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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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MIDDLE BYZANTINE (EAST ROMAN) GENERIC TACTICS AND STRATEGY (Part II)

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Byzantine St-LucasByzantine fresco depicting Joshua (from the Hosios Loukas monastery, 12th century AD) bearing a lamellar ‘clibanion’  (‘klibanion’) cuirass, and armed with a “kontarion” (spear) and a “spathion” (sword). The figure is sometimes considered as a model of the appearance and equipment of the Byzantine “skoutatoi” heavy infantrymen.
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CONTINUED from PART I
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By Periklis Deligiannis
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In the order of battle in front of the front line, units of archers and some javeliners and slingers (and a few light horse-archers) were lined up. Those units were usually starting the imperial attack with their missiles against the enemy army in order to cause confusion on its ranks, in order for the attack of the armored cavalry of the first line to follow. The lightly armed Byzantines were usually engaged in skirmishes with their enemy counterparts before the main combat, but when threatened by heavy enemy units conducting a frontal assault on them, they were fleeing behind the line of their fellow horsemen.
Over the centuries, the native Byzantine archers and horse-archers were gradually replaced by Altaic and Alanic mercenary horse-archers (the so-called “Prokoursatores“, see below) who additionally used their favorite nomad tactics of “feigned retreat” at the start of the battle. According to those tactics, they were pretending to have been defeated in the initial skirmishes with the enemy forces so that they could lure them in their pursuit. The ultimate goal of this nomadic vanguard was to disband the ranks of the advancing enemies because of the speed of the ‘chase’, so that they would be unorganized enough when they would face the attack of the Byzantine frontline armored cavalry. In this case, the imperial horse-archers were galloping through the interstices of the front line to the safety of the rear, while the marching enemy who had considerably lost his compact order, confronted the “catapultic” attack of the Bucellarii, Kavallarii or Cataphract cavalry.

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MIDDLE BYZANTINE (EAST ROMAN) GENERIC TACTICS AND STRATEGY (Part I)

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Skylitzes
A battle between Byzantine and Arab cavalry, from the Madrid Skylitzes manuscript (late 13th century, but representative enough of the late phase of the Middle Period). A bloody fighting is taking place with decapitations and troopers trampled by the horses. Byzantines and Muslims alike wear mostly scale armor
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By Periklis Deligiannis
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The Middle Byzantine Age (7th-12th c. AD) was decisive for the history of the Byzantine Empire. The loss of the Middle Eastern provinces and Egypt by the invading Arabs marks its beginnings, but the “hard core” of the Empire managed to halt the forces of the invaders at the eastern border of Asia Minor, and additionally the forces of the numerous Avaro-Slavic and Proto-Bulgarian (and other Later Hunnic nomad) raiders at the Balkan borders. The experienced Byzantine Army being after all the descedant of the Roman Imperial Army, went on dealing effectively with the pressure by the same enemies and also by the Lombards (Longobards) and the Franks in Italy and some new nomadic peoples on the borders of the Balkan peninsula (Byzantine Sicily and Northwest Africa (modern Maghreb) were finally conquered by the Arabs). Its strengthening during the reign of the emperor Nikephoros Phokas (963-969) led to a strong imperial counterattack on all fronts ending in major territorial recoveries of the “Byzantine Epic Era” (this term has been used by the modern historical research, to denote the period around 963-1025 AD).

However, the fatigue of the army because of the war effort, and especially its neglect due to a series of weak emperors and the civil strife during the fifty years which followed the brilliant reign of Basil II (976-1025) to the Battle of Manzikert (AD 1071) and after that, led to its rapid weakening. Finally, new dangerous enemies, the Seljuq Turks in Asia Minor and the Normans in Italy and the Balkan Peninsula, gave decisive blows to the Empire. The renowned Byzantine army never managed to recover from the disaster of Manzikert, despite the best efforts of some emperors and some temporary military successes. The parallel decline of the Thematic administrative and military organization of the state which declined after the battle of Manzikert and was eventually abolished, had an additional negative role in the weakening of the army. The imperial defense was further weakened, leading to the capture of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204.

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