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The Crucial Development of Heavy Cavalry under Herakleios and His Usage of Steppe Nomad Tactics by Mark-Anthony Karantabias (2006)

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The Crucial Development of Heavy Cavalry under Herakleios and His Usage of Steppe Nomad Tactics by Mark-Anthony Karantabias (2006)
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  The last war between the Eastern Romans and the Sassanids was likely the most important of Late Antiquity, exhausting both sides economically and militarily, decimating the population, and lay-ing waste the land. In  Heraclius: Emperor of Byzantium , Walter Kaegi, concludes that the Romaioi 1 under Herakleios (575-641) defeated the Sassanian forces with techniques from the section “Dealingwith the Persians” 2 in the Strategikon , a hand book for field commanders authored by the emperor Maurice (reigned 582-602). Although no direct challenge has been made to this claim, Trombley andGreatrex, 3 while inclided to agree with Kaegi’s main thesis, find fault in Kaegi’s interpretation of thesource material.The development of the katafraktos stands out as a determining factor in the course of the battles during Herakleios’colossal counter-attack. Its reforms led to its superiority over its Persiancounterpart, the clibonarios . Adoptions of steppe nomad equipment crystallized the Romaioi unit . Stratos 4 and Bivar  5 make this point, but do not expand their argument in order to explain the victory of the emperor over the Sassanian Empire. The turning point in its improvement seems to have taken Hirundo: The McGill Journal of Classical Studies, Volume IV: 28-41 (c) 2005-2006 The Crucial Development of Heavy Cavalry under Herakleios and His Usage of Steppe Nomad Tactics Mark-Anthony Karantabias 1 The Eastern Romans called themselves by this name. It is the Hellenized version of Romans, the Byzantinelabel attributed to the surviving East Roman Empire is artificial and is a creation of modern historians. Thus, itis more appropriate to label them by the srcinal version or the Anglicized version of it. The employment of theterm 'Byzantine' will, however, not be omitted from this research. 2 Walter Kaegi, Heraclius: Emperor of Byzantium (New York, 2003) 308-309. 3 Geoffrey Greatrex, Review of Heraclius: Emperor of Byzantium by Walter Kaegi, The Medieval Review<http://www.hti.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=tmr;cc=tmr;sid=f42707dc862a3e9cc196b065f9a67f5d;q1=hera-clius;rgn=main;view=text;idno=baj9928.0401.028>, retrieved 27 November 2004. 4 Andreas N.Stratos,  Byzantium in the Seventh Century , Vol I (602-634), trans. Marc Ogilvie-Grant (Amsterdam,1968) 138. 5 A. Bivar, "Cavalry Equipment and Tactics on the Euphrates Frontier,"  Dumbarton Oaks Papers 26 (1972) 274-291.  HIRUNDO 29  place at the launch pad of the encounter, at Caesarea in Cappadocia. The emperor’s negotiations withthe Turks gave a significant contingent of the nomad’s cavalry, which may have been a contributingfactor to the katafraktoi . And while, it appears Herakleios used the Strategikon , it is doubtful heconsulted the section on the steppe nomads. The Emergence of the Katafraktos This is an early passage describing the katafraktos during Constantius II’s (337-360) parade into Rome in 357 and is but one of many descriptions of this particular heavy cavalry unit. Yetthere is one element missing from the description. Haldon 7 and Kaegi 8 argue that during the reign of Justinian I (527-565), the importance of this unit vastly increased. At this time, the core of the Impe-rial army changed from the infantry to cavalry, particularly of the kind described above. Because of this shift, diverse contributions were made to the imperial heavy cavalry over the years.Initially the Huns made the most significant contributions to the unit. The Hunnish contin-gent employed in Justinian’s re-conquests of the West was essential to the emperor’s success, Procopiusclaimed. 