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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Sat 09 Jul, 2005 8:42 am    Post subject: Type of stirrups used by Huns around 450 AD?         Reply with quote

I was planning a post on adoption of stirrups in Europe. Unfortunately it is very tricky around 450 to 600 AD. I need help from the Forum!

The Huns are often credited with having introduced stirrups to Europe, but the type and application of their stirrup is not clear. Some accounts describe a simple toe loop rather high against the saddle, others a single stirrup on one side (illustrations show some riders with stirrup others without, and single stirrup as mounting device only is common among Eastern countries at this time.) A favorite Hun tactic was hiding on one side of the horse, then wheeling it around and uprighting in the saddle. This could be accomplished with the toe loop or single stirrup. I have no idea what case to make....

Many credit the later Avars with actually introducing stirrups as two footed riding technique around 560 to 600 A.D. This is roughly the same period when mounted shock cavalry in Korea and China are also providing two stirrups to cavalry unit horses and seems most plausible. I also recognize both single mounting type stirrups as well as pairs of stirrups can be documented in Chinese tombs back to before 0 AD, however most literature and art well through the medieval ages indicate that many (excepting acrobatic show jumping type cases) continued to ride with no stirrups or only the single sided "mounting stirrup".

What do you think? Should we credit Attila the Hun, or the later Avars for showing Europe the stirrup as a heavy charge, two footed device?

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Gordon Frye




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PostPosted: Sat 09 Jul, 2005 1:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Boy oh Boy, that's a loaded one! I don't know that there is sufficient documentable evidence of exactly (more or less) when the stirrup was in fact introduced to Europe to be able to say. Most probably prior to 800, perhaps 600, or even earlier, but it's mostly guesswork since Migration-period stuff is (at least from what I can gather) fairly sketchy at best. I've seen some dug relics of stirrups from the Dark Ages, but unfortunately I can't recall the details of when and where they were provenianced. Perhaps others have some significant info on the subject, and if so, I am looking forward to reading it!

Per the tactic of hanging off the side of the horse, actually you don't need any sort of stirrup for that. Comanches (and other Plains Indians) were perfectly capable of that without stirrups, perhaps even without saddles (it's been too long since I read up on those things to recall exactly, unfortunately) But with a decent saddle to hook your heel too, it isn't difficult to hang off the side of the horse at speed.... not without a lot of practice, of course! But for a people born in the saddle, it's a fairly common tactic. Even US Grant managed that one a time or two during the Mexican American War of 1846-48.

Interestingly, there is at least one equestrian "statue" of Charlemagne without stirrups being shown, which is definitely post 800AD. Hmmm!

Cheers,

Gordon

"After God, we owe our victory to our Horses"
Gonsalo Jimenez de Quesada
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Sat 09 Jul, 2005 2:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have tried reasonably hard to place name, face, and place of first European cavalry use ot the stirrup. No success so far. It is a loaded debate topic as you say, and very controversial. Another author, Christodolou, points out that the Strategikon (written for Justinian II troop training) is the first European military manual to mention stirrups (written between 619 AD 628 AD) but that a famous fresco painting of Emperor Justinian II, 688 AD, depicts him on horseback without stirrups) Mention does not mean that they were widely used. It is simply the earliest first hard proof of European awareness of stirrups in period writting.

Attributing stirrups to earlier period (such as Huns) is a "logical" argument. Hard proof is tough to find. European military texts from that period (Vegetius's handbook made by Rabanus Maurus, the De re militari, about 450 AD) goes on extensively about mounting technique without stirrup. Somewhat humorously, this includes winter mounting practice using a mock wooden horse. I can't read it, so I am dependent on translations by others. Techniques supposedly prescribed include vaulting with lance, and mount dismount with swords both sheathed and drawn. At least some present day authors assessing battle tactics at that time argue that head to head engagement while mounted is the exception, not the norm.


From what I can gather, most participants in the "stirrup debate" agree that there was very little cavalry use of stirrup within Europe, but outside France before 700 A.D. Sometime after 700-800 AD timeframe, most seem to agree on use of the stirrup inside and outside France. Figuring out what was going on inside France between 700 to 800 AD is the only real period of serious contention. My current assessment is that there is a significant transition period starting somewhere between 700 to 800 AD. Similarly, archeologists argue that throwing javelins seem to phase out and become rare, in favor of lances, right around 800 AD. The real era of the European mounted knight, fighting while on horse, could very well be at a time right around 800 AD.

Some other posts on this Forum previously mentioned a Carolingian knight chess piece found at Aachen (chapel built during reign of Charlemagne.) If one pursues this carefully they will find that there were actually two chess pieces found inside a desk that was given to Aachen as a gift from Emperor Henry II sometime before 1014. At least one of the chess pieces was investigated, and determined to be either a false restoration replacement, or later period object that happened to be within the desk. There are several web sites discussing it. This one is poor, but I happened to have kept it bookmarked. http://collections.ic.gc.ca/bulletin/num2a/verdier2.html

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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Sat 09 Jul, 2005 3:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

How hard is it to get on horseback without stirrups ? I'm sure it was easy for people born to the saddle and when young and agile. But how about and older middle aged warrior, still strong but a bit heavier around the waist wearing heavy armour ?

