Clash of Empires – Dothraki vs Westeros
This is not the first time I will show that Ser Jorah Mormont is an Absolute Moron. Ironically, in this situation, Viserys shows himself as being far more intelligent – or at least, realistic, as he at least appears aware that Dothraki cannot conquer Westeros by themselves and is counting on Westerosi lords for help.
Case of Mongols
This can easily be seen by looking at Mongol invasions of Hungary. During the first invasion, it was Hungarian army which was more similar to Dothraki, while Mongolian army was actually more similar to Westerosi one, having much heavier cavalry. In fact, Mongol heavy cavalry was of cataphract model, with rider and horse fully armoured in lamellar armour – much better than mail used by Europeans. But at Battle of Mohi, Hungarians repulsed initial Mongol attempt at crossing the bridge, with what few heavy infantry and cavalry were present proving highly effective. At next attack, Mongols used stone throwers to force Hungarian troops from the bridge, while at the same time building another bridge downstream under Subutai’s detachment. Hungarian main army was unprepared, and so was not ready to sally forth until after Mongols had already crossed. In the ensuing battle, Mongols were hard-pressed and only saved from being routed through utilization of siege engines. Hungarians were in fact about to break Mongol lines when they were attacked in flank by Subutai’s detachment. Victory was costly, and Batu was close to ordering a retreat as he was not confident in victory if Hungarians came out to fight again, but was dissuaded from doing so by Subutai.
Before Battle of Mohi, Hungarians built a fortified wagon camp. While it was highly effective against traditional nomadic armies, Mongols had deployed advanced siege equipment, thus turning it into a death trap. Hungarians after their defeat were confined to within the camp, and under constant bombardment by Mongol siege engines. Between previous defeat, bombardment and an unsuccessful sally, army within the camp was demoralized, and attempted to flee, being slaughtered in the process. Mongols had suffered serious casualties themselves, but now had free reign of the country. Many cities were sacked on account of their weak fortifications – typically no more than a wooden pallisade, which was easily burnt down by Mongol forces. Mongols proved unable to take stone fortifications, their siege engines having no effect on them. These however were too few – around 80 in total – with significant density of stone fortifications being present only in southern Croatia. By the end, half the inhabited places were destroyed and quarter of population massacred. Bela fled to Croatia, whose stone fortifications were too strong and well-provisioned for Mongols to take. There, Mongols suffered defeats or setbacks at Klis, Trogir and Split, and failed to do any significant damage in general. In Hungary proper, stone castles proved invulnerable to Mongols: they could not be taken by storm, and had enough supplies that attackers risked starving long before the defenders did, and had typically cleaned out all supplies from surroundings. Mongols however were able to take wooden motte-and-bailey fortifications which formed majority of Hungarian castles, as these could be burnt down, and also had no capacity to hold significant amount of supplies. There were only five stone castles east of Danube. These found themselves deep behind Mongol lines, in essentially Mongol-controlled territory, but none of them fell.
Mongols started their withdrawal in 1242. While usual version of events credits the withdrawal to death of Great Khan Ogedei, this was only an excuse. Rashid Al-Din specifically states that Batu did not know of Ogedei’s death when he made decision to withdraw. By the time of withdrawal, despite victories in the field, Mongol invasion had bogged down into a series of sieges, where they faced stiff resistance. Mongols had also suffered significant losses, especially in southern Croatia with its mountainous terrain and numerous fortified places. Weather also played a role, as winter 1241/1242 was unusually wet, and turned Hungarian grasslands into a swamp, causing Mongols to become quite literally bogged down.
After the (far more famous) first invasion, Hungarians completely overhauled their military. The jobagiones castri – the only professional element of old tribal military organization – were merged with servientes and formed new class of knights. This class now provided heavy cavalry, whereas previously Hungarian defences rested almost solely on wooden castles and light cavalry. In 1247. arrangement was made with Knights of St. John, who were to help with construction of stone castles and provision of heavy cavalry in exchange to being granted land on southeastern borderlands. In 1248. middle strata was allowed to enter baron’s service on condition that baron was to lead them onto campaign properly equipped (that is, armoured). After 1250., free owners of small and middle-sized estates were included in nobility, as were new settlers, on condition of fighting armed and armoured at king’s request. He also hired crossbowmen. Lastly, he offered grants and rewards to cities and nobles for building stone fortifications. This paid off. While in 1241., kingdom possessed only 10 stone castles, Bela IV had overseen building of 100 new stone fortresses, of which 66 were castles sited at elevated sites.
