Ancient Roman Horse Equipment (and Medieval eqp.)

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Coydog
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I've lurked here for about a year, but this is my first real post:

Here is a page displaying some beautiful examples of ancient Roman cavalry horse equipment. For those into the really ancient history of cavalry, It's well worth checking out!

http://www.romancoins.info/MilitaryEquipment-Horse.html

Especially of interest is the recreated full equipage (scroll to the bottom).

I especially like the elaborate ornamental brasses, though I'll warn you that some of the iconography incorporated into a couple of these designs could be construed as somewhat risque!


Monique MacNaughton
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Monique,
Beautiful.
Thanks for sharing.

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Jim Bewley
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As this is an area I know little to nothing about I have two questions.

In the first three castings the riders are all wearing their sword on the right side rather then the left. Was this standard back then and why?

The shot of the bridle on the horse shows a device that is in the horses mouth and over the nose. There is another example of it as well. Did this have a hackamore like effect? I am not sure how the bitting thing shown works.

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There are artifacts and (if I remember well) recreated horse equipments in the Roman Museum in Canterbury (UK).

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Pat Holscher
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Interesting to see discussion of Roman cavalry. I've seen suggestions made that cavalry was not important in the ancient world, but that doesn't seem to stand up. Certainly Alexander used cavalry, and I recently heard Victor David Hanson on television discussing the importance of cavalry in the Pelopanesian (sp?) Wars. And all that well predates the Romans.

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The roman foot soldiers wore the gladium on the right side in order not to be impeded by the big shield (scutum) in drawing the sword (which was short and handy, so one would be able to draw it with the right hand from the right side: maybe a similar reason applies to cavalry as well, despite the sword being longer, or, it had become tradition to wear the sword on the right side.

I recall having seen a very interesting documentary on the Roman Legions (think it was a BBC original or discovery channel re-cutted by our national broadcasting corp. in a program lead by a very famous anchorman specialized in scientific-divulgative programs).
Some english researcher made copies of original roman saddles, but they looked somewhat different to the one shown in the link, in that it had two little "horns" kind-of (or "pommels") protuding at near 45° from vertical on each side of the arch and cantle: they were used to give anchorage to the upper leg of the rider (they didn't knew stirrups). Very interesting: this way they had an axcellent grip on the horse, if case be.

Luigi
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Very interesting stuff, indeed. Note the small size of the horses in the images. Romans were not large by modern standards, but they outsize these animals. Suggests pony size.

J
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<blockquote id="quote"><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica" id="quote">quote:<hr height="1" noshade id="quote">

<i>Some english researcher made copies of original roman saddles, but they looked somewhat different to the one shown in the link, in that it had two little "horns" kind-of (or "pommels") protuding at near 45° from vertical on each side of the arch and cantle: they were used to give anchorage to the upper leg of the rider (they didn't knew stirrups). Very interesting: this way they had an axcellent grip on the horse, if case be.</i>

Luigi
<hr height="1" noshade id="quote"></blockquote id="quote"></font id="quote">

Sort of like the principal behind the poleys on Australian stock saddles, eh? To account for the variances, I suppose design and equipment in the Roman legion would have evolved over time like anything else.

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Yes coydog, soemthing of that sort of australian saddles: sure, the design couldn' remain unchanged in nearly 1.000 yaers! ;)

Luigi
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That explains the sword on the right side. Now how about that thing in the mouth and over the nose????

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<blockquote id="quote"><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica" id="quote">quote:<hr height="1" noshade id="quote"><i>Originally posted by luigi</i>
<br />The roman foot soldiers wore the gladium on the right side in order not to be impeded by the big shield (scutum) in drawing the sword (which was short and handy, so one would be able to draw it with the right hand from the right side: maybe a similar reason applies to cavalry as well, despite the sword being longer, or, it had become tradition to wear the sword on the right side.

