The Byzantine army evolved from that of the late Roman Empire. The language of the army was still Latin but it became. A cataphract was a form of armored heavy cavalry used in ancient warfare by a number of .. The Byzantine army maintained units of heavily armored cavalrymen up until its final years, mostly in the form of Western European Latinikon. The Byzantine cavalry were ideally suited to combat on the plains of Anatolia and northern Syria, which, from the seventh century.

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A cataphract was a form of armored heavy cavalry used in ancient warfare by a number of peoples in Europe, East AsiaMiddle East and North Africa. Historically, the cataphract was a very heavily armored horseman, with both the rider and mount steed draped from head to toe in scale armorwhile typically wielding a kontos or lance as their weapon. Cataphracts served as either the elite cavalry or assault force for most empires and nations that fielded them, primarily used for impetuous charges to break through infantry formations.

Chronicled by many historians from the earliest days of antiquity up until the High Middle Agesthey are believed to have influenced the later European knightsvia contact with the Byzantine Empire. Peoples and states deploying cataphracts at some point in their history include: In Europe, the fashion for heavily armored Roman cavalry seems to have been a response to the Eastern campaigns of the Parthians and Sassanids in the region referred to as Asia Minoras well as numerous defeats at the hands of Iranian cataphracts across the steppes of Eurasia, the most notable of which is the Battle of Carrhae.

Traditionally, Roman cavalry was neither heavily armored nor decisive in effect; the Roman equites corps were composed mainly of lightly armored horsemen bearing spears and swords to pursue stragglers and routed enemies.

The adoption of cataphract-like cavalry formations took hold among the late Roman army during the late 3rd and 4th centuries. The genesis of the term is undoubtedly Greek.

The term first appears substantively in Latinin the writings of Sisennus: There appears to be some confusion about the term in the late Roman periodas armored cavalry men of any sort that were traditionally referred to as Equites in the Republican period later became exclusively designated as “cataphracts”. Vegetiuswriting in the fourth century, described armor of any sort as “cataphracts” — which at the time of writing would have been either lorica segmentata or lorica hamata.

Ammianus MarcellinusRoman soldier and historian of the fourth century, mentions the: Clibanarii is a Latin word for “mail-clad riders”, itself a derivative of the Greek: However, it appears with more frequency in Latin sources than in Greek throughout antiquity. A twofold origin of the Greek term has been proposed: Roman chroniclers and historians ArrianAelian and Asclepiodotus use the term cataphract in their military treatises to describe any type of cavalry with either partial or full horse and rider armor.

There is, therefore, some doubt as to what exactly cataphracts were in late antiquity, and whether or not they were distinct from clibanarii. Some historians theorise that cataphracts and clibanarii were one and the same type of cavalry, designated differently simply as a result of their divided geographical locations and local linguistic preferences. Cataphract-like cavalry under the command of the Western Roman Empirewhere Latin was the official tongue, always bore the Latinized variant of the original Greek name, Cataphractarii.

The cataphract-like cavalry stationed in the Eastern Roman Empire had no exclusive term ascribed to them, with both the Latin variant and the Greek innovation Clibanarii being used in historical sources, largely because of the Byzantine ‘s heavy Greek influence especially after the 7th century, when Latin ceased to be the official language. Contemporary sources, however, sometimes imply that clibanarii were in fact a heavier type of cavalryman, or formed special-purpose units such as the late Equites Sagittarii Clibanarii, a Roman equivalent of horse archersfirst mentioned in the Notitia Dignitatum.

Therefore, either side can be argued, but given the fact that “cataphract” was used for more than a millennium by various cultures, it stands to reason that different types of fully armored cavalry in the armies of different nations were assigned this name by Greek and Roman scholars not familiar with the native terms for such cavalry. The reliance on cavalry as a means of warfare in general lies with the ancient inhabitants of the Central Asian steppes in early antiquitywho were one of the first peoples to domesticate the horse and pioneered the development of the chariot.

Byzantine battle tactics – Wikipedia

Two of these tribes are attested based upon cavslryman evidence: Although evidence is scant, they are believed to have raised and bred horses for specific purposes, as is evidenced by the large archaeological record of their use of the chariot and several treatises on the training of chariot horses. Cataphract cavalry needed immensely strong and endurant horses, and without selectively breeding horses for muscular strength and hardiness, they would have surely not been able to bear the immense loads of armor and a rider during the strain of battle.

