Historical reenactment of a Sassanid-era cataphract, complete with a full set of scale armor for the horse. The rider is covered by extensive mail armor.
Sculpture of a Sasanian cataphract in Taq-e Bostan, Iran. It is One of the oldest depictions of a cataphract.
The extent circa 170 BC of the Iranian Scythians and Parthians, to whom the first recorded use of true cataphract-like cavalry can be attributed in antiquity.
Chanfron, Northern Yan
A stone-etched relief depicting a Parthian cataphract fighting against a lion. Housed in the British Museum.
Three examples of the various styles of interweaving and wire threading that were commonly employed in the creation of cataphract scale armor to form a stiffened, "armored shell" with which to protect the horse.
Breakdown of a fully armoured Chinese cataphract
Equestrian relief at Firuzabad, Iran showing Cataphracts dueling with lances
The cataphract-style parade armor of a Saka (Scythian) royal from the Issyk kurgan, dubbed "Golden Man". The overlapping golden scales are typical of cataphract armor.
Two heavily armored noblemen dueling on horseback with kontos; Sasanian era silver plate with gold coating, Azerbaijan Museum, Tabriz, Iran
A depiction of Sarmatian cataphracts fleeing from Roman cavalry during the Dacian wars circa 101 AD, at Trajan's Column in Rome

Form of armored heavy cavalryman that originated in Persia and was fielded in ancient warfare throughout Eurasia and Northern Africa.

- Cataphract

132 related topics


Heavy cavalry

Class of cavalry intended to deliver a battlefield charge and also to act as a tactical reserve; they are also often termed shock cavalry.

Ottoman Sipahi heavy cavalry, c. 1550
Early 16th-century French gendarmes, with complete plate armour and heavy lances
Spanish Heavy Cavalry - Royal Armoury of Madrid, Spain
Alexander the Great on horseback
The oldest known relief of a heavily armoured cavalryman, from the Sasanian Empire, at Taq-i Bostan, near Kermanshah, Iran (4th century)
Northern Wei heavy cavalry
A recreation of a medieval joust between heavily armoured knights at a modern Renaissance fair
Contemporary depiction in the Liber ad honorem Augusti, of Dipold of Acerra, an early 13th-century knight, when the knight was undisputed master of the battlefield
Mongol heavy cavalry in battle (13th–14th century)
Christian the Younger of Brunswick in the armour of a cuirassier
A re-enactor dressed as a Winged Hussar, who served as the heavy cavalry of the Polish Commonwealth
French cuirassiers, 19th century

Iranian tribes such as the Massagetae were believed to be the originator of the class of heavy cavalry known as cataphract.

Charge (warfare)

Offensive maneuver in battle in which combatants advance towards their enemy at their best speed in an attempt to engage in a decisive close combat.

Greek infantry charge with the bayonet during the Greco-Turkish War of 1897
The Charge of the Light Brigade, a charge of British light cavalry against a larger Russian force, was made famous because of Lord Tennyson's poetic retelling of the events.

Parthian lancers were noted to require significantly dense formations of Roman legionaries to stop, and Frankish knights were reported to be even harder to stop, if the writing of Anna Komnene is to be believed.

Battle of Carrhae

Fought in 53 BC between the Roman Republic and the Parthian Empire near the ancient town of Carrhae .

Marcus Licinius Crassus
Extent of the Parthian Empire
Formations at the start of the battle
Relief of a Parthian cataphract attacking a lion using kontos
Roman coin of Augustus (19 BC) showing a Parthian soldier returning the standards captured at Carrhae. Augustus hailed the return of the standards as a political victory over Parthia.
Parthian horseman
Detail from the breastplate of Augustus Prima Porta, showing a Parthian man returning the aquila lost by Crassus at the Battle of Carrhae

An invading force of seven legions of Roman heavy infantry under Marcus Licinius Crassus was lured into the desert and decisively defeated by a mixed cavalry army of heavy cataphracts and light horse archers led by the Parthian general Surena.

