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Thread: The arms and equipment of Late Roman Clibanarii

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    Valentinian Victor's Avatar Ishiyumi no shashu
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    Default The arms and equipment of Late Roman Clibanarii

    In my continuing research into the Late Roman army, I’m now plowing through the works of Julian and Libanius.

    Both Ammianus and Julian graphically describe the armour of Late Roman heavily armoured cavalry, and the descriptions are so similar that we must presume that they are describing the same thing (of course both writers saw what they were describing at close hand and therefore are excellent witnesses)-

    ‘And there marched on either side twin lines of infantrymen with shields and crests gleaming with glittering rays, clad in shining mail; and scattered among them were the full-armoured cavalry (whom they called clibanarii), all masked, furnished with protecting breastplates and girt with iron belts, so that you might have supposed them statues polished by the hand of Praxiteles, not men. Thin circles of iron plates, fitted to the curves of their bodies, completely covered their limbs; so that whichever way they had to move their members, their garment fitted, so skilfully were the joinings made.’
    Amm XVI 10, 8

    ‘Your cavalry was almost unlimited in numbers and they all sat their horses like statues, while their limbs were fitted with armour that followed closely the outline of the human form. It covers the arms from writs to elbow and thence to the shoulder, while a coat of mail protects the shoulders, back and breast. The head and face are covered by a metal mask which makes its wearer look like a glittering statue, for not even the thighs and legs and the very ends of the feet lack this armour. It is attached to the cuirass by fine chain-armour like a web, so that no part of the body is visible and uncovered, for this woven covering protects the hands as well, and is so flexible that the wearers can bend even their fingers.’
    Julian ‘Panegyric In Honour of Constantius’ pg97

    Ammianus also appears to confirm that the horses were also armoured-

    Now that had happened for the reason that while the order of their lines was being re-established, the cavalry in coat-of‑mail, seeing their leader slightly wounded and one of their companions slipping over the neck of his horse, which had collapsed under the weight of his armour.
    AMM XVI 12, 38

    The above passage appears to indicate that the horses were armoured as well as the riders.

    I have postulated that the terms ‘catafract’ and ‘clibanarii’ were a reference to the rider and horses i.e. the riders were the ‘catafractarii’, whilst the armoured horses were the ‘clibanarii’. I base this on some part on the description of what may be the ‘Currus Drepanus’ in action within Vegetius, where the Latin text calls the chariot horse riders ‘catafractos’, and the armoured horses ‘clibanarious’. Other Latin works I have call infantry in armour ‘Catafractos’, which to my mind states men in heavy armour, as other troops within the same works are quoted as just wearing ‘lorica’. I think that where ‘catafracts’ are mentioned then the writer is talking about heavily armoured men probably on unarmoured horses, when they talk about ‘clibanarii’ they mean heavily armoured men on equally armoured horses. This would make clear the passage in Ammianus where at the Battle of Strasburg he talks about ‘catafractarii et clibanarii’ i.e. there were heavily armoured riders on both armoured and unarmoured horses.

    As to the arms of the heavily armoured cavalry, well, this passage within Julian’s works throws up a very interesting question-

    ‘So they charged again as though the battle had only just begun, and gave a wonderful display of daring and heroism. For some hurled themselves full on the enemy’s swords, or seized the enemy’s shields, others, when their horses were wounded and the riders thrown, at once transformed themselves into hoplites. The usurper’s army meanwhile did the same and pressed our infantry hard. Neither side gained the advantage, till the cuirassiers by their archery, aided by the remaining force of cavalry, who spurred on their horses to the charge, had begun to inflict great loss on the enemy, and by main force to drive the whole army before them.’
    Julian ‘Panegyric In Honour of Constantius’ pg95

    So, the ‘cuirassiers’ (the typical term for clibanarii by most translators) were armed with bows and do not appear to have charged into contact, rather caused a large loss of life by archery alone. Is there evidence that Late Roman Clibanarii were armed also with a lance?