Oh, just a thought, would this make very big and tall horses less appealling than a short but still powerfull horse ?

As to Charlemagne and NOT using stirrups, is it possible that stirrups when first used might be used only for serious purposes like battle but for casual pleasure riding one might still ride the old fashion way ? Maybe stirrups would have been seen as being for old men when there was no serious need for them like fighting.

After a while the advantages of using stirrups would have made them THE way to ride: Maybe the early adopters would have been mocked for being over the hill and no longer able to jump on to their horses.

In a conservative and macho warrior culture this might have slowed down universal adoption.

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Aaron Schnatterly




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PostPosted: Sat 09 Jul, 2005 3:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Thibodeau wrote:
As to Charlemagne and NOT using stirrups, is it possible that stirrups when first used might be used only for serious purposes like battle but for casual pleasure riding one might still ride the old fashion way ? Maybe stirrups would have been seen as being for old men when there was no serious need for them like fighting.


If the most comfortable thing you ever put on your feet were combat boots, would you just wear them to war?

Just a thought...

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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Sat 09 Jul, 2005 3:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Aaron;

Good point, and eventually stirrups and their advantages won !

Sometimes people don't do the smartest thing right away and new technology doesn't replace the old all at once: We still use VHS tapes even if DVDs are rapidly making them extinct; matchlocks were still being used after wheelocks and even flintlock were invented; the British Navy went back to muzzle loading canon for a while in the 19th century when their earlier experimentation with breach loaders was not a great success.

People still buy more Windows computers than, IMHO, the much superior Macs. ( If you've used to a Mac would you ever change over to a PC ? )

One good point though might be that those using stirrups would be the ones winning the battles thus taking care of the conservative NON-adopters in a permanent way. Razz Laughing Out Loud

Just a thought. Big Grin Big Grin Big Grin

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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Sat 09 Jul, 2005 7:24 pm    Post subject: merits of stirrups         Reply with quote

An interesting point from the "anti stirrup" advocates' point of view is that essay authors are often discussing combat styles involving spears or lances with wings and slashing manuevers while mounted. This type of lateral movement would actually be very tough without stirrups in my opinion, and the arguement is almost self defeating.

"Pro stirrup"' advocates seem to point out that saddles already had high cantles (rear seat area of saddle) in the 700 AD period. For a head on impact with couched lance grip impact, the stirrups are not as critical, IMHO, as the cantle. No one is challenging the fact that the cantle was already in good form for heavy charge impact by 700 A.D.

As far as who did what first during 700 to 800 A.D. is concerned, the whole thing is pretty academic. What is not trivial, is that 700 to 800 A.D. really appears to mark the point in time where one can divide between periods where Western and central European cavalry used the horse primarily for transport, vesrus the time where serious close in combat was often conducted while mounted, as well as evidence that lance (not some spear or javelin) was a favored "heavy charge" type style of engagement.

I hope some have found this post interesting, and not overly negative or critical.

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Gordon Frye




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PostPosted: Sat 09 Jul, 2005 8:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

One thing that I think Jean sort of hit on the edges of is that the stirrup wasn't necessarly adopted whole-hog. Like any new technology, it has it's adherents, but most of the people who were "born in the saddle" seemed (for a time at least) perfectly happy with the way things were. It was those who WEREN'T born in the saddle who adopted them, i.e. the Chinese and the Franks, and then proved their usefulness. Obviously someone in between had to make use of them as well, or the technology wouldn't have been transmitted, but still, the Avars, Huns, Arabs etc. who were horse people weren't as in need of them as the less adept folks were.

Per saddles, I agree that perfectly serviceable saddles with decent cantles for snuggling back into were certainly available at the time. One thing that I think a lot of folks forget though (certainly historians who don't spend any time trying out their theories, LOL!) is that the stirrup isn't just for ballance: it better not be, at least! It's for pushing your butt deep into the cantle to enable you to absorb the shock of the contact of the couched lance with your enemy. I've played with lances in a lot of different ways, and yes, its LOTS easier to throw one when using stirrups, and you certainly CAN couch a lance with no stirrups... but it's darned difficult to couch a lance and contact anything without a proper saddle!

Hopefully Lloyd Clark, Rod Walker or some other of our Jouster friends on board the site will chime it, since the heaviest thing I've hit with a lance is a heavy quintain (it definitely gets your attention, though!) They are the one's in the know here, so I'll pass to them any serious opinions on such technologies.

BTW Jared, you seem to speak with some practical knowledge of these things, what cool stuff have you managed to do that you're not letting us in on? Big Grin

(Note: I personally find it to be a serious pain to mount, even with a decent saddle, without stirrups! I DO have a fairly tall horse though... but if i want to ride the bum bear-back, I have to make him stand next to a stump so I can climb on! You need SERIOUS push-up muscles to haul yourself up without stirrups. I'm too out of shape for that stuff anymore, LOL!)

Cheers!

