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Cataphract - Cataphract

Type of heavy cavalry found in Eurasia and North Africa

A Cataphract was a form of armored heavy cavalryman used in ancient wars across Eurasia and North Africa.

The English word is derived from the Greek κατάφρακτος kataphraktos (Plural: κατάφρακτοι Kataphraktoi ) and literally means "armored" or "completely enclosed" (the prefix kata- / kata means "intense" or "complete"). Historically, the cataphract was a very heavily armored rider with both the rider and mount covered almost entirely in scale armor and usually carrying an account or lance as their main weapon.

Cataphracts served as the elite cavalry force for most of the empires and nations that raised them, and were primarily used for attacks to break through enemy heavy cavalry and infantry formations. It is believed that from the earliest days of antiquity to the high Middle Ages, many historians influenced the later European knights through contact with the Byzantine Empire.

The peoples and states that instituted cataphracts at some point in their history included: Scythians, Sarmatians, Alans, Parthians, Achaemenids, Sakas, Armenians, Seleucids, Pergamenes, Kingdom of Pontus, Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, Sassanids, Romans, Goths , Byzantines, Georgians, Chinese, Koreans, Jurchens and Mongols.

In Europe, the fashion for heavily armored Roman cavalry seems to have been a reaction to the Eastern campaigns of the Parthians and Sassanids in the region known as Asia Minor as well as to numerous defeats by Iranian cataphracts in the Eurasian steppes, especially in the Battle of Carrhae in Upper Mesopotamia ( 53 BC). Traditionally, the Roman cavalry was neither heavily armored nor decisive; The Roman equestrian corps consisted primarily of lightly armored horsemen, carrying spears and swords, and using light cavalry tactics to conduct skirmishes before and during battles and to pursue retreating enemies after a victory. The adoption of cataphract-like cavalry formations prevailed in the late Roman army in the late 3rd and 4th centuries. The emperor Gallienus Augustus (r. 253–268 AD) and his general and presumed usurper Aureolus (died 268) probably contributed a great deal to the establishment of Roman cataphract contingents in the late Roman army.


Sculpture of a Sasan cataphract in Taq-e Bostan, Iran. It is one of the oldest depictions of a cataphract.

The origin of the word is Greek. Κατάφρακτος ( kataphraktos , cataphraktos , cataphractos or katafraktos ) consists of the Greek root words κατά, a preposition, and φρακτός ("covered, protected"), which are interpreted according to the motto "completely armored" or "closed by all sides". The term first appears in Latin in the scriptures from Sisennus: " loricatos, quos cataphractos vocant "which means" the armor they call the cataphract ".

There seems to be some confusion about the term in the late Roman period, as armored cavalrymen of any kind traditionally considered in the Republican period Called equites were later referred to exclusively as "cataphracts". Vegetius, who wrote in the fourth century, described armor of any kind as "cataphracts" - either at the time of writing lorica segmentata or lorica hamata would be. Ammianus Marcellinus, Roman soldier and historian of the fourth century, mentions the " Kataphracti equites (quos clibanarios dictitant) "- the" cataphract cavalry, which they regularly call clibanarii "(which means that clibanarii is a foreign term that is not used in classical Latin).

Clibanarii is a Latin word for "rider dressed in mail", itself a derivative of the Greek κλιβανοφόροι ( klibanophoroi ), What " Storage oven supports "means, from the Greek word" kκλίβανος ", which means" storage furnace "or" metal furnace "; the word was also provisionally with the Persian word for a warrior, Grivpan , connected . However, it appears more often in Latin sources than in Greek in ancient times. A twofold origin of the Greek term has been suggested: either it was a humorous reference to the heavily armored cataphracts as men in armor who would heat up very quickly, much like in an oven; or that it continues from the old Persian word * griwbanar (or * grivpanvar ) derived from the Iranian roots composed of griva-pana-bara which translates as "neck protector".

Roman chroniclers and historians Arrian, Aelian and Asclepiodotus use the term "cataphract" in their military treatises to describe any type of cavalry with partial or full armor of horses and riders. The Byzantine historian Leo Diaconis calls them πανσιδήρους ἱππότας ( pansidearoos ippotas ), which translates as "completely iron knight" mean would.

