Stirrups are considered one of the most significant inventions of medieval Europe. Although stirrups had been invented much earlier in other parts of the world, it was only during the early medieval period that stirrups reached Europe.
Some historians believe that stirrups played a critical role in making the knightly class the centre of warfare for most of the medieval period. What is certain is that the use of stirrups made it possible for mounted warriors to maintain a greater balance while riding and fighting on horseback.
Stirrups had been used in Asia Minor and Asia well before the medieval period. It was during the early medieval period when Central Asian tribes began attacking Europe that the European armies first encountered stirrups.
By the 7th century, Avar warriors in Hungary were actively using stirrups in mounted combat. From Avars, the use of stirrups passed on to the Byzantine imperial troops. In northern European regions such as the British Isles, stirrups arrived as a result of the attacks of the Vikings.
It is estimated that in France, stirrups had arrived as early as the 8th century at the time when Frankish military might was rising. In England, the use of stirrups arrived considerably later, probably at the end of the 10th century.
The use of stirrups exerted an exceptional influence on the nature of warfare in early medieval Europe. According to some modern historians, the use of stirrups by European armies of the 7th and 8th centuries was directly responsible for the rise of the knightly class. That was because before the arrival of the stirrups, warriors had a hard time keeping their balance while fighting on horseback.
Stirrups finally made it possible for knights to stay mounted on their horses and keep stable while charging on enemy lines or using swords for close combat. This led to the central significance of cavalry in European armies, undermining the long-standing importance of infantry in the armies. Once the cavalry became the most important part of the armies, it resulted in the birth of the knightly class.
It has been proposed by modern historians that the arrival of stirrups in Europe also heralded the age of feudalism. This was because the use of stirrups led to the birth of the knightly class. Since it was possible only for richer vassals to be able to keep and use horses, this led to the creation of a vassalage system where land was granted to nobles by the kings in different parts of Europe.
This land, granted to the knights who fought alongside the king, eventually resulted in a feudal system where noblemen with large tracts of land would be able to afford lavish lifestyles and rise to significant might and power.
The use of stirrups and its consequent contribution to a powerful feudal class may also have contributed to a decentralised mode of monarchy in early medieval Europe. It was towards the high medieval period that the monarchy would gain the upper hand over the feudal monarchs in most parts of Europe.