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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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THE HEPHTHALITES (WHITE HUNS) AND THE GENESIS OF THE AVARS

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By  Periklis    Deligiannis1

an  Avar  horseman,  armed  with  a  composite  bow  and  a  nomad  cavalry  spear  (copyright:  V. Vuksic).

The  first  European  mention  of  the  Hephthalites  or  White  Huns  comes  from  the  Byzantine  chronicler  Procopius,  a  contemporary  of  Emperor  Justinian.  Procopius  recorded  related  comments  of  a  Byzantine  envoy  to  the  Sassanids,  who  traveled  to  eastern  Iran.  The  Chinese  chronicles  mention  the  Hephthalites  as  “Ye-ti-i-li-do”  or  simpler  as  “Ye-ta”.   It  seems  that  the  Hephthalites  were  originally  a  Hunnic  tribe,  which  was  mixed  deeply  with  the  Iranians  and  Tocharians  of  central  Asia, concluding  as  a  mixed  hunnic-iranian-tocharian  people.  This  explains  the  possibility  of  adopting  around  500  AD  the  Iranian  language  and  several  Iranian  personal  names.

The  powerful  Hephthalites  managed  to  establish  two  nomadic  “empires”  in  central  Asia,  eastern  Iran  and  India.  In  390,  their  relatives,  the  Khionite  Huns  (known  to  the  Romans  as  “Kidarites”)  paved  the  way  for  their  expansion,  when  they  defeated  the  Sassanid  Persians  and  settled  in  Bactria  and  Sogdiana  (roughly  modern  Uzbekistan  and  northern  Afghanistan).  In  420-427  AD,  the  Hephthalites  unleashed  from  their  Central  Asian  cradle,  murderous  raids  in  Persia  reaching  the  city  of  Ragai  (modern  Tehran),  until  they  were  defeated  overwhelmingly  by  the  Sassanids  (427).  But  they  came  back  and  in  454  managed  to  defeat  the  Sassanids,  intensifying  again  their  raids  in  Iran.  In  464,  new  Hephthalite  raids  forced  the  Sassanian  King  Phiruz  to  deal  with  them  in  a  series  of  wars.  The  wars  ended  in  475  with  a  peace  treaty,  which  provided  for  an  annual  payment  of  ransom  by  the  Sassanids  to  the  Hephthalites.  Meanwhile,  in  468  the  Sassanids  attacked   the  Khionite/Kidarite  Huns  slaying  them  en  masse.  The  Hephthalites  took  advantage  of  the  destruction  of  the  threatening  Khionites  and  expelled  their  remnants  from  Bactria-Sogdiana,  which  they  annexed  (473-475).  Continue reading

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