There is therefore some doubt as to what exactly cataphracts were in late antiquity and whether they differed from Clibanarii differentiated or not. Some historians theorize that cataphracts and Clibanarii were one and the same type of cavalry, named differently simply because of their shared geographic location and local language preferences. Cataphract-like cavalry under the command of the Western Roman Empire, in which Latin was the official language, always carried the Latinized variant of the original Greek name Cataphractarii . The cataphract-like cavalry stationed in the Eastern Roman Empire had no exclusive term attributing them to both the Latin variant and the Greek innovation clibanarii Used in historical sources, mostly because of the Byzantines' heavy Greek influence (especially after the 7th century when Latin was no longer the official language). Contemporary sources interpret however, it sometimes suggests that Clibanarii were actually a heavier class of cavalrymen or formed special forces (like the late Equites Sagittarii Clibanarii , a Roman equivalent of horse archer, first found in the Notitia Dignitatum was mentioned ). Given that "cataphract" has been used by different cultures for more than a millennium, it appears that different types of fully armored cavalry in the armies of different nations received this name from Greek and Roman scholars using the native terms for such cavalry are not familiar.

However, it can provide some insight into the distinction between Kataphractus and Clibanarii are won, by the Greek of Kataphractus and its use or use such Words are studied. There is a similar Greek term used in the Gospel of Matthew in chapter 5 when Jesus describes the fate of the salt that has lost its taste. Jesus said of this salt that it should be "trampled underfoot" or trampled into the ground. The verb for this trample is "katapateō". It comes from two terms: "Kata" and "Pateō". Both words carry the idea of ​​traveling with them, especially traveling through or into something. Kata is defined as: ".... a preposition denoting movement or diffusion or direction from top to bottom ...." & "1. correct, a. bottom to bottom." & "through, against, after, towards, while" during pateō is defined as: "trample, crush with your feet." The prefix Kata so is a prefix that indicates movement and direction downwards. So when we get to the term Kataphractus applied, we see that the word speaks of something moving "down, through, or against". The term Phraktus means "fenced or protected" and seems logically to mean "armored". A correct reading of the pairing of these words, Kata and Phraktus however (in their literal definitions) would read "Down / Through / Against Protected". This word may have far less to do with a description of the Catapracht itself, unless we take the downward movement as an allusion to the phrase "armored / protected from head to toe". It is more likely that the term Kataphractus is an allusion to or description of the type of struggle that the Catapracht used, or was capable of, and that it was used by the Clibanarii made a difference . To be precise, the Catapracht was a unique type of cavalry capable of breaking through or crashing into (and driving through) protected enemy formations, as fatally as the Romans did at the Battle of Carrhae had experienced. The heavy armor of both the rider and the horse in conjunction with the account enabled the Catapracht to reliably storm in, against and through formations. This set it apart from the many other types of cavalry that were unable to break through and break formations, but instead acted as type-mounted infantry capable of quickly approaching enemy formations and removing them from the height of the horse to attack. Hence the distinction between the Kataphractus and the Clibanarii possibly little to do with their armor as they were both heavily armored cavalry and more to do with their tactics and skills: the Kataphractus are line breakers and the Clibanarii are slide lines.

Iranian origin

The extent of the Iranian Scythians and Parthians around 170 BC BC, to which the first proven use of real catapractic cavalry can be attributed in antiquity.

The trust in the cavalry as a means of warfare in general rests with the ancient inhabitants of the Central Asian steppes in early antiquity, who were one of the first peoples to domesticate the horse and pioneer the development of the chariot. Most of these nomadic tribes and migratory ranchers around 2000 BC were largely Bronze Age, Iranian populations who migrated from the steppes of Central Asia to the Iranian plateau and longer Iran from around 1000 BC to 800 BC. Archaeological evidence supports two of these tribes: the Mitanni and the Kassites. Although there is little evidence, it is believed that they raised and bred horses for specific purposes, as evidenced by the extensive archaeological records of the use of the chariot and several treatises on the training of chariot horses. The only basic requirement for the development of the cataphract cavalry in the ancient Middle East was, in addition to advanced metalworking techniques and the necessary pasture areas for the rearing of horses, the development of selective breeding and animal husbandry. The cataphract cavalry needed immensely strong and enduring horses, and without selective breeding horses for muscle strength and hardiness they would certainly not have been able to endure the immense loads of armor and riders during the stress of battle. It is commonly believed that the Middle East was the midpoint where this first happened.