Reforms were timely. Mongols demanded a marriage alliance and submission by Hungary in 1254., 1259. and 1264.; in all cases, Hungarians simply ignored their demands, as Mongols were known to be untrustworthy. In fact, in 1254. Mongols demanded submission of Hungary plus a quarter of its army for their drive into Western Europe. Cumans however rebelled in 1282. Ladislaus IV crushed the rebellion, but some rebels fled to the Mongols, informing them of apparently perilous situation in Hungary. Nogai thus started a major campaign against an apparently weak kingdom.
Mongols invaded Hungary with three armies in middle of winter, attempting to catch Hungarians by surprise and inflict a defeat in detail. However, Talabuga’s central army was devastated by snow in the Carpathians, losing thousands of soldiers between the mountains and Hungarian strategy of castle defence which combined scorched-earth tactics with reliance on fortified strongpoints. Hungarian army had also been reorganized, with territory of kingdom being divided into many baronies. As Mongols split up to raid and pillage, their war bands were defeated by local defence forces in many small engagements.
Mongols devastated central Hungary and entered abandoned Pest, but queen’s forces sallied from Buda. Mongols failed to capture any fortified strongholds, and in addition to military defeats, were suffering from famine and sickness. Finally Talabuga’s weakened army was defeated in the hills of western Transylvania by the royal army, which contained a significant number of knights. Between attrition of campaign, the battle, and harrassment during retreat by Szekely light cavalry, only minor remnants of Mongol army managed to escape Hungary. Nogai meanwhile was defeated by local Transylvanian forces in similar manner. Two years later, Poles used similar strategy to defeat Third Mongol invasion of Poland. After that, Mongols were never again a serious military threat to Hungary: in 1345., Hungarian army under Count Andrew Lackfi launched invasion into Mongol territory, defeated Golden Horde and captured/conquered/liberated today’s Moldavia.
Reason for Mongol success in first invasion of Europe and their lack of success in second invasion is the same: they relied on missile harrassment followed by heavy cavalry charge; battle was won in close quarters. This is exactly the strong point of Western European armies, which had sufficient missile troops (crossbowmen) to keep harrasers at bay, and had what was likely the best heavy cavalry in the world (Eastern-model heavy cavalry usually avoided head-on confrontations with Western heavy cavalry). In first invasion, Mongols had more and better heavy cavalry than their opponents, and thus they won. In second invasion, they had fewer and worse heavy cavalry, and thus they lost (though it was not the only reason). Likewise, Mongol artillery and siege tactics worked against earth pallisades of Eastern Europe, but proved useless against stone castles. Between starvation, numerous small raids, and two major military defeats, Mongol armies in second invasion were heavily depleted and forced to retreat.
It should also be also understood that Mongols as Mongols never conquered China. It was Chinese who conquered China for the Mongols: success of Mongols in China was based on masses of disciplined Chinese infantry and Chinese engineers. This was true wherever Mongols went and actually conquered anything; without Chinese infantry and more importantly Chinese engineers, Mongols would have remained an annoyance from the steppes. But in Europe, these troops were not available as distance was too great. Consequently, Mongols proved helpless against modern fortifications (including the few which they encountered in the first invasion), despite actually bringing Chinese artillery with them, which played major part in their victories in the field. What successes they did achieve in Europe were also highly dependant on local allies. Mongol army in first invasion of Poland was reinforced by Galician-Valynian contignent under Vasilka Romanovich.
When Mongols invaded Japan first time, they defeated the first Japanese force mustered to meet them. But they suffered heavy casualties nonetheless, and predicted that it was only the first of many forces mustered to meet them, while they themselves had not enough troops (whatever was left of original 25 000 force). They were thus in full retreat even before the storm hit and scattered the fleet. During second invasion, storm hit after Mongols had already landed most of their 100 000 strong army, but said army was scattered, incompetently led and facing constant ambushes, harrassment and stiff resistance by the Japanese.
At Battle of Ankara in 1402., several thousand Serbian and Wallachian knights were part of 80 000 strong Ottoman army, facing 140 000 mounted Mongol troops. Western knights successfully fought off Timurid attacks and cut through Mongol ranks three times, their plate armour making them immune to Mongol arrows.
Overall, horse archers were completely ineffective against any properly-led Western army. By 14th/15th century even foot archers were largely ineffective, as plate armour made soldiers invulnerable to arrows.