Tibetan Noble Cavalry ཨཱརྨོཨུརེད 吐蕃骑兵
According to contemporary Chinese historian Du You in his encyclopedia Tongdian. You noted that, during the reign of the Tibetan Empire (7th to 9th centuries AD), Tibetan elite infantry and cavalry were entirely encased in armor. He wrote that,
The men and horses all wear chain mail armor. Its workmanship is extremely fine. It envelops them completely, leaving openings only for the two eyes. Thus, strong bows and sharp swords cannot injure them. Their archery is weak but their armor is strong.
— Du You
Though the Tibetan Empire and Tang Dynasty of China began as cautious friends and occasional adversaries, during the 8th and 9th century, the two polities became mortal rivals over the control of the Tarim Basin and all the lands east of the Gansu Corridor, sensing Tang weakness in the aftermath of the devastating An Lushan Rebellion where nearly 13~ 36 million of its subjects died, the resurgent Tibetan Empire under the able rule of their God- Emperor (Chosgyal) Trisong Detsen, would frequently launch deep and organized raids across the western frontiers of the Tang.
Padmasambhava Statue from the Johkan Temple, first built in the 7th century. Under strong Tibetan Emperors (Chosgyal) such as Songtsen Gampo, Trisong Detsen, and Ralpacan, Tibet became a supreme regional power by the advent of 7-9th century. Just like the Gokturks from the earlier part of Tang history, the Tibetan Empire would become one of the mortal nemesis of the Tang Empire during the latter part of its existence. However, it would suddenly implode in 842 when its last Emperor was assassinated by a Buddhist fanatic. Throughout the 800s, the Tang would frequently ally with the Uighur Kaganate against the Tibetan armies.
(Tibetan Empire in black, Tang in gold, and An Lushan's forces "Yan" in orange) The Massive An Lushan Rebellion effectively severed Tang China in half, leaving only a renegade court and several loyalist provinces that resisted the rebels.
During this time, the Tang Tarim Basin (left- yellow) holdings, called the Anxi Protectorate was completely stranded and lost all connection to the heartland of China because its only access to interior- the thin Ganxu Corridor was completely bottled up by the rebels. Seeing an opportunity to take all of the Tarim Basins, the Tibetans launched several invasions to take hold of the stranded province.
A Tang and Tibetan guard of the 8th century.
Elite Tang and Tibetan cavalry of the 8th century
Emperor Rapalcan, who once held sway over a vast domain over many kingdoms
However his reign was cut short.
With the death of Rapalcan and Langdarma, the Tibetan Empire would for centuries hence be shattered into hundreds of fiefs and fortified monasteries in an age called "The Era of Fragmentation." And with the death of the Tibetan Empire and Tang Dynasty China, both people looked toward different destinies. Tibet would remain fragmented for centuries to come while the Han Chinese would fragment into many warlordoms for nearly a century and then unite under a scholarly Song dynasty, of course by that time, the two people began their relations anew and engage in the trade of tea and horses. When the Song was threatened by steppe barbarian hordes from the north, the various Tibetans would sent aids of war horses while the Chinese traded them with gold and tea. The two people were both united for the first time under one government under the yoke of Kublai Khan's Mongol Yuan dynasty.
An extremely ornate saddle of a feudal lord, only the most elite elements of the Tibetan feudal nobles were able to afford this- most of the horsemen wore multicolored wollen saddles.
Typical colorful saddle of a Tibetan horsemen, most of the Tibetan cavalry would have
this kind of saddle.
Chaffron (Horse helmet) of a heavy Tibetan horseman
The Tibetan Empire's officers were not employed full time and were only called upon on an ad hoc basis. These warriors were designated by a golden arrow seven inches long which signified their office. The officers gathered once a year to swear an oath of fealty. They assembled every three years to partake in a sacrificial feast.
Despite their prowess on the battlefield, supply and provision for the Tibetan armies have always been lacking and highly disorganized. Compared to the neighboring Mongolian and Chinese polities, the Tibetan lines of supplies were very strained. While on campaign, Tibetan armies carried no provision of grain and lived on loot and plunder.
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