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    julianus heraclius's Avatar The Philosopher King
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    Default Re: The arms and equipment of Late Roman Clibanarii

    Quote Originally Posted by Valentinian Victor View Post
    I have postulated that the terms ‘catafract’ and ‘clibanarii’ were a reference to the rider and horses i.e. the riders were the ‘catafractarii’, whilst the armoured horses were the ‘clibanarii’. I base this on some part on the description of what may be the ‘Currus Drepanus’ in action within Vegetius, where the Latin text calls the chariot horse riders ‘catafractos’, and the armoured horses ‘clibanarious’. Other Latin works I have call infantry in armour ‘Catafractos’, which to my mind states men in heavy armour, as other troops within the same works are quoted as just wearing ‘lorica’. I think that where ‘catafracts’ are mentioned then the writer is talking about heavily armoured men probably on unarmoured horses, when they talk about ‘clibanarii’ they mean heavily armoured men on equally armoured horses. This would make clear the passage in Ammianus where at the Battle of Strasburg he talks about ‘catafractarii et clibanarii’ i.e. there were heavily armoured riders on both armoured and unarmoured horses.
    So are you saying that cataphractarii were on unarmoured horses and clibinarii were on armoured horses then, as this has been a matter of debate. It has been suggested that by Constantius II time cataphractarii were upgraded to have armoured horses as well.

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    Valentinian Victor's Avatar Ishiyumi no shashu
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    Default Re: The arms and equipment of Late Roman Clibanarii

    Quote Originally Posted by julianus heraclius View Post
    So are you saying that cataphractarii were on unarmoured horses and clibinarii were on armoured horses then, as this has been a matter of debate. It has been suggested that by Constantius II time cataphractarii were upgraded to have armoured horses as well.
    Indeed correct. We know that Parthian nobles fled to the Roman Empire when the Sasanid's rebelled and took over the Parthian Empire. From various sources, including reliefs, that the Parthian Catapharacts were heavily armoured men on unarmoured horses. They were the basis for Roman cataphract units during the late 3rd and early 4th Century AD, they were also the model for the early Late Roman catafractarii units, where the heavily armoured rider was armed with the 'contos' long spear, shieldless on unarmoured horses. The first appearance of Clibanarii units may have been during the reign of Diocletian, but this is not entirely certain. We know that Julian and Libanius claimed that Constantius II greatly increased the Clibanarii numbers and Julian further stated that Constantius' clibanarii were even more heavily armoured than their Sasanid counterparts, with the horses having metallic armour, rather than the felt/leather coverings the Sasanid clibanarii had, which Ammianus also confirmed in his work.

    The fact that the early catafractarii were armoured men on unarmoured horses is very significant, as when they changed to being mounted on armoured horses they then start being called by the generic term for armoured horses- clibanarii.

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    julianus heraclius's Avatar The Philosopher King
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    Default Re: The arms and equipment of Late Roman Clibanarii

    So, for the 4th C, should I have all my cataphractarii on unarmoured horses or not? Or mixed? Your thoughts would be appreciated.

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    Valentinian Victor's Avatar Ishiyumi no shashu
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    Default Re: The arms and equipment of Late Roman Clibanarii

    Quote Originally Posted by julianus heraclius View Post
    So, for the 4th C, should I have all my cataphractarii on unarmoured horses or not? Or mixed? Your thoughts would be appreciated.
    Hmmm...I would have to say that before 337AD there would be very few cataphractarii on armoured horses, mainly in the East where Constantius II served , this would increase substantially once Constantius II was proclaimed Augustus from 337AD. I have a suspicion that due to the revolt of Magnetius in the West half of the Empire from 350AD until 353AD, Constantius II deliberately let the Western half of the Empire fall into decline and that its entirely possible that is where most of the Cataphractarii were based, their much more formidable breatheren, the Clibanarii were in the main based in the East. It's clear though that Constantius sent some Clibanarii along with Julian when he was sent to subdue the Germanic tribes.
    So, in answer to your question, during the time frame of this mod I would have to say that the vast majority of very heavy cavalry would be of the Clibanarii variety, so heavily armoured men on armoured horses.

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    Valentinian Victor's Avatar Ishiyumi no shashu
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    Default Re: The arms and equipment of Late Roman Clibanarii

    So, no one rose to the bait then?

