear. Just over two hours later the entire ‘Angrian’ fleet was ablaze and the guns of the fort silenced. Briefly they ‘briskened their fire’ once again; then they fell silent for good.

That night Clive took his men ashore to set up their batteries while the bomb ketches continued to pour their shells into the fort. In the morning the bombardment was taken up both from the land and from the line of battleships. There was no answering fire, the object now being simply to effect a breach or cause such slaughter as would persuade the garrison to surrender. This they did in the course of the afternoon; by six o’clock the English colours were fluttering atop the smoking ruins. Nineteen men of the attacking force had been killed or wounded; of the carnage amongst the defenders there is no record.

Next day the victorious English got down to the serious business – plunder. According to Ives, who was Admiral Watson’s personal surgeon, they ‘found 250 pieces of cannon, six mortars, an immense quantity of stores and ammunition, one hundred thousand pounds sterling in silver rupees and about thirty thousand more in valuable effects’. It was less than expected but sufficient for several small fortunes, Watson’s share being about £10,000 and Clive’s about £5,000.

Phalanx vs Legion: Battle of Cynoscephalae

The earliest Roman ventures across the Adriatic had occurred before the Second Punic War. The First and Second Illyrian Wars (229–228 and 221–219 BC) had been fought ostensibly to suppress piracy, but the interference with a minor state in Macedonia’s backyard had alarmed King Philip V sufficiently for him to form an alliance with Hannibal in 215 BC. The First Macedonian War (215–205 BC) proved a damp squib, however: Philip never sent support to Hannibal in Italy, and the Romans left their Aetolian allies to fight alone in Greece. But this reflected not pusillanimity on Philip’s part so much as his preoccupation with the Aegean – where his war with Pergamum and Rhodes provided a pretext for Roman intervention against him in 200 BC. The alliance with Hannibal, and his wars against fellow Greeks, including Roman allies, made it easy enough to portray Philip’s Macedonia as a dangerous ‘rogue state’.

In fact, Philip was no threat to Roman interests. The very fact that he did not send troops to Italy in the wake of Cannae is proof enough of that; Philip’s fighting front was to the south and the south-east, not towards the Adriatic. The Roman decision to back Pergamum and Rhodes and intervene in an eastern war was an act of aggression. Significantly, when the consul to whom responsibility for Macedonia had been given proposed a declaration of war, the Assembly of the Centuries turned it down. When he next summoned the assembly, he deployed a new concept: that of pre-emptive aggression against a would-be (and in fact imaginary) enemy. The decision was not ‘whether you will choose war or peace; for Philip will not leave the choice open to you, seeing that he is actively preparing for unlimited hostilities on land and sea. What you are asked to decide is whether you will transport legions to Macedonia or allow the enemy into Italy; and the difference this makes is a matter of your own experience in the recent Punic Wars … It took Hannibal four months to reach Italy from Saguntum; but Philip, if we let him, will arrive four days after he sets sail from Corinth.’ The Assembly now voted for war. A real hatred of the draft had been overcome by an invented fear of invasion. For invented it was, the speciousness of the consul’s argument apparent from the most superficial review of the events of the Second Macedonian War (200–196 BC). The largest Roman army sent to Greece was only 30,000 strong – a mere 2.5 per cent of Rome’s total military manpower, or 7 per cent of her maximum mobilized strength in the Second Punic War. Yet this small army was sufficient to bring Macedonia to defeat – a defeat Philip anticipated judging by his interim peace offers and initial avoidance of battle. Hannibal, by contrast, had destroyed a Roman army of 80,000 – and still lost the war. These simple calculations demonstrate how suicidal a Macedonian invasion of Italy would in reality have been: doubly so, since not only would the invaders have been crushed, but Philip’s kingdom would meantime have been overrun by his enemies in Greece.