Mounted archery

Cavalryman armed with a bow and able to shoot while riding from horseback.

Mounted archery in Tibet
Japanese mounted archers in the Gosannen War, 14th century painting by Hidanokami Korehisa
Young prince (later Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I) hunting for birds as a horsed archer. Woodcut by Albrecht Dürer.
A Timurid drawing of an Ilkhanid horse archer. Signed (lower right) Muhammad ibn Mahmudshah al-Khayyam Iran, early 15th century. Ink and gold on paper
Assyrian relief of a mounted archer
Parthian horse archer shooting at full gallop, undated relief at the Palazzo Madama, Turin.
16th-century Muscovite cavalry.
Qing Dynasty mounted archers face off against Dzungar mounted musketeers.
Bashkirs and Cossacks fighting French infantry with bows and lances at the Battle of Leipzig (1813).
Bashkir Horse Archers in Paris 1814.
Wall fragment from a Chinese tomb, with an incised relief decoration showing a hunting scene with mounted archery, Han dynasty (202 BC - 220 AD) National Museum of Oriental Art, Rome
Yabusame archer on horseback

In some armies, such as those of the Parthians, Palmyrans, and the Teutonic Order of Knights, the mounted troops consisted of both super-heavy troops (cataphracts and knights) without bows, and light horse archers.

Kontos (weapon)

Sassanian silver plate showing lance combat

The kontos (κοντός) was the Greek name for a type of long wooden cavalry lance used by the Iranians, especially Achaemenid successors' cavalry, most notably cataphracts (Grivpanvar).

Late Roman army

In modern scholarship, the "late" period of the Roman army begins with the accession of the Emperor Diocletian in AD 284, and ends in 480 with the death of Julius Nepos, being roughly coterminous with the Dominate.