Gordon

"After God, we owe our victory to our Horses"
Gonsalo Jimenez de Quesada
http://www.renaissancesoldier.com/
http://historypundit.blogspot.com/
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Gordon Frye




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PostPosted: Sat 09 Jul, 2005 8:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A rather interesting and informative essay by a fellow who is active in the equestrian arts that is pertinent:

http://www.aemma.org/training/mounted/mountedTraining_top.htm

Cheers,

Gordon

"After God, we owe our victory to our Horses"
Gonsalo Jimenez de Quesada
http://www.renaissancesoldier.com/
http://historypundit.blogspot.com/
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Sat 09 Jul, 2005 10:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gordon,

I personally do not ride unless it is a rough horse that no one else is interested in or cares about. The better horses cost too much money for me to worry about replacing!

I have a teenage daughter that is involved in equestrian (mainly rides thoroughbred) eventing. I also have some pretty heavy in-laws who complete at the border of amateur/pro in Team Penning competitition. Consequently, I have been lucky enough to ride some rather small but tough horses who can do exactly what you want based on nothing but verbal commands.

I have an interest in advocating lightly/ unarmored styles of combat. I joined an ARMA group just this year. I suspect that there is a valid place for historically accuarate reinactment with relatively simple equipment.

About a month ago I noticed a call for new articles and contributions at the Forum. I went out of my way to try to find some interesting stuff pertaining to other things besides swords. I have tried to research background information for several days prior to placing my latest posts. Consequently, I have a pretty good documentary file with references if a respondent expresses interest in a particular aspect of the issue. I hope some are enjoying this. If so, give me an assignment and I will see what I can turn up! It may be a couple of weeks before I gather the appropriate level of information to reply however!

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Steve Grisetti




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PostPosted: Sun 10 Jul, 2005 8:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I wonder about the correlation in time between application of stirrups vs use/breeding of larger horses for combat, since there was a separate thread on that subject.

For example, say you are a Roman cavalryman during the early centuries AD, with a "pony" sized mount, and a good saddle with a good deep seat. Perhaps a stirrup (if you were aware of the concept) seems like a waste of leather or wood or whatever material would be used??

Another thought is that people all over the world were aware of the concepts of stair steps and ladders far into the BC's. If one planned to ride a horse that was too large to just hop on, I have to believe that someone would have come up with the concept of a mounting stirrup to go with it.

Just my 2 cents.
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Sun 10 Jul, 2005 9:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Steve,

I think you hit on some really good points there.

Earlier medieval horses do seem to be described as "small and stocky" in many articles that I read. Additionally, the 450 AD training manual I mentioned really indicates a running vault-mount/ and rapid dismount style of engagement . The article that I found which referenced the manual advocated that it applied to forces of early Carolingian/ Gaul/ Auxiliary cavalry. This type of rapid mount/ dismount tactic would probably not be consistent with stopping to put a foot into a stirrup (hard to do fast, especially if a horse is moving a little bit as I would expect it to be in the middle of a battle field.)

In some later period (say 1200 AD)/ different style tactic, where mounted combatants tend to stay mounted during the engagement, the speed of mounting, difficulty of getting on taller horses, etc. would not be as important as the quality of the horse and functionality of tack while riding.

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Gordon Frye




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PostPosted: Sun 10 Jul, 2005 10:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jared Smith wrote:
Steve,

I think you hit on some really good points there.

Earlier medieval horses do seem to be described as "small and stocky" in many articles that I read. Additionally, the 450 AD training manual I mentioned really indicates a running vault-mount/ and rapid dismount style of engagement . The article that I found which referenced the manual advocated that it applied to forces of early Carolingian/ Gaul/ Auxiliary cavalry. This type of rapid mount/ dismount tactic would probably not be consistent with stopping to put a foot into a stirrup (hard to do fast, especially if a horse is moving a little bit as I would expect it to be in the middle of a battle field.)

In some later period (say 1200 AD)/ different style tactic, where mounted combatants tend to stay mounted during the engagement, the speed of mounting, difficulty of getting on taller horses, etc. would not be as important as the quality of the horse and functionality of tack while riding.


Interesting note: The Irish of the 16th Century were noted by the English to ride small, stocky horses, and use saddles that were effectively simple pads, sans stirrups. It was pointed out by the English that their own Border Horse (which is definitely "Light Cavalry" in anyone's book) were far better equipped and armed, and riding heavier horses (which doesn't say much for the Irish!). Thus the English Borderers usually won their engagements with the Irish, though not necessarily inflicting heavy casualties on them. The Irish riders were easy to unhorse, but also were able to mount again quickly and easily. The Irish seem to have retained the the same school of thought as the Roman, indeed most Eastern cavalry of the Classical period.


Here's a link to some engravings showing Anglo-Irish warfare of the 1570's:

http://www.lib.ed.ac.uk/about/bgallery/Galler...eland.html

Cheers,

Gordon

"After God, we owe our victory to our Horses"
Gonsalo Jimenez de Quesada
http://www.renaissancesoldier.com/
http://historypundit.blogspot.com/
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