The Crucial development of Heavy Cavalry under Herakleios and his Usage of Steppe Nomad Tactics

The Crucial development of Heavy Cavalry under Herakleios and his Usage of Steppe Nomad Tactics

By Mark-Anthony Karantabias

Hirundo, the McGill Journal of Classical Studies, Vol.4 (2005-06)

Introduction: The last war between the Eastern Romans and the Sassanids was likely the most important of Late Antiquity, exhausting both sides economically and militarily, decimating the population, and laying waste the land. In Heraclius: Emperor of Byzantium, Walter Kaegi, concludes that the Romaioi under Herakleios (575-641) defeated the Sassanian forces with techniques from the section “Dealing with the Persians” in the Strategikon, a handbook for field commanders authored by the emperor Maurice (reigned 582-602). Although no direct challenge has been made to this claim, Trombley and Greatrex, while inclided to agree with Kaegi’s main thesis, find fault in Kaegi’s interpretation of the source material.

The development of the katafraktoi stands out as a determining factor in the course of the battles during Herakleios’ colossal counter-attack. Its reforms led to its superiority over its Persian counterpart, the clibonarios. Adoptions of steppe nomad equipment crystallized the Romaioi unit. Stratos and Bivar make this point, but do not expand their argument in order to explain the victory of the emperor over the Sassanian Empire. The turning point in its improvement seems to have taken place at the launch pad of the encounter, at Caesarea in Cappadocia. The emperor’s negotiations with the Turks gave a significant contingent of the nomad’s cavalry, which may have been a contributing factor to the katafraktoi. And while, it appears Herakleios used the Strategikon, it is doubtful he consulted the section on the steppe nomads.

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