Incidentally, I am at a loss why translators still insist on translating pilum or variations into 'javelin', as Veruta or similar terms such as lancea are normally considered as javelins.
However, if you think translating pilum as 'javelin' is bad, you should see James G. DeVoto's translation of Arrian's Taktika. He translates kontos as 'javelin'!
For those of you interested enough and who do not have the translation to hand, here is the rest of the description of the Persian mailed cavalry from Heliodorous' Aethiopica, Book IX -
With such a band of horsemen and the Persian army thus appointed the governor set out against his enemies, keeping the river ever behind him; for as he was far inferior in numbers to the Ethiopians he planned that the water should be instead of a wall that he might not be surrounded. Hydaspes likewise brought on his army and placed the soldiers of Meroe, who were skilled to fight hand in hand with heavy swords, against the Persians and the Medes on the right wing. The Troglodytes and those who come from the country where the cinnamon grows, light harnessed soldiers and cunning archers and very swift of foot, he set against those who were on the enemy’s left wing. But against their centre, which he heard was the strongest, he set himself and his elephants with towers on their backs, together with the men-at-arms of the Blemmyes and the Seres, whom he instructed what they should do when they came to fight. When the signal was given for battle, among the Persians by 274 trumpet, with the Ethiopians by drum and timbrel, Oroöndates with a shout led on his men to the charge. Hydaspes for his part advanced as slowly as possible step by step, by this means providing that the elephants should not be far from their supports and that the enemies’ cavalry in the centre should be weary before they came to blows. When they were within shot, and the Blemmyes saw that the mailed cavalry were calling on their horses for a charge, they did as Hydaspes had commanded. Leaving the Seres to protect the elephants they ran out from the line against the horsemen, so that those who saw them might have thought that they were mad, who being so few durst encounter so many and so well armed. Thereupon the Persians spurred their horses to go faster than before, thinking that the enemy’s boldness was their gain, and that they would at the first dash overcome them without ado.
But the Blemmyes when they were almost come to hand strokes and in a manner stuck by their spears, suddenly all together fell down and crept under the horses kneeling with one knee upon the ground and sheltering their heads and shoulders beneath, without any harms save that they were trodden a little by their feet. And then they themselves did a strange and unexpected thing. As the horses passed over them they thrust with their swords and wounded them in the belly, so that many of their riders fell, by reason that the horses could not be governed because of their pain and so threw them. Whom, as they lay in heaps, the Blemmyes stabbed under the thighs; for the Persian horseman is not able to move unless he has some one to aid him. Those who escaped with their horses whole then charged against the Seres. But they, as soon as they came near, stepped behind the 275 elephants, as though behind some great tower or hill of refuge. Then there was a great carnage and the horsemen were almost all slain. For their horses, being afraid of the greatness and strange sight of the elephants, thus suddenly revealed, either turned back or ran aside, and caused the main battle to break its array. They who were upon the elephants — six men upon each, two fighting from every side save the behind — shot steadily at the mark from their tower as from a castle, so that the number of their arrows was to the Persians like a cloud. The Ethiopians aimed especially at their enemies eyes, as though they were shooting not for life but to see who were the better archers, and hit their mark so exactly that those who were stricken ran here and there in panic with arrows, as if they had been pipes, piercing their eyes. If any of them against their wills rode out from their ranks, because their houses could not be checked, they fell among the elephants; where they died, being either overthrown and trodden under foot by them or else killed by the Blemmyes and Seres who ran out from behind the elephants as from an ambush, and wounded some with arrows and slew others at close quarters when their horses had cast them to the ground. To be short, those who escaped did nothing worthy of recounting nor hurt the elephants a whit, since the beast is covered with iron when he comes to battle, and if he were not, he hath of nature scales so hard over his body that no spear can enter thereinto.
At last, when all who remained alive were put to flight, the governor with shame enough forsook his chariot and mounting a horse from Nysa fled the battle. The Egyptians and the Libyans who were on the left wing knew nothing thereof, but fought on 276 manfully, though they received many more wounds than they gave; marry they held out valiantly. For the soldiers of the cinnamon country being set against them pressed them hard and drove them to such shifts that they knew not what to do. If they set upon them, these would flee and running ahead would turn their bows behind them and shoot as they fled. But if they retired, then would they pursue them closely and either with slings or little arrows poisoned with dragon’s blood send upon them a swift and grievous death. For in their archery they are more like men at play than at serious work. They wear a round wreath upon their head in which the arrows are set, the feathers turned inwards and the points hanging out like the beams of the sun. In skirmish they take out the arrows therefrom as readily as from a quiver, and leaping and dancing in and out like naked satyrs, they shoot at their enemies. They have no iron heads upon their shafts, but take a bone out of the dragon’s back, whereof they make their arrows an ell long. This done, they sharpen it as well as they can and make a self-barb arrow, so called perhaps from the bare bone.
