Forensic Fashion
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>Costume Studies
>>363 Sassanid cavalry
Culture: Sassanid Persian
Setting: early Sassanid empire 3-5thC
Evolution525BC Achaemenid huvaka > ... > 53 Parthian cavalry > 363 Sassanid cavalry

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

​* Matyszak 2004 p242-243
"Persian noblemen of Shapur's time were cultured individuals who were expected to have a knowledge of literature and the arts.  Many played chess, polo, or an early form of tennis.  But the chief occupation of the aristocracy was war.  The army was commanded by a member of the royal family, though not the king himself.  The national battle standard was a massive banner called the Kaviani, embroidered with gems and gold and silver thread.  Its presence indicated the presence of the King of Kings himself.  Other soldiers rode to war under a more portable standard which displayed the orb and wings of Ahuramazda.
    "As with the Parthians, the main striking arm of Shapur's army was its armoured cavalry.  It is unknown at what point 10,000 such cavalrymen were formed into an elite unit known as 'The Immortals', but this too might date to the reign of Shapur.  Ammianus Marcellinus gives us a good description of these cavalrymen:
The Persians lined up against us, the serried ranks of mail-clad cavalrymen so closely formed that the bodies covered with close-fitting plates of armour gleamed as they moved, dazzling those who watched them, while all of the mass of horses were protected by leather coverings.
Ammianus Marcellinus 24.6.8
The horses were also armoured, though some of this covering as only leather.  The obvious disadvantage of wearing this armour in a climate where the temperature could reach fifty degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) meant that these troops had to be deployed with care, especially as the infantry tended to be a conscript rabble of peasants.  These were reduced to the level of serfs in the Sassanid Empire and their fighting ability was about as poor as their morale, which was generally rock-bottom.  They made useful camp servants however, and no Sassanid general felt his army was complete without them.
    "Also, as with the Parthians, the heavy cavalry were supported by a host of horse archers, both native Persians and tribesmen brought in from the steppe and the area about the Black Sea.  The entire force was highly mobile and sufficiently different from the general run of Rome's enemies to make fighting them something of a specialist art."


* Richardson 2015 p6
"The Sassanids continued the Parthian military system, with changes in emphasis: armoured knights (fursan) became more important and numerous, and infantry (rijjala) became more significant too.  In a 6th-century review of Khusrau Anushirvan's army (jund), 'Each knight was to have horse armour (tajfaf), mail armour (dir'), a lamellar coat (jawshan), leg defences (saq), a sword (saif), a lance (rumh), a shield (turs), either an axe (tabarzin) or a mace ('amud), a bowcase with two bows and their strings, thirty arrows and two extra bowstrings which the knight should attach to the rear of his helmet.'"  [QUESTION: Why are Arabic terms used here to describe pre-Islamic Persia, which used the Middle Persian language?]


* Matyszak 2004 p240
"Marcellinus, sometimes called 'the last historian of Rome', gives us a good account of the Persians, though unsurprisingly he is mainly concerned with their military capabilities.  When they were not in armour, Persian aristocrats wore
... shining robes of many lustrous colours, so many that though the robes be left open on the front or on the sides, the person remains covered from head to foot.  They are fond of golden bracelets, necklaces and pearls.
Ammianus Marcellinus 23.6.84
In appearance the Persians were 
Slender, rather swarthy with leaden features, and eyes as grim as goats' ... they have splendid beards and long shaggy hair ... they are a sensual people, seldom satisfied even by a host of concubines, though they do not indulge in boys...  they also abstain from overly sumptuous feasts,and avoid heavy drinking as though it were poison.  Mealtimes are not fixed.  They eat when they please, and finish after a moderate meal... one might regard their fastidiousness as womanly were they not such good fighters, though cunning rather than brave, and therefore most to be feared at long range.  They are vain and abrasive in their manner, no matter what their circumstances, and are generally haughty and cruel.  Skinning men alive, especially slaves and peasants, is by no means unknown.
Ammianus Marcellinus 23.6 passim"