The aforementioned early Indo-Iranian kingdoms and statehoods were in large part the ancestors of the northeastern Iranian tribes and the Medians who lived in 625 BC. Founded the first Iranian empire. It was the Median Empire that began around the 7th century BC. He left the first written evidence of horse breeding and was the first to breed a specific breed of horse known as the Nisean, which originated in the Zagros Mountains, to be used as heavy cavalry. The Niseans were known as the Adelsberg in ancient times and especially in ancient Persia. These war horses, sometimes referred to as "Nisean Chargers", were in great demand among the Greeks and are believed to have influenced many modern horse breeds. With the increasing aggressiveness of the cavalry in warfare, the protection of the rider and horse became of paramount importance. This was especially true of peoples who viewed the cavalry as the basic arm of their military, such as the ancient Persians, including the Medes and the successive Persian dynasties. On a larger scale, the same thing can be said of all ancient Iranian peoples: after the bow, horses were considered their preferred and dominated medium of warfare in these societies, as they were closely related throughout history to the domestication and development of the horse.

These early riding traditions, which were strongly associated with the ruling caste of the nobility (since only those of aristocratic birth or caste could become cavalry warriors), now spread from around 600 BC. In the Eurasian steppe and on the Iranian plateau due to contact with the The vast expanse of the Median Empire in Central Asia, home of the early northeastern Iranian ethnic groups such as Massagetae, Scythians, Sakas and Dahae. The successive Persian empires that were given to the Medes after their fall in 550 BC. They took up long-standing military tactics and horse-breeding traditions and built their centuries of experience and veterinarianism from conflicts against the Greek city-states, Babylonians, Assyrians, Scythians, and North Arabian tribes with the important role that the cavalry played not only in warfare, but also played in everyday life to form a military that depends almost exclusively on armored horses for combat.

Distribution in Central Asia and the Middle East

The development of the heavily armored rider was not limited to one focus at a certain time (like the Iranian plateau), but developed simultaneously in different parts of Central Asia (especially among the peoples living on the Silk Road) as well as within Greater Iran. Assyria and the Khwarezm region were also favored for the development of a cataphract-like cavalry in the 1st millennium BC. Chr. Of importance. Reliefs discovered in the ancient ruins of Nimrud (the ancient Assyrian city founded by King Shalmaneser I in the 13th century BC) are the earliest known depictions of horsemen wearing shirts made from clad post made from metal scales and are believed to be used to give the Assyrians a tactic advantage over the unprotected mounted archers of their nomadic enemies, especially the Aramaeans, Mushki, North Arab tribes, and the Babylonians. It is believed that the period of Tiglath-Pileser III (745-727 BC), when the neo-Assyrian empire was formed and reached its military climax, was the first context in which the Assyrian kingdom became more catapractical for rude regiments Cavalry formed. Even if armed only with pike, these early horsemen were effective mounted cavalrymen, but when bowed under Sennacherib (705-681 B.C.) they eventually became capable of both long-range and hand-to-hand combat, which the Development of mirrored dual-use cataphract archers by the Parthian Empire in the 1st century BC.

Archaeological excavations also indicate that in the 6th century BC Similar experiments among the Iranian peoples in the Khwarezm region and in the Aral Sea basin such as Massagetae, Dahae and Saka had taken place. While the assault weapons of these prototype cataphracts were identical to those of the Assyrians, they differed in that not only the rider, but also the head and flanks of the horse were protected by armor. Whether this development was influenced by the Assyrians, as Rubin postulated, or perhaps by the Achaemenid Empire, or whether it occurred spontaneously and completely independently of the advances in the heavily armored cavalry in the ancient Middle East, the archaeological records of these mounted nomads cannot discern .

The further development of these early forms of heavy cavalry in western Eurasia is not entirely clear. Heavily armored riders on large horses appear in frescoes from the 4th century BC. In the northern Black Sea region, especially at a time when the Scythians, who relied on light archers, were replaced by the Sarmatians. Until the 3rd century BC Light cavalry units were deployed in most of the eastern armies, but still "relatively few states in the east or west attempted to imitate the Assyrian and Chorasmic experiments with dispatched cavalry".

