Horse equipment in the epoch of Amir Temur and the Temurids

Issue #2 • 1293

To conquer new territories and to dominate over the world, Amir Temur needed a strong and well equipped army, forming which he followed mainly the Mongolian standards, permanently improving them. The troops of Temur, according to written sources, consisted of the infantry – pieda and cavalry – atlyk, which acted in the battle. The infantry played a role of impact force and consisted of ordinary and specially trained warriors, which, depending on arms, formed light and heavy cavalry. The horse guards provided security of Temur. Besides that, cavalry troops were used both as messengers, and as a convoy of trade caravans, so promoting development of transcontinental trade relations (1).

Temur and the Temurids recruited the cavalry troops from the nomads as they were matchless in art of horse fighting. The equipment of the cavalry was being formed during several centuries, what allowed to select the most efficient offensive and defensive arms serving the purposes of war in that period. The light cavalry used quilted protective clothes or armour on fragmentary leather basis instead of the heavy metal armour. This corps should have had good mobility as it was used for scouting and pursuit of the enemy. The heavy cavalry should have been protected much better, since its function was break through and and crush of the enemy army. The equipment of the cavalryman consisted of a full set of the metal armour (including a corslet, mail armour, helmet, bracers and chausses) and weapon – a shield and sword or sabre, a quiver with arrows, a bow and spear (1, 2). The big attention was given to equipment and decoration of the horse as the victory and often the life of the horseman depended on the horse. Besides that, in Central Asia, for the men, riding was only worthy mean of transportation and a way of survival within nomadic environment of steppe open spaces, deserted lands and mountain passages.

From the ancient time, nomadic peoples had the cult of the horse. They developed skills of gallop and mobility, consummate shooting a bow on the gallop and aspired to secure and decorate the horse. A good horse and its beautiful decoration were worthy gift. The written sources of that time often mention droves of fine race horses presented to khans by their vassals or to the kings of foreign empires, or given as a award for bravery to warriors and commanders. In the army of Temur and the Temurids the horses were selected on colours for each corps. Each warrior depending on a rank should have had strictly limited number of horses on a march; in case of necessity he could replaced a horse killed in action. This practice was going from the Mongolian tradition (3). The Temurid horses were beautiful, strong and hardy, well trained, capable to gallop many kilometers without rest. Their external features and decoration could be studied by the miniatures of Herat, Shiraz, Samarkand of the 15th century or India of the Babur’s epoch. In Movarounnahr, from the ancient time, a saddle and saddle accessories, cusshions under the saddle or body cloths, bridles, breast and head decorations formed basic elements of horse equipment. Fighting horse equipment can not be imagined without the bard. Many kinds of horse equipment having been a little modified were kept in the Temurid epoch.

The most important part of horse equipment was a saddle as on it depended how long the horseman could ride astride. From the ancient time in Central Asia, in Movarounnahr the saddles were made from massive piece of wood and traditionally had high pommel, which made the hands of riding horseman free for shooting the bow while reins could be easily thrown on it. Besides that, in conditions of the desert deprived of trees to tie a horse, having dismounted he could fix reins on the pommel and the horse had no opportunity to move (4). The back part of the saddle also was high and the horseman could keep in it riding fast or fighting. Saddles were light and chafed the back of the horse not too much. To secure the horse better from wounds and at the same time to protect the saddle from spoiling by sweat, the down part of the saddle was coated by a mix of pitch and vegetative fibres (4, p. 169 – 189). Saddles were fixed with special belts, which were put through special holes and had special metal rings on each side for fixture of the weapon in a case of military campaigns or required luggage in a case of traveling.

Wooden saddles of the 14th – 15th centuries, probably, like their later samples (the 16th – 19th centuries) were decorated by vegetative ornament in paints and gilding (4, 5). Parade saddles of rich people and noble grandees were inlaid with gold or silver, covered by leather and velvet and embroidered with cornelian or turquoise. From decor techniques were applied inlay, enchasing and niello. To protect the sides of the horse, under the saddle was put a special cover consisting of U-shaped cushion and sewed onto it semi-round rug, which covered kidneys of the animal. Over the saddle seat was put a cussion or rug from velvet or wool, also richly embroidered, decorated by a fringe, semiprecious stones or gems. Head set included neck adornment in a form under-neck bunch from horse or bull tail – katosa, having, besides decorative function, a function of protective amulet; nape ornament in a form of several linked belts fastened together by means of richly decorated clasp in a form of rosette or turundj, inlaid with turquoise or cornelian; and a bridle going from the nape ornament and consisting of a forehead belt linked with a noseband and bits. Bridle-reins, like a bridle, were from leather and sometimes from velvet bands. Ghiyasaddin Ali, describing in his diary tributes of the governor of Fars, Sheikh Nuraddin Muhammad to Temur, among the gifts especially pointed “saddles covered by gold and expensive horse bridles” (6). An important detail of horse equipment was a body cloth. It protected the animal from heat and sweat, from overcooling in rough weather and from arrows, spears and axes of the enemy in the battles. In Movarounnahr caparisons were trapeziform and covered their croups from the neck or nape up to the tail. They were put directly under the saddle. Sometimes instead of the caparison, the saddle seat was covered by a blanket, which fastened with special belts. Caparisons were summer and winter. The summer variants were done of the carpet fabric, velvet or silk, and the winter, according to Yazdi, were of felt (7). Probably, caparisons were slipped on and tied up on the neck.