The previously mentioned early Indo-Iranian kingdoms and statehoods were to a large degree the ancestors of byzanine north-eastern Iranian tribes and the Medianswho would found the first Iranian Empire in BCE. It was the Median Empire that left the first written proof of horse breeding around the 7th century BCE, being the first to propagate a specific horse breedknown as the Niseanwhich originated in the Zagros Mountains for use as heavy cavalry.

These warhorses, sometimes referred to as “Nisean chargers”, [9] were highly sought after by the Greeksand are believed to have influenced many modern horse breeds.

With the growing aggressiveness of cavalry in warfare, protection of the rider and the horse became paramount. This was especially true of peoples who treated cavalry as the basic arm of their military, such as the Ancient Persiansincluding the Medes and the successive Persian dynasties. To a larger extent, the same can be said of all the Ancient Iranian peoples: These early riding traditions, which were strongly tied to the ruling caste of nobility as only those of noble birth or caste could become cavalry warriorsnow spread throughout the Eurasian steppes and Iranian plateau from around BCE and onwards due to contact with the Median Empire ‘s vast expanse across Central Asia, which was the native homeland of the early, north-eastern Iranian ethnic groups such as the MassagetaeScythians, Sakasand Dahae.

The evolution of the heavily armored horseman was not isolated to one focal point during a specific era such as the Iranian plateaubut rather developed simultaneously in different parts of Central Asia especially among the peoples inhabiting the Silk Road as well as within Greater Iran. Assyria and the Khwarezm region were also significant to the development of cataphract-like cavalry during the 1st millennium BCE. Reliefs discovered in the ancient ruins of Nimrud the ancient Assyrian city founded by king Shalmaneser I during the 13th century BCE are the earliest known depictions of riders wearing plated-mail shirts composed of metal scales, presumably deployed to provide the Assyrians with a tactical advantage over the unprotected mounted archers of their nomadic enemies, primarily the AramaeansMushkiNorth Arabian tribes and the Babylonians.


The Tiglath-Pileser III — BCE period, under which the Neo-Assyrian Empire was formed and reached its military peak, is believed to have been the first context within which the Assyrian kingdom formed crude regiments of cataphract-like cavalry.

Even when armed only with pikesthese early horsemen were effective mounted cavalrymen, but when provided with bows under Sennacherib — BCEthey eventually became capable both of long-range and hand-to-hand combat, mirroring the development of dual-purpose cataphract archers by the Parthian Empire during the 1st century BCE.

Archaeological excavations also indicate that, by the 6th century BCE, similar experimentation had taken place among the Iranian peoples inhabiting the Khwarezm region and Aral Sea basin, such as the MassagetaeDahae and Saka.

While the offensive weapons of these prototype cataphracts were identical to those of the Assyrians, they differed in that not only the mount but also the head and flanks of the horse were protected by armor. Whether this development was influenced by the Assyrians, as Rubin postulates, [11] or perhaps the Achaemenid Empire, or whether they occurred spontaneously and entirely unrelated to the advances in heavily armored cavalry made in the Ancient Near East, cannot be discerned by the archaeological records left by these mounted nomads.

The further evolution of these early forms of heavy cavalry in Western Eurasia is not entirely clear. Heavily armored riders on large horses appear in 4th century BCE frescoes in the northern Black Sea region, notably at a time when the Scythians, who relied on light horse archers, were superseded by the Sarmatians. The Ionian Revoltan uprising against Persian rule in Asia Minor which preluded the First Persian invasion of Greeceis very likely the first Western encounter of cataphract cavalry, and to a degree heavy cavalry in general.

The Parthians, who wrested control over their native Persia from the last Seleucid Kingdom in the East in BCE, were also noted for their reliance upon cataphracts as well as horse archers in battle. The Romans came to know cataphracts during their frequent wars in the Hellenistic East. Cataphracts had varying levels of success against Roman military tactics more so at the Battle of Carrhae and less so at the battle of Lucullus with Tigranes the Great near Tigranocerta in 69 BCE.

At the time of Augustusthe Greek geographer Strabo considered cataphracts with horse armor to be typical of ArmenianCaucasian Albanianand Persian armies, but, according to Plutarchthey were still held in rather low esteem in the Hellenistic world due to their poor tactical abilities against disciplined infantry as well as against more mobile, light cavalry.

