Heavy Jin Dynasty Armor 金朝重甲 (铁浮图 )
During the early 12th century, the ambitious Jurchen people from China's north eastern borders overthrew their overlords- the massive Khitan empire. Within under half a decade, the Jurchens were able to utterly defeat their former masters, absorb their entire realm, and drive them wholesale into the frigid steppe lands of central Asia. With these meteoric series of successes, the Jurchens established themselves as a new empire called the 金 "Jin," meaning "gold" or the Golden Empire and turned their attention southward to their Song neighbors. Poised at the spear-point of their conquest was the legendary "Iron Pagoda (or Iron Buddha) Cavalry."
Before I continue, I'd like to direct your attention to Mr. Wen Chenhua 温陈华's amazing Weibo page, nearly all of the images you see below are from his blog, which features his wonderful armors from his forge and his practice hall. Go support him.
Iron Pagoda, Iron Buddha Horsemen
The 铁浮屠, or "Iron Buddha Cavalry" or 铁浮图 "Iron Pagoda Horsemen," were the elite unit of the Jurchen Jin 金 dynasty that was instrumental in the 30 year supremacy of the Jin State. Though they only served for no more than two decades, they were pivotal in no less than a dozen crucial battles and hundreds of skirmishes that secured the Jin realm.
According to Jin fighting doctrine, the Iron Pagoda Cavalry would be a dedicated and concentrated vanguard that would maximize the already deadly thrust of the Jin cavalry charges, acting both as his best shock cavalry as well as specialized heavy dragoons that also frequently fought as dismounted heavy infantry. The Iron Pagoda Cavalry would eventually became the heaviest shock cavalry the far East would have ever seen (with perhaps the exception of the heaviest of Mongol lancers.)
The Iron Pagodas were completely armored from head to toes in heavy lamellar armor- with only their eyes and hands exposed, some historians have referred to these heavy cavalry with the Greco-Roman terms of "cataphracts" or "clibanarii," in reference to their near identical appearance to heavy Persian cavalry from the 4-7th centuries. Their horses were also completely encased in armor as well, covered on all sides with thick barding of lamellar plates and padded cotton. In fact, each armored rider would be given two horses to ensure mobility throughout the ranks and in all situations.
They were also given a versatile array of weapons, aside from their customary lance, commonly featuring a black pennon, they were also equipped with a bow and full quiver, as well as a large two handed sword. For their dual roles (see below) they were also equipped with many sapping tools, including picks, rope ladders, and shovels.
Of their tactics: 赵彦卫 Zhao Yanwei, a Song chronicler wrote: "The horsemen would make use of a deep wedged array, after plunging into the ranks of their foes would promptly retreat in a burst of speed, all the while arranging itself to stalk or encircle the enemy formation in a circular array for a while, while keeping an eye for another opportunity for a charge, and if situation demanded, they would dismount and fight as heavy infantry."
During the intense operations throughout 1125 (the Iron Pagoda were formed in 1127) to 1130, where the Song desperately attempted to hold on to their imperial heartlands against relentless waves of Jin onslaught. The Song had extreme difficulties in dislodging these arrow-proof wall of moving death.
As a result~ the new Song army that was raised after 1130 became an almost exclusive anti-cavalry fighting force filled mostly with infantry blocks of pavise crossbowmen, fire lancers (primitive gunpowder units) and halberdiers for the remainders of its existence- well until the coming of the Mongols.
Throughout 1130-1140, the Jins launched several campaigns against the Southern Song Remnants, nearly all spearheaded by the Iron Pagoda cavalry. But unfortunately for these Jin vanguards, most of them were destroyed in the half week of fierce fighting at Yancheng, where the brilliant Song general Yue Fei wiped most of nearly all of the 5,000 Iron Pagodas along with nearly 115,000 of the Jin invasion column with his halberdiers and great swordsmen. After this bloody massacre, no other Iron Pagoda units would be raise again. All of the Iron Pagoda officers and veterans that had managed to survive from the frey would have either been re-outfitted as armored horse archers or other elements of heavy cavalry within the Jin Army.
Above: A side by side comparison of a heavy Song dynasty horseman's armor placed next to the armor of a Jin dynasty cataphract~ called the "Iron Pagoda Cavalry" (or "Iron Buddha Horseman") the Jin eventually became the mortal foe of the Song dynasty, contended with the Song in a full century of bloody battles.