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BYZANTINE FULLY ARMOURED HORSE

An extract from Armies of the Dark Ages 600-1066
by Ian Heath




144.      BYZANTINE FULLY ARMOURED HORSE

Armoured horses were ridden by all klibanophoroi, by front rank Thematic kataphraktoi and all Tagmatic lancers, and probably officers in general.

The armour consisted of 3 pieces, one covering the head except for the eyes and nostrils, one covering the neck, and a body-piece like a large blanket draped across the back with a hole left for the saddle. The body-piece reached to the horse’s knees and was split to the chest at the front. Others might substitute a sort of apron for the third piece, covering only the horse’s chest and front legs. One early source records in addition iron shoes to protect the hooves against caltrops.

According to most of the manuals armour consisted of 2 or 3 layers of quilted felt glued together, or ox-hide, horn or iron lamellae, probably on a cloth backing to prevent chafing. The Sylloge, however, mentions horse-armour of mail lorikia, and Psellus, describing an army of 1047, speaks of ‘horses clad in mail at all points.’

It is probable that a small percentage of Asiatic nomads, perhaps only the nobility, rode similar horses, armoured principally in felt. In addition Procopius records that when the Goths marched on Rome in 537 many of their cavalry were mounted on armoured horses, while the fact that some Bretons were riding armoured horses until at least the mid-9th century makes it feasible that a minority of Franks and Visigoths may have done likewise. A very small number of Arabs may have also employed horse-armour of some description.



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