The first two years of the war were inconclusive, but in the spring of 197 BC Titus Quinctius Flamininus invaded Thessaly, and Philip, finally resolved to risk battle rather than prolong a war of attrition he knew he could not win, marched towards him with 25,000 men. The ground was unsuitable for battle where the armies first met, and both withdrew along parallel routes separated by low hills, each soon unaware of the other’s progress. A messy encounter battle then developed unexpectedly at Cynoscephalae when Macedonian and Roman detachments clashed in the mist on the heights overlooking a pass between the main armies. As more units were drawn into the fight for the high ground, a general engagement began. The Macedonian right reached the top of the pass before the Romans. When Philip saw this, he ordered the right phalanx to close up into a deep formation, increasing its shock power, and then to charge. Flamininus, seeing the desperate struggle that had begun on the Roman left, ordered in turn an attack by his right, which struck the left phalanx before it was properly deployed and routed it. The battle divided into separate halves, with the Macedonian right pushing down one slope, the Roman right down the other, such that a wide gap opened. At this point, a Roman military tribune seized the initiative. Taking the 20 maniples of triarii forming the rear line of the legions on the right, he reformed them and charged into the rear of the phalanx attacking the Roman left. The effect was devastating. The right phalanx was also routed. The battle had been hard-fought but decisive. About 8,000 Macedonians had been killed and 5,000 captured for a loss of 700 Romans. Philip V’s only army had been destroyed and he was compelled to make peace.

The battle of Cynoscephalae in 197BC was also fought up and over high ground which Plutarch describes as ‘the sharp tops of hills lying close beside each other’. Polybius calls the ridge ‘rough, precipitous and of considerable height’. Pietrykowski calls the ridge upon which the battle was fought ‘a true liability’ to the ‘ponderous phalanx’. Morgan, on the other hand, points out that the terrain does not seem to have been a deciding factor in the outcome of the battle.⁶⁰ Both of these claims seem to be only partially correct as, depending upon the exact nature of the ground on certain parts of the ridge, the phalanx was either hindered (which ultimately led to its defeat) or not.

The Macedonian army of Philip V, and the Roman army of Titus Flaminius, were both encamped on either side of the ridge at Cynoscephalae. Philip is said to have considered the ground unsuitable and unfavourable for a major engagement but, following initial contact and skirmishing between advance units from both sides, and the receipt of favourable reports from the ridge above which stated that the Romans were in retreat, Philip began to commit more troops to the action including elements of his pike-phalanx. Units of Philip’s right-wing phalanx surmounted the ridge at a run: a manoeuvre which must have necessitated their pikes being held vertically. Livy says that, once in position and arranged in double depth, the phalangites were ordered to drop their pikes and fight with swords because the length of the weapons was a hindrance. Both Polybius and Plutarch, on the other hand, state that the phalanx engaged with its pikes lowered. Indeed, there are several reasons why Livy’s account should be considered incorrect in this matter. Firstly, Livy later states that the phalanx was unable to turn about to face an attack from the rear. While this is true of a phalanx with its pikes lowered, it can be easily accomplished by one just fighting with swords. This suggests that the Macedonians were using the sarissa. Secondly, Livy also states that, at the end of the battle, parts of the phalanx signalled their surrender by raising their pikes. It is unlikely that the members of the phalanx had put away their swords, picked up their pikes – which would have been somewhere uphill behind them as the sources all state that the Macedonian right wing pushed the Romans down the slope – and then used them to signal their surrender. It is more likely that the phalanx had been using their pikes all along.

The phalanx units on the Macedonian right wing effectively engaged the Romans using the advantages of the high ground to their fullest. Plutarch states that the Romans facing these units could not withstand their attack. It was a different story on the Macedonian left, however, and it was in this quarter that the nature of the terrain may have hampered (and eventually defeated) the pike-phalanx. Livy says that additional pike units were brought up in column – a formation he says is better suited to a march than a battle – rather than in extended line. The ground here may have been more broken than on the right and this caused large gaps to open in the phalanx as it deployed: gaps which the more mobile Roman maniples were able to exploit to defeat the Macedonian left and then swing around to attack the remaining units on the Macedonian right. Polybius states that this fracture of the phalanx on the left was due to some units already being engaged, others only just making the top of the ridge, while others were in position but were not advancing down the hill. Interestingly, none of these factors have much to do with the nature of the terrain itself and, as such, the extent to which the ground caused the fragmentation of the Macedonian line at Cynoscephalae cannot be conclusively determined. However, it seems clear that it is not the incline of the battlefield which is a hindrance to the operation of the pike-phalanx, but whether or not the line can be maintained on the terrain that the battle is fought upon. This again goes against Polybius’ claim that the phalanx could only operate on ‘flat’ ground.

