Clash of Empires – Daenerys vs Westeros (conventional forces)
This post will focus on a war between Aegon and Daenerys. It will include only conventional forces that both will have – thus, no dragons and no magic.
Aegon is certain to have Golden Company as his core force. This includes 1 000 heavy cavalry, 1 000 archers, 8 000 pikemen and 24 elephants. They are mercenaries, who want to win with least casualties, and can thus be assumed to be disciplined and tactically innovative. Their discipline will also mean that they may treat civilians better than average Westerosi soldier would.
Daenerys’ core force will be Unsullied, sellswords and Dothraki. Unsullied would number 8 000 trained and 5 000 untrained troops, thus clearly being counterparts of Golden Company’s pikemen. They are however trained with spear, shield and shortsword.
Daenerys had been using Unsullied as guards and police force for much of her stay in Meereen. Thus, unless she manages to essentially retrain them on the way to Westeros, Unsullied will be significantly inferior to Golden Company’s pikemen even in individual quality. Even ignoring this, Unsullied are – due to their Spartan-inspired training – tactically inflexible and likely illiterate, the exact opposite of mercenaries of the Golden Company. They will thus be incapable of adapting to changing circumstances of battlefield. Further, due to the brutal training they went through, Unsullied themselves will logically be extremely brutal, especially towards civilians – much like ancient Spartans were. This denies the entire speech about them not “looting or sacking” cities: unless they are robots (which they actually appear to be: Daenerys’ robot army from outer space), such a thing is literally impossible – they may not loot or sack, technically, but they will still slaughter. This connection is observed in Imperial Japanese Army and Imperial German Army, where brutal behaviour towards troops inevitable translated into brutal behaviour of those same troops towards civilians. The only thing Unsullied will certainly not do is rape, simply because they are physically incapable of it.
Dothraki are very light cavalry which utilizes a combination of shock and missile tactics. They have absolutely no armour, and use weapons useless against plate armour and largely ineffective against mail. Lack of armour makes them useless for anything other than scouting and raiding. Westeros has many forests, steep hills and mountains, and is also very cold. Thus many Dothraki will be rendered ineffective by sickness and frostbite, while mud and snow will take away their advantage in mobility (much like happened during Mongol invasion of Hungary). Likewise, Dothraki too will be extremely brutal towards civilians.
Beyond that, armies are much more murky. But best case scenarios would likely be:
Daenerys: 83 000 troops (38 000 infantry, 5 000 heavy cavalry, 40 000 light cavalry)
- Dothraki: 40 000 riders
- Unsullied: 8 000 spearmen
- Ironborn: 18 000 troops of the Iron Fleet + 12 000 other (30 000 total)
- Sellswords: 5 000 heavy cavalry
As for Aegon, Reach may be taken over by Euron, providing no troops to either side. But fact is that Euron does not have conventional military power to truly take over Reach. At best, he would be able to tie up a portion of military power of Reach. Even just 20% of strength of Reach would provide 10 000 infantry and 5 000 cavalry. Remainder of Reach army would be more than enough to wipe out the Ironborn in any direct clash, though it is unlikely Euron will be fool enough to challenge them in such a way.
Thus Aegon’s army will be as follows:
Aegon: 80 000 troops (63 600 infantry, 11 000 heavy cavalry, 5 400 light cavalry, 24 elephants)
- Golden Company: 8 000 pikemen, 1 000 heavy cavalry, 1 000 archers, 24 elephants
- Dorne: 25 000 troops (perhaps 20 000 infantry + 5 000 light cavalry)
- Stormlands: 25 000 troops (20 000 infantry + 5 000 heavy cavalry)
- Crownlands: 5 000 troops (4 600 infantry + 400 light cavalry)
- Reach: 15 000 troops (10 000 infantry + 5 000 heavy cavalry)
In terms of dragons, Daenerys will have Drogon, Aegon Rhaegal and Euron Viserion, but I will ignore dragons for now. With dragons, Daenerys will likely defeat Aegon – Drogon is larger than Rhaegal – and thus be seen as a tyrant. But as noted, that scenario will not be discussed here. It should also be noted that above numbers are based on forces in their starting condition. Realistically, both sides will be significantly depleted by the time they come to blows. Daenerys also should not have anywhere close to 40 000 Dothraki – some 10 000 – 20 000 is much more likely. On the other hand, Daenerys will have unknown number of Volantene soldiers, who should be far superior to anything she has right now, while Aegon will likely have much more help from Reach than noted here.