The Romans fought a prolonged and indecisive campaign in the East against the Parthians beginning in 53 CE, commencing with the defeat of Marcus Licinius Crassus close benefactor of Julius Caesar and his 35, legionaries at Carrhae.

This initially unexpected and humiliating defeat for Rome was followed by numerous campaigns over the next two centuries entailing many notable engagements such as: This tradition was later paralleled by the rise of feudalism in Christian Europe in the Early Middle Ages and the establishment of the knighthood particularly during the Crusadeswhile the Eastern Romans continued to byyzantine a very active corps of cataphracts long after their Western counterparts fell in CE.

But no sooner had the first light of day appeared, than the glittering coats of mail, girt with bands of steel, and the gleaming cuirasses, seen from afar, showed that the king’s forces were at hand.

Cataphracts were almost universally clad in some form of scale armor Greek: Scale armor was made from overlapping, rounded plates of bronze or iron varying in thickness from four to six millimeterswhich had two or four holes drilled into the sides, to be threaded with a bronze wire that was then sewn onto an undergarment byzanine leather or animal hideworn by the horse.

A full set of cataphract armor consisted of approximately 1, or so “scales” and could weigh an astonishing 40 kilograms or 88 pounds not inclusive of the rider’s body weight. Less commonly, plated mail or lamellar armor which is similar in appearance but divergent in design, as it has no backing was substituted for scale armor, while for the most part the rider wore chain mail. Specifically, the horse armor was usually sectional not joined together as a cohesive “suit”with large plates of scales tied together around the animal’s waist, byzantlne, shoulders, neck and head especially along the breastplate of the saddle independently to give a further byyzantine of movement for the horse and to allow the armor to be affixed to the horse reasonably tightly so that it should not loosen too much during movement.

Usually but not always, a close-fitting helmet that covered the head and neck was worn by the rider; the Persian variants extended this even further and encased the wearer’s entire head in metal, leaving only minute slits for the nose and eyes as openings.

Cavalrymzn Marcellinus, a noted Roman historian and general who served in the army of Constantius II in Gaul and Persia and fought against the Sassanid army under Julian the Apostatedescribed the sight of a contingent of massed Persian cataphracts in the 4th century:.

Of these some, who were armed with pikes, stood so motionless that you would think them held fast by clamps of bronze.

Byzantine Cavalryman C.900-1204

The primary weapon of practically all cataphract forces throughout history was the lance. Cataphract lances known in Greek as a Kontos “oar” or in Latin as a Contus appeared much like the Hellenistic armies ‘ sarissae used by the famed Greek phalanxes as an anti-cavalry weapon.

They were roughly four meters in length, with a capped point made of iron, bronze, or even animal bone and usually wielded with both hands. Most had a chain attached to the horse’s neck and at the end by a fastening attached to the horse’s hind leg, which supported the use of the lance by transferring the full momentum of a horse’s gallop to the thrust of the charge.

Though they lacked stirrups, the traditional Roman saddle had four horns with which to secure the rider; [26] enabling a soldier to stay seated upon the full impact. During the Sassanid era, the Persian military developed ever more secure saddles to “fasten” the rider to the horse’s body, much like the later knightly saddles of Medieval Europe.


These saddles had a cantle at the back of the saddle and two guard clamps that curved across the top of the rider’s thighs and fastened to the saddle, thereby enabling the rider to stay properly seated, especially during violent contact in battle. Although not as powerful as the impact of the couched lance of Medieval cavalrymen, the penetrating power of the cataphract’s lance was recognized as being fearful by Roman writers, described as being capable of transfixing two men at once, as well as inflicting deep and mortal wounds even on opposing cavalries’ mounts, and were definitely more potent than the regular one-handed spear used by most other cavalries of the period.

Accounts of later period Middle Eastern cavalrymen wielding them told of occasions when it was capable of bursting through two layers of chain mail. Cataphracts would often be byzzntine with an additional side-arm such as a sword or macefor use in the melee that often followed a charge. Some wore armor that was primarily frontal: In yet another variation, cataphracts in some field armies were not equipped with shields at all, particularly if they byzanntine heavy body armor, as having both hands occupied with a shield and lance left no room to effectively steer the horse.