Hellenistic and Roman adoption

The Greeks first encountered cataphracts during the Greco-Persian Wars of the 5th century BC. With the Achaemenid Empire. The Ionian Revolt, an uprising against Persian rule in Asia Minor that prepared the first Persian invasion of Greece, is very likely the first western encounter of the cataphract cavalry and, to some extent, of the heavy cavalry in general. The cataphract was created by the Seleucid Empire, the Hellenistic successors of the kingdom of Alexander the Great, which was founded after his death in 323 BC. BC ruled over the conquered Persia and Asia Minor, largely taken over. The Parthians, who died in 147 BC After they had seized control of their homeland Persia from the last Seleucid kingdom in the east, they were also known for their trust in cataphracts and horse archers in battle.

The Romans learned about cataphracts during their frequent wars in the Hellenistic East. Cataphracts had different successes against Roman military tactics, more so in the Battle of Carrhae and less so in the Battle of Lucullus with Tigranes the Great near Tigranocerta in 69 BC. 38 BC The Roman general Publius Ventidius Bassus defeated the storming Parthian tank cavalry by making extensive use of slingers, whose long-range weapons proved to be very effective.

In the time of Augustus, the Greek geographer Strabo considered cataphracts with horse armor typical of Armenian, Caucasian Albanian, and Persian armies, but according to Plutarch, they were still rather underappreciated in the Hellenistic world because of their poor tactical skills against disciplined infantry, as well as against more agile, lighter ones Cavalry. However, the continued exposure to cataphracts on the eastern border as well as the growing military pressure of the Sarmatian lance-bearers on the Danube border led to a gradual integration of cataphracts into the Roman army. Although as early as the 2nd century BC BC Calvaries with armor were used in the Roman army (Polybios, VI, 25, 3), the first documented use and use of cataphracts takes place ( equites cataphractarii ) through the Roman Empire in the 2nd century during the reign of Emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD), who was the first regular unit of the Auxiliary cavalry called ala I founded Gallorum et Pannoniorum catafractata . A key architect in this process was evidently the Roman Emperor Gallienus, who created a highly mobile armed force in response to the multiple threats along the northern and eastern borders. As recently as AD 272, Aurelian's army, composed entirely of light cavalry, defeated Zenobia at the Battle of Immae, demonstrating the continued importance of mobility on the battlefield.

From 53 BC the Romans introduced A long and indecisive campaign in the east against the Parthians, beginning with the defeat of Marcus Licinius Crassus (close benefactor of Julius Caesar) and his 35,000 legionaries in Carrhae. This initially unexpected and humiliating defeat of Rome was followed by numerous campaigns over the next two centuries, which resulted in many notable skirmishes, including the Battle of the Cilician Gates, Mount Gindarus, Mark Party's Parthian Campaign and finally the climax of the bloody Battle of Nisibis in AD 217. This resulted in an easy Parthian victory, and Emperor Macrinus was forced to make peace with Parthia. As a result of this prolonged period of exposure to cataphracts, by the 4th century the Roman Empire had taken over a number of cavalry vexillations from mercenary cataphracts (see Notitia Dignitatum) such as the Sarmatian auxiliaries. The Romans deployed both indigenous and mercenary units of cataphracts throughout the empire, from Asia Minor to Great Britain, where in the 2nd century Emperor Marcus Aurelius posted a contingent of 5,500 Sarmatians (including cataphracts, infantry and non-combatants) (see end of Roman Reign in Great Britain).

This tradition was later accompanied by the rise of feudalism in Christian Europe in the early Middle Ages and the establishment of chivalry, especially during the Crusades, while the Eastern Romans maintained a very active corps of cataphracts long after their Western counterparts were overthrown in 476 AD.

Appearance and equipment

Three examples of the various types of braiding and threading of wire that have traditionally been used in the manufacture of cataphract-scale armor to form a stiffened, "armored cover" that can be used to protect the horse.

But as soon as daylight had appeared, the glittering postal coats clad with steel ribbons and the gleaming cuirasses showed, seen from afar, that the king's forces were at hand.

