Continued from Part 2
Mongol cataphract, 13th century.
By Periklis Deligiannis
Περικλής Δεληγιάννης – Ιστορικές Αναδιφήσεις®
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).
By Periklis Deligiannis
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.
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 griva–pana–bara, 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.
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