Polybius was fascinated by the clash between phalanx and legion. The whole fate of the Hellenistic world – his world – had seemed to hinge on it. The outcome appeared paradoxical, for the compact formation and projecting pikes of the phalanx meant that in close-quarters combat each Roman legionary, fighting in a much more open formation, faced no less than ten spear-points. ‘What is the factor which enables the Romans to win the battle and causes those who use the phalanx to fail? The answer is that in war the times and places for action are unlimited, whereas the phalanx requires one time and one type of ground only in order to produce its peculiar effect.’ Broken ground disordered the phalanx, creating fatal gaps in the hedge of pikes. To be effective, it had to operate in a large block, making it slow, cumbersome and unresponsive to a changing battlefield situation. The Roman formation, by contrast, was flexible and mobile. While part could pin a phalanx frontally, other parts could manoeuvre to attack flank and rear. ‘Every Roman soldier, once he is armed and goes into action, can adapt himself equally well to any place or time and meet an attack from any quarter. He is likewise equally well-prepared and needs to make no change whether he has to fight with the main body or with a detachment, in maniples or singly.’ Cynoscephalae illustrated these dictums. It showed that the legions were coming of age, that a complex evolution of the Roman military tradition under Etruscan, Greek, Samnite, Gaulish, Punic and Spanish influence was now producing the finest fighting formations in the ancient world.

Battle of Vaslui 1475

No serious Hungaro-Ottoman clash took place during the ten years following the Bosnian war of 1464, despite the fact that it was during this same period, between 1463 and 1479, that Venice fought her bloodiest war against the Ottoman empire – a war in which the republic counted Matthias among its allies. Yet the southern frontier of Hungary was so calm during these years that even the usual Turkish incursions disappear from the sources for a while; and when they reappear they are directed not against the kingdom of Hungary, but against the Empire and Venice. In 1469 Ottoman troops, coming from Bosnia, devastated Carniola and Carinthia for the first time, and the domains of the Habsburgs suffered ten further attacks before 1490. The Ottoman marauders also appeared frequently in the Venetian provinces of Istria and Friuli. In order to reach their goal, the Turkish contingents had to cross Croatia and Slavonia, both belonging to the Hungarian crown. It was conspicuous that these territories were, as a rule, spared, and it was therefore not entirely without reason that Matthias was accused of colluding with the Ottomans under the veil of his bellicose rhetoric. In 1465 and 1468 Ottoman envoys arrived in Hungary. Although their offers were officially rejected, it seems probable that a secret peace treaty was signed on the first occasion, which was then regularly prolonged until 1473. The emperor seems to have been correct in his suspicion that in return for the peace Matthias allowed Ottoman troops to pass through his lands on their way to the Austrian provinces.

After a long period of peace Hungaro-Ottoman relations apparently began to deteriorate. Having won a decisive victory over the Akkoyunlu sultan, Uzun Hasan, Sultan Mehmed unexpectedly refused to prolong the peace at the end of 1473. It must have been as a consequence of this refusal that in the beginning of 1474 Ali, bey of Smederevo, carried out an incursion into Hungary that was much more audacious than any that had previously been mounted. Having marched deep into the heart of the kingdom, he set fire to the town of Oradea on 8 February and withdrew unscathed from the country, carrying away 16,000 prisoners. Matthias’s reaction was to ally himself with his former enemy, Stephen, prince of Moldavia, to whom he sent auxiliary troops under the command of Blaise Magyar, voivode of Transylvania. In January 1475 the Christian army annihilated that of the beylerbey of Rumelia at the battle of Vaslui in Moldavia.


