Byzantine warhorses vs Western counterparts.

May 2017
2
Minneapolis
Hello all! Long time lurker and first time poster! I have a long ranging interest in Byzantine/medieval cavalry, warhorses and cavalry tactics.

Considering the extensive use of cavalry as the main arm of the Byzantine Army during the Komnenian period (for our sake lets consider that 1081 to 1204), how effective were Byzantine warhorses during this period in comparison to their Western European, and in particular Norman/German/Hungarian, adversaries?

I have certainly read accounts that lead me to believe that the Byzantine cavalry suffered from lack of effective mounts during the period of Alexios. But by the reign of Manuel I Komnenos, it appears that the Kataphraktoi had once again become the dominant branch of the army, with western cavalry tactics and equipment reaching the Empire.

Did Byzantium have good access to high quality warhorses for their heavy cavalry? Did neighboring areas such as Hungary, Syria and Anatolia provide better mounts or simply supply Constantinople with high quality mounts?

Any assistance and commentary is welcome!
 
May 2016
811
Vatican occupied America
The Byzantines mainly raised their own horses on stud farms in Thrace and Phrygia, though they like the Romans also bought foreign horses. The Byzantines like the romans used tree saddles rather than pad saddles and had stirrups. They were always a mixture of cataphracts and mounted archers. They Normans developed the charge with the crouched lance made their knights more effective than the Byzantine, but when one adds mounted archers the balance may have been to the Byzantines. Mounted archers are not very effective by themselves,even the Mongols did not rely upon them using mixed unites of heavy horse and light horse. Both China and Japan relied were dominated by mounted archers and this in North China was largely responsible for the easy Mongol conquest.
Byzantine light horse used a hornbow and drew it with a thumb ring

The Goths were essentially the same as the Byzantines in cavalry. I'm uncertain when the Magyars added knights, before they did inferior when mainly mounted archers. Byzantine light horse used a hornbow and drew it with a thumb ring. The thumb ring may have been copied from the Magyars. The Romans were using hornbows long before their fall. The advantage of the thumb ring is that it allows one to draw a heavier bow (this increases both range and penetration and makes shooting more accurate at any given range provided one is not using a bow too heavy).
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
5,000
Australia
Sassanians and Parthians used the charge with the couched lance a thousand years before the Normans.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
5,349
Sydney
.
On Magyars cavalry , check out the "black Army"
that was an impressive piece of military set up

byzantine cavalry was heavy cavalry with mounted archers , the doctrine of use was the saturation of the enemy by a violent discharge of arrows preceding an all out charge

The problem was to pay for such an expensive establishment
when there was money , the Byzantine army grew to full potential
when money was short , their quality slowly deteriorated
disastrous losses such as Manzikert were hard , it was difficult to replace warriors with ten years training and experience
especially in a climate of bankruptcy
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
5,000
Australia
Would you source that Dan -I've only seen or heard of them using
the contus.
Kontos means "barge pole"; the Greeks called the lances this because they were longer and heavier than anything used by the Normans. They needed a second hand to steady them.
 
Last edited:
May 2017
2
Minneapolis
Thanks for all of this valuable input comrades! @ Mr. Howard, I have read much of the "barge pole" as a two handed, thrusting lance for heavily armored Kataphraktoi amongst the Armenians, Sassanids, Byzantines etc. Would such a lance (and such tactical employment) have men effective against Western Knightly cavalry?

I know that during the Komnenian period, 11th and 12th centuries, the armored lancer, wielding kontos and a mace as impact weapons, were the core of the Byzantine cavalry. Would they have still wielded "barge poles" of greater length than other contemporary foes?
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
5,000
Australia
Most mounted lances were just spears. There was nothing to distinguish them from infantry spears. What matters is how they were tactically deployed.