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Full Version: Introduction of Cataphratarii and Clibanarii
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The more I read about Roman heavy cavalry, even Roman cavalry in general, the more I get confused. My question is when were Cataphratarii (armoured horse-rider) and Clibanarii (both horse and rider armoured) introduced into the Roman army? And when horse-archers?

I consulted four sources so far (see below). My summary from what I take: Heavy cavalry, that is the use of riders with metal armour, originally developed in two different places, both times as a reaction of sedentary and urban cultures against nomad light cavalry:

1. In Assyria, armoured riders armed with pikes appear as early as the 8th century BC. and the following century saw the introduction of hybrid cavalrymen equipped with both pike and bow (Eadie 161).

2. In the 6th century BC, the Massageto-Chorasmian peoples developed a "prototype cataphract" who, unlike its Assyrian counterpart, not only wore a coat of mail, but also partially protected his stead with "metal plates" (Eadie 162).

The Assyrian and the Chorasmian heavy cavalry was apparently developed independently, and both traditions remained rather separate phenomena in the following centuries as the use of armoured riders spread westward.

The Roman army, as the hypothesis goes, draw from both sources.: Via the Sarmatians who had copied the Chorasmian model, the Romans adopted the lancer (contarius) perhaps under Vespasian, and the armoured lancer (cataphractarius) under Hadrian (Eadie 173). The horse-archer (sagittaria equitata), known for centuries by Roman enemies in the east, appeared as late as Vespasian's reign (Eadie 173).

The clibanarius, though, was probably added to the Roman cavalry force due to the Sassanid Persian example in the 4th century (Eadie 173).

Now, if the Roman only introduced mounted archers and lancers as late as 70 AD, what weapons did then the Republic cavalry use, beginning with the equites of the Etruscan age? Only swords? And what type of armour did, say, the Roman cavalry in the Second Punic War use? Polybios VI 25.3 already records armoured Roman cavalrymen.

As for the cataphractarii, why were they employed so late by the Romans? The common argument is here that the Romans had no incentive to do so, because in their first two major encounters, the legion actually performed very well against eastern cataphracts (Battle of Magnesia, 188 BC, and of Tigranokerta, 69 BC). But after Carrhae, it must have become increasingly obvious that cavalry in general, and cataphracts in particular, could prove valuable in the eastern plains. Still, the Romans began to employ cataphracts in numbers only as late as the third century AD (at least according to my 30-40 year old sources).

And for the Clibanarii, the first recorded use occurred as late as 312 AD in the battle of Constantine against Maxentius (Eadie 171). At that time, the Romans had faced armoured horses and riders for three and a half centuries, going by a depiction in Warry's Warfare ("Parthian cataphract around 50 BC", p. 154). That raises another question of mine, that of terminology. Why does Warry call the armoured member of Cyrus the Younger's bodyguard (p. 59) and the Seleucids' "armoured cavalryman" (p. 95) not cataphract, too, as both essentially were? In my view the former's body and horse amour doesn't look much less comprehensive than that of the much later "Sassanid noble, ca. AD 450" (p. 210) who is a clibanarii with partial horse armour.

So, in a nutshell, when were the three different cavalry types introduced into the Roman army, why did this take place so comparatively late and why is the term 'cataphract' not applied universally to all ancient armoured riders alike? Shouldn't we rather say that the Greeks (Seleucids) employed them as early as 200 BC?

Sources:

A.D.H. Bivar (1972): Cavalry Equipment and Tactics on the Euphrates Frontier, DOP

John Eadie (1967): The Development of Roman Mailed Cavalry

Berthold Rubin (1955): Die Entstehung der Kataphraktenreiterei im Lichte der chorezmischen Ausgrabungen

John Warry: Warfare in the Classical World
Salue,

I am also interested in Roman heavy-armoured cavalry these days. Here is my bibliography about contarii, catafractarii and clibanarii :

M. BIANCARDI, La cavalleria romana del principato nelle province occidentali dell’impero, 2004.
V. P. NIKONOROV, Cataphracti, Catafractarii and Clibanarii : Another Look at the old problem of their Identifications, dans Voennaia arkheologia, St. Petersburg, 1998, 131-138.
K. DIXON, P. SOUTHERN, The Late Roman Army, Yale, 1996.
J. SPAUL, Ala 2. The Auxiliary Cavalry Units in the pre-Diocletianic Imperial Roman Army, Andover, 1994.
M. MIELCZAREK, « Cataphracti and Clibanarii. Studies on the Heavy Armoured Cavalry of the Ancient Worldâ€
My question :

If the contus is a heavy two handed pike, why did the Roman catafractarii could also wear a shield ?

Perhaps the shield was hung, or strapped to their arm, similar to a phalangite?
it was strapped... small buckler strapped to their arm...
This is more of a question on a armored cavalry generally, but how fast would they be able to gallop?
Would it be significantly less than normal horse?
Most people reackon thye only managed a trot, but that would be soooo painful, on both! Sad
God knows why they only think a trot was possible - a quick look at the Dura evidence or the Sasanid rock carvings show them galloping.