The Tetrarchs, a porphyry statue on Venice's Basilica di San Marco, shows the emperor Diocletian and his three imperial colleagues. To the left, Diocletian and Maximianus, the two Augusti (co-emperors); to the right, Galerius and Constantius Chlorus, the two Caesars (deputy emperors). Note the woollen "Pannonian" caps commonly worn (out of combat) by officers in the late army as a result of the pervasive influence of the Danubian officer class; and the sword grips with eagle-head pommels.
Reenactor wearing the typical equipment of a late 3rd-century foot soldier. The helmet is a Niederbieber type, with cross-pattern reinforcing ridges on the top of the bowl, and cheek-guards which can be fastened together. The sword is a spatha (median blade length 900 mm/36 inches), used by the cavalry only in the 1st and 2nd centuries. This soldier carries a spiculum, a heavy pilum-type javelin. Note the chain mail (lorica hamata) shirt and oval shield. Clothing consisted of a long-sleeved tunic, trousers and boots. The equipment of a 4th-century infantryman was very similar to the 3rd century, save that the spiculum was usually replaced by a heavy thrusting-spear (hasta) and the helmet was predominantly of the "Intercisa type".
Fresco from the synagogue in the Roman fortified frontier city of Dura Europos dating to c. 250 AD. The centre shows unarmoured light cavalry charging with lances, the foreground and background show infantry fighting with spathae (long-bladed swords); they are equipped with knee-length scale armours, some with full-length sleeves.
Roman emperor Valerian (left, kneeling) begs for his life after being captured by Persian Shah Shapur I (mounted) at the Battle of Edessa (259), the most humiliating of the military disasters suffered by the empire in the late 3rd century. Rock relief at Naqsh-e Rostam near Shiraz, Iran
The Aurelian Walls of Rome, built by Aurelian in 270–5. Rome's first new wall since the construction of the Servian Wall after the Gauls sacked Rome 650 years earlier, they symbolised the pervasive insecurity of the 3rd-century empire. Original height: 8m (25 ft). Doubled in 410 to 16m (52 ft) after second sack of Rome in 410. Both walls and towers were originally crenellated, but this has survived only in small sections. Most of the 19km circuit still stands today
The emperor Diocletian (ruled 284–305), who launched wide-ranging reforms of the Roman army and government. Bronze follis coin
The emperor Constantine I (ruled 312–37), who established the first large-scale comitatus (imperial escort army) and divided the army into escort army (comitatenses) and border (limitanei) troops, giving the late Roman army the structure described in the Notitia Dignitatum. Bust in Musei Capitolini, Rome
High command structure of the East Roman army c. AD 395. Commands and army sizes based on data in the Notitia Dignitatum Orientis. Eastern magistri militum, in command of comitatus armies, reported direct to the emperor. Duces are shown reporting to their diocesan magister militum, as suggested by Jones and Elton. Locations given indicate usual winter quarters in this period.
High command structure of the West Roman army c. 410–425. Commands and army sizes based on data in the Notitia Dignitatum. Reporting relationship between duces and comites as in the East, with duces reporting to senior officer in their diocese (whereas the Notitia places them directly under the magister utriusque militiae). Locations given indicate usual winter quarters in this period.
Shield insignia of regiments under the command of the Magister Militum Praesentalis II of the East Roman army c. 395. Page from the Notitia Dignitatum, a medieval copy of a Late Roman register of military commands
Bas-relief of a Sassanian heavily armoured mounted warrior. He is wearing what is probably a chain-mail face-guard. This is possibly the kind of armour denoted by the Roman term clibanarius, probably meaning "furnace man" in reference to the heat that would build up inside such all-encompassing armour. Note the armoured caparison for the horse. From Taq-e Bostan, Iran
Late Roman soldiers, probably barbarians, as depicted (back row) by bas-relief on the base of Theodosius I's obelisk in Constantinople (c. 390). The troops belong to a regiment of palatini as they are here detailed to guard the emperor (left). More than third of soldiers in the palatini were barbarian-born by this time. Note the necklaces with regimental pendants and the long hair, a style imported by barbarian recruits, in contrast to the short hair that was the norm in the Principate
Detail of a 4th-century mosaic showing a hunting scene. The figures are probably Roman military officers, wearing the typical non-combat uniform (i.e. without armour and helmets, but with shield and spear) of late soldiers. (Throughout the imperial era, soldiers were usually portrayed in non-combat mode). Note the off-white, long-sleeved tunics. The swastika embroidered on the left tunic was a mystical symbol, possibly of Indo-European origin, representing the universe and was commonly used by the Romans as a decorative motif. Note also the military cloak (chlamys) and trousers. The pattern on the shield indicated the bearer's regiment. Note the bands embroidered on the sleeves and shoulders. From Piazza Armerina, Sicily
Frieze (bottom) showing Constantine I's cavalry driving Maxentius' troops into the River Tiber at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge (312). The image proves that 4th-century soldiers wore metal body armour (the Maxentian soldiers are wearing either mail or scale, it is unclear which). The Constantinian cavalry is apparently unarmoured, probably because these were units of Illyrian light cavalry (equites Dalmatae) and mounted archers. Detail from the Arch of Constantine, Rome
Detail of bas-relief on base of former Column of Theodosius in Constantinople (Istanbul). Date c. 390. Roman soldiers in action. Note soldier at centre had an Intercisa-style helmet with iron crest (prob. indicating officer rank) and is wearing chain-mail or scale armour, evidence that Vegetius's claim that infantry dropped helmets and armour in the later 4th century is mistaken. Istanbul Archaeological Museum
Late Roman helmet, called the Deurne helmet. It is covered in expensive silver-gilt sheathing and is inscribed to a cavalryman of the equites stablesiani.
The products of the fabricae, from the Notitia dignitatum. The illustration includes: helmets, shields, mail coats, cuirasses and laminated limb defences, plus various weapons.
Full-scale reconstruction of a 4th-century Roman river patrol-boat (lusoria), probably under the command of the dux of Germania I province. It is based on the remains of one of five late Roman river boats discovered at Moguntiacum in the early 1980s. The boat above, denoted Mainz Type A, had a long (22 m) and narrow (2.8 m) shape for speed and rounded keel to allow access to shallows. It could carry 32 marines, who rowed the boat fully armed (32 oars, 16 on each side). Whilst on board, the soldiers would hang their shields on stands fixed to the gunwales so as to provide cover from missiles launched from the riverbanks. Museum für Antike Schifffahrt, Mainz, Germany
The Walls of Theodosius II at Constantinople, built 408–413, to increase the area of land protected by the original Constantinian walls. Note the massive crenellated towers and surviving sections of wall. The walls actually consisted of a triple curtain, each one overlooking the other. They proved impregnable to even the largest armies until the introduction of explosive artillery in the later Middle Ages
An example of late Roman fortification. Note the protruding towers to allow enfilading fire. The original height of both walls and towers was clearly greater than today, and the crenellations are not the original ones, but crudely cut from the curtain wall itself in the medieval period. The church visible inside the walls was built in the 12th century by the Normans. Portchester Castle, England. 3rd century
Relief with the liberation of a besieged city; Western Roman Empire, early 5th century, Museum of Byzantine Art (inv. 4782), Bode Museum, Berlin. Both cavalry and infantry are shown wearing body armour.
Late Roman cavalry officers (bottom right) in a hunting scene. In combat, most cavalrymen would, like infantry, wear a mail shirt and helmet. Mosaic from Piazza Armerina, Sicily. 4th century
Drawing of Flavius Stilicho, the half-Vandal general who was magister utriusque militiae (commander-in-chief) of West Roman forces 395–408. The general is depicted without armour, wearing a chlamys (military cloak) over his tunic and carrying a heavy thrusting-spear and oval shield. He was made a scapegoat for the barbarian invasions of 405–6, although in reality his military skill may have saved the West from early collapse. Derived (1848) from an ivory diptych at Monza, Italy

