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SUB-ROMAN BRITISH CAVALRYMAN

An extract from Armies of the Dark Ages 600-1066
by Ian Heath


28.      SUB-ROMAN BRITISH CAVALRYMAN

He wears a mail corselet called a Iluric (cf. Latin lorica) and a late Roman iron helmet, similar to the modified one found at Sutton Hoo (see 112c). One poem of c. 660 mentions golden plumes, which is supported by Arrian’s statement that all Roman cavalry wore yellow crests. Helmets were not always worn and possibly only those of chieftains or officers would have been crested.

His shield is shown here as a Roman-style 2 by 3 foot oval, though it may equally well have been circular. It was of hide-covered alder wood, white-washed and with a central boss which was used offensively. Some shields may have been decorated with studs or gilt ornaments. He is armed with spear, javelins, sword and dagger, spear-shafts being of ash or less commonly hollywood. His cloak might be purple or scarlet if he were a chieftain, red and crimson also being recorded. In addition he wears a gold torque, as worn by some late Roman soldiers. In fact his overall appearance is still quite Roman, and this is not exactly coincidental, for Gildas, who wrote c. 540, tells us that when the Romans returned to Britain for the final time in the early-5th century they not only gave ‘energetic counsel to the timorous natives’ but also left them ‘patterns to manufacture arms.’

The saddle is of yellow-brown leather, and horse-trappings could be decorated with silver. Taliesin contains a possible reference to horse-armour, which is recorded in use by the related Bretons in the 9th century, so it is possible that this was a continuation of late Roman practice. Some sources mention spurs.



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