Thursday 14 February 2013

The Animal Kingdom

If you've stood trackside and felt the thunder of a dozen horses racing past you, then just imagine what it was like in 52BC. Caesar's cavalry numbered some three thousand and Vercingetorix had fifteen thousand horses escorting his main infantry force. In the Battle of Dibio, the biggest of the horse battles, there may have been up to eighteen thousand horses spread across the plains now filled by the city of Dijon. Just imagine the sound, the sensation and the dust. But beyond the vast statistics of this cavalry battle...what about the logistics? Feeding and watering tens of thousands of horses everyday, winter or summer - and it wasn't just the war horses either. Caesar's army also had six thousand mules, the Gauls had at least twice that number of pack animals. Each of these wore cow bells so their attendants could find them in the dark - which is probably the sound missing from movies or documentaries showing ancient armies on the march. Over the trudging hobnailed boots would have been the ever presenting ringing of thousands of bells. And almost certainly, every ancient soldier's memory of sleeping in camp was the tolling of those bells out there, somewhere in the dark, a constant every night he was a soldier.

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