However, the cavalry of the Late Roman army was endowed with greater numbers of specialised units, such as extra-heavy shock cavalry (cataphractii and clibanarii) and mounted archers.

Kingdom of Armenia (antiquity)

Monarchy in the Ancient Near East which existed from 321 BC to 428 AD. Its history is divided into the successive reigns of three royal dynasties: Orontid (321 BC–200 BC), Artaxiad (189 BC–12 AD) and Arsacid (52–428).

Tigran II's Great Armenia
Map of Armenia and the Roman client states in eastern Asia Minor, ca. 50 AD, before the Roman–Parthian War and the annexation of the client kingdoms into the Empire
Roman coin of 141 AD, showing emperor Antoninus Pius holding a crown on the Armenia King's head
Mesrop Mashtots, the creator of Armenian Alphabet, by Francesco Maggiotto (1750–1805)
Regions of Greater Armenia (Arsacid Armenia).
Historical provinces of Greater Armenia
World in 323 BC
World in 200 BC
World in 100 BC
Orontid Armenia
Armenian Empire under Tigranes the Great
Arshakuni Armenia in 150 AD
Persian Armenia
Byzantine Armenia

According to the author of Judith, his army included chariots and 12,000 cavalrymen, most likely heavy cavalry or cataphracts, a unit also commonly used by Seleucids and Parthians.

Kingdom of Pontus

Hellenistic kingdom centered in the historical region of Pontus and ruled by the Mithridatic dynasty (of Persian origin), which may or may not have been directly related to Darius the Great and the Achaemenid dynasty.

The Kingdom of Pontus at its height: before the reign of MithridatesVI (dark purple), after his early conquests (purple), and his conquests in the first Mithridatic wars (pink)
Coin of Pont Amisos
The Pontic Alps which divided the kingdom.
Ancient Pontic tombs on the mountains of Amasya
Bronze shield in the name of King Pharnakes: ΦΑΡΝΑΚΟΥ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ, Getty Villa (80.AC.60)
Bust of Mithridates VI from the Louvre
Lucius Cornelius Sulla
Anatolia in the early 1st century AD with Pontus as a Roman client state
The Roman client kingdom of Pontus, c. AD 50.