Cataphracts were almost everywhere with scale armor (Greek: φαλιδωτός Falidotos , equivalent to the Roman Lorica squamata) that was flexible enough to give the rider and horse a good amount of movement, but strong enough to withstand the immense impact of a thundering charge in infantry formations. Scale armor was made from overlapping, rounded plates of bronze or iron (four to six millimeters thick) that had two or four holes drilled in the sides to be threaded with bronze wire, which was then sewn onto an undergarment from Leather or animal skin worn by the horse. A full set of cataphract armor consisted of approximately 1,300 "scales" and could weigh an astonishing 40 kilograms (excluding the driver's body weight). More rarely, the scale armor was replaced by plated armor or lamellar armor (which are similar in appearance but different in design as they have no back), while the driver mostly wore chain mail. In particular, horse armor was usually sectional (not pieced together as a cohesive "suit"), with large scale plates tied independently around the animal's waist, flank, shoulders, neck, and head (especially along the chest plate of the saddle) Allow the horse an additional measure of movement and have the armor fastened reasonably tightly to the horse so that it does not loosen too much during movement. Usually, but not always, the driver wore a tight-fitting helmet that covered the head and neck. The Persian variants expanded this even further and covered the wearer's entire head with metal, leaving only tiny slits for the nose and eyes as openings. Ammianus Marcellinus, a well-known Roman historian and general who served in the army of Constantius II in Gaul and Persia and fought the Sassanid army under Julian the Apostate, described the sight of a contingent of massed Persian cataphracts in the 4th century:

... all the companies were clad in iron, and all parts of their bodies were covered with thick plates, placed so that the stiff joints matched those of their limbs; and the shapes of human faces were so cleverly attached to their heads that, since their whole bodies were covered with metal, arrows falling on them could only lodge where they could see a little through tiny openings opposite the pupil of the eye could or where. They could take a little breath through the tip of their nose. Of these, some armed with pike stood so motionless that one would think they were being held in place by bronze clamps.

The main weapon of virtually all Kataphract forces throughout history has been the lance. Cataphract lances (in Greek as Accounts ("Rudder") or in Latin as Known to Contus ) resembled the Sarissen of the Hellenistic armies used by the famous Greek phalanxes as an anti-cavalry weapon. They were about four meters long, with a cap made of iron, bronze, or even animal bones, and were usually guided with both hands. Most had a chain on the horse's neck and an attachment on the horse's hind leg at the end that aided the use of the lance by transferring the full swing of a horse's gallop to the thrust of the load. Although there were no stirrups, the traditional Roman saddle had four horns that could be used to secure the rider. This allows a soldier to remain seated in the event of a full impact. During the Sassanid era, the Persian military developed increasingly secure saddles to "attach" the rider to the horse's body, similar to the later knightly saddles of medieval Europe. These saddles had a cantle on the back of the saddle and two protective clips that curved over the rider's thighs and were attached to the saddle, allowing the rider to sit properly, especially during heavy contact in combat.

The penetrating power of the lance of the cataphract has been classified as fearful by Roman writers. It has been described as capable of immobilizing two men at once, as well as inflicting deep and fatal wounds on enemy cavalry mounts itself, and was definitely more effective than the regular one-handed spear used by most other cavalry of the time. Reports of later Middle Eastern cavalrymen wearing them reported occasions when it was possible to break through two layers of chain mail. There are also reliefs in Iran in Firuzabad depicting Persian kings fighting in a manner not dissimilar to later depictions of tournaments and equestrian fights from the Middle Ages.

Equestrian relief in Firuzabad, Iran, shows cataphracts dueling with lances

Cataphracts were often equipped with an additional side arm such as a sword or a club in order to be used in close combat, which often followed a charge. Some wore armor that was primarily frontal: protection for a load and against missiles, but relief from the weight and strain of a full suit. In another variation, cataphracts in some field armies were not equipped with shields at all, especially if they had heavy body armor, as both hands were covered with a shield and a lance and there was no room to control the horse effectively. Eastern and Persian cataphracts, particularly those of the Sassanid Empire, carried bows and weapons with blunt force to soften enemy formations from possible attack, reflecting the long-standing Persian tradition of horse archery and its use in combat by successive Persian empires.

Tactics and use

The parade armor in the cataphract style of a royal Saka (Scythian) from the Issyk Kurgan, known as the "Golden Man". The overlapping golden scales are typical of cataphract armor.