    Alright, I confess, I was hoping that someone would pipe up with a few quotes that indicated that Late Roman Clibanarii were armed with both lance and bow, did not have shields and rode armored horses from the reign of Constantius II onwards.

    For example-

    'For when he reached the open country and the plains of Paeonia, and it seemed advantageous to fight it out there, then and not before the Emperor drew up his cavalry separately on both wings.
    Of these troops some carry lances and are protected by cuirasses and helmets of wrought iron mail. They wear greaves that fit the legs closely, and knee-caps, and on their thighs the same sort of iron covering. they ride their horses like statues, and need no shield.'
    Julian 'The Heroic Deeds of Constantius' pg153
    Last edited by Valentinian Victor; November 26, 2009 at 10:36 AM.

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    Default Re: The arms and equipment of Late Roman Clibanarii

    When I have nothing smart to add, I just shut my mouth and listen carefully. And that's what I'm doing right now . Great info

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    JackDionne's Avatar Princeps Prior
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    Default Re: The arms and equipment of Late Roman Clibanarii

    Excellent info thanks. You must teach this for a living. You got some well deserved rep points from me.
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    Gäiten's Avatar Pili Prior
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    Default Re: The arms and equipment of Late Roman Clibanarii

    Give me a quote that clibinarii were mostly equipped with both bow and lances. That of Julian`s does not tell us that.

    As far as I know clibinarii were far more armoured than cataphracts. Same for the armour of horses. Even cataphracts often rode armoured horses.

    Julian was transferred to the West, he got his primary experiences with heavy armoured cavalry while fighting the Sassanians who field mostly cavalry of the clibinarii type. So it is no wonder that he mixed up the names.

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    Valentinian Victor's Avatar Ishiyumi no shashu
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    Default Re: The arms and equipment of Late Roman Clibanarii

    Quote Originally Posted by Gäiten View Post
    Give me a quote that clibinarii were mostly equipped with both bow and lances. That of Julian`s does not tell us that.

    As far as I know clibinarii were far more armoured than cataphracts. Same for the armour of horses. Even cataphracts often rode armoured horses.

    Julian was transferred to the West, he got his primary experiences with heavy armoured cavalry while fighting the Sassanians who field mostly cavalry of the clibinarii type. So it is no wonder that he mixed up the names.
    Unfortunately, as you well know Gaiten, information about Late Roman Catafractarii/Clibanarii is almost confined to a few passages in Ammianus, Julian, Libanius and Claudian. I have already said its my belief that Clibanarii were more armoured than the Catafractarii.

    As for Julian's experience with very heavy cavalry, what about his experiences in Gaul the year before the Battle of Strasburg where he took the short cut that Silvanius had taken, taking with him only 'the Cataphractariis solis et ballistariis' i.e. the Catafractarii heavy cavalry and a unit of crossbow men. He must have had a very intimate and close relationship with both Catafractarii and Clibanarii type cavalry due to that experience and also at Strasburg where there were units of both 'catafractarii et clibanarii' i.e. heavily armoured riders on unarmoured and armoured horses.

    I have provided two of Julian's quotes, one from Oratation I, the other from Oratation II. One quote has the catafractarii/clibanarii armed with bows and using them to devastating effect, the othe stating they were armed with lances and did not have shields. Because Julian was writing for an audience that had a much better idea of how catafractarii/clibanarii looked and were armed, he probably did not think it necessary to mention their full equipment the next time they were spoken about, especially as it seems the second account is about the same battle!

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    julianus heraclius's Avatar The Philosopher King
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    Default Re: The arms and equipment of Late Roman Clibanarii

    Quote Originally Posted by Valentinian Victor View Post
    Hmmm...I would have to say that before 337AD there would be very few cataphractarii on armoured horses, mainly in the East where Constantius II served , this would increase substantially once Constantius II was proclaimed Augustus from 337AD. I have a suspicion that due to the revolt of Magnetius in the West half of the Empire from 350AD until 353AD, Constantius II deliberately let the Western half of the Empire fall into decline and that its entirely possible that is where most of the Cataphractarii were based, their much more formidable breatheren, the Clibanarii were in the main based in the East. It's clear though that Constantius sent some Clibanarii along with Julian when he was sent to subdue the Germanic tribes.
    So, in answer to your question, during the time frame of this mod I would have to say that the vast majority of very heavy cavalry would be of the Clibanarii variety, so heavily armoured men on armoured horses.
    That's what I thought you would say. It is consistent with what we have discussed previously.