Lucullus laid siege to the city, and Tigranes returned with his army, including large numbers of heavily armored cavalrymen, termed Cataphracts, vastly outnumbering Lucullus' force.

Greco-Bactrian Kingdom

Hellenistic-era Greek state, and along with the Indo-Greek Kingdom, the easternmost part of the Hellenistic world in Central Asia and the Indian Subcontinent from its founding in 256 BC by Diodotus I Soter to its fall c. 120–100 BC under the reign of Heliocles II.

Approximate maximum extent of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom circa 170 BC, under the reign of Eucratides the Great, including the regions of Tapuria and Traxiane to the West, Sogdiana and Ferghana to the north, Bactria and Arachosia to the south.
Gold coin of Diodotus c. 245 BC. The Greek inscription reads: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΔΙΟΔΟΤΟΥ – "(of) King Diodotus".
Remains of a Hellenistic capital found in Balkh, ancient Bactra.
Asia in 200 BC, showing the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom and its neighbors.
Coin depicting the Greco-Bactrian king Euthydemus 230–200 BC. The Greek inscription reads: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΕΥΘΥΔΗΜΟΥ – "(of) King Euthydemus".
Silver tetradrachm of King Eucratides I 171–145 BC. The Greek inscription reads: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΜΕΓΑΛΟΥ ΕΥΚΡΑΤΙΔΟΥ – "(of) King Great Eucratides".
Bilingual coin of Eucratides in the Indian standard, on the obverse Greek inscription reads: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΜΕΓΑΛΟΥ ΕΥΚΡΑΤΙΔΟΥ – "(of) King Great Eucratides", Pali in the Kharoshthi script on the reverse.
Gold 20 stater of Eucratides, the largest gold coin of Antiquity. The coin weighs 169.2 grams, and has a diameter of 58 millimeters.
The migrations of the Yuezhi through Central Asia, from around 176 BC to AD 30
Gold artefacts of the Scythians in Bactria, at the site of Tillia tepe
Silver coin of Heliocles (r. 150–125 BC), the last Greco-Bactrian king. The Greek inscription reads: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΔΙΚΑΙΟΥ ΗΛΙΟΚΛΕΟΥΣ – "(of) King Heliocles the Just".
Coin of Eucratides I as a warrior holding a spear, obverse.
Corinthian capital, found at Ai-Khanoum, 2nd century BC
Stone block with the inscriptions of Kineas in Greek. Ai Khanoum.
Probable statuette of a Greek soldier, wearing a version of the Greek Phrygian helmet, from a 3rd century BC burial site north of the Tian Shan, Xinjiang Region Museum, Ürümqi.
Kandahar Bilingual Rock Inscription of Ashoka (in Greek and Aramaic), found in Kandahar. c. 250 BC, Kabul Museum.
One of the Hellenistic-inspired "flame palmettes" and lotus designs, which may have been transmitted through Ai-Khanoum. Rampurva bull capital, India, circa 250 BC.
Coin of Greco-Bactrian king Agathocles with Indian deities.
Indian coinage of Agathocles, with Buddhist lion and dancing woman holding lotus, possible Indian goddess Lakshmi.
Silver drachm of Menander I, dated circa 160–145 BC. Obverse: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΣΩΤΗΡΟΣ ΜΕΝΑΝΔΡΟΥ ('of King Menander the Saviour'), heroic bust of Menander, viewed from behind, head turned to left; Reverse: Athena standing right, brandishing thunderbolt and holding aegis, Karosthi legend around, monogram in field to left.
Bronze Herakles statuette. Ai Khanoum. 2nd century BC.
Sculpture of an old man, possibly a philosopher. Ai Khanoum, 2nd century BC.
Close-up of the same statue.
Frieze of a naked man wearing a chlamys. Ai Khanoum, 2nd century BC.
Gargoyle in the form of a Greek comic mask. Ai Khanoum, 2nd century BC.
Plate depicting Cybele pulled by lions. Ai Khanoum.
Ionic pillar, cella of the Temple of the Oxus, Takht-i Sangin, late 4th - early 3rd century BCE.<ref name=Litvin-Pichik-1994>{{cite journal |last1=Litvinskii |first1=B.A. |last2=Pichikian |first2=I.R. |title=The Hellenistic architecture and art of the Temple of the Oxus |journal=Bulletin of the Asia Institute |year=1994 |volume=8 |pages=47–66 |url= |issn=0890-4464}}</ref>
Head of a Greco-Bactrian ruler with diadem, Temple of the Oxus, Takht-i Sangin, 3rd–2nd century BCE. This could also be a portrait of Seleucus I.<ref name="OB27">{{cite journal |last1=Bopearachchi |first1=Osmund |title=A faience head of a Graeco-Bactrian king from Ai Khanum |journal=Bulletin of the Asia Institute |date=1998 |volume=12 |page=27 |url= |issn=0890-4464}}</ref>
thumb|Hellenistic silenus Marsyas from Takhti Sangin, with dedication in Greek to the god of the Oxus, by "Atrosokes" (a Bactrian name). Temple of the Oxus, Takht-i Sangin, 200–150 BCE. Tajikistan National Museum.<ref name=Litvin-Pichik-1994/><ref name="RW2011">{{cite book |last1=Wood |first1=Rachel |title=Cultural convergence in Bactria: the votives from the Temple of the Oxus at Takht-i Sangin, in "From Pella to Gandhara" |date=2011 |publisher=Archaeopress |location=Oxford |pages=141-151 |url=}}</ref>
thumb|Alexander-Herakles head, Takht-i Sangin, Temple of the Oxus, 3rd century BCE.<ref name=Litvin-Pichik-1994/>