Generally speaking, although they differed in design and appearance, cataphracts were the heavy attack force of most of the nations who deployed them. They acted as "shock troops" to deliver the bulk of an offensive maneuver while supported by various forms of infantry and archers (both mounted and unmounted). While their roles in military history often seem to overlap with lancers or generic heavy cavalry, they should not be viewed as analogous to these forms of cavalry, but instead represent the separate development of a very different class of heavy cavalry in the Middle East that had particular Connotations of prestige, nobility and Esprit de Corps, associated with them. In many armies this was reflected in a social stratification or caste system, as only the richest men of aristocratic origin could afford the range of the cataphract, not to mention the cost of supporting multiple warhorses and ample weapons and armor.

The support of the fire was seen as particularly important for the proper use of cataphracts. The Parthian Army, which formed in 53 BC. Defeated the Romans in Carrhae, operated mainly as a combined weapons team of cataphracts and archers against the heavy Roman infantry. The Parthian horse archers circled the Roman formation and bombarded it from all sides with arrows, forcing the legionaries to form the Testudo or "turtle" formation to protect themselves from the large number of incoming arrows. This made them fatally susceptible to a massive cataphract charge, as the Testudo made the legionaries immobile and unable to attack or defend themselves in close combat against the long range of the accounts of the Parthian cataphracts, a kind of lance. The end result was a far smaller force of Parthian cataphracts and archers, wiping out a Roman army four times its size due to a combination of fire and movement that held the enemy in place, worn out and vulnerable to a fatal blow.

Two heavily armored nobles duel on horseback with accounts; Sasanian era silver plate with gold coating, Azerbaijani Museum, Tabriz, Iran

The cataphract fee was very effective due to the disciplined riders and the large number of horses used. As early as the 1st century BC, particularly during the expansive campaigns of the Parthian and Sassanid dynasty, Eastern Iranian employed cataphracts from the Scythians, Sarmatians, Parthians and Sassanids presented a painful problem for the traditionally less mobile, infantry-dependent Roman Empire . Roman writers throughout Imperial history did a large part of the terror confronting cataphracts, let alone receiving their charges. Parthian armies repeatedly clashed with the Roman legions in a series of wars, with the frequent use of cataphracts. Although initially successful, the Romans soon devised ways of breaking the charge of heavy riders by using the terrain and maintaining discipline.

Persian cataphracts were a contiguous division known as the Savaran (Persian: سواران , literally "horseman") and remained a formidable force from the 3rd to 7th centuries until the collapse of the Sassanid Empire. Initially, the Sassanid dynasty continued the Parthian cavalry traditions and deployed units of super-heavy cavalry. This gradually fell out of favor, and in the later 3rd century a "universal" cavalryman was developed who could fight both as a mounted archer and as a cataphract. This was perhaps a reaction to the pestering, nomadic fighting style of the northern neighbors of the Sassanids, who frequently raided their borders, such as the Huns, Hephthalites, Xiongnu, Scythians, and Cushans, all of whom preferred and relied almost exclusively on the tactics of hitting and running on horse archers for combat. As the Roman-Persian wars intensified in the west, comprehensive military reforms were restored. During the 4th century, Shapur II of Persia attempted to restore the super-heavy cataphracts of earlier Persian dynasties to counter the formation of the new Roman Comitatenses, the dedicated frontline legionaries who were the heavy infantry of the late Roman Empire. The elite of the Persian cataphracts, known as the Pushigban bodyguards, came from the best divisions of the Savarans and was related in their deployment and their military role to their Roman counterparts, the Praetorian Guard, which was used exclusively by Roman emperors. Ammianus Marcellinus noted in his memoir that members of the Pushtigban could impale two Roman soldiers on their spears at the same time with a single furious charge. Persian cataphract archery appears to have been revived in late antiquity as well, perhaps in response (or even as an incentive) to an emerging trend by the late Roman army towards mobility and versatility in their weapons of war.

In an ironic twist, the elite of the Eastern Roman army had become a cataphract in the 6th century, modeled on the power they had opposed in the East more than 500 years ago. During the Iberian and Lazic Wars instigated by Justinian I in the Caucasus, Procopius found that Persian cataphract archers could fire their arrows very quickly and saturate enemy positions, but with low striking power, resulting in mostly incapable limbs wounds for the enemy. The Roman cataphracts, on the other hand, fired their shots with far greater force and could shoot arrows with deadly kinetic energy behind them, albeit more slowly.