    Thanks

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    Valentinian Victor's Avatar Ishiyumi no shashu
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    Default Re: The arms and equipment of Late Roman Clibanarii

    Quote Originally Posted by julianus heraclius View Post
    That's what I thought you would say. It is consistent with what we have discussed previously.

    Thanks
    I have now been scouring my home library for other references. I believe now that Roman Clibanarii existed by at least the reign of Diocletian. I also have now come to the conclusion that 'Catafractarii' was the official term for heavily armoured riders on equally heavily armoured horses, and that 'Clibanarii' was the nick-name for them and that over time 'Clibanarii' became the term everyone came to know them by, similar to the situation where everyone call's modern tanks by their nick-name, which is of course 'tank', practically everyone having forgot what their official name is.

    I offer the following as proof-

    'XII Panegyrici Latini' Nazarius' speech also describes Clibanarii and I will
    reference it later because it may open a very old can of worms!!!

    In the speech Nazarius gave in 321AD, 'Panegyricus Nazarii Constantino Augusto',
    he gives a description of the Battle of Turin. This is quite interesting in that
    it makes reference to both Clibanarii and Catafractos. It also indicates both
    types were possibly the same, and they do not pursue or follow up in combat.

    'So many soldiers filled the open plain that he who saw them arrayed would not
    fault their confidence. What a spectacle that is said to have been, how dreadful
    to behold, how terrible, horses and men alike enclosed in a covering of iron! In
    the army they are called clibanarii: the men are covered (with mail) in the
    upper part, a corselet which extends down to the horses' chests and hangs to
    their forelegs protects them from the injury of a wound without impeding their
    gait (Clibanariis in exercitu nomen est: superne hominibus tectis, equorum
    pectoribus demissa loric et crurum tenus pendens sine impedimento gressus a noxa
    uulneris uindicabat).'

    The description is of Constantine's opponents heavily armoured cavalry.
    I'm not sure if the description alludes to the horses being completely covered
    in metallic armour, or whether it was just the front part of the horse that was
    covered?

    The text continues-

    'Nevertheless, neither the fact that their armor doubled the terror inspired by
    so large a number nor that numbers added force to their armes frightened you,
    Emperor. For it is certain that valor shows a spirit proportionate to the type
    of engagement because it regulates its capacities in accordance with the course
    of events: in small matters it is lax almost to negligence, in affairs of
    moderate importance moderately attentive; when great things come it is aroused
    according to the magnitude of the task to be endured. That display of armor,
    that army covered with iron, which would have been a painful sight to unwarlike
    men, stiumlated the spirits of invincible ones, because the soldiers infected by
    the Emperor's example took fire with all their courage when they encountered an
    enemy whom it was fitting to defeat. You yourself take over the mailed cavalry,
    where the greatest strength of the opposing battle line lay (Catafractos
    equites, in quibus maximum steterat pugnae robur, ipse tibi sumis).'Their
    training for combat is to preserve the course of their assault after they have
    crashed into the opposing line, and since they are invulnerable they resolutely
    break trough whatever is set against them.

    The text then goes on to describe how Constantine dealt with the opposing
    heavily armored mounted-

    'But you, most prudent Emperor, who knew all the ways of fighting, got
    assistance from your ingenuity: that it is safest to elude those whom it is most
    difficult to withstand.. By drawing your lines apart you induce an enemy attack
    which cannot be reversed; next by leading your lines back together you hem in
    the men whom you admit to your game. It did them no good to press forward, since
    your men purposely gave way; iron's rigidity did not allow a change in direction
    for pursuit.
    Thus our men assailed those who were delivered to them with clubs equipped with
    heavy iron knobs which wore out an invulnerable enemy with their beating, and
    when they were inflicted especially on their heads they forced those whom thee
    blows had confused to tumble down. Then they began to fall headlong, to slide
    down backward, to totter half-dead or dying to be held fast by their saddles, to
    lie entangled in the confused slaughter of horses, which is unbridled pain, when
    their vulnerable points had been discovered, cast their riders everywhere'.