The miniatures give a picture of caparisons used by the light and heavy cavalry during military campaigns. Horses of the light cavalry had no bard. They were usually covered by a thin trapeziform caparison, reaching the tail and covering their croups. The pictures expose that the caparison could be made from silk or from light carpet fabric embroidered on the edges by ornamental border and having festoon medallion on the central field. Silk bunches and fringe decorated the caparisons. Under-saddle covers formed the rugs of oval form falling down on the sides, above which was put very narrow stirrup just for a narrow toecap of the boot. Such rugs protected legs of the horseman and the skin of the horse at riding. They also were richly embroidered. In the miniatures it could be noticed that noble warriors could have several under-saddle rugs put above each other. Perhaps, the most elegant were under-saddle rugs and caparisons of horses in the miniatures of the epoch of Shahrukh and Baisonqur. Caparisons at the time of Sultan Khusain were poorer and mainly from striped fabric. Magnificent are caparisons exposed in the Mongolian miniatures of the 16th century, the period of Babur.

The horse equipment in the heavy cavalry consisted of a saddle with a high pommel, caparison and special bard – kechim or borgustvon (8, p. 55 – 56). Defensive caparisons unlike the caparisons used by the light cavalry covered the croup of the horse entirely – from the counter to the tail. They fell down and almost reached the middle of the knees, just a muzzle and a tail remained open, while in European bard of that time the tail was also reliably defended. Caparisons were leather, woolen, felt, brocaded, silk, velvet or from multi-coloured pieces, like a quilt. They had a lining, especially leather or silk. Battle caparisons were cut from several parts: two side parts, separately for a back, neck and a breast, what made movements of the horse easy. Sometimes the top part of the caparison was sewed from another fabric; some of them were quilted to improve defensive properties. Caparisons were tied up with laces on a neck and decorated with bunches, a fringe and embroidery of a vegetative character. The ornament of embroidery corresponded to a general style of that epoch. Its semantics was determined by the defensive function and played a role of amulet. Bodyguards of Temur, and later lifeguard of the Temurid princes put caparisons of tiger skin on their horses. Sometimes, some metal plates and buttons were sewed onto them to improve the defensive properties, what was especially typical of the Baburid caparisons.

The bard, like the armour of the Temurid warriors, was made of iron or bronze, was very heavy and therefore was put on just before the battle. In written sources, it is defined as “horse cuirass”, “the special iron mantle put on war horses “. It has several variants, depending on the material, from which it was made: plate, mail and combined (mail – plate). The plate bard consisted of thin metal plates, which were joined by rivets or rings imitating the fish scale and was put on a special cloth made from fabrics (cloth) or leather, or above some light caparison. Its version was the scale bard, wide spread in the 14th century. Along the edges, such bard was fastened by a border from a fabric to prevent chafing of horse legs by the metal. Its plates were decorated by chasing, engraving and gilding. A special muzzle from bronze, steel or iron with apertures for eyes was put on the muzzle of the horse.

Though the horse equipment in the epoch of Temur and the Temurids in many respects is similar with contemporary European or Iranian and Turkish analogues, it differed in its lightness and mobility, what gave an obvious advantage in war campaigns. The metal bard had been in use till the 17th century and passed out of use because of its uselessness against fire-arms, which became wide spread (2). The battle array of Temur’s army, accompanied by multi – coloured banners playing in a wind, a dub of drums, a roar of timbals and sharp, braking silence, sounds of karnais and surnais along with glinting in the sun armour and weapon, and with the cavalry, frightening and especially beautiful, in multi – coloured caparisons and armour was extremely impressed, further strengthening Amir Temur’s fame as a superior commander.

Author: Zukhra Rahimova

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