Later history and use in the early Middle Ages

Some cataphracts of the later Roman Empire were also with severe, lead weight Arrows named Martiobarbuli equipped , similar to the plumbata of the late Roman infantry. These should be thrown at enemy lines during or just before an attack in order to disrupt the defensive formation just before the lances hit. With or without an arrow, a cataphract charge is usually supported by some sort of missile force (mounted or unmounted) placed on both flanks of the enemy formation. Some armies formalized this tactic using different types of cataphracts, the conventional, very heavily armored, arcless lance carrier for the primary charge and a dual-purpose lance-arch cataphract for support units.

References to Eastern Roman cataphracts appeared to have disappeared by the late 6th century, as the Handbook of War, known as the Strategicon by Maurice , neither mentioned cataphracts nor their tactical use. This absence lasted for most of the thematic period until the cataphracts appeared in Emperor Leo VI's Sylloge Taktikon , likely reflecting a revival that accompanied the transformation of the Eastern Roman army from a largely defensive force to a largely offensive force. The cataphracts used by the Eastern Roman Empire (most noticeably after the 7th century, when late Latin was no longer the official language of the empire) were, in contrast to the Romanized term, exclusively as Called Kataphraktoi Cataphractarii that were later no longer used.

These later Roman cataphracts were a formidable force in their prime. The army of Emperor Nikephorus II Phocas restored Kataphraktoi in the tenth century and included a complex and sophisticated composition of an offensive wedge formation with a blunt nose. This unit, which consisted of about five hundred cavalrymen, was clearly designed for a single crucial charge, since the center of the unit consisted of mounted archers. These would fire volleys of arrows into the enemy if the unit advanced at a trot, with the first four rows of kataphraktoi armed with maces penetrating the enemy formation due to the resulting disturbance (contrary to popular depictions, the Byzantine kataphraktoi did not storm, they advanced in a constant trot at a medium pace and designed to roll over an enemy already softened by the archers). It is important to note that this formation is the only method prescribed to kataphraktoi in the Praecepta Militaria of Emperor Nikephoros and which was conceived as a decisive hammer blow that would break the enemy. Due to the rigidity of the formation, it was not possible to reshape and execute a second charge if the first blow did not crush the enemy (due to the formation used, fake flight or repeated attacks were not possible). For this reason, Byzantine military manuals (Praecepta Militaria and Tactika) advise, whenever possible, the use of a second Kataphraktoi wedge to hurl the enemy at if they defy the initial indictment.

However, contemporary accounts suggest that Byzantine cataphracts were not as fully armored as the earlier Roman and Sassanid incarnations. The horse armor was noticeably lighter than previous examples and was made of leather scales or quilted cloth rather than metal. Byzantine cataphracts of the 10th century were made by the Thematic system drawn from the ranks of the middle class landowners and provided the Byzantine Empire with a motivated and professional force capable of supporting its own war expenditures. The term mentioned earlier Clibanarii (possibly one from the cataphract different Cavalry class) came to the fore in the 10th and 11th centuries of the Byzantine Empire, known in Byzantine Greek as Known as Klibanophoros was and was a relapse for the super. heavy cavalry of earlier antiquity. These cataphracts specialize in creating a wedge formation and penetrating enemy formations to create gaps that allow lighter troops to break through. Alternatively, they were used to attack the head of the enemy force, typically a foreign emperor.

As with the original Kataphracts, the Leonian / Nikephorian units appeared to have fallen out of favor and used with their handlers. They last appeared in battle in 970, and the last record of their existence published in 1001 was referred to as garrison service. If they had indeed disappeared, it would be possible that they were revived during the Comnenian Restoration, a period of thorough financial, territorial, and military reforms that changed the Byzantine army of earlier times, separately referred to as the Comnenian Army after the 12th century. Emperor Alexios I Komnenos (1081–1118) founded a new force from the ground up, directly responsible for transforming the aging Byzantine Empire from one of the weakest periods of its existence into a great economic and military power similar to its existence during of the golden age of Justinian I. Even in this case, the cataphract appears to have eventually been superseded by other types of heavy cavalry.