I recall having seen a very interesting documentary on the Roman Legions (think it was a BBC original or discovery channel re-cutted by our national broadcasting corp. in a program lead by a very famous anchorman specialized in scientific-divulgative programs).
Some english researcher made copies of original roman saddles, but they looked somewhat different to the one shown in the link, in that it had two little "horns" kind-of (or "pommels") protuding at near 45° from vertical on each side of the arch and cantle: they were used to give anchorage to the upper leg of the rider (they didn't knew stirrups). Very interesting: this way they had an axcellent grip on the horse, if case be.

Luigi
<hr height="1" noshade id="quote"></blockquote id="quote"></font id="quote">
Thats a coincidence. I sat down for a few minute in front of the TV yesterday and saw a few minutes of, possibly, the same BBC documentary you speak of Luigi.
I am sure the saddle was constructed in the manner described by you.
The rider was on what appeared to be a nicely schooled grey horse turning and pirouetting around a target. The rider was explaining the reason for the sword being on the right hand side. The sword, assuming accurately represented, was still short enough to be drawn from this side.
The rider was initially unrecognisable to me under the helmet and with his face darkened. But, with his NewZealand accent, it turned out to be Alan Larsen who I have met. He is a reanactor who takes great pains to achieve authenticity. He has, or had, a splendid troop of 17th Lancers..and other troops. He visited some years ago to obtain details of my UP1890 and 1856 saddles with the intention of reproducing them for his troops...whether he did I don't know.
John.M.

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I guess a Hackmore "ante litteram": if you look a few images up you se the picture captioned "Horse Harness, from Nijmegen Museum" which is the same item. I don't know if the snaffle-like piece in the harness foto is real or if it's just there for making the rest of the harness keeping its place: I don't know if such very rigid link of the snaffle to the rest of the harness would work

Luigi
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Luigi:

The horns you mention work somewhat like a "leaping horn" on a side-saddle.

Incidently, I remember reading in a 1920's English text that many British officers who had lost a leg in the great war still rode to hounds with side saddles. We have to assume the Roman horns on a saddle could give a secure seat in the same way.

They show clearly in one of the photos Monique linked (thanks, by the way):

http://www.romancoins.info/c-2005%20(70).JPG

The romans were excellent engineers, eminently practical, and they shamelessly copied and absorbed, then improved technologies they encountered from other cultures. I don't doubt their saddles and tack worked very well.

We just have trouble getting past the "no stirrups" part!

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John Ruf
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steenie

I have ridden on a roman 4 horn saddle.

The horns are there before the use of stirrup irons. Instead of putting ur weight in to say the right iron, you put your weight against the left horn. This means the balance is maintained and also leaves the rider far more independant to throw a short spear.

You can almost turn a 180 in the saddle whilst throwing the spear and still keep total balance on the horns

A very clever system that has merit.
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Hello Stanley:

I suspected as much, but it is great to hear from someone who has "been there, done that".

What a wonderful opportunity to have ridden in a proper reproduction.

Regards,

John Ruf
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Coydog
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Stanley, it sounds like you had fun :D

It's all too easy to think that the idea of stirrups is so obvious that we wonder how it took so long for the concept to be developed, but then again, the Romans were throwing spears, not jousting with heavy armour as far as I know.

I wonder how they would address the balance issue if actually engaging with another rider with swords?

Monique MacNaughton
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The Roman short sword (the gladius) was, I understand, exclusively for use in an infantry role. Roman tactics generally involved the use of throwing spears (pila) while opposing armies closed, then very close combat, covered by their large shields (scuta), and using the gladii to thrust at their enemies. So, when a Roman horseman is depicted with a gladius, I suspect that it would have been provided him for use on foot, rather than from the saddle.

However, Roman cavalry quite early (circa 1st century AD) were provided with a longer sword, the spatha, which eventually replaced the gladius as the primary infantry sword. I've seen a few Internet references (take that with what credence you will--I won't put too much stock in it) to the spatha being primarily a slashing weapon, so it would certainly present a balance challenge if it were to be used from horseback with no stirrups. Even without stronger evidence to support the slashing use of the spatha, one would imagine that the longer blade itself would strongly suggest intended use from horseback.

