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Cataphractarii! (3) – The cataphract cavalry in a period of 2,500 years

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Continued from Part 2

Mongol 3

Mongol cataphract, 13th century.

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By Periklis  Deligiannis

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Cataphractarii! (2) – The cataphract cavalry in a period of 2,500 years

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Continued from Part I

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sassanid cataphract

A superb restoration of a Sassanid  cataphract (credit: Total War: Rome II, Sega).

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By Periklis  Deligiannis

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Cataphractarii! (I) – The cataphract cavalry in a period of 2,500 years

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cataphract

The onslaught of a unit of Sassanid or Central Asia Iranian  cataphracts in a marvelous artwork by Mariusz Kozik (credit: Creative Assembly Sega/Mariusz Kozik).

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By Periklis  Deligiannis

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The following text is a small part of the Introduction of my study: Kataphraktarii and Clibanarii: Late Roman full-armoured cavalry. Along with it I give a gallery of cataphracts from most of the ethnic and cultural regions in which their use was spread over a period of two and a half millennia.
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The first cataphracts or clibanarii were rather an invention of the Iranian Saka tribes of the Central Asian steppes – being the ancestors of the Sarmatians, the Scythians, the Dahae and the Massagetae among many others – or the non-Iranian but Indo-European as well Tocharians of the same steppes that is the ancestors of the Wu Sun and the Yuezhi of the Chinese chronicles. The term  cataphract is a Greek word (κατάφρακτος) meaning the ‘fully armoured’ warrior and was adopted by the Romans (catafractarius) while the other almost synonymous Latin term clibanarius is actually the Latinized and originally Iranian term grivpanvar which is possibly analyzed as grivapanabara, meaning the bearer of neck-guard plates being a feature of the early cataphracts. I prefer to use the more correct verbal type kataphraktos which is closer to the original Greek word κατάφρακτος but in this abstract I will use the Latin-originated term cataphract in order not to confuse the reader.

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ARTHUR: KING OR COMMANDER?

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The title really should be ‘Arthur: King, Commander, both, or neither’, but it’s not quite as catchy.

Those not au fait with the Arthurian subject and the search for an historical 5th or 6th century figure will just assume Arthur was a king. The first you might have been aware of an alternative view would be the last King Arthur film, if you saw it.

The flip side of the coin is those who do study the subject and believe he wasn’t a king because the 9th century document, the Historia Brittonum (in all its various versions), doesn’t make it sound as if he was a monarch but only a “leader of battles”.  Some will also say that the early Welsh stories of Arthur never call him a king, but as we will see, they do far more than that.

For the sake of this discussion we will assume there was a late 5th century figure called Arthur who fought at the Siege of Badon.

The main problem, as I discussed in the Arthurian poetry blog, is knowing where the battle list in Historia Brittonum originated from. If it was from a poem, whether oral or written, it may not have been made explicit within it that Arthur was a king, whether he was or not. There are examples in later mediaeval Welsh poetry where the bard extolled the virtues of his king in verse but does not say he was a king, because he knows his audience is already aware of this fact. If we didn’t have the relevant genealogies we wouldn’t know they were kings either, and could come to the conclusion that they may just have been military leaders of some kind. The same could have happened to Arthur.

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