[Persian Cavalry]





The Persian cavalry

    The Persian army was quite different from the Greek, as the Persians depended mainly on huge numbers of cavalry and archers. The Greeks however depended on their massive phalanx. The Persians understood the power of the fast cavalry much earlier than the Greeks, but it was never able to defeat a well organized phalanx. Still, the cavalry added a lot to an army mostly because its speed. An army that only consisted of a phalanx was pretty static. The cavalry gave more room for tactical maneuvers.

The equipment of the Persian cavalry

    During the Persian wars, the cavalry did not have much armor. Nevertheless they were better protected than the infantry which was clothed in soft clothing, with the exception of the Assyrians who had a bronze helmet. Masistus, the commander of the Persian cavalry who was killed in an early stage of the battle at Plataea wore a tunic with golden plates under his purple cape. He continued to defend himself after his horse was killed by an arrow, and blows did not seem to hurt him. Then the Greeks finally discovered his little secret and aimed for his head. This incident shows how rare armor was in the Persian army.

    The horseman in the picture is from a later period. He is a member of the lifeguard of Cyrus the Young, and his clothing shows several Greek influences. His bronze helmet is decorated with a plume made of horsehair, and he is wearing a linen jacket reinforced with bronze plates. Just like the Greek cuirasses his jacket has two rows of plates at the bottom which were placed like roofing tiles, the so-called wings or pteruges. His legs are also protected by bronze plates, which resemble the chaparajos of the cowboys in the wild west. The Greek cavalry of the same period did not have these protections for the legs. On his feet he is wearing leather moccasins.

    His horse comes from the Medic plains and is quite large and strong. His chest was protected by small bronze plate, while a larger bronze plate covered the front of his head. The bronze plate on the head was normally decorated and formed together with chains of small bronze rings the headstall of the horse. The horseman is holding two javelins in his right hand but most likely he would have had a Greek short sword as secondary weapon. The Persian cavalry was mostly used for throwing projectiles at the enemy, and not so much for charges like the Macedonian cavalry. Altogether he is well protected, and he formed the first of a new type of cavalry: the katafraktoi, or the completely armored Persian knights.



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Senior Project : 2001-2002 The Great Persian Empire Website