UNIT: Iron Pagoda, Iron Buddha Cavalryman 铁浮图

Phenomenal art by Jinglin Xu, please check out his gallery on Artstation

During the early 12th century, the ambitious Jurchen people from China's north eastern borders overthrew their overlords- the massive Khitan (Liao) empire. In 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."

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.

The heaviest of Mongol heavy cavalry eventually adopted the armament and fighting techniques of the Jin cataphracts. Because of the extreme difficulties the Jin cavalries had inflicted upon the Song state, in the ensuing century the Song would have perfected their anti- cavalry warfare to such a dogged extend that when the Mongols began their invasion of China, they would spent nearly a century to subdue the whole of China- and fifty to subdue the Song

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 its 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 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.

When considering that these horsemen would be deployed in astoundingly large numbers, usually ranging from 3,000 to 6,000- compare them to western knights who were rarely ever deployed in units which numbered little more than a few hundred at most- their effectiveness and the deadliness of their charge became sharply apparent. Even by themselves, they would have been larger than most medieval European armies all the way through the 15th century.

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."

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