    This description could allude to Constantine opening up his lines and then using
    a 'feigned flight' to lure the Clibanarii into an ambush. It's worth noting that
    even Constantine's catafractarii were considered to be invulnerable in an
    assault, and they may well have been similar to his opponents heavy cavalry.
    It's also apparent that there was a great many of them at least on his oppenents
    side, enough so that special weapons and tactics had to be devised against them.
    Last edited by Valentinian Victor; December 15, 2009 at 06:23 AM.

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    JackDionne's Avatar Princeps Prior
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    Default Re: The arms and equipment of Late Roman Clibanarii

    I just got this book called “Battles of the Ancient World” published in 2007. I have a question for you so you will have to bear with me for a moment, in this books it states that the “Clibanrii (literally “oven men”). They where given this nickname because it was hot riding around with all that armour.

    What did the Sassanid’s call the Roman heavy Calvary? Did they have a slang word?
    What did the Sassanid’s call their heavy Calvary?

    Thanks in advance.
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    Valentinian Victor's Avatar Ishiyumi no shashu
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    Default Re: The arms and equipment of Late Roman Clibanarii

    Quote Originally Posted by JackDionne View Post
    I just got this book called “Battles of the Ancient World” published in 2007. I have a question for you so you will have to bear with me for a moment, in this books it states that the “Clibanrii (literally “oven men”). They where given this nickname because it was hot riding around with all that armour.

    What did the Sassanid’s call the Roman heavy Calvary? Did they have a slang word?
    What did the Sassanid’s call their heavy Calvary?

    Thanks in advance.
    Actually, the Roman word 'Clibanarii' is probably a corruption of the Sasanid 'baking oven', which I believe is something like 'griv pan var'. The armour would have been unbearably hot to touch, and also to wear unless the ride was wearing under garments and also an over garment. Sasanid reliefs show riders wearing a surcoat over their armour and also baggy trousers. This would probably have helped with keeping the rider cool. Another interesting question is how were the riders put on the horse, and were the riders quite literally fixed into place once on the horse? Descriptions in both Julian and Ammianus would appear to confirm that the riders rode bolt upright, confirming that they were somehow fixed in an upright position. This being further confirmed in Nazarius- 'Thus our men assailed those who were delivered to them with clubs equipped with heavy iron knobs which wore out an invulnerable enemy with their beating, and when they were inflicted especially on their heads they forced those whom the blows had confused to tumble down. Then they began to fall headlong, to slide down backward, to totter half-dead or dying to be held fast by their saddles, to lie entangled in the confused slaughter of horses, which is unbridled pain, when their vulnerable points had been discovered, cast their riders everywhere'.'
    Last edited by Valentinian Victor; January 13, 2010 at 03:55 AM.

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    SeniorBatavianHorse's Avatar Tribunus Vacans
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    Default Re: The arms and equipment of Late Roman Clibanarii

    The horse being thus equipped and, as it were, encased, the rider bestrides him, not vaulting of himself into the saddle, but lifted up by others because of his weight. When the moment comes to engage in battle, he gives his horse the rein, applies his spurs, and in full career charges the enemy, to all appearance some man made of iron, or a mobile statue wrought with the hammer. 6. His pike projects with its point thrust far ahead: it is supported by a loop attached to the horse’s neck, and has its butt-end suspended by a strap alongside the horse’s haunches; so that it does not recede in the clashes of conflict, but lightens the task of the rider’s hand, which only directs the blow. He braces himself and, firmly set so as to increase the gravity of the wound, by his mere impetus transfixes anyone who comes in his way, and may often impale two persons at a single stroke.

    - a quote from Heliodorus regarding Persian cataphracts which is interesting, particularly the kontos straps.

