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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Thursday 16 February 2023

Mongol Warrior v European Knight

 This is the latest in Osprey's 'Combat' series by Stephen Turnbull. I have been sceptical about this and similar series because some of the match-ups are a bit tenuous, and they don't offer much that hasn't been covered in other series by the same publisher. However, this is an interesting match-up, pitting two very different warriors against each other.

Of course, the Mongols were not the first horse archers the European Knight had faced. Nevertheless, most western European knights had little experience with this warfare. The Mongols were also much more than just another Steppe horse archer. They had heavy cavalry, brought their knowledge of siege warfare from China, and the sheer numbers and tactical awareness made them a feared enemy.

Turnbull covers all these issues in his analysis of the status, recruitment, organisation and equipment, supplemented by excellent colour plates. He seeks to put to one side the assumptions about Mongol invincibility and the simplistic contrast between mobile Mongols and clumsy heavy European knights. For example, at the Battle of Muhi, the Mongols were outnumbered by the army they destroyed. In addition, Polish and Hungarian armies had their own light horse, and most of their armies would have been more lightly armed than knights. The armour of the period offered limited protection against the powerful Mongol bow, and textiles underneath provided the most protection, supplemented later by the cuirass.

Mongol tactics were as crucial as their troops in defeating European knights. The use of envelopment, cutting off supply lines and feigned retreat all played on the knight's vulnerabilities. On the battlefield, few actions were won by horse archery alone. Even Mongol light horse were prepared to charge in and engage in hand-to-hand combat. The author illustrates these points through three battles. Liegnitz 1241, against Poland, which topically followed the capture of Kyiv. Then the Battle of Muhi in the same year against the Hungarians. This is an interesting action because it was fought around a river, with crossings and envelopments demonstrating Mongol flexibility. Finally, Esztergom and Székesfehérvár the following year. These are sieges, a vital element of Mongol warfare, which differentiated them from previous Steppe incursions. On this occasion, the quality of the fortresses and the help of western knights saved the day.

The analysis chapter should have been the most original part of the book. The Hungarians learned the lessons of 1241-42, and a new fortification strategy meant that old castles had to be rebuilt and new ones added. Unfortunately, the Hungarian king was forced to encourage the great lords to carry out this work, which would become a problem later. Turnbull does a decent job debunking the myth of Mongol invincibility, but I would have liked to see more in this chapter. It is, after all, the basis for the book.

I added these 28mm heavy Mongol cavalry to my collection in 2021 from the Gripping Beast range.


  1. Nice review. 👍
    My Mongols are only in 10mm scale, but it’s hard to find miniatures for suitable Western European opponents.
    Your miniatures are nice, but the lancers all seem to be rocking that “Village People biker moustache” look. Not a criticism, but I always envision Mongols with relatively light facial hair.

    1. The guys at Gripping Beast are obviiousy Village People sort of folk!

    2. IMO the best 10mm figures for European opponents for the Mongols are the TB line from Pendraken: https://www.pendraken.co.uk/tb-line-middle-ages-982-c.asp

    3. They are very nice figures.