Neither army is likely to be concentrated at the start. Aegon will likely only have Golden Company with himself at the beginning, while other forces are all across Westeros. Daenerys’ own army will be scattered during crossing – it happened to Golden Company, and Daenerys will be arriving in far larger fleet, with heterogenous force and likely deep in winter, which means frequent storms.
In order to conquer Westeros, ignoring dragons, Daenerys can use several possible approaches:
- Scenario A: decisive battle
- Scenario B: defeat in detail
- Scenario C: raiding / chevauchee
Likewise, Aegon can use several ways to oppose her and to attempt to neutralize Daenerys’ strategy:
- Scenario A1: decisive battle
- Scenario A2: battle avoidance
- Scenario B1: concentration of force and decisive battle
- Scenario B2: battle avoidance and reliance on fortified strongpoints
- Scenario C1: harrassment of raiding parties from castles
- Scenario C2: neutralization of raiding parties in the field
A1/B1 – Decisive Battle
Even for this scenario, there are two possible approaches:
- battle in the field
I will discuss both scenarios in order.
A1.1 Field Battle – core forces
In battle of Golden Company and Unsullied, latter are at disadvantage. Unsullied themselves appear to be a typical phalanx. This is to say, homgenous, immobile and utterly tactically inflexible. Spartan phalanx had a depth of either 8 or 6 men, all hoplites, and high ratio of officers to men, making it somewhat more flexible tactically. But a hoplite phalanx is a dumbfire missile: it is formed and let loose to walk over everything in front of it – and only in front of it. Spartans and other Greeks (but especially Spartans) also made poor use of combined-arms, which Unsullied also appear to do. Unlike Spartans however, Unsullied may be capable of redeploying during battle.
While Golden Company also utilizes a phalanx, it has massive advantage in three things: 1) it consists of pikemen as opposed to spearmen, 2) it has organic missile support and 3) it has organic cavalry support. Golden Company’s pikemen will provide it advantage in reach against Unsullied spears, and their superior armour and physical endurance will provide better staying power. Organic missile support means that Unsullied may well be disordered by the time they come to blows with pikemen, and Golden Company’s organic cavalry support means that they are much more likely to outflank the Unsullied than the reverse, even if latter also have cavalry support. By comparison, Unsullied are a one-trick pony. Being a hoplite phalanx with no organic support, they are easily outflanked. Their smaller shields and lighter armour also make them more vulnerable to missile assault and melee combat alike, and lack of physical strength and endurance as well as lack of reach due to short spears place them at disadvantage in push of pike. The only way this can end is in their annihilation.
A1.2 Field Battle – all forces
This battle Daenerys, at least at first look, has good chance of winning due to massive advantage in cavalry. She has 45 000 cavalry to merely 16 400 Aegon’s cavalry. Thus, she should be able to destroy Aegon’s flanks and then wipe out the center bereft of cavalry support.
But it is not all that simple, however. Daenerys’ cavalry is predominantly light cavalry, which can be easily neutralized by foot archers and is at significant disadvantage against heavy cavalry. In fact, Daenerys’ three-to-one advantage – or four-to-one once equalized for heavy cavalry forces – may not be enough. Western knights often managed to counter superior numbers of sipahus due to longer lances and heavier armour. At Varna, 15 000 sipahis defeated 5 000 knights, but 8 000 knights defeated 15 000 sipahis – both in a direct clash. Dothraki are much worse than sipahis in direct combat – they have no armour, which means that they can easily be broken by a shower of arrows. Worse, Dothraki fold like a house of cards when a khal dies – and due to the way Dothraki authority works, khal engaging in first line and thus dying is almost a certainty. Lastly, Dothraki by themselves are very bad shock cavalry. At Qohor, 25 000 screamers were defeated by 3 000 Unsullied. Daenerys does have 5 000 heavy cavalry, but once Dothraki are run off these would be at 2:1 disadvantage against Aegon’s heavy cavalry. And if 3 000 infantry can defeat 25 000 Dothraki, then 6 000 Aegon’s heavy cavalry should be able to defeat 40 000 Dothraki while other 5 000 hold off Daenerys’ cavalry.
