East meets West: Mounted Encounters in Early and High Mediaeval Europe
By Jurg Gassmann
Acta Periodica Duellatorum, Vol.5:1 (2017)
Abstract: By the Late Middle Ages, mounted troops – cavalry in the form of knights – are established as the dominant battlefield arm in North-Western Europe. This paper considers the development of cavalry after the Germanic Barbarian Successor Kingdoms such as the Visigoths in Spain or the Carolingian Franks emerged from Roman Late Antiquity and their encounters with Islam, as with the Moors in Iberia or the Saracens (Arabs and Turks) during the Crusades, since an important part of literature ascribes advances in European horse breeding and horsemanship to Arab influence. Special attention is paid to information about horse types or breeds, conformation, tactics – fighting with lance and bow – and training. Genetic studies and the archaeological record are incorporated to test the literary tradition.
Introduction: The Germanic kingdoms that established themselves in the Roman Empire of the West in the 5th C did not exist in a vacuum, they interacted with outside powers. Initially defensively, as Muslim forces first overran North Africa and then – in Iberia and Gaul – encroached on the European kingdoms as well; and further during the Crusades, as Europe transitioned from the defensive to the strategic counter-offensive.
The equine side of these encounters has received little attention, and where it has, statements are often made and conclusions drawn which at the very least require testing against the archaeological and literary record. Several authors hypothesise that European breeding and horsemanship received decisive impulses from these encounters – these hypotheses shall here be tested.