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8-08-2015, 16:47

Weapons, Plus a Pivotal Invention

One major reason that the Frankish and other early medieval horsemen did not yet qualify as true, or full-ledged, knights was related to the nature of their armor, weapons, and tactics. he armor worn by Frankish cavalry consisted mostly of mail. It gave the wearer a fair degree of lexibility, including allowing him to mount his horse and use his weapons with more ease than would have been possible wearing heavier, more rigid armor. A serious shortcoming of mail, however, was its lack of full protection. Sword blows that struck it at an angle were often repelled, but a straight-on thrust usually pierced mail shirts. As did foot soldiers, early European cavalrymen employed swords and spears, and in some cases bows, as well as shields. Trying to maneuver these items efectively without falling of one’s steed was diicult enough. So taking part in shock action—which usually entailed using a lance (a long spear with a handle) in a frontal assault on an enemy—was extremely diicult and risky. A major cause of this limitation was that these light cavalrymen knew nothing of an uncomplicated but crucial invention—the stirrup. As Archer Jones points out, without stirrups, “a rider had to depend on the pressure of his knees to hold himself on his horse. his feeble seat made it awkward for a soldier, especially an unpracticed rider, to ight mounted.”14 he arrival of the stirrup in western Europe in the eighth or ninth century was therefore a revolutionary advance in the evolution of cavalry warfare in general and the full-ledged knight in particular. First, riders equipped with stirrups were signiicantly better able to stay seated on their steeds, even when a missed sword stroke threw them of balance. Also, Jones writes, a cavalryman could “increase his height above an opponent on foot by standing in his stirrups. In addition, this innovation made it possible for mediocre riders to perform well and greatly enhanced the ef ectiveness of the best heavy cavalry. h us, the stirrup, so simple in concept, produced one of technology’s most fundamental modii cations in land warfare.”15 h e adoption of the stirrup made Frankish cavalry units, already superior to other European mounted forces, truly fearsome. A Byzantine military document of the period warned, “So formidable is the charge of the Frankish cavalry, with their broadsword, lance, and shield, that it is best to decline a pitched battle with them till you have put all the chances on your side.” Overall, therefore, “it is easier and less costly to wear out a Frankish army by skirmishes, protracted operations in desolate districts, and the cutting of of supplies, than to attempt to destroy it at a single blow.”16