Further, while there are likely only a few elephants in ranks of Golden Company, they may be able to scatter the Dothraki due to innate fear of elephants which horses have. Problem will lie in exploiting this advantage. With Reach forces, Aegon will have 11 000 heavy cavalry, which – if Dothraki are defeated or held off, either by elephants or by foot archers – will enable him to destroy Daenerys’ heavy cavalry and outflank her infantry. If they are not present, heavy cavalry forces are actually in balance, and Daenerys’ Dothraki may prove decisive.
Problem for Aegon also comes from the fact that most of his heavy cavalry may come from Reach – an area noted for its culture of chivalry. When facing Dothraki, this could be disastrous. Chivalry encouraged Western European knights to mount impetuous charges, which against light cavalry would peter out without ever actually catching them. This was experience against both Arabs in 11th and 12th centuries and Ottomans in 15th century. Counter for that was tactical restraint – for which both Byzantine and 15th century Hungarian armies were noted – as well as employment of large numbers of crossbowmen. On the other hand, usage of horse barding would make knights invulnerable to Dothraki missiles, significantly reducing pressure to try and quickly come to grips with horse archers. Frequent mentions of longbowmen also mean that Westeros as such as significant tradition of foot archery, which would enable them to easily counter Dothraki mounted archery tactics, rendering them largely ineffective.
Above assumes essentially open-field battle. But terrain in Westeros forces head-on engagement, and in many parts may actually be favourable for infantry. In fact, with the exception of Crownlands and the Reach, majority of terrain in Westeros is either rough or forrested. And if Daenerys is one going on the offensive, it is precisely in these areas of Westeros that any battles will be fought. This will place significant restraints on Dothraki ability to employ harrassment tactics, and may force precisely the type of head-on engagement which Dothraki should at all costs avoid. It also means that army with greater number of infantry and heavy cavalry would be at advantage. While Dothraki can dismount, they would ge slaughterd by Westerosi infantry.
When it comes to infantry, most of Aegons troops will be pikemen supported by archers as this does appear to be typical mix of troops. Daenerys has much more heterogenous setup, and also troops significantly inferior to Aegon’s. Her entire infantry in fact consists of Unsullied and Ironborn. Unsullied I have already discussed, but against 14th – 15th century armies Westeros fields, Ironborn are not much better. Both Unsullied and Ironborn fight in a shield wall, utilizing a shield and a one-handed spear, while having light armour – Ironborn do use mail and plate however. This shield wall tactic is however inflexible, and at significant disadvantage against Westerosi pike squares/phalanxes in terms of both shock action and reach.
Overall, depending on conditions, field battle might go either way.
A2/B2/C1/C2 – Battle Avoidance / Harrassment
This strategy would have been problematic long-term during summer, but in winter it actually may have significant payoffs for Aegon. Most of Daenerys’ troops will not be ready to deal with winter: Dothraki especially would see winter kill off many men and most of their mounts, rapidly transforming them into a light infantry force. Other Essosi troops will also suffer, most of them being from southern parts of Essos and likely having never heard of snow let alone experienced it.
In fact, in such a situation – or, in fact, any situation where field battle does not happen almost immediately after Daenerys’ landing – Dothraki become greater problem for Daenerys than for Aegon. Open plains of Hungary and Poland were insufficient for 40 000 Mongols, and only 19 000 returned home after invasion. And this was during summer and autumn, in terrain that was basically ideal for Mongols. Daenerys is invading in winter, and – as noted – most of Westeros is either rought terrain or a forrest. As a result, Daenerys will have to take fodder for Dothraki from the people – causing mass starvation and turning her into enemy of the people. This will seriously hamper her prospects for gaining allies through diplomacy, and may still not be enough to prevent Dothraki – or at least their horses – from dying en masse.
Daenerys’ army will be forced to split up in many smaller forces to seek fodder, which can then be easily destroyed piecemeal. Problem with this scenario is Aegon’s personality; he is likely to seek decisive battle, but doing so is impossible if Daenerys’ army is all split up searching for food. Logistics would thus lead to Daenerys’ army being defeated in detail.
Unsullied are another problem for Daenerys. Being castrated, their bodies do not produce much if any testosterone. As a result, not only are they weaker than normal, but also do not heal as well and are more vulnerable to infection. This means that, just like Dothraki, Unsullied will suffer major losses during prolonged campaign even if they see no combat at all.
If Aegon avoids battle while Daenerys seeks one, the end result is most likely a siege – specifically, of King’s Landing. Here, Daenerys will suffer due to lack of heavy infantry (Unsullied are light infantry by Westerosi standards), and her best hope for victory will be to goad Aegon into coming out for a dragon duel.