Cataphract

The Cataphract was a special kind of heavy armoured cavalry soldier that was used throughout the ancient and medieval times.

Traditionally, a Cataphract wore the kind of armour where both the rider and the steed were draped in special scale armour from head to toe. This kind of heavy armour was later used by knights during the medieval times in Europe.

Cataphract Definition

The Cataphract is derived from the Greek word “kataphraktos” which literally means covered or protected and is sometimes also translated as “fully armoured” or “close from all sides”. The term Cataphracts was also used in the Roman Republic for armoured cavalry men of all sorts, although eventually it came to be associated with cavalry men having special kinds of heavy armour.

Cataphract Medieval Soldier on horseback

Cataphract Medieval Soldiers were part of the cavalry and were covered in plate armour similar to medieval knights.

Cataphract History

The history of the Cataphract soldier extends back to ancient Persia. Various kingdoms such as Parthian, Achaemenid, Scythians, and others used this kind of armour in their armies. As a response to the campaigns of Parthians and Sassanids, the Romans also responded with a similar heavy armour. During the medieval times in Europe, the same kind of heavy cavalry was used by knights and nobles.

Cataphract Characteristics

Cataphract had certain features that distinguished it from other kinds of armoury. For instance, the most noteworthy feature was that Cataphract was entirely covered in scale armour and this feature was found in all places.

Rounded plates or bronze or iron could be used to make the scale armour. The extensive use of iron and bronze made it quite heavy and sometimes the weight reached as much as 40 kilograms. Large plates of scales were also used for different parts of the horse.

Cataphract Weapons

Cataphract soldiers used various kinds of weapons but the most important and frequently used weapon was a lance. These lances could be several meters in length and consisted of a capped point of iron or bronze. Special kinds of saddles were made for the Cataphract in order to allow the soldiers to be seated firmly while engaging with their lances.

Cataphract Medieval Cavalry Soldier

Cataphract Medieval Cavalry Soldiers and their horses wore armoured plating

Cataphract Battle Tactics

Cataphract were considered very valuable during battles and were used as a heavy assault force, thus acting as the most important force in launching the offensive. In some armies, Cataphracts were either the wealthy men or hailed from the nobility and thus enjoyed a privileged status.

One of the most important tactics used for Cataphracts was to deploy them along with archers who provided them support against enemy infantry. This tactic was successfully used by the Parthian army against the Romans.

Cataphract Summary

A Cataphract was a special kind of heavy armour which was used throughout the history of warfare. The warriors who used this armour were known as Cataphracts and had elite status in the army. However, it was not easy to accompany the Cataphract to the battleground since it had considerable weight.

Cataphracts formed the core assault force of the army and were mostly supported by mounted or un-mounted archers. In certain armies, Cataphract belonged to the noble class and were highly privileged individuals.

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