Anyone on the list have more specific knowledge of the use of the spatha?


Tim
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Please take the following with great caution... but I seem to recall that the use of the short gladium came quite late: at Scipio's legionnaires, for example, were using a kind of sword more similar to the spatha, which they called hispanica (note these are recollection from somewhere out of my mind, don't remember any sources, take it very cautiously) which was used trusting and slashing and was, IIRC, also slighty curved like a scythe (so the reverse of a sabre). Anyway the tactic was as stated above: a close wall of scuta pressing on the enemy and the swords thrusting and slashing from the small spaces between the scuta... more a kind of butcherwork.

P.S. John M, I recall a chestnut horse, but it might well be.

Regards

Luigi
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<blockquote id="quote"><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica" id="quote">quote:<hr height="1" noshade id="quote"><i>Originally posted by Pat Holscher</i>
<br />Interesting to see discussion of Roman cavalry. I've seen suggestions made that cavalry was not important in the ancient world, but that doesn't seem to stand up. Certainly Alexander used cavalry, and I recently heard Victor David Hanson on television discussing the importance of cavalry in the Pelopanesian (sp?) Wars. And all that well predates the Romans.

Pat
<hr height="1" noshade id="quote"></blockquote id="quote"></font id="quote">

My understanding is that it went back and forth then, as it did in later history: as infantry was steadier, cavalry's impact on the battlefield lessened. As infantry was less disciplined and capable, cavalry became more ascendant. And as always, combined arms allowed either to be used with deadly effect, to it took great commanders and well trained units to pull such dominance off...such as with Alexander, Ghenghis, etc.

But yes, you can find periods througout ancient history where cavalry dominated the battlefields.

Clair

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<font size="3"><font face="Book Antiqua">Greetings All,

A few random notes based on what has been posted here before. The four horns on the Roman saddle - which by the way was apparently copied from the Gauls - are reported to have been very effective as noted above. Must have been hell however on the knees, the weight of the leg hanging all day like that.

However, Peter Connolly to whom the recreated design is credited may have perhaps erred in one aspect. He employs a wood frame tree which according to all other historians was not invented until the ascendency of the Huns in the 4th or 5th century AD. If this is so, then the saddle was more like a modern sport saddle used in endurance riding which is without a solid tree.

Accordingly, the rigidity of the horns would have been somewhat less although they could still have been fairly stout.

The use of stirrups came about in the 7th century AD - the generally accepted time frame - as an invention of the Avars. As a side comment they were an interesting but short lived people in history. Their empire didn't last long and they are most noteworthy for the assault they made on Constantinople for 12 days continuously with 100,000 men between 29 June and 10 August 626 AD [and I mean continuously, day and night without let up]. Allied with the Persians and with large contingents of Slavs and Bulgars, they suffered appalling losses at the hands of the Byzantine defenders. They hauled off without having made a single breech and vanished into history. This was one of the great moments in the long history of Constantinople.

But back to Roman cavalry. Yes the <i><b>spatha</b></i> was the cavalry weapon for close-in fighting. It was balanced by the shield on the left side which was an oval affair and with a flat surface rather than the curved surface of the infantry <i><b>scutum</b></i>. There is some evidence to suggest that some Roman cavalry at some time and most likely in the Middle East carried a quiver of javelins to throw before closing with the enemy [formation]. Finally on this topic, the Romans didn't always use the short <i><b>gladius</b></i> which we are all so used to seeing. The <i><b>gladius hispaniensis</b></i> was a common weapon for centuries, being shaped with a longer tapering point than the shorter <i><b>gladius</b></i> and about 32 inches long - like the <i><b>spatha</b></i>.

On horse armor, Roman cavalry horses during the Republic and early Empire were relatively if not completely unarmored. The face masks or chamfrons were used for games and training in the hippodrome. By the late empire and especially after their terrific defeat at Adrianople in 9 August 378 AD, [the Emperor Valens, Sebastian and 40,000 Romans perished at the hands of the mounted Goths] much of the Roman cavalry was of a heavy type known as <b><i>clibanarii</i></b>. With this type both the horse and rider were completely armored with scale armor. This battle cemented the dominance of cavalry which had begun its ascendancy 400 years before and which was to last for 1,000 years.