For some time the Egyptians maintained the battle and received the arrow upon their shields, being stubborn by nature and men who boast — not so much profitably as proudly — that they care not for death: and perhaps also they feared punishment if they left their ranks. But when they heard that the horsemen, their chief strength and hope in battle, were put to flight, and the governor gone, and that the much praised soldiers of the Medes and Persians had done no noble feat, but after hurting the men of Meroe a little and being themselves hurt much more had followed after the rest, they also began to leave 277 fighting and turned in rout. Hydaspes seeing this notable victory from his tower, as from a high hill, sent heralds to them that followed the chase not to kill anyone but to take as many as they could alive, and above all other Oroöndates. Which indeed was done. The Ethiopians drawing their main battles to the left, and extending their deep formation lengthwise, turned their wings round about and so inclosed the Persian army, leaving them no place to flee but across the river: into the which many fell and were in great danger among the horses and scythed chariots and the turmoil of the multitude. Then they perceived that the policy which the governor had used in the conduct of his army was very foolish and to no purpose; because at the first, when he had feared lest his enemies should surround him and led his army so that the Nile was ever at their backs, he marked not that he left for himself no place whereby he might flee. There was he himself taken prisoner, just when Achaemenes the son of Cybele, who had by this time heard the news from Memphis, when about in the tumult to kill him — for he repented now that he had told anything about Arsace since all his proofs had perished. But Achaemenes, although he stabbed him, dealt not a fatal wound, and himself straightway paid the penalty, being stricken through with an arrow by an Ethiopian, who knew the governor and desired to save him, as command had been given, and was offended that any man in flight from his enemies should shamefully set upon his own fellows and take the opportunity that fortune offered as a time to be revenged upon his private adversary.
Its fairly obvious that Heliodorous it describing contemporary Parthian/Sasanid troops but using them in context with a much earlier age. The Elephants with towers are very indicative of Sasanids. The tactic of stabbing at the unprotected underbelly of the horses was a well known tactic used by Late Romans and the Allemanni, plus presumably many others who faced cataphracts or clibanarii.
Last edited by Valentinian Victor; January 10, 2011 at 07:17 AM.
Hmm, I have ordered the 'Aethiopica' for some light reading and was expecting it to arrive today or tomorrow - I get home from work and find an undelivered red Post Office chit advising me of an 'Oxbow' parcel they could not deliver. My bank account shows that Oxbow have charged me for the 'Cataphract' book - AND I missed receiving it today! Off tomorrow to the parcel office . . .
Update from last post: I am now the proud owner of the 'Cataphracti and Clibanari' book by Mielczarek. According to the invoice, I have been given a 22.78% discount due to the fact it is the very last copy and in a somewhat battered condition (!) - really only a bit dog-eared around the spine, nothing that concerns me at all. In sum I paid £10 plus £2.95 post and packaging. Quite a bargain and one utterly unlooked for.
Quality reading time beckons!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
I should be interested to know what you think of it.
sure, me too! let us know what you think.
Yes, that'd be nice. And you got lucky, I'd say.
Be careful with Eadie. His study is marred by a fundamental error. His failure to realise that Roman cavalry wore mail before the reign of Hadrian leads him to identify perfectly normal cavalrymen on the Column of Marcus Aurelius as cataphractarii and the standard cavalry spears wielded by them as conti.
"The principal credit for this major cavalry innovation must be assigned to Hadrian, who
created the first regular unit of auxiliary mailed cavalry, the ala I Gallorum et Pannoniorum
catafractata (CIL XI, 5632) "I interpret that as meaning first Roman cataphract cavalry, his use of 'mailed' throughout seems to be referring to cataphract cavalry
The Development of Roman Mailed CavalryAuthor(s): John W. EadieSource: The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 57, No. 1/2 (1967), pp. 161-173Published by: Society for the Promotion of Roman StudiesStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/299352 .
Constantius, on re-reading your post, I wonder if I have misunderstood the point that you were making. If so, my response would seem contradictory. Could I trouble you to restate your position, so that we may clear up any confusion?
