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THE CAVALRY

Translated by Kirsty Bennett and haiducul


The heavy cavalry

The heavy cavalry was composed of catafracts, heavily armored horsemen who were protected by a lorice. The lorice was armor that covered both the rider and the horse. This was the armour of the Sarmatian cavalry. Tacitus says that this armour was only worn by the Sarmatian nobles who were called roxolani. The lorices of the Sarmatian cavalry were made out of a single piece that covered the lower part and the upper part of the body. The Sarmatian horses were covered with lorices on the head, on the chest, on the sides of the horses, the feet until the hooves and on the eyes there were shields with holes to see through. The Dacian lorices were a little bit different from the Sarmatian ones. They have the shape of a waistcoat or shirt and covered only the chest, the back, the elbows and abdomen until the knees. The Trajan column shows us different lorices used by the Dacian army. Some of the lorices were made by layers of bronze or iron in a shape of a waistcoat (thorax) that closed at the chest with big buttons. Some were made of metal scales, bone or hard leather (lorice squamata). Some were coats or metal chain mail (lorice hamis conserta) and some were made of flax (lorica lintea).
According to Tacitus the Sarmation lords and nobles wore lorices made of layers of iron or pieces of tough leather. In Pausania Tacitus says that Sarmation amour (the usual cavalry) were made of scales cut from horses hooves because they had neither iron mines nor did they import iron.
The heavy cavalry troops of the Dacians and Sarmations wore helmets made of metal or tough leather. Dacian helmets appear in different shapes. Some of them had guards for the front and the back of the helmet.. On Trajan's Column helmets of different shapes appear together as loot. Some of them had very decorative ornamentation on them which, is a clue that the cavalry was composed in a large part of nobles and wealthy people.
As an offensive weapon the heavy cavalry of the Sarmation had a long straight sword (gladius, praelongus, spata) held with both hands in battle.
“I am surprised that the whole power of the Sarmations is outside of themselves, I can say. When they are fighting on foot they are barely moving but with their cavalry squadrons there is no army that could resist them… They have long spears (conts) and very long swords which they hold with both hands when they use them.”
Other weapons of the heavy cavalry were light war axes that had on one side a convex edge in the shape of a half moon and on the other side a wide edge. Pausania also mentions the arcans of the Sarmation army which, were thrown towards their enemies when they were pursuing them from behind and then turning their horses so that their enemies were caught and were pulled to the ground.
The Dacian horses were well-known in history because of their speed. The poet Ovid used epithets of rapidus and celer for the horses of the Gets. The Latin historian Vopiscus who lived in the times of Constantine the Great said that horses taken by the Roman warriors from the north of the Danube were neither beautiful nor big but could travel 100 miles per day (149km) for 8-10 days at a time. The stallions were castrated so they would not get agitated when they saw the mares and so they wouldn’t neigh and give away the position of the troops to the enemy.
Until the conquest of the country by the Romans, the military power of the Dacians lay in their cavalry and infantry The most important force of the Gets population from the Danube and Black Sea was their cavalry.
“Gets who are living beyond the Hem and the other inhabitants from those lands who are close to the Scythians are using the same weapons as this nation" writes Tucidide, "They are all archers on horses.”
Through their cavalry the Gets have remained renowned through history as a brave and strong race. Around the year 339 BC Atheas, the Scythian king, who was ruling to the eastern parts of Dacia wrote to the Byzantine citizens the following: “beware not to make any damage to my revenue and also that my horses should not drink your water.”
“The Gets are powerful enemies in cavalry and their arrows fly a long way” says Ovidiu.

The light cavalry

The light cavalry were as light as possible, armed with bows and arrows, swords and axes and without shields or spears. The Dacian cavalry didn’t use saddles. They could go to war very quickly because they didn’t require a lot of preparation. They were ready for battle at any time. The main weapon of the Dacians for both cavalry and pedestrians was the bow. With their bows they could fire arrows a long distance and a very rapidly so they could cover the enemies with a rain of arrows.
The Dacian bows were solid and light and they were made of antlers held together whilst the string of the bow was made of horses tail hair. Writing about the Gets and Sarmations close to the Danube Ovidi comments that: “ The majority of those nations are not afraid of the weapons of the soldiers of the Roman army. They have full confidence in their bows and in their quivers of arrows and in their horses who know how to handle long distances and to endure a long time without food and water.”
The Dacian and the Sarmation cavalry were especially skilled in their use of the bow from horseback. Whilst they were moving or simulating a retreat they could turn with half of their body and fire upon their pursuers.
For the Romans the bow was a simple hunting weapon and their armies didn't rely on it like the Dacains and the Sarmations. It was used almost only by the auxiliary troops recruited from amongst the provincial populations or by allied tribes.
The Dacian arrows were long and the tip of the arrow was covered in adder poison.
“There is no one from the Sarmation or the Gets who wasn’t wearing a bow with arrows dipped in adder poison” says Ovidiu. The Gets were always wearing a quiver of arrows and because of that Ovidiu called them Pharetrati, a name which stayed in use in the Romanian army until the 18th century.
Another part of the Dacian cavalry had spears. The spears and the darts of the cavalry had the shape of the roman hastae and it was used as a throwing weapon and a stabbing weapon. The Sarmation cavalry used the dart called contus which was similar to the sarissa of the Macedonians but it wasn’t that long.
Some cavalry troops that fought with spears and arrows also wore shields. The Dacian shields had an oval shape that was more practical. They were more easily handled than the square shaped ones and covered only the chest and abdomen of the fighter. When they were running they put the shield on their backs. The Dacian shields were decorated with a lot of emblems. Some had in the middle a rosette as the symbol of the sun and some had on their edges decoration with the moon and stars. On other shields we can see a crown of laurel and floral decoration. Besides the oval shield or pelta cavalry from the north of the Danube carried a small shield which the Italians called parma according to Lydus.