This heavy cavalry could not have been possible without the development of larger and heavier horses in central Asia - not an area we normally associate with heavy enough horses to carry an armored rider. The first planned horse breeding work being done was by the Medes and Assyrians. It took a while to catch on.

The Campaign of Carrhae 54 - 53 BC was the beginning of the dominance of cavalry over infantry in history. It was the first defeat of the hitherto invincible Roman Legion by horsemen. Crassus campaigned into Parthia with 39,000 men. Fewer than 5,000 returned. The campaign was a political stunt to improve Crassus' position; it earned the undying enmity of the Parthians. The battle tactics of the Parthians were simple. In semi desert plains the Romans formed square and the Parthians, led by Surenas, refused to close. They stayed at maximum effective range and galled the Romans with arrows, hour after hour. Units were rotated out of the fight when their ammunition was nearly exhausted. Fresh units were rotated in while camel trains resupplied the empty quivers of the resting unit. Crassus sent his son out with 6,000 picked men [infantry, cavalry and auxiliary bowmen] to pin down the elusive Parthians. These withdrew, leading the Roman light column on until it was just far enough away. It was then surrounded and slaughtered to a man. At the end of this first day, the Romans withdrew in the dark leaving behind 4,000 wounded men. The Parthians slaughter them all as well. Crassus was treacherously killed during negotiations the following night. The Roman retreat continued for days, eventually 10,000 Romans were captured and enslaved by the Parthians. As noted less than 5,000 Romans returned. Call it a loss of 35,000 men.

The significance of this campaign is that, militarily, it was a cavalry victory over the invincible Roman infantry and was a perfect example of mobility and firepower over shock action. [Gosh there is that mobility thing again - anyone up for the Major Howze?] It was furthermore, the harbinger of the dominance of the entire Middle East by horse archers.

For most of its history, Roman cavalry armored it troopers with a chain mail cuirass which had shoulder flaps, was hip length or a bit longer and weighed 12-15kg. The famous <i><b>lorica segmentata</b></i>, the first widely used articulated plate armor in history, weighed in at about 9 kg but appears to have never been a piece of cavalry gear. Rather Roman cavalry progressed to scale armor as noted above. This was probably due to the greater flexibility of scale armor over the <i><b>lorica segmentata.</i></b>

Finally, for all its very real greatness and its ability to shamelessly copy the good military ideas of its enemies, Rome never really had good cavalry when viewed against the light of Alexander's cavalry or that of Hannibal or the Parthians. Without a doubt this was first, a result of their focus on the legion as the supreme combat element and two their failure to mass their cavalry. The Roman cavalry was part of the legion - like the French pre WWII doctrine of making their tanks part of their infantry divisions rather than employing them in mass like the Germans and supporting their mobility with infantry.

As a result the fairly small numbers of Roman horsemen only came together when two or more legions operated together. Not surprisingly then, they never really trained together and were always at the beck and call of the legion commander. One would think then that the Legion commander kept them primarily for his own close in or local security work. If this is the case they were pretty bad at it as the Romans were notoriously poor at reconnaissance.

While the individual Roman cavalry trooper was put through a comprehensive training program and was an excellent mounted fighting man, Roman cavalry doctrine was not on par with that training.

For much of Rome's history Roman cavalry was essentially used as little more than mobile flank security for the battle line. It is rare to find a battle in which Roman cavalry played a decisive and victorious role [Zama 202 BC]. There are numerous examples however where its failure led to the destruction of the entire army [Carrhae, Adrianople, Cannae 2 August 216 BC]. The Romans considered the legion as the decisive element - unlike Alexander in whose army the cavalry was the decisive element using the infantry phalanx as the anvil to its hammer. That's why doctrine - how we fight - is so important, then and now.

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Jeffrey S. Wall
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