Cataphract Medieval Cavalry

The Cataphract was a special kind of heavily armored cavalry soldier that was used throughout ancient and medieval times.

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

Cataphract Medieval Cavalry Soldier

Cataphract *Medieval Cavalry

Cataphract Definition

The Cataphract is derived from the Greek word “kataphraktos” which literally means covered or protected and is sometimes also translated as “fully armored” or “close from all sides”.

The term Cataphracts was also used in the Roman Republic for armored cavalrymen of all sorts, although eventually, it came to be associated with cavalrymen having special kinds of heavy armor.

Cataphract Medieval Soldier on horseback

Cataphract *Medieval Cavalry

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 armor in their armies.

As a response to the campaigns of Parthians and Sassanids, the Romans also responded with a similar heavy armor. During medieval times in Europe, the same kind of heavy cavalry was used by knights and nobles.


Ancient Persian Empire

Cataphract Characteristics

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

Rounded plates or bronze or iron could be used to make the scale armor. 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 Cavalry Soldier

Cataphract Battle Tactics

Cataphracts 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 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 armor that was used throughout the history of warfare. The warriors who used this armor 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.