Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>53 Parthian cavalry
Subject: cavalry archer
Culture: Parthian
Setting: Arsacid empire, Persia 1st-3rdc

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

* O'Connell 2022 p58
"Nearing then end of his death ride, the younger Crassus must have noticed that a number of Parthians looked different than their waspish archer compatriots.  Mounted on huge stallions, both these riders and their horses were covered with coats of chain mail or iron scales.  Rather than a bow, their primary weapon was a lance so long the Greeks called it a kontos, or barge pole.  Charing directly at the Romans, these kontos-wielding armored tuskers took advantage of their height and at least part of their momentum to impale multiple victims.  The desperate romans had some success by swarming them with swordsmen.  But the combination of horse archers plus these armored rams was simply too much to survive.
    "The appearance of these cataphracts (from the Greek 'covered over') marked the emergence of a fundamentally new and durable weapon system.  Like most things having to do with horses, their origins were on the steppe, where certain groups began experimenting with coats of mail for protection.  Sarmatians first used thinly sliced horse hooves, but metal was better.  Because horses were big targets, it also made sense to extend the coverage to them.  The result, however, was one weighed-down pony.  The Parthians solved the problem by taking over the Nesaean stud, the huge imperial herds of Persia's rulers.  Kept in Media, horses here were carefully bred to combine speed with size and strength -- enormous chests, barrels, and haunches but fine lower quarters and feet ...  Clydesdales in track shoes.
    "The Parthians made good use of them, organizing their nobles into a force built around the great steeds.  Their size, speed, and resulting momentum naturally suggested a role as an instrument of collision and the lance a its essential agent.  It proved an enduring combination.  One key problem remained: keeping horse and rider attached at the moment of impact.  Like nomads everywhere, Parthian cataphracts rode virtually bareback.  To be fully effective this would have to change."

* Matyszak 2004 p133-134
"Given the Parthian character, it comes as no surprise that Parthian soldiers were unpaid, and that logistics were regarded as a black art.  The bulk of the army were feudal levies, the hamspah, often supplemented by mercenaries.  Foot soldiers were not an important component of the army, and most of those were archers.  So too were most of the cavalry.  These light horsemen were highly mobile -- as they had to be, since on the other side of the empire they spent their time skirmishing with the nomadic ancestors of Attila the Hun.
    "But the Parthian army had cut its teeth on the Seleucids, and they were unimpressed by the heavy infantrymen of the legions.  The Parthian heavy cavalry were cataphracts, from cataphracti, a Greek word meaning 'covered over'; the riders and their horses were heavily armoured.  Their lances were unusually long and thick, and the combined weight of the rider and horse could skewer this lance through two opponents at once.  Like any cavalry, these horsemen were next to useless against disciplined infantry in close formation, but such infantry were easy targets for the bowmen in the rest of the army.  Furthermore, these archers used the compound bow -- a mix of iron, horn adn wood which was lighter yet more powerful than the Roman equivalents."

* Richardson 2015 p6
"The forces of the Parthians used the characteristic Central Asian tactics: large forces of light horse archers supported by heavy cavalry wearing scale armour and riding barded horses, equipped with bows but also charging with the lance.  Superbly preserved examples of their equipment have been excavated from Dura Europos on the Roman frontier, including horse armours and shields, while one of the few early composite bows was found nearby."