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Parthian and Sasanian cavalry

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 4 months ago

Issue: Classification of Parthian and Sassanid Cavalry


The classification of Sassanid cavalry is problematic. The DBM-default is that they are armoured horse-archers.


1. Parthian rock-art

2. Khusraw's Review

3. Maurikios

4. Ammianus



1. Parthian rock-art


Incidentally ... I've come across another Parthian cataphract relief. Only seen a rough drawing, but it's supposed to be a "Prince of Elymais" called "Shapuhr" (i.e. Shabuhr, so presumably C3 AD?). Wears a tall spangenhelm, long mail hauberk and mail leggings, carries an upright lance (unclear if there's a bowcase or horse armour).


It's just that there are now at least two Parthian reliefs - that of "Shabuhr" at ?Hung-i Kamalwand (ca. 200 AD?), and Gotarzes at Bisutum (ca. 90 BC - 50 AD) - depicting important personalities as lancers on apparently unarmoured horses. One might be an anomaly, but two ... :)


-- Nigel Tallis, TNE Messages 2272 and 2303.


2. Khusraw's review


In the account of Kushraw's review in al-Tabari, Firdawsi and al-Dinawari (see Tabari V, SUNY series) then the required cavalry equipment is:


"horse mail, soldier's mailed coat, breastplate, leg armour plates, sword, lance, shield, mace, and, fastened at his waist, a girdle, battle-axe, or club, a bow case containing two bows with their strings, 30 arrows, and finally (Firdawsi also adds a lassoo) two plaited cords, which the rider let hang down his back from his helmet."


Khusraw didn't forget any equipment, he just didn't turn up at all at first, and, when specifically summoned, he was criticised for forgetting to tie the decorative cords - plumes - on his helmet! The point of the anecdote is that Khusraw did not object to being treated like any other cavalryman _in this instance_, as it was "a procedure that I desire for the furtherance of the welfare of subjects." As such it is typical of the presentation of him as the epitome of the just monarch in later Persian literature. If any soldier had actually appeared without equipment then one can assume he wouldn't get his cash-in-hand subsidy! Pity the "requisite weapons" of the infantry aren't specified, but then that wasn't important for the tale :)


There's actually no guarantee that all the weapons specified go back to any Sasanian source, and there's a distinct possibility that there is later contamination. Significantly, Bosworth cites Ibn Kallikan's _Wafayat al-a'yan_, where the review of Khusraw is directly compared by Ibn K. to the 'ard, or review of the Saffarid army under 'Amr bin al-Layth (879-900 AD), as reported by al-Sallami. Slice it how one may ...


Another little snippet to mull over comes from a somewhat less distant source, distant geographically in this case, the late C4th AD novel written by the Phoenician Heliodorus of Emesa. This has a fictional battle between Persians and Ethiopians, and, ignoring the furiously charging Persian cataphracts (coming from Emesa, Heliodorus might have known what he was talking about here) he imagines his Sasanian infantry:


"the men-at-arms in front and the archers who were lightly harnessed behind, that they might shoot the better being defended by them."


-- Nigel Tallis, TNE Message 2257.


3. Maurikios

-- Sassanid mounted (late 6th C) wore mail and had a bow and sword


4. Ammianus

-- Sassanid mounted (4th C) had leather horse-armour.

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