The only question about the Ottoman Turkish invasions by the mid-fifteenth century was how far north or west in Europe they would go. The Turks had already conquered the Byzantine Empire and much of the Balkans; they showed no stopping. No kingdom was more active against the Turks than Moldavia. From 1457 to 1504 Moldavia was ruled by the charismatic prince (voivod) Stephen the Great, whose rise to power coincided with the last 22 years of the reign of the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II (r. 1444–1446, 1451–1481). During Stephen’s reign the Moldavian state fought against Hungarians, Poles, and the Ottomans, who were vying to dominate the principality. The Hungarians were repulsed in 1467, and the Ottomans were defeated at Vaslui in present-day Romania in 1475. Though Stephen the Great suffered a defeat at the hands of the Ottomans at Valea Albă the following year, in 1476, the Moldavian state continued to increase in size, capturing the port of Kilia on the Danube and expanding its influence into Wallachia.

The conflict between Moldavia and the Ottoman Empire, which was centered on the control of Wallachia, continued until Vlad IV Tepeș (the Impaler) acknowledged Ottoman and Hungarian suzerainty and was recognized as the prince of Wallachia A large army of Moldavians, led by their king, Stephen III, faced an even larger army of Turks under Hadân Suleiman Pasha, the Beylerbey of Rumelia outside of Visuli. The Moldavians attacked with gunpowder artillery, handguns and bows, then launched their cavalry at the Turks, who were having difficulty seeing what was happening through the cold January fog. The Ottomans remained confused, until they fled or surrendered. The latter were impaled, with only the commanders being preserved. However, the defeat was far from decisive as the Turks would return the next year.

Not content with this victory, Matthias led his troops against the castle of Šabac, on the southern bank of the River Sava, and captured it on 15 February 1476 after a six-week siege. Šabac was a simple wooden fortress, constructed by the Ottomans a few years before. Its occupation was by no means an outstanding victory, but Hungarian propaganda proved very skillful in making it appear as such. The siege of Šabac even gave birth to a Hungarian heroic epic, which is in fact the first of this genre to have survived. Matthias also considered attacking the much more impressive castle of Smederevo, and constructed wooden fortresses in the vicinity, but the sultan appeared swiftly and destroyed them before the king could make up his mind. Mehmed also tried to force Moldavia to obedience in the summer of 1476, but Prince Stephen avoided battle and the sultan left empty-handed. Peace was then temporarily restored, and in his letter to Mehmed in 1478, Matthias could once again refer to their ‘mutual peace and friendship’.

The last series of Hungaro-Ottoman clashes in Matthias’s lifetime took place between 1479 and 1481. In 1479 Transylvania and the southern part of Transdanubia, which had hitherto been spared by the marauders, were attacked simultaneously; but on 13 October near Orăştie the army that was devastating Transylvania was destroyed by Voivode Stephen Bátori and Paul Kinizsi, count of Timis¸. In 1480 Croatia was pillaged by the Turks whilst returning from Styria. Matthias retaliated by sending Kinizsi to ravage Serbia, while he himself invaded Bosnia in November and marched as far as Sarajevo. The sultan’s counter-attack was prevented by his death in 1481. His successor, Bayezid II, was much less bellicose. In October 1483, after a series of minor conflicts, he made peace with the Hungarian king for five years, which was prolonged in 1488 for a further two years. This did not prevent him from bringing the Moldavians to heel, however. In 1484 he took the two southern strongholds of the principality, Kilija and Belgorod (Akkerman), and thereafter Prince Stephen was forced to pay a symbolic annual tax to the sultan.

Courtrai – 1302


Defeat by the Flemish of the French under Robert of Artois for Philip IV. It followed the revolt of the Matins of Bruges. The Flemings besieged Courtrai whose castle was held by the French. The French attempted relief. A Flemish force, called `weavers, fullers and the common folk’, assembled under Guy of Namur, William of Jülich and Jean de Renesse. The Flemish army consisted mainly of citizen militias, infantry armed with crossbows and goedendags. The Flemings protected their position with ditches. The French charged but, faced by ditches and pikes, failed to break through. The garrison sortied against the Flemish rear but was beaten back. Robert led the rearguard into the fray. His horse was hit and he was dragged off and killed. Courtrai demonstrated the value of infantry against cavalry. The battle was known as that of the Golden Spurs, because 700 pairs were taken from French corpses as trophies. The defeat shocked France, but Philip IV gained his revenge at Mons-en-Pévele.