9 The missile tactics of the Hunnish horse archer seemed to have been adopted by the srci-nal heavy cavalry to form the more complete katafraktoV , a deadly combination of a unit able to beused as a shock troop with lances, for long distance strikes with the bow, or in hand-to-hand combatthe swords. Some of the earliest evidence for this type of unit can be found in the Parthian armies atthe Battle of Carrhae in 53 B.C. and in features of the Sassanian forces. 10 Haldon further elaboratesthese issues when he argues that the Hunnish mercenaries in Justinian’s wars initiated the training of  At intervals were mailed cavalrymen, the so-called Ironclads, wearing masks and equipped withcuirasses and belts of steel’they seemed more like statues polished by the hand of Praxuteles than liv-ing men. Their limbs were entirely covered by a garment of thin circular plates fitted to the curves of the body, and so cunningly articulated that it adapted itself to any movement the wearer needed tomake. 66 Ammianus Marcellinus, The Later Roman Empire (A.D. 354-378) (Toronto, 2004) 16.10. 7 John Haldon, The Byzantine Wars: Battles and Campaigns of the Byzantine Era (Charleston, SC, 2001) 27. 8 Walter Kaegi, “Contributions of Archery to the Turkish Conquest of Anatolia,”  Army, Society, and Religion in Byzantium , ed. Walter Kaegi (London, 1982) 99. 9 Procopius,  History of the Wars , trans. H.B. Dewing (Cambridge, 1914) 5.27. 10 Bivar, 274-276.  M. KarantabiasThe Crucial Development of Heavy Cavalry 30 the native imperial troops in the skill of horse archery, 11  but that the art had noticeably declined for ashort period following the age of Justinian. 12 Emperor Maurice gave a detailed description of theByzantine cavalry where the bow is also included. 13 Yet, extensive exposure to the Avars in warfareon the Danube frontier provoked another significant change in the heavy cavalry of the Romaios army.The effectiveness of the Avar cavalry led to its adoption by the Eastern Romans to acknowledge their mastery in the area and adopt their model. 14 Furthermore, the Avars are called Western Huns by Theo- phanes, 15 evidence of the continued Hunnish education of the Byzantine cavalryman.The most notable of the adoptions was the iron stirrup and was accomplished under Herak-leios. 16 The iron stirrup is a tremendous reformation of the cavalry, because it heightened the effec-tiveness of the charge and raised the quality of horse archery. Bivar argues that the Sassanian denialto adopt steppe nomad technology in horse archery was detrimental to their struggle with the Byzan-tine katafraktoV . 17 The Sassanian refusal to reform their clibonarius 18 can be seen at Taq-i Bustan,where, on a statue, Khusrau II is portrayed in his heavy armour, yet the stirrup is absent. 19 The statuethen leads us to assume that the clibonarius of the Sassanid army must not have stirrups, for the king’sarmor and equipment would have, and typically do, reflect his status through superior accessory.Through these facts, the heavy cavalry of the Romaioi seemed to have been in a better position thanthe Persian by adopting technology from the powerful tribes of Central Asia. Persian conservatism hin-dered any efforts to compete with the more advanced katafraktoV , and while the Romans seemed totrail behind in cavalry since the late Republic, it took the lead during the reign of Herakleios. This isone factor which may be considered in the final victory over the Persians. 11 Haldon, 27. 12 Haldon, 83. 13 Strategikon 1.2. 14 Bivar, 287. 15 Chronicle A.M. 6117. 16 Bivar, 286. 17 Bivar, 290-291. 18 The Persian equivalent of the katafraktoV . 19 Geoffrey Regan,  First Crusader: Byzantium's Holy Wars (New York, 2003) 90-91.  HIRUNDO 31 The other prominent feature that set apart the East Roman heavy cavalry from the Persian’swas the method used in the bowshot. Bivar’s detailed analysis of the cavalries on the Euphrates showsthat the Hunnish model adopted by the Byzantines paid dividends once again. The Huns used a ‘Mon-golian draw,’as it came to be known, which maximized the damage of the compound bow by using thethumb during the draw. Both the bow and the draw were adopted by the Romaioi. 20 The Persians useda different form of shooting which utilized the three lower fingers. 21 The preeminence of the Byzan-tine heavy cavalry can be determined from these two implementations. In the Strategikon , Mauricehighlights that there was a difference between the Persian and Roman draw, but specifies no further. 