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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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Fighting Tactics and Strategy of the Middle Byzantine Armies against Slavs & Eurasian Steppe Peoples – PART I

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A  cataphract  cavalryman  of  the  Sassanian  army.  The  Byzantine  army  and  most  of  its  enemy  nomad  armies  included  this  type  of  extra-heavy  cavalrymen,  “ancestors”  of  the  Late  Medieval  European  Knights (artwork & copyright:  V. Vuksic).

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By  Periklis    Deligiannis

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Already  from  the  Early  Byzantine  Period  and  during  the  Middle  Period, the  Byzantines  faced  several  nomadic  peoples  of  the  Eurasian  steppes,  Altaic  and  some  Northern  Iranian. In  the  European  imperial  borders  they  faced  the  Black  Huns,  some  Late  Sarmatian  tribes  (Proto-Serbians  and  Proto-Croats  who  were  not  Slavic  yet,  Alanic  groups  etc.),  the  Avars,  some  Late  Hunnic  tribes  (Proto-Bulgarians,  Kutrigours,  Outigurs,  Saragurs, Onogurs  and  others),  the  Pecheneges  (“Patzinakes”  according  to  the  Byzantines),  the  Uzes (Uzoi),  the  Cumans  (“Kipchak”  in  their  own  Turkic/Turkish  language, and  “Polovtsy”  in  the  Eastern  Slavic  language)  and  others.  In  the  same  period,  the  Byzantines  faced  in  Asia  Minor  the  Seljuks  and  other  Turcoman (Turkmen/Oguz)  tribes.  On  the  other  hand,  the  Byzantine  army  consisted  partly  of  many  mercenaries,  mainly  horse-archers  from  almost  all  the  above  mentioned  peoples  with  the  addition  of  the  Magyars (proto-Hungarians),  the  Kavars (proto-Hungarians  also),  the  Khazars  and  the  Alans.

The  battle  tactics  of  the  nomadic  peoples  were  very  difficult  to  treat  by  the  Byzantine  or  any  other  imperial  army  that  attempted  to  confront  them.  The  Romans,  Byzantines,  Persians,  Chinese,  Indians,  Chorasmians  (Central  Asian  Iranians)  and  other  peoples  with  mainly  agricultural  economy,  suffered  devastating  defeats  by  these  demonic  horsemen  of  the  steppes.  The  superiority  of  the  nomad  fighting  tactics,  was  due  to  the  use  of  a  compination  of  very  fast  horsemen  (who  were  additionally  keen  archers)  and  heavily  armored  cavalry (sometimes  protected  by  full  body  armor  including  their  horses)  equipped  with  a  long  lance (“kontos”).  The  nomads,  while  generally  few  in  number,  were  excellent  archers  and  horsemen,  frugal  and  indomitable,  with  blazing  maneuvering  and  masters  of  surprise.  During  the  clashes  and  battles,  the  nomadic  horse-archers  “hammered”  the  enemy  soldiers  with  a  barrage  of  bowshots,  while  maintaining  a  safe  distance.  They  attacked  frontally  with  a  sword  (or  an  alpeen)  only  if  they  ascertained  that  the  opposing  army  had  been  disorganized  by  their  arrows.  The  nomads  were  masters  of  the  ancient  battle  tactic  of  the  steppe  peoples,  called  the  “feigned retreat”  which  they  usually  used  when  they  faced  a  superior  enemy.  When  applying  the  “feigned  retreat”, they  pretended  that  they  were  defeated  and  started  to  retreat  disorderly,  thus  dragging  the  enemy  army  in  a  rapid  march,  which  led  to  the  disruption  of  its  ranks.  So  the  disorganized  enemy  became  “easy  prey”  for  the  nomadic  horsemen  (horse-archers  and  cataphracts),  who  abruptly  interrupted  their  retreat  following  the  relevant  orders (sign)  of  their  commander,  they  made  “about-face”  with  their  horses  and  counterattacked, crashing  the  surprised  enemy.  The  nomad  feigned  retreat  could  last  for  some  minutes  or  continue  for  several  days.

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