In 16th century Polish hussars were heavy cavalry, they were what knights became. In 17-18th centuries hussars were light cavalry. How and why did the change happen? Wiki mentions the change, but says nothing about the reasons.

It was not that all cavalry became light. Notice, that both heavy and light cavalry continued to exist during all time of 16-19th centuries. But the Hussars and only they changed their armor, weapons and role so dramatically.

And yes, the Hungarian hussars of 15th century were not heavy, but medium cavalry, but that was BEFORE the period mentioned.

  • 2
    It looks like they started light, and it was the Polish Hussars who were unusual in transforming into heavy cavalry.
    – T.E.D.
    May 26 '17 at 0:45
  • In 17-18th centuries hussars were light cavalry. How and why did the change happen? See Deluge. Hint: money is tight.
    – Matt
    May 26 '17 at 7:45
  • 1
    Perhaps the question should be rewritten to mention Polish hussars explicitly.
    – Matt
    May 26 '17 at 7:48
  • Military units often adopt to changing times... Italy still has infantry, yet they don't fight with glaudius.
    – Greg
    May 26 '17 at 17:13
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    @Gangnus what is the use to change hussars into cheap light cavalry and simultaneously create new heavy cavalry types Hussars always were light cavalry. But the point is that when you have a lot of light cavalry you have to make it a bit heavier to use it also in "normal battles". And the easiest way to achieve this is... just to give them additional armor protection. Do not ever mess with reforming existing regiments into something else. Let them think they are still "hussars" even if they make use of tanks instead of horses (think of modern US Cavalry divisions).
    – Matt
    May 27 '17 at 8:33

Originally, Hussars had "heavy" (e.g. Polish) cavalry, and "light" (e.g. Hungarian) cavalry side by side. So then the question is what tipped the balance in favor of "light?"

The answer I have is terrain. Poland (and Russia) has mostly flat land. This is ideal for the charges of heavily armed and armored horsemen over "easy" ground, for massed, line-breaking charges. As the Poles and Soviets unfortunately found out during World War II, most of this territory (except the Pripet Marshes of the Ukraine, and the Byelorussian forests) was good "tank" country. Heavy cavalry tactics worked well enough at the Battle of Vienna, 1683.

In the south, the situation was different. Hungarians facing the Turks invading from the Balkans operated over hillier, forested ground, better for light cavalry. Here, the emphasis was not on massed charges, but reconnaissance and "blocking" actions by faster, more lightly armed cavalry.

Western Europe had more "Hungarian" type (hilly and forested) than "Polish" territory. Hence light cavalry was more suitable, especially since the introduction of firearms foreshadowed the vulnerabilities of (French) heavy cavalry at battles like Crecy, Poitiers, and Agincourt. Western European cavalry moved closer to the (lighter) Hungarian model, eventually veering into "dragoons"(mounted infantry).

The 1683 Battle of Vienna was the "last hurrah" of heavy cavalry. Thereafter, cavalry got "lighter and lighter" as firearms got better and better beginning the end of the 17th century.

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