NOTE: I have used Rome Surrectum ingame shots as well as Imperium Julianorum shots to show some of the historical references. I hope I am not treading on anyone's toes in doing so!
OK - this is a bit long so apologies for that! I have been adding to this on the hoof after a very hectic week so please bear with me - also I do not have the depth of reading of Renatus or Valentinian Victor so my thoughts here are entirely provisional and open to change - and quite probably muddled in some areas!
Well I have read the work on cataphracti and clibanarii by Mielczarek and think it might be good for me to air a few thoughts in relation to his work. My idea here is not so much to refute his thesis as to open this thread to his ideas in more detail and debate.
His basic argument is that there is a fundamental difference between the clibanarius and the cataphractus rider which is determined neither by the rider’s armour or weapons but his tactical role on the battlefield. There is an earlier post here (post 175) which sums up adequately his position on the whole cataphractus/clibanarius debate. In order for Mielczarek to arrive at this conclusion, he orders his work into the following categories: an overview of the sources; a general discussion of the tactics and the origins of the units; a detailed breakdown of the a) Parthian and Sassanian troops b) the Seleucid troops c) the Roman troops and d) finally the Palmyrean troops; then his conclusion.
The undeniable strong points of Mielczarek’s work is his marshalling of the literary, pictographic and sculptural evidence, particularly when it comes to the examples of known cataphracti/clibanarii in battle. There is no denying the work’s detail here. The illustrations too are exhaustive such as they exist.
Mielczarek’s main issue is however that the debate around the possible distinction between the cataphractus rider and the clibanarius rider has always revolved around the use of arms and armour and as such has missed the point. He suggests that too few military writers have written about these troops types as opposed to historians and one novelist (Heliodorus – more on him later). He argues that as a result the impression the cataphractus and the clibanarius makes upon the reader has dominated the writers at the expense of what these troops actually did on the battlefield.
Mielczarek then re-examines what little we know from these writers in relation to the pictorial and sculptural evidence to attempt to define differences between the two types and why such differences existed – in other words what these troops actually performed that made them so important in the armies.
The key elements which he marshals seem to me to be the difference in formation, armour and weapon-use – supporting arms are also used to imply that both troop types did not engage alone but relied on crucial support – and without that support were particularly prone to collapse or rout.
He argues that the rise of the cataphractus arose from the eastern steppe cultures’ contact primarily with the Macedonian sarissa phalanx and was a credible response to it from a mounted warrior culture. Thus the cataphracti were to assemble on the battlefield in a deep long formation – what he calls a ‘column order’ and move forwards to engage and then break infantry lines – the Seleucid battles are used to illustrate how the cataphracti were deployed on the wings to break the opposing heavy infantry lines, for example. Carrhae is used as an example of Parthian cataphracti also but it seems that the deeper Roman lines held and these cataphracti then fell back to rely on the lighter mounted archers to engage instead.
Mielczarek thus describes cataphracti as being heavily armoured and wielding a cavalry equivalent of the sarissa (what is termed the ‘contus’ or ‘kontos’ and becomes later translated accurately but unfortunately into English as ‘pike’). He observes from various sculptural and pictographic evidence that when deployed against infantry lines the 12’ (yes it will vary in length) contus is deployed either one-handed (over arm or under-arm) or two-handed only along the flank of the horse to stab down and into the body of a soldier. This weapon is known to have a reputation of being able to pierce two men at a time – although Mielczarek believes this was cited not to illustrate its impact but merely the length of the iron tip down along the wooden haft. Cataphracti riders generally did not have a shield or a secondary weapon in the early days – and rode armoured horses as a protection against light infantry counter-attack, though this armour varied from leather, felt, plates, chain and so on.
The cataphracti unit was thus foremost an anti-infantry cavalry unit whose arms and weapons existed to deal with that type of troop. Secondary melee weapons were deemed useless as the cataphracti relied on close-order lines to maintain momentum and impact – if a single cataphractus were either unhorsed or found separated but still mounted, his heavy amour made him too clumsy to engage in sword-play, for example.
