Asiatic Heavy Cavalrymen

An extract from Armies of the Dark Ages 600-1066
by Ian Heath

[Based on a rock carving at Seljek, Siberia] [Based on a Clay figure. Armoured Cavalryman from Šōrčuq at Qarasahr, Tarim Basin. Helmet perhaps from a Manichaean Silk Painting from Chotscho] [A similar horseman on a dish from Muzhi] [Based on a ewer from Nagyszentmiklós]


85 is probably an Avar. He wears a lamellar corselet and a typical plumed helmet with cheek-guards, nasal and eyebrows. He is armed with lance, bow and sabre, and a thumb-ring for drawing the bow hangs from his right hand (see 107). The long lance of 10-12 feet held in both hands, originally adopted from the Sarmatians and Alans by the Asiatic peoples, was adopted in turn from the Avars by the Byzantines; the Strategicon actually records that much Byzantine cavalry equipment of the late-6th century was based on that of the Avars.

Note the decorated belts, which were worn by all steppe peoples. The quality of such belts indicated social status - gold for royalty, followed by silver and then bronze or brass, with the number of ornaments on each belt and the number of belts themselves, 2 or sometimes 3 being worn, as a further indication of seniority. Other symbols of rank were gold and silver decorated scabbards, bowcases, quivers, sabres, saddles, horse-trappings, and probably armour.

86 dates to the 8th-l0th centuries. He wears a long, open-necked lamellar corselet with shoulder-pieces, fabric or leather coif and segmented helmet of splint construction topped by a plume tube. Forearms and shins are protected by leather vambraces and greaves. 86a shows an alternative helmet.

87 is based on an 8th century Persian source but possibly represents one of the Khazar Arsiyah horse-archers, whose armour is described as helmet, mail and breastplate, probably lamellar. Arsiyah lancers were dressed and armed like Arabs and carried shields. The Khazars themselves wore tunic, trousers and long Arab topcoat, and their principal weapons were the spear, sabre and shield. They also carried a bow but relied more on their lances.

88 is from a gold vessel that is usually described as Magyar c. 860, though one expert claims Pecheneg origin c. 900-920 and others claim Bulgar origin, he wears splint-armour greaves and vambraces and long mail corselet with coif. His splint-armour may be of iron but wood is more probable, wooden foot-armour also being recorded amongst some Asiatic peoples during this period. Shields are mentioned in several sources as being carried by Magyars and were clearly not small. They were probably of wicker or hide and were apparently dyed in bright colours. Some at least must have been wood since the shields of 2 Magyar chieftains captured at Lechfield in 955 had silver cruciform shield-bosses; these same chieftains wore gold collars, probably grivnas. The feathers in his helmet are characteristic of later Hungarians, who however contained a large Pecheneg element.

All the above are basically interchangeable.

Next: 89. ASIATIC STANDARDS in Armies of the Dark Ages 600-1066 by Ian Heath