It is difficult to tell when exactly the cataphract saw its last day. After all, cataphracts and knights played a roughly similar role on the medieval battlefield, and the armored knight survived into early modern Europe. The Byzantine army maintained units of heavily armored cavalrymen, mostly in the form of Western Europeans, until their final years Latinikon Mercenaries, while neighboring Bulgarians, Serbs, Avars, Alans, Lithuanians, Khazars, and other Eastern European and Eurasian peoples emulated Byzantine military equipment. In the Middle Ages, the Draco banner and tamga of the Sarmatian cataphracts of the royal Sarmatian tribe were used by the Ostoja clan and became the Ostoja coat of arms.

As Western European metalwork became more sophisticated, the traditional image of the cataphract's impressive power and presence quickly faded. From the 15th century on, chain mail, lamellar armor and scale armor seemed to fall out of favor with the eastern noble cavalrymen, as artful and robust plate cuirasses came from the west. This, combined with the advent of early firearms, cannons, and gunpowder, made the relatively thin and flexible armor of cataphracts obsolete. Despite these advances, the Byzantine army, which was often unable to defend itself en masse affording newer equipment, ill-equipped and forced to rely on their increasingly archaic military technology. The cataphract finally went down in history with the fall of Constantinople on May 29, 1453, when the last nation to call its cavalrymen cataphracts fell (see Fall of the Byzantine Empire).

Cataphracts in East Asia

A Chinese ceramic figure of a cataphract horse and rider from the Northern Qi period (550-577 AD)

Horses covered with scale armor are mentioned in the ancient Chinese book of poems, the Shi Jing from the 7th to 10th century BC BC - however, this armor did not cover the entire horse. According to surviving records, the Western Han dynasty held 5,330 horse armor in the Donghai armory. Comprehensive full-body armor for horses made from organic materials such as rawhide could have been in existence as early as the Qin Dynasty following archaeological discoveries of stone lamellar armor for horses. Extensive armor for horses made of metal may have been used in China as early as the Three Kingdoms period, but its use has not been widespread as most cavalry formations require maneuverability. However, it was not until the beginning of the 4th century that cataphracts became widespread among the Xianbei tribes of Inner Mongolia and Liaoning, which resulted in Chinese armies taking over en masse during the Jin Dynasty (265-420) and cataphracts era of the northern and southern dynasties. Numerous grave seals, military figures, wall paintings and official reliefs from this period testify to the great importance of armored cavalry in warfare. The later Sui Empire continued the use of cataphracts. During the Tang Empire, it was illegal for private individuals to own horse armor. The manufacture of horse armor was controlled by the government. However, the use of cataphracts has been mentioned in many records and in the literature. Cataphracts were also used in warfare from the Anlushan Rebellion to the fall of the Tang Dynasty. During the era of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms, cataphracts were important entities in this civil war. During the same period, cataphracts were also popular with nomadic empires such as the Liao, Western Xia and Jin dynasties - the heavy cataphracts of the Xia and Jin were particularly effective and were known as "Iron Sparrowhawks" or "Iron Pagodas". The Song Empire also developed cataphract units to counter those of the Liao, Xia, and Jin, but the lack of suitable grazing land and horse pastures in the Song territory made it very difficult to effectively breed and maintain the Song cavalry. This contributed to the song's vulnerability to continuous raids by the burgeoning Mongolian Empire over two decades, which it eventually defeated by Kublai Khan in 1279. The Yuan Dynasty, successor to the song, was a continuation of the Mongol Empire and seems to have almost forgotten the cataphract traditions of its predecessors. The last traces of cataphracts in East Asia seem to have faded with the fall of the Yuan in 1368, and later the heavy cavalry never reached the level of armor and protection of horses as these earlier cataphracts.

Other East Asian cultures were also known to use cataphracts during a period similar to that of the Chinese. Meanwhile, for much of its history, the Tibetan Empire used cataphracts as an elite assault force in its armies. The Gokturk Khaganate may also have had cataphracts, as the Orkhon inscriptions mentioned that Kul-Tegin exchanged armored horses in battle.

See also



  • Bivar, ADH (1972), "Cavalry Equipment and Tactics on the Euphrates Frontier", Dumbarton Oaks Papers , 26 : 271-291, doi: 10.2307 / 1291323, JSTOR 1291323
  • Campbell, Brian (1987), "Teach Yourself How To Be a General", Journal of Roman Studies , 77 : 13-29, doi: 10.2307 / 300572, JSTOR 300572