What Type of Cavalry Did Lithuanians Use to Counter the Crusaders in the 13th Century?
Eligijus Šmidtas
Vilnius University, Lithuania
Published 2019-12-20


medieval warfare
13th century
Lithuanian light cavalry

How to Cite

Šmidtas E. (2019) “What Type of Cavalry Did Lithuanians Use to Counter the Crusaders in the 13th Century?”, Lietuvos istorijos studijos, 440, pp. 8-30. doi: 10.15388/LIS.2019.44.1.


This article is dedicated to investigating the problems regarding the existence of Lithuanian cavalry in the 13th century as well as the identification of its type and its ability to counter the heavy cavalry of the West. Firstly, we analyze the validity of different opinions about the date when Lithuanians began to fight on horseback that are revealed in our historiography – that this had happened on the junction of the 13th and 14th centuries, on the second half of the 13th century, or long before the beginning of the Baltic crusade. We come to a conclusion that there is enough evidence to support the third opinion, oriented at pre-crusader times. Furthermore, we agree with the idea, soundly based in the description of the source, that these forces were light cavalry. In the second part of our article, we address attention to the peculiarity of the tactics employed by the previously mention cavalry forces: even being able to fight on horseback, these units would get out of their saddles and because of that were often mistaken for infantry. Even more, they would intentionally seek out areas unfavorable for cavalry forces (forests, for example), fighting on foot in these environments, because in those places the enemy was not capable of using anything to their advantage: big war horses, better armor, a close battle order, or lances. The article suggests that this battle method lets us determine, with more precision, the type of Lithuanian light cavalry, equating it to the better-known Irish hobelars who had served in England’s army. In the Teutonic Order’s state in Prussia, the equivalent of hobelars were the native “free” Prussians. Both these types of units rode small horses, fought equally well on horseback as well as on foot, and used javelins. In the last part, we argue on the possibilities of such light cavalry overcoming its heavier counterparts. According to the author of this paper, such possibilities would arise only occasionally – when knights were trapped in swamps in the forests or did some sort of tactical mistake. Eliminating this backwardness, the Lithua­nian state had begun using heavy cavalry forces by the early 15th century.

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