As a fan of horses and of background, I couldn’t help noticing quite a while past that horses have regularly been utilized successfully to curb peasants’ revolts.
So they were not invincible. Why did they always seem to defeat revolting peasants? Were they just lucky?
On looking into it, I soon discovered that rebels were often undisciplined and ill-led.
They tended to rush towards the enemy, especially if they believed they had the advantage in numbers. Rushing against a mounted enemy never works. The trick is to stand still and strike at the right moment. It is impossible to time your blow with sword, spear or axe correctly when running. You cannot judge the speed of an approaching horse, while you are moving too.
The opposite is not true. A cavalryman is always good at timing his blow at an enemy on foot, whether running or standing.
If you are on foot, the advantage of numbers works best if you stick together. Rushing almost always means getting out of formation and allowing the men on horses to strike you down one at a time.
The above point is even more true when you remember that cavalry were almost always professional soldiers or men of the ‘noble’ warrior course. Men who spent almost all of their time practicing fighting.
Peasants were generally in part time drives and their quality diverse. They were usually used to being directed by their social superiors, who had been, obviously, on the opposite side if they revolted.
And that explains why horse-ownership has been prohibited or discouraged in the Bible (e.g. Deuteronomy Chapter 17 verse 16).
It’s believed that the main reason behind the rather negative opinion of horses from the Bible, especially the Old Testament, is that God didn’t need the leaders of Israel to use cavalrymen or charioteers, since they’d use them to oppress the public and since they’d be enticed to select unnecessary foreign wars. On the flip side, an infantry made from local volunteers could be more difficult to use in these manners. (I do not think God was opposed to possessing horses because such. So there’s absolutely no need to feel guilty if you’re a horse-owner.)
All this I learnt quite a while past. One large question continued to disturb me for quite a while, however.
Why did the peasants not attempt and create their own cavalry, even briefly? All right. They did not have horses and they could not ride! (A great deal of farm work was done by oxen before the 18th century) But surely they might have stolen a few horses, even when they didn’t possess any of their own. And some peasants have to have been reasonably capable cyclists?
When the answer happened to me, I was upset that I hadn’t thought of it earlier. As I so often find. It is a result of a particular physical land of horses.