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    Valentinian Victor's Avatar Ishiyumi no shashu
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    Default Re: The arms and equipment of Late Roman Clibanarii

    Quote Originally Posted by SeniorBatavianHorse View Post
    The horse being thus equipped and, as it were, encased, the rider bestrides him, not vaulting of himself into the saddle, but lifted up by others because of his weight. When the moment comes to engage in battle, he gives his horse the rein, applies his spurs, and in full career charges the enemy, to all appearance some man made of iron, or a mobile statue wrought with the hammer. 6. His pike projects with its point thrust far ahead: it is supported by a loop attached to the horse’s neck, and has its butt-end suspended by a strap alongside the horse’s haunches; so that it does not recede in the clashes of conflict, but lightens the task of the rider’s hand, which only directs the blow. He braces himself and, firmly set so as to increase the gravity of the wound, by his mere impetus transfixes anyone who comes in his way, and may often impale two persons at a single stroke.

    - a quote from Heliodorus regarding Persian cataphracts which is interesting, particularly the kontos straps.
    Please can you tell me where you found this quote as I'm interested in obtaining the original as it might have a bearing on my own research.

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    elendir's Avatar Discens
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    Default Re: The arms and equipment of Late Roman Clibanarii

    Please can you tell me where you found this quote as I'm interested in obtaining the original as it might have a bearing on my own research.
    "The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars (AD 226-363)" by Michael H. Dodgeon has got this text.

    Has anyone found further evidence of this technique in other sources?

    (Great thread, by the way. Thanks to everyone for the contributions )

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    Default Re: The arms and equipment of Late Roman Clibanarii

    Elendir has cited the source correctly - although a work of fiction (and quite an interesting one in terms of how it influenced Western literature, by the way), the passage on Persian cataphracts makes for some interesting reading. Below are links to a) the entire work online based on an Elizabethan translation b) a summary of the work and c) the usual wiki (trust as you want!) on the author:


    http://www.elfinspell.com/HeliodorusMyIntro.html

    http://www.chss.montclair.edu/classi...eliodorus.html

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heliodorus_of_Emesa

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    Default Re: The arms and equipment of Late Roman Clibanarii

    Have you found any other reference around a part from Heliodorus?


    @ SBH
    By the way, years ago you mentioned that you were writing a work of fiction yourself...is it finished?

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    Gäiten's Avatar Pili Prior
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    Default Re: The arms and equipment of Late Roman Clibanarii

    His pike projects with its point thrust far ahead: it is supported by a loop attached to the horse’s neck, and has its butt-end suspended by a strap alongside the horse’s haunches; so that it does not recede in the clashes of conflict, but lightens the task of the rider’s hand, which only directs the blow.
    Modern tests have proven that as incorrect. In an old Ancient Warfare magazine is an article about the Sassanian Noble Cavalry, wherein Heliodorus is cited, but commented as not correct. The author, Patryk Skupniewicz, is very versed in that history and kind of Eastern mounted warfare.

    I doubt, that the main strategy of heavy lancer cavalry was to rely on the impact of their charge. If they were up to fight infantry, they would rather rode around the enemy formation probing for weak spots, take advantage of their mobility to attack suddenly flanks or rear.
    In melee battles the knights pushed the kontos against the enemy footsoldier, as experiments show that is a great impact to bear (high position at the horse`s back and the up-to down lance push by a highly trained knight might impale two people at once).

    The main task for the heavy lancer cavalry was to protect the horse archers against enemy heavy lancer cavalry and when the arrow storm of the horse archers disrupted the enemy formation to take advantage of the disordered ranks and attack so that the ranks got fatally split up.

    What did the Sassanid’s call their heavy Calvary?
    The Sassanian called their clibinarii Asavaran.

    Actually, the Roman word 'Clibanarii' is probably a corruption of the Sasanid 'baking oven', which I believe is something like 'griv pan var'.
    Not exactly. "Grivpan" was an old form of armored neck protection (the Achaemenid heavy cavalry wore it) and the warriors wearing that were called "Grivpanvar", what the Greek made to "Grivpanvarios". You may see a certain similarity to "Clibanarios", what IMHO was a slang by Western troops taunting the enemy inside their "hot" gear

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