Polybius mentions 10,000 horse at the Battle of the Arius river in 208 BC. Greco-Bactrian armies also included units of heavily armored cataphracts and small elite units of companion cavalry.

Mace (bludgeon)

Blunt weapon, a type of club or virge that uses a heavy head on the end of a handle to deliver powerful strikes.

Various Eastern maces, from left: Bozdogan/buzdygan (Ottoman), tabar-shishpar (Indian), shishpar (Indian), shishpar (unknown), gurz (Indian), shishpar (Indian).
A mural of Bhima with his mace
A prehistoric earthenware mace found in central Serbia
Moche stone maces. Larco Museum Collection (Lima-Peru)
Calcite mace head, 7-6th millennium BC, Syria
Assyrian soldier holding a mace and a bow. Detail of a basalt relief from the palace of Tiglath-pileser III at Hadatu, Syria. 744–727 BCE. Ancient Orient Museum, Istanbul
Pernach (left) and two shestopyors
Shestopyor-type mace (in literal translation six-feathers) used by the rotmistrzs of the private army of the Radziwiłł family.
Mace polearm wielding figurine from the tomb of Ming dynasty prince Zhu Tan, 10th son of the Hongwu Emperor
World War I trench raiding club
Mace of the Royal Society, granted by Charles II
Marshal of Poland mace
Ceremonial maces of the Rector Magnificus of the University of Santo Tomas in Manila, Philippines.
Indian shishpar (flanged mace), all steel construction, with eight knife edged, hinged flanges, 18th-19th century, 26 inches long.
Indian shishpar (flanged mace), steel with solid shaft and eight flanged head, 24in.
Indian (Deccan) tabar-shishpar, an extremely rare combination tabar axe and shishpar eight flanged mace, steel with hollow shaft, 21.75 in. 17th to 18th century.

Persians used a variety of maces and fielded large numbers of heavily armoured and armed cavalry (see Cataphract).