Eastern and Persian cataphracts, particularly those of the Sassanid Empirecarried bows as well as blunt-force weapons, to soften up enemy formations before an eventual attack, reflecting upon the longstanding Persian tradition of horse archery and its use in battle by cavalrymaan Persian Empires. While they varied in design and appearance, cataphracts were universally the heavy assault force of most nations that deployed them, acting as “shock troops” to deliver the bulk of an offensive manoeuvre, while being supported by btzantine forms of infantry and archers both mounted and unmounted.

While their roles in military history often seem to overlap with lancers or generic heavy cavalry, they should not be considered analogous to these forms of cavalry, and instead represent the separate evolution of a very distinct class of heavy cavalry in the Near East that had certain connotations of prestige, nobility, and esprit de corps attached to them. In many armies, this reflected upon social stratification or a caste systemas only the wealthiest men of noble birth could afford the panoply of the cataphract, not to mention the costs of supporting several war horses and ample amounts of weaponry and armor.

Fire support was deemed particularly important for the proper deployment of cataphracts. The Parthian army that defeated the Romans at Carrhae in 53 BCE operated primarily as a combined arms team of cataphracts and horse archers against the Roman heavy infantry. The Parthian horse archers encircled the Roman formation and bombarded it with arrows from all sides, forcing the legionaries to form the Testudo or “tortoise” formation to shield themselves from the huge numbers of incoming arrows.

This made them fatally susceptible to a massed cataphract charge, since the testudo made the legionaries immobile and incapable of attacking or defending themselves in close combat against the long reach of the Parthian Cataphracts’ kontos, a type of lance.

The end result was a far smaller force of Parthian cataphracts and horse archers wiping out a Roman cohort four times their size numerically, due to a combination of fire and movementwhich pinned the enemy down, wore them out and left them vulnerable to a concluding deathblow. The cataphract charge was very effective due to the disciplined riders and the large numbers of horses deployed. As early as the 1st century BCE, especially during the expansionist campaigns of the Parthian and Sassanid dynasties, Eastern Iranian cataphracts employed by the ScythiansSarmatians, Parthians, and Sassanids presented a grievous problem for the traditionally less mobile, infantry-dependant Roman Empire.

Roman writers throughout imperial history made much of the terror of facing cataphracts, let alone receiving their charge. Parthian armies repeatedly clashed with the Roman legions in a series of wars, byzantinr the heavy usage of cataphracts. Although initially successful, the Romans soon developed ways to crush the charges of cavalryan horsemen, through use of terrain and maintained discipline.

Persian cataphracts were a contiguous division known as the Savaran Persian: This gradually fell out of favour, and a “universal” byzantinr was developed during the later 3rd century, able to fight as a mounted archer as well as a cataphract. This was perhaps in response to the harassing, nomadic combat style used by the Sassanids’ northern neighbours who frequently raided their borders, such as the HunsHephthalitesXiongnuScythians, and Kushansall of which favoured hit and run tactics and relied almost solely upon horse archers for combat.

However, as the Roman-Persian wars intensified to the West, sweeping military reforms were again re-established. During the 4th century, Shapur II of Persia attempted to reinstate the super-heavy cataphracts of previous Persian dynasties to counter the formation of the new, Roman Comitatensesthe dedicated, front-line legionaries who were the heavy infantry of the late Roman Empire.

The elite of the Persian cataphracts, known as the Pushtigban Body Guardswere sourced from the very byzantien of the Savaran divisions and were akin in their deployment and military role to their Roman counterparts, the Praetorian Guardused exclusively by Roman emperors.

Ammianus Marcellinus remarked in his memoirs that members of the Cavalruman were able to impale two Roman soldiers on their spears bgzantine once with a single furious charge.

Persian cataphract archery also seems to have been again revived in late antiquityperhaps as a response or even a stimulus to an emerging trend of the late Roman army towards mobility and versatility in their means of warfare.

In an ironic twist, the elite of byzantie East Roman army by the 6th century had become the cataphract, modelled after the very force that had fought them in the east for more than years earlier. During the Iberian and Lazic wars initiated in the Caucasus by Justinian Iit was noted by Procopius [ citation needed ] that Persian cataphract archers were adept at firing their arrows in very quick succession and saturating enemy positions but with little hitting power, resulting in mostly non-incapacitating limb wounds for the enemy.

The Roman cataphracts, on the other hand, released their shots with far more power, able to launch arrows with lethal kinetic energy behind them, albeit at a slower pace.

Some cataphracts fielded by the later Roman Empire were also equipped with heavy, lead-weight darts called Martiobarbuliakin to the plumbata used by late Roman infantry.