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David Nicolle, "An introduction to arms and warfare in classical Islam", in: Islamic Arms and Armour, ed. Robert Elgood, London 1979

David Nicolle

David Nicolle was born in 1944 and educated at Highgate School. He owes his initial interest in arms and armour to his father who was a founder member of the Arms and Armour Society and the author of a children’s book on armour. Mr Nicolle worked for the BBC, in Television News, the Overseas Broadcasting Arabic Service, and subsequently as a freelance writer specializing in the Middle East. While a mature student his interest in the arms and organization of early Islamic armies induced him to write a thesis on ‘Early Islamic Arms and Armour’, subsequently published in Gladius. He holds an MA from the School of Oriental and African Studies and is working for his doctorate at Edinburgh University.

In the hundred years following the death of the Prophet Muḥammad in 632 AD the Muslim armies conquered lands from India to the Pyrenees. These armies burst upon the late classical world from the barren wastes of Arabia, winning submission by force of arms.
    Many of the countries that the Arabs of the Arabian peninsula overran possessed cultures far in advance of their own. Muslim civilization owes much to this contact. The Arabs were forced to consider the great variety of weapons and tactics employed by their adversaries. Subsequently, many of these former enemies served in the Muslim armies. By the time the Frankish Crusaders reached Syria in 1097 AD Muslim military practice drew upon three principal traditions — Arab, Iranian and Turkish. Very important also were Berber, Kurdish, Armenian, Byzantine and West European influences (figs. 1-3).
    This article will attempt to identify the principal ethnic and cultural traditions that influenced the development of Muslim arms and tactics from the seventh to the thirteenth century.

The Arabs - seventh and eighth centuries
Arab military techniques were at first less sophisticated than those of their Byzantine and Iranian neighbours. An army in the field was known as khamīs and generally consisted of five sections: a centre, plus advance, rear and flank guards. The origin of both word and formation appears to be Semitic.1 The tactics of the khamīs in attack consisted of karr wa-farr, an all-out assault in strength followed by a rapid retreat, repeated until the enemy collapsed.2 For such operations cavalry might be expected to have played a dominant role, yet in the first decades of Islam’s conquests the Arabs seem to have had very few horses. These were so precious that they were rarely risked in frontal assault. Moreover their riders had limited experience of cavalry warfare so that they could be held up by the slightest obstacle, a ditch, wadi, lava plain or anything greater than a low range of hills.3 Cavalry was at first reserved for outflanking movements or to attack disorganized infantry, but not infantry in defensive positions particularly if armed with the bow. Even after the Muslim conquests provided the Arabs with a plentiful supply of horses, the cavalry still tended to act as a semi-independent force.
    It was the camel that gave the Arab armies their manœuverability, which was strategic rather than tactical. Warriors almost invariably dismounted to fight while their beasts were hobbled or left in camp under the care of servants.4 The disciplined infantry of these early days seem to have come from Arabia’s urban population, as did the cavalrymen, while long-distance raiding forces consisted largely of Bedouