Numidian cavalry was a type of light cavalry developed by the Numidians. After they were used by Hannibal during the Second Punic War, they were described by the Roman historian Livy as ”by far the best horsemen in Africa.”
History III- I BC
The Numidian cavalry’s horses, ancestors of the Berber horse, were small compared to other horses of the era, and were well adapted for faster movement over long distances. Numidian horsemen rode without saddles or bridles, controlling their mounts with a simple rope around their horse’s neck. They had no form of bodily protection except for a round leather shield, and their main weapon were javelins in addition to a short sword.
Due to their expert horsemanship and agility, as well as their lack of armor or heavy weaponry, they were most suitable for harassing tactics, charging in loose formation and lobbing their javelins before wheeling off to escape the enemy’s counterattack. This harassing tactic, while rarely decisive, could be extremely frustrating to a less mobile enemy, as experienced by Julius Caesar’s soldiers during the latter’s invasion of Africa. At the same time they were generally unable to stand their ground against heavier types of cavalry. In one incident during the aforementioned African invasion thirty of Caesar’s Gallic horsemen drove off a much larger force of Moorish cavalry, while in another a squadron of Caesar’s heavy Iberian horsemen routed a large body of Labienus’s Numidians, while his Gallic and Germanic horsemen stood their ground.
The Numidians were extremely useful during small wars, and their presence certainly contributed greatly to the effectiveness of Hannibal’s reconnaissance and intelligence. Hannibal’s invasion of Rome during the Second Punic War is best known for his use of slow-moving war elephants, but he also employed Numidian cavalry where faster movement was needed, such as luring the Romans into a trap at the Battle of Trebia and for fighting on his right flank.
Numidian cavalry were widely known and not only fought in the Carthaginian army, but in other armies of the time as well – the Romans even employed Numidian cavalry against Hannibal’s own in the battle of Zama, where the ”Numidian Cavalry turned the scales”.
For centuries thereafter, the Roman army employed Numidian light cavalry in separate units (equites Numidarum or Maurorum).