by Erich Anderson


Cataphracts were the most heavily armored form of cavalry in the ancient world, with riders and mounts both clad in heavy armor. Originating among the wealthiest nobles of various central Asian steppe tribes, such as the Massegatae and Scythians, they were adopted and adapted by several major empires. The Achaemenid Persians, Seleucids, Sassanians and eventually the Romans and their Byzantine successors. Usually armed with long lances, they harnessed the mobility and mass of the horse to the durability and solid fighting power of the spear-armed phalanx. Although very expensive to equip and maintain (not least due to the need for a supply of suitable horses), they were potential battle winners and remained in use for many centuries. Erich B Anderson assesses the development, equipment, tactics and combat record of cataphracts (and the similar clibinarii), showing also how enemies sought to counter them. This is a valuable study of one of the most interesting weapon systems of the ancient world.


Cataphracts are basically ancient heavily armored knights.  This book follows the origins, adoption, and adaptation of cataphracts through history.  The book covers a time range from 4000 BC where traces of the first of the horse domestication appeared to 1204 AD with the Byzantine Empire.

I hate to be young ditsy Alice sitting on the bank proclaiming she needs pictures, but that’s what I’m gonna say.  Anderson relies heavily on tactical descriptions, which are insightful.  However, it tends to get rather dry at certain points.  I have a visual book of battle at home and used this quite a bit as well as google.  I realize that Anderson actually states that “…this book will serve as an introduction to the cataphracts for general readers of the public who are fascinated with ancient military history…” So, perhaps those who are used to reading military stratagem with just a description have no need.  Even so, just a simple map, or a diagram every once in awhile for orientation as we move through would have been helpful, particularly in the beginning, where he covers a fair amount of ground of history pretty fast.  There are eight pages of black and white photographs of artifacts and art in the middle of the book that are nice, but could have been sacrificed for simple maps, diagrams, or illustrations throughout.

I found this book a little difficult to get into at first, but as the chapters pass I began to feel really engaged. There is more evidence in the archaeological record later on and therefore more descriptive analysis of artifacts. Also, I had no idea that there is apparently theoretical evidence of the Arthurian legend originating with a transfer of a Sarmation Cataphract to the british Isles?  How cool is that!  Overall Cataphracts is written really well and flows nicely.  It does well to introduce and spark an interest in ancient “metal-encased horseman”.