Staff weapons, used both by foot and equestrian soldiers, are of great antiquity, but the period from 1300 was when they especially came into their own as an infantry weapon. In 1302, at the Battle of Courtrai, the Flemish townsmen from Bruges, Ypres, and Courtrai, armed, in the main, with staff weapons routed a superior and supposedly better-armed French army. The reaction to this victory, essentially by the lower and middle classes, and the large numbers of French cavalry dead, were noted throughout Europe and caused up roar among the nobles, knights, and the upper classes of society. The weapon, called a goedendag (literally “good morning” or “good day”), which caused such a devastating and unexpected victory, far from being sophisticated or innovative, was basically a heavy-headed club to which iron spikes were attached. Their use at Courtrai and, equally important, the discipline of the Flemish forces, mark the rise of the infantry armed with staff weapons as a potent force on the battlefields of Europe. This victory was followed by that of the Swiss using staff weapons at the battle of Morgarten against the Austrians in 1315. From this time on staff weapons played an increasingly important part on the battlefield-blocks of disciplined, well-trained, and well-drilled infantry, all armed with similar weapons, were com mon down to the seventeenth century

Throughout the high Middle Ages, heavy cavalry had completely dominated warfare. It had become completely entrenched in both the military and socioeconomic systems of the day- the noble knight was a key component of the feudal system. In this way, infantry was overlooked as strategically important, even when certain groups of foot soldiers again began to claim victories against the knightly cavalry.

By the 14th century, infantry (without the large support of cavalry) was reasserting its effectiveness in combat. In certain areas of Europe, infantry was becoming a well organized and capable fighting force, which was even able to stand against heavy cavalry. Flemish infantry of the early 1300s, for example, were organized by guild into regular militias, and well equipped with mail habergeons, steel helmets, gauntlets, shields, and even plate armor; and they bore an assortment of weapons, including bows, crossbows, pikes, and goedendags. (This was a heavy wooden staff, four to five feet long, and tipped with a steel spike.) Because of their structure, in particular their ability to hold the line when facing a cavalry charge, the Flemish were able to achieve a decisive and influential victory against the French chivalry at Courtrai in July of 1302.

The cities of Flanders were rebelling against the King of France, and laying siege to Courtrai castle. The king sent 2,500 men-at-arms and 8,000 infantry to relieve the Courtrai garrison and dispatch the rebellion. He took it for granted that the Flemish would flee when they found themselves outnumbered in heavy cavalry, which was widely acknowledged as the master of the battlefield. Instead, the Flemish withdrew to a predetermined position away from the city, in marshland where their flanks were protected by streams, and prepared for the French advance.

The infantry was broken up (by guild and region, so that men who knew each other would be fighting together, which boosted morale) into four divisions, three in line and one as reserve. The soldiers were densely packed, about eight deep, with their pikes and goedendags extended. The Flemish knew that success depended on their holding formation during the French charge, and they did so.

At Courtrai in 1302, javelin-armed bidauts began the battle by advancing with the French crossbowmen. Withdrawing as the knights charged home, the bidauts then re-appeared in support of their cavalry, now engaged with the Flemish infantry line, by throwing their javelins, stabbing at the enemy pikemen and no doubt rescuing individual knights in trouble.

The charge was foiled, and degenerated into a vicious mêlée, in which Flemish infantry outnumbered the French men-at-arms. The surviving French, disarrayed and demoralized, and finding little ground to retreat, began to flee. Over a thousand French noblemen were killed in the battle. The dominance of cavalry in warfare now became subject to question.

It took two more bloody battles-Arques, a loss for the French, and Mons-en-Pévele, a loss for the Flemings-and more than three years before the county of Flanders was forced to submit to the king of France. Before peace was made in 1305, many had died on both sides, including the leading Flemish general, William of Jülich.