This is a key point about the cataphractus rider according to Mielczarek – he was not designed to ride alone about the battlefield but only as part of a long, dense, block – almost knee-cap to knee-cap – the long ‘pikes’ thrusting out and down along the flank of each horse to present a high angled wall of points which would over-top the opposing infantry shields and spears. Whereas the Macedonian phalanx for example uses both the length of its sarissas and the depth of its men pushing forwards to maintain formation and crack apart an opposing infantry line – the cataphracti do not have the advantage of the depth and thus are not a ‘mounted phalanx’ in the true sense of the formation. Mauricius Strategikon clearly states that unlike infantry who can push each other forwards to maintain cohesion and strength, horses themselves do not have that ability and at best should only be deployed 4 deep in close formation. Thus the cataphractus in Mielczarek’s terms must rely on height as a compensating mechanism to break the infantry line in battle.
The clibanarius however while similarly armed and equipped performs a completely different role of the battlefield. In Mielczarek’s assessment, these troops were deployed principally to counter enemy cavalry types and were formed up in the wedge or cuneus formation. The clibanarius rider is equipped similarly as the cataphractus rider in terms of arms and armour but specifically wields the sarissa-like lance in both hands angled across the neck of his horse. In this way, Mielczarek argues, the riding trooper angles in towards the opposing cavalryman and uses the weight of his mount to transfer through the contus into enemy body. This is a fundamental difference with regards to its use against an infantryman – Mielczarek argues that the flank-held contus is in effect a horse variant of the Macedonian sarissa using height and momentum through a solid line of deep cavalrymen to break an infantry line – whereas the clibanarius transfers his contus from a one or two-handed flank grip to an angled two-handed grip across the horse’s neck so that upon impact the charging speed of the horse and rider combine to create a devastating impact. To aid this, the clibanarius rider is deployed in a swift mobile wedge formation which – following on from Alexander’s use of the Companion cavalry - can move and angle in an agile way different from the ‘column order’ against infantry.
Mielczarek also argues that as a consequence of this change in tactics a subsequent development in arms and armour allowed the clibanarius to further adapt – full horse armour fell away as opposing cavalrymen will tend to aim for each other and only rarely the opposing mounts, the use of the contus in a two-handed but relatively fixed position across the horse’s neck also allowed for the adoption of a small fixed shield on the upper arm to protect against the incoming enemy contus.
It should be pointed out that both troop types used bows with slung quivers at some point but Mielczarek indicates that the clibanarii adopted it wholeheartedly as well as other side-arms such as the mace and the sword. The cataphracti relied more upon supporting flank and rear horsemen who were principally mounted archers.
The above I think summarises in some detail the key thesis about the two troop types and their use on the battlefield. It is a neat argument and one which conveniently circumvents the confusion/debate about the cataphractus and the clibanarius and what if any were the differences between the two. In essence, the same rider with almost identical equipment is either a cataphractus or a clibanarius depending on how he is deployed in battle – and that over time, especially in the Roman Army, units perhaps retained one role only and fell away from the other.
But does Mielczarek muster enough evidence to endorse this thesis?
A number of thoughts occurred to me as I was reading it – the key one being that the entire investigation, indeed dilemma, revolves entirely around the introduction of the word ‘clibanarius’ into the Roman lexicon. In other words, without that word there would be no debate – there would just be variations of heavy cavalry encased in armour on the battlefield, some riding armoured horses, some with shields, some with bows, some with all the above and many not – all cataphracts riding against all sorts (no doubt) of opponents in either a dense line or wedge formation.
So the key issue is the arrival of the ‘clibanarii’ as a descriptor into Roman usage either in fiction, history, army titles and payrolls, funerary inscriptions and panegyrics. The fact of its existence necessitates an explanation and Mielczarek duly does in search of one. His answer, while ingenious and certainly provocative, rests on the ambiguity of one writer in particular describing one battle in particular: Ammianus Marcellinus and Argentoratum. Prior to that battle, he describes the heavy cavalry as cataphracti but once they are assembled in a wedge and facing the Alemanni cavalry (laced with light infantry), he introduces the new term and they become clibanarii. This is the keystone to his thesis. On this everything else rests. The same unit exists as either cataphracts or clibanarii depending on their particular deployment on the battlefield.
It can then be surmised over time that certain units evolved or specialised into either being cataphracts or clibanarii hence the different units in the Notitia Dignitatum.
To be honest, the thesis does not hold water for me – but the more I read his work, the more I realise that the issue is precisely over the term in its official, vernacular and literary emphases or usage. If there was no clibanarii term, no debate would exist – and as I understand it, this is singularly a Roman question – not a Seleucid, Sassanian or Palmyrean one. Clibanarii did not exist as unit titles in these cultures only in the Roman world did the word become adopted.
