It is possible to understand something of the battle of Vouillé, as we know something of the weaponry and methods of each side in warfare. The Visigoths, coming from the plains of central Europe, fought on horseback. (A decisive factor in their defeat of the Roman army at Hadrianaple in 378.) They eventually developed cavalries led by a local lord and his entourage of “knights” – a precursor of the medieval lord and the feudal system.
The cavalries were supplemented by a ‘host’ of provincials levied from the population who fought on foot. There is evidence that the ‘host’ was expected to provide its own weaponry and was relatively untrained, certainly in comparison with the Roman legions of previous centuries. The host fought under local leaders and it is possible that Avitus was responsible for the levy from his estates although we have no evidence for this.
The Franks, who came from the forests of what is now Western Germany, fought on foot but, in contrast to the Visigoth host, they were all trained and experienced in war. They fought in massed columns with axes and barbed lances, which they used as missiles and followed with an immediate assault. They were said to run at the speed of their missiles giving little time for their opponents to recover from the missile storm. It is easy to imagine the ‘host’ of the Visigoths breaking from such an assault. The cavalry would be ineffective against such a column and the Visigoths could not effectively use the shock of a cavalry charge against a column presenting a wall of spears to the advancing horses.