Northern and Southern Dynasties, Northern Cataphracts 北朝重骑兵

The period between 386 and 581 A.D. in Chinese history is conventionally called the Northern and Southern Dynasties. It was an age of great division when North China was—under the control of the Tuoba clan of the Xianbei tribe (a proto-Mongol people)—warred fiercely with the Chinese dynasties established in Jiankang (Nanking) of southern China. In military matters, the northerners were masters of cavalry and fielded some of the heaviest cavalries in the entire orient. 

Helmet and horse armor of the Northern and Southern Dynasties (Northern)

"Fish scale" armor, invented during the Han Dynasty and was used during the subsequent Three Kingdoms period, Jin, and the centuries of strife of the 5th and 6th century. Compared with the scale armor of the Dark Ages in Europe, these possessed more flexible pauldrons, Also~ because of the small and intricate overlay of the scales (when compared with the large, finger lengthed scales of the Dark Age armies,) it can well stand jabs and stabs directed from below and protect the wearer's armpits (a common trick when fighting opponents with scale armor is to jab from below where the scales offer no protection) ~ which makes these armor excellent for cavalry. 

The distinctive 寄生 "Jisheng" (Lit. "Parasite")- Large decorative plumes attached to the back
of the horse armor. In a role similar to the Sashimono or Horo of the samurai, they served to
not only marking the rank and station of the armored riders, but also according to some sources
served to deflect projectiles fired from behind the horsemen. They appeared during the late Jin-
Sixteen Kingdoms period preceding the Northern and Southern dynasties and were 
ubiquitously seen in the first half of the 6th century.

Chanfron and barding (horse armor) of a 4th-7th century Chinese cataphract, 
note the ostentatious plume Jisheng 寄生, lit. "parasite" on the horse's hip. 


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henrique said…
Isn't the origin of the heavy cavalry ancient central asia ?
Dragon's Armory said…
Well I only stated that China fielded some of the heaviest cavalries around this period, I did not make the claim that the Chinese invented them. The various Persian polities have been using cataphracts for centuries by this point
henrique said…
yes, the persians are of central asian origin just like zoroastrianism , and don´t you think the term Iranian dynasties is more suitable than Persian? because the Persians were among the many Iranian peoples who settled in the ancient Middle East, especially where is modern-day iran, Cyrus the great was responsible for defeating, unifying them and then establishing the first Persian empire Achaemenid ,
then there were the Parthians, and the Sassanids had little to do with the original Persians, and I believe that names like China, Roman Empire, Persia are more political arguments seeking to return the glory of extinct states that have been eternalized in the form of ghost presence through claims from all sides , and iran as the official name for the islamic republic of iran is a modern invention thanks to the 1979 revolution which sought to propagate the idea of voice and participation for all minorities who are not Persian but mostly of Irianian origin within the territory of the Iranian state, as you may know the Middle East has always been a unstable place
Dragon's Armory said…
True, I get what you mean, but for the sakes of communications I shortened the various Persian and Sogdians into an abbreviated form (a little too generalized as your pointed out and I concede to that- it's too much of a shorthand) but at the same time referring them as Iran or something like that is also somewhat anachroistic. I guess I used it in a geographic sense more than anything.
kol said…
Dragon's Armory said…
Again, If I say Iran- most normies would say is rather anachroistic
henrique said…
@Dragon's Armory
Great blog and you are perfectly right, but i meant Iranian peoples just like Germanic peoples, Italic peoples, turkic, Hellenic peoples and i´d include as well - ancient koreanic and japonic tribes, a matter of ethnology and linguistics rather than nationalism

Dragon's Armory said…
Absolutely, Hmmm, and I really understand the sentiment. I guess for practical purposes of communication if I said Iran- in the back of my head I knew that some of the people would raise the issue of "Iran" as modern Iran- despite the name's ancient ubiquitous presence.

I will agree Iranian people may be a good neutral term that is correct, yes.
henrique said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
1stmdvet said…
I know I might be diluting the conversation here, but could the author cover the Yang clan of Northern Song dynasty sometimes in the future? I've spent much time reading of them. I would love to know what your thoughts are.
Dragon's Armory said…
The Yang generals right? I might do that in the future. Definitely sounds interesting
1stmdvet said…
Yes indeed! They need more coverage on their contributions. We have heard much of Yue Fei, Han Shizong, and many more, but the Yang's legacy was left with just what the Peking opera had.
Der said…
The Yang family events? I thought it was fiction? it's fact ??
Dragon's Armory said…
There was a Yang family but the novels are extremely embellished. Not even on Hollywood level but practically Bollywood level
1stmdvet said…
You have to admit, though - no one has ever given those pesky Khitans bloodier noses than Yang Ye and his eldest son Yanlang.

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