For me, Mielczarek does not sufficiently tie the change in tactics to the coining of a new vernacular word which is to become eventually a formal military descriptor.
For example, there are two known instances of ambiguous phrasing written by Roman historians regarding the cataphracti/clibanarii overlap – the phrase in the Historia Augusta where Severus Alexander in addressing the Senate declares that cataphractarios, quos illi clibanarios vocant (‘cataphracts clad in full mail whom they clibanarii’) and the second being the mention by Ammianus Marcellinus when describing the triumphal entry into Rome by Constantius escorted by cataphracti equites, quos clibanarios dictitant Persa (fully-armoured cataphracts whom the Persians called clibanarii). One phrase pertains to the events in the 233AD and the other in the 356AD – over a hundred and twenty years’ difference. However, Mielczarek remains studiously oblivious to the curious similarity of both phrases over such a long period and neglects to really explore the concept that the speech put in the mouth of Severus Alexander is both a fiction and one written quite probably at the same time as the phrase written by Ammianus. In other words, the ambiguity about a difference in cataphracts and clibanarii is not a 3rd century issue – it is precisely a 4th century one and furthermore one which is explicit in the commingling of the two terms. It has been argued (‘The Rise of the Sassanian Elephant Corps’ – Iranica Antiqua, vol XLII, 2007 – Michael B Charles) that the entire speech given to Severus Alexander is not only anachronistic it is also an echo of the battle of Gaugamela after Arrian and Diodorus Siculus. This leaves one with the curious possibility that the author of the HA is indeed echoing Ammianus in a lightly parodic manner.
The conclusion is that there were never any clibanarii in the 3rd century nor troops designated as such after the amassing of such Persian armour because the speech is not only a 4th century fiction but a literary echo of a far earlier Greek/Persian period (for if one accepts the presence of ‘clibanarii’ on the Severan battlefield one must also accept anachronistic elephants and scythed chariots – and while the Sassanids did place elephants back into battlefield the ones mentioned by the author seem more Achaemenid Persian than Sassanid – and they certainly did not use scythed chariots . . .)
The echo of the phrase – cataphracti whom the Persians call ‘clibanarii’ – is specific to the reign of Theodosius (the period in which Ammianus was writing) as a literary phrase and therefore speaks to a readership alive to that nuance at that time. It draws attention to a certain specificity of troop types which Ammianus as a military writer and a literary writer can deploy without further elucidation. In other words, that confusion between the terms is new and common – such that two contemporary works echo each other in the 390s (yet referring to earlier periods).
Mielczarek is not concerned to open this up. It is understood by him that if there is a confusion it exists because sufficient writers did not understand that the same troop type could and did perform different functions on the battlefield – hence a certain ambiguity about their designation.
This is disingenuous. The ambiguity is both recent and wide-spread (at least within literary circles if nothing else). The conclusion must be – following Mielczarek’s logic – that cataphracti existed as a specific troop type until a new type of tactic was deployed which therefore necessitated a differing term. This confusion existed in the 4th century – not earlier nor later – and pointed to a change from anti-infantry heavy cavalry to anti-cavalry cavalry (clumsy phrase, I know). I find this hard to accept and do not for one moment believe that mounted heavy cavalry as developed in the East only recently evolved into using wedge formations against opposing cavalry – to such an extent that a new colloquial word was brought into Latin.
Anyway, these are some initial thoughts which have struck me after reading Mielczarek – I think in the lack of a sufficiently rigorous examination of the clibanarii word in all its historicity – what cultural critics might call a diachronic and synchronic field – his ability to use the change in terminology at Argentoratum remains provisional at best – if not spurious given that the mounted nobles opposing the clibanarii actually dismounted at the behest of their warriors for fear they might leave the battlefield.
This last fact casts grave doubt on his thesis – if I have read Ammianus correctly, that is!
Of course I have not mentioned Nazarius panegyric (Naz., Paneg., 22.4) here as alas I not do have a copy of it and so rely on others to bring it in to any debate which might develop.
SBH, let me be the first to congratulate you on a well thought-out and cogently argued contribution. I would give you rep, if the cock-eyed system would allow me to do so. Nevertheless, consider yourself repped! I will now spend some time reading and re-reading your post, so that I may absorb its full implications.
Incidentally, the relevant portions of Nazarius' panegyric are quoted in VV's post #12 in this thread.
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