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In 1683 at the Battle of Vienna, 20,000 Polish, German and Austrian cavalry charged the Ottoman lines in what Wikipedia says is the largest cavalry charge in history. Other references are more cautious: this page and one of the Wiki references say “largest known” while 10 Heroic Cavalry Charges says “one of the largest”.

There may be some European / American bias, though. Looking at the list of Notable Charges, almost all those listed are European or from the American Civil War. No mention of the Mongols or any of the armies of Chinese dynasties such as the Sui or the Ming. Of course, the American civil war was comparatively recent so figures are more likely to be available and reliable.

Nonetheless, considering the size of some of the armies that these eastern powers had, these omissions seem to be rather glaring. In Richard A. Gabriel’s Genghis Khan's Greatest General: Subotai the Valiant the author, referring to the Mongols, states that

The army was almost entirely composed of cavalry, with 40 percent heavy cavalry, and the remaining 60 percent designated light cavalry. There were no organic Mongol infantry units...

Gabriel also says that

The charge of the heavy cavalry was always the main player in the endgame of a Mongol attack.

As Genghis Khan could field an army of up to 100,000 Mongols (see also the Battle of Yehuling) it seems likely that some of the cavalry charges could easily have exceeded 20,000. Then there is the army of Fu Jian in 383 AD which apparently included 270,000 cavalry, and that of Yang Liang in 586 AD numbering “300,000, mostly composed of archer cavalry.” for the invasion of Korea.

There is, of course, a problem knowing the real numbers in many cases. For example, numbers for the Battle of Mohi in 1241 vary considerably.

I’ve been unable to find much information on the size of cavalry charges for either Chinese or Mongol armies and whether or not any of them surpassed in numbers the one at the Battle of Vienna in 1683.

Are there any primary sources on the size of cavalry charges for the Mongol or Chinese armies which are considered reliable by modern historians?

If not, have modern historians been able to make any estimates based on what evidence is available? Do we have any idea what proportion of the cavalry any of these armies might have committed to a single cavalry charge?


I would accept an answer for either the Chinese or the Mongols. Although I'm not asking about other armies (including Arab, Persian etc. might make the question too broad), I would be interested in reliable primary sources / estimates made which match or surpass the Vienna 1683 cavalry charge.

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    The field of battle limits the size of a cavalry charge; the horses of a single line can only be so close to each other, and typically only two lines of cavalry can charge at one time. These larger armies provide for (1) multiple engagements, (2) large reserves, (3) outriders to raid and protect their flanks. Another limitation is the ability to provide feed for the horses - you can hardly provide forage for 100,000 horses at a single site, so the cavalry units must be staged and moving. – Peter Diehr Jun 15 '18 at 18:29
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    @PeterDiehr Your points well made, but the Mongols fought some of their battles on the steppes (for example, against the Jin I think). Also, many of their commanders were tactically astute and would have sought to maximize battlefield advantage by choosing sites that were ideal for them (though this wouldn't always have been possible of course). – Lars Bosteen Jun 16 '18 at 3:51
  • the aim of military tactics is to apply the minimum military force required to achieve the objective. Massive cavalry engagements assume (a) overcoming the difficult logistics of feeding the horses, and (b) the requirements of time required to collect scattered bands into a coherent force. Much easier to engage in smaller units, and destroy the enemy piece-meal, in a series of smaller engagements, as long as you have the tactical advantage. Surprise and locally dominant forces are of great value in any tactical situation. – Peter Diehr Jun 16 '18 at 13:26
  • How much did the Mongols have in terms of cavalry which would charge? Weren't their tactics heavily based around missile cavelry? – user31561 Jun 19 '18 at 18:55
  • @Orangesandlemons Based on Gabriel's figures, 40,000 out of an army of 100,000 were heavy cavalry for charging. The light cavalry were the archers but they could sometimes be used for charging (but it wasn't their primary function from what I've gathered). – Lars Bosteen Jun 19 '18 at 22:59
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While both Mongolian and Chinese mounted armies could easily outnumber those of the American or European at any point in history it should be noted that the Mongols or Chinese hosts didn't really rely on Calvary shock charges as the Europeans or Americans did. Chinese and Mongolian Calvary were as you mentioned horse archers and wouldn't be used for the same purpose as European shock Calvary. The polish winged Hussars used by John Sobeski in the battle of Vienna were much heavier and meant to cause fear in the enemy lines and to route enemy troops. In comparison, the mongol and Chinese horse archers were meant to be lighter equipped and used for harassment or hit and run tactics to defeat their often unmounted or more heavily mounted foes. In summary, yes the Chinese and Mongols definitely had much larger hosts of mounted units, but the Europeans win in crazy all out charges towards the enemies front lines

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    Sources would improve this answer. Also, while it is true that most of the Mongolian cavalry consisted of horse archers (as stated in the question), there was a substantial heavy cavalry element too. – Lars Bosteen Jul 8 '18 at 22:50
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Sure thing they were. The mongols were a cavalry-only army. And as such if they had 20000 soldiers in battle the had 20000 units of cavallery. A european army 20000 soldiers big would have 1000 or 5000 horsemen but the bulk would be infantry. And during history the role of cavalry steadily declined.

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    Not only were the mongols not a 'cavalry only army' history.stackexchange.com/questions/6106/… , even if they were does not mean they would all be utilised in charges, or even if they were, that they would charge en-mass – user31561 Jun 27 '18 at 11:51

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