22 Moreover, Kaegi fails to mention the overall superiority the Romaioi  possessed over the Persians. Thiswas arguably a decisive factor in battle, for, as mentioned, the nucleus of the imperial army was, at that point, cavalry. The Persians did not only have to fear the Roman lancer, but the katafraktoV in itsentirety.Conclusively, in its equipment and bowshot technique, the Romaioi held the upper hand incavalry warfare over their neighbors, the Persians. The Strategikon mentions that the Persians werevery weary of the lancer charge of the Romaioi and had the habit of positioning themselves on roughterrain to avoid its shock power. 23 Furthermore, the effective use of the compound bow by the Romaioi is also significant since it could have a longer range through the superior power of its shot and the sup- port of the stirrup. However, one thing remained: the unit’s superiority required effective usage inorder for the reforms to be significant. Thus, the development of this elite cavalry unit is another fac-tor that needs to be considered. The Training at Caesarea Mazaka The emperor assembled all his forces near Caesarea in Cappadocia and Herakleios set out tothoroughly train the army, as Theophanes claimed: “he prepared the army for a warlike exercise andformed two armed contingents.” 24 Therefore, one can infer that Herakleios’army was drilled and phys- 20 Bivar, 284. 21 Bivar, 285. 22 Maurice, Strategikon 1.1. 23 Maurice, Strategikon 11.1. 24 Theophanes Confessor, Chronicle A.M. 6113.  M. KarantabiasThe Crucial Development of Heavy Cavalry 32 ically prepared for war. This was quite important since the army, as Theophanes tells us, was in a piti-ful state. The extensive training the army underwent enabled further recovery from the first stage of the war when the imperial armies were repeatedly defeated. Thorough exercising must have effective-ly rallied the Empire’s forces to resort from defensive to offensive warfare with Persia. Moreover, the Strategikon frequently exhorts the general to drill his army (Books I, III, VI and XII).Drilling troops enables the general to have a much more fit and disciplined force in battle. Infact, Dupy argues that this was the marquee of imperial success along with the katafraktoV on the battlefield in the broader Byzantine history. 25 This period of training seems to have lasted approxi-mately half a year or more according to Theophanes’text. The author claimed that Herakleios depart-ed on Easter (4thof April, 620) and began campaigning in the winter, no earlier than November. 26 Thisallowed the emperor to reestablish his army’s respectability by exclusively focusing on drills and exer-cise for seven months, which would have been sufficient time to restore an army to its regular strength.The previously mentioned configuration of two armed contingents is an important element to the preparation of his expeditionary force as it will be tied up with the katafraktoV .As previously stated, Herakleios divided his army in two parts for drilling. This may have been in order to run through the reformed cavalry exercises with one portion of the army pinned againstthe other. While it seems that during the few months that the emperor spent at Caesarea he might have perfected the recently reformed katafraktoV to battle the Sassanids, but there are no concrete sourcesto prove so. On the other hand, Bivar claims that the armies of Herakleios were the first in the EasternRoman military to adopt the stirrup 27 and Stratos seems to be of the same opinion. However, he doesnot mention any sources for his speculations. Earlier in this research, it was stated that Kaegi ranthrough the training at Caesarea 28 with no particular emphasis. Thus, the former seems to not havecome to grips with these transformations of the katafraktoV .This was not the only possible contribution to this élite unit of the Roman army. During Her-akleios’operation in Persian lands, he operated himself with the Kok Turks, who later came to be 25 T.N. Dupy, The Evolution of Weapons and Warfare (Indianapolis, 1980) 52-61. 26 Chronicle A.M. 6113. 27 Bivar, 290. 28 Stratos, 138.
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