BTW to add to the above IIRC one of the Historia Augustae lives has Romans using discarded Parthian/Persian equipment which may be a clue to when clibanarii were first used. Severus Alexander I think.
A canter at least would be smoother!
Quote:This is more of a question on a armored cavalry generally, but how fast would they be able to gallop?
Would it be significantly less than normal horse?
I'd expect that overheating and fatigue would be the biggest limits, although I'm sure lightert horse would be faster. Horses get overheated too running around with a metal blanket over them. Cataphracts might also be slowed down by the need to keep in formation and not let the faster horses outplace the slower.
Quote: The Roman army, as the hypothesis goes, draw from both sources: Via the Sarmatians who had copied the Chorasmian model, the Romans adopted the lancer (contarius) perhaps under Vespasian, and the armoured lancer (cataphractarius) under Hadrian (Eadie 173). The horse-archer (sagittaria equitata), known for centuries by Roman enemies in the east, appeared as late as Vespasian's reign (Eadie 173).

First of all, you may have to let go of concept such as ‘the Chorasmian model’ or ‘Cataphratarii (armoured horse-rider) and Clibanarii (both horse and rider armoured)’
About ‘models’, we just don’t know enough about the varieties of such armies as the Chorasmians, to be able to deduce that they employed only/mainly armoured cavalry of a such-and-such type.
Similarly, like in other discussions, we tend to get trapped by our own terminology where cataphracts/clianarii are concerned.

We've discussed this before...

So when we first hear of a new word, it might be even a Roman adaptation of Sarmatian or Parthian/Persian armour or tactics, not the wholesale adoption of a type of heavier armoured rider/horse.

As for the horse archers, such cavalry was mostly acquired from outside the empire. Roman cavalry will have been using lances mostly (always the most effective weapon), with the spatha being introduced later. Later, ‘specialist’ barbarian troop types such as horse archers would be introduced. But These may, as your referral to Polybius already indicates, indeed have been used much earlier than 70AD.

This is of course also the case with heavy cavalry. The first ones would have to have been hired from across the border, before the Romans would have been able to begin introducing this form of cavalry into the Roman army. The Romans were not a horse-based society and cavalry never was ‘their thing’. We see this as a main theme throughout Roman military history, barbarian cavalry is hired from beginning to end.

Quote: Why does Warry call the armoured member of Cyrus the Younger's bodyguard (p. 59) and the Seleucids' "armoured cavalryman" (p. 95) not cataphract, too, as both essentially were? In my view the former's body and horse amour doesn't look much less comprehensive than that of the much later "Sassanid noble, ca. AD 450" (p. 210) who is a clibanarii with partial horse armour.
Maybe Warry thought using the word outside a Roman context would cause confusion?
The word is indeed useable as a generic term for ‘armoured cavalry’. As for the Persian clibanarius, it’s impossible to say weather he was a clibanarius or a cataphract just by looking at his armour.

Quote: So, in a nutshell, when were the three different cavalry types introduced into the Roman army, why did this take place so comparatively late and why is the term 'cataphract' not applied universally to all ancient armoured riders alike? Shouldn't we rather say that the Greeks (Seleucids) employed them as early as 200 BC?
In a nutshell,
we don’t know for sure (we can only judge from our sources),
the Romans were not a cavalry-based society and
I can’t tell, that’s due to modern conventions, not ancient sources.
Quote:So, in a nutshell, when were the three different cavalry types introduced into the Roman army, why did this take place so comparatively late and why is the term 'cataphract' not applied universally to all ancient armoured riders alike?

I disagree partly with Vortigern Studies here. It is wrong to say that cavalry was something "un-roman". I tried to show in another thread that the Romans did always concentrate a lot of cavalry when they had the chance, more than their enemies and the auxiliary cavalry is a Roman thing, as it is part of the Roman army and equipped in (mostly) Romano-Celtic fashion.

To answer your question:

There was no real need for super heavy cavalry (at least during the 1st and 2nd century). The best and usualy way to counter heavy cavalry is light and medium cavalry (something the Romans had in big numbers, be it the Equites Mauri as an example for light or the "standard" auxiliary ala for medium to heavy). Most conflicts on the germanic boarders took place in Germania or against small raiding bands. In the first case they would have had to transport their super heavy cavalry through the (not so great forresty) terrain where it is questionably they can be used effectively (Ammianus describes their disadvantage: once they lose momentum they are stuck. So you need favourable ground to deploy them, imho, hard to find in the wilderness of Germany).

They can be usefull against medium infantry and enemy cavalry in combination with your own lighter cavalry and they became more and more during the times of civil wars and of the new and bigger germanic tribes which entered Roman lands.
Hi Micha,

Quote:I disagree partly with Vortigern Studies here. It is wrong to say that cavalry was something "un-roman". I tried to show in another thread that the Romans did always concentrate a lot of cavalry when they had the chance, more than their enemies and the auxiliary cavalry is a Roman thing, as it is part of the Roman army and equipped in (mostly) Romano-Celtic fashion.
We agree! My remark that cavalry would be 'un-Roman' did not refer to tactics - you are correct, Romans were very fond of cavalry.
However, they never had much high quality 'home-grown' cavalry, so most of what they brought in the field was foreign cavalry. especially where specialists were concerned (like horse archers), they always looked across the borders for that.
Oh ok, misunderstood what you meant at first. Sorry Smile
I think that we make distinctions between cataphracts and clibanari that didn't exist at the time. Many writers seem to use the two terms to describe the same thing.
Quote:I think that we make distinctions between cataphracts and clibanari that didn't exist at the time. Many writers seem to use the two terms to describe the same thing.
My point exactly, we might get trapped in our own terminology.
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