On the Art of Horsemanship


Xenophon, creator; Scripta Minora; Marchant, E. C. (Edgar Cardew), 1864-1960, editor, translator; Bowersock, G. W, (Glen Warren), 1936-, editor, translator

We want to explain also how a man who is to face danger on horseback should be armed.

We say, then, that in the first place his breastplate must be made to fit his body. For the wellfitting breastplate is supported by the whole body, whereas one that is too loose is supported by the shoulders only, and one that is too tight is rather an encumbrance than a defence.

And, since the neck is one of the vital parts, we hold that a covering should be available for it also, standing up from the breastplate itself and shaped to the neck. For this will serve as an ornament, and at the same time, if properly made, will cover the rider’s face, when he pleases, as high as the nose.

For the helmet we consider the Boeotian pattern the most satisfactory: for this, again, affords the best protection to all the parts that project above the breastplate without obstructing the sight. As for the pattern of the breastplate, it should be so shaped as not to prevent the wearer from sitting down or stooping.

About the abdomen and middle and round that region let the flaps be of such material and such a size that they will keep out missiles.

And as a wound in the left hand disables the rider, we also recommend the piece of armour invented for it called the hand.[*](i.e., a gauntlet.) For it protects the shoulder, the arm, the elbow, and the fingers that hold the reins; it will also extend and fold up; and in addition it covers the gap left by the breastplate under the armpit.

But the right hand must be raised when the man intends to fling his javelin or strike a blow. Consequently that portion of the breastplate that hinders him in doing that should be removed; and in place of it there should be detachable flaps at the joints, in order that, when the arm is elevated, they may open correspondingly, and may close when it is lowered.

For the fore-arm it seems to us that the piece put over it separately like a greave is better than one that is bound up together with a piece of armour.[*](i.e., with the breastplate. Schneider thought that τῷ should be inserted before ὅπλῳ) The part that is left exposed when the right arm is raised should be covered near the breastplate with calf-skin or metal; otherwise the most vital part will be unprotected.

Since the rider is seriously imperilled in the event of his horse being wounded, the horse also should be armed, having head, chest, and thigh pieces: the last also serve to cover the rider’s thighs. But above all the horse’s belly must be protected; for this, which is the most vital part, is also the weakest. It is possible to make the cloth serve partly as a protection to it.

The quilting of the cloth should be such as to give the rider a safer seat and not to gall the horse’s back.

Thus horse and man alike will be armed in most parts.

But the rider’s shins and feet will of course be outside the thigh-pieces. These too can be guarded if boots made of shoe-leather are worn: there will thus be armour for the shins and covering for the feet at the same time.

These are the defensive arms which with the gracious assistance of heaven will afford protection from harm. For harming the enemy we recommend the sabre[*](The sabre (μάχαιρα) was used in the Lacedaemonian and the Persian army. κοπίς is the special term for the Persian weapon.) rather than the sword, because, owing to his lofty position, the rider will find the cut with the Persian sabre more efficacious than the thrust with the sword.

And, in place of the spear with a long shaft, seeing that it is both weak and awkward to manage, we recommend rather the two Persian javelins of cornel wood. For the skilful man may throw the one and can use the other in front or on either side or behind. They are also stronger than the spear and easier to manage.[*](The two Persian javelins were shorter than the Greek spear.)

We recommend throwing the javelin at the longest range possible. For this gives a man more time to turn his horse and to grasp the other javelin. We will also state in a few words the most effective way of throwing the javelin. If a man, in the act of advancing his left side, drawing back his right, and rising from his thighs, discharges the javelin with its point a little upwards, he will give his weapon the strongest impetus and the furthest carrying power; it will be most likely to hit the mark, however, if at the moment of discharge the point is always set on it.

These notes, instructions and exercises which we have here set down are intended only for the private person. What it belongs to a cavalry leader to know and to do has been set forth in another book.