Yet the Flemish desire for economic and political self-rule was not quenched by the violence of the French reaction to the 1302-1305 rebellion, and they rebelled once again in 1323-1328. The result this time was the Battle of Cassel, a French victory. Yet again the Flemings revolted in 1338, led by the Ghentenaar weaver, Jacob van Artevelde. On this occasion, the French could not effectively use military force to put down the Flemish rebellion, as the English, al lies of the Flemings, posed a greater threat during these early years of the Hundred Years War. It was not until 1346, when an uprising by another faction in Ghent led to Jacob van Artevelde’s assassination, that peace would return to the county. However, thirty-three years later, the Flemings revolted again, this time under Philip van Artevelde, the son of the earlier rebel leader. In 1382, a lull in the Hundred Years War fighting allowed the young French king, Charles VI, to send a large army north, which resulted in a French victory at the Battle of Rosebeke, though the citizens of Ghent, leaders among the rebels, held out until 1385.

Courtrai: 1302 The Flemish victory over the French at Courtrai in 1302 provides a good check list of the actions necessary for traditional medieval infantry to combat a knightly army.

  1. Protect the rear. The Flemings were besieging Courtrai castle which contained a French garrison. When the French knights charged the Flemish battle line the garrison sortied-out, but were repulsed by the crossbows and spears of the men of Ypres. At other battles, such as Mons-en-Pevele (1304), a garrisoned screen of wagons was placed to the rear to prevent the more mobile knights outflanking the Flemish line. When the Flemings advanced they formed ‘crown’ formations capable of halting and presenting an all-round defence like the Scottish schiltrons of spearmen.
  2. Protect the flanks. At Courtrai, the marshy River Lys provided an anchor to the Flemish flanks so that they could not be turned.
  3. Make the front difficult of access. The Groenig Brook and the Grote Beek, both swampy declivities, provided obstacles that slowed and disordered the knightly charge, so that they arrived at the Flemish line without the impetus necessary to break through.
  4. Be uphill. From the brooks the land rises to the town, bestowing an advantage on foot soldiers combating knights.
  5. Form a reserve. Jan van Renesse had a reserve body of men, possibly the dismounted knights of Zeeland, whom he was able to bring to the relief of the men of Bruges when they were being bodily pushed back, which was the crisis of the battle. The reserve would ideally include mounted troops who could follow up the defeated enemy, but the Flemings lacked sufficient knights to do this.
  6. Provide a skirmish screen. This was to prevent the enemy thinning the ranks of the close-order infantry by missile assault. Robert of Artois sent his French crossbowmen forwards to weaken the Flemings. However, the Flemish crossbowmen were deployed in front of their spears and were able to keep the French at a distance until they had run out of ammunition.
  7. Ensure good order. The Flemings fought in contingents by town and guild. Their clothing was uniform and each guild had its banner so each man knew his station, and they learnt a battle cry to distinguish friend from foe. The pikemen and goedendag men (the goedendag was a heavy two handed club with a single spike at the point) knew how to work together. The pikemen rested the butts of their weapons on the ground to form a hedge the knights could not break; the goedendag man struck the knights and their mounts once they were halted.
  8. Keep the line intact. Jan van Renesse advised: ‘Do not let the enemy break through your ranks. Do not be frightened. Kill both horse and man. “Flanders, the Lion” is our battle cry…. Every man who penetrates into your ranks or breaks through them shall remain there dead’.
  9. Dismount the leaders. The Flemish princes, Guy de Namur and Wilhelm van Jiilich, both dismounted with their bodyguards and banners and took position in the front rank. Showing that the leaders could not run away (nor do a deal with the French to abandon the common soldiers) provided a crucial boost to morale and an addition to fighting power.
  10. Stiffen morale. Before the battle the commanders made speeches to their troops with fighting instructions and a reminder of their cause. Soldiers were enjoined to kill any of their own side who broke ranks to loot the rich corpses of French knights, for that imperilled the good order and safety of all. Guy de Namur knighted more than 30 of the leaders of the common people, thus elevating the representatives of the artisan army. Before the battle all were confessed of their sins and ensured of a path to heaven, for if they died it was in a righteous cause.
  11. Pursue rigorously. Despite being on foot, the Flemish commanders (who were mainly knights) sensed when the last French, reserve had failed in its attack and ordered an immediate pursuit. The infantry hurled themselves at the downed knights, slaughtering them and preventing the French cavalry from reforming. They pushed on, routing any remaining opposition, seizing the French camp and plundering it. The Flemings named Courtrai the ‘Battle of the Golden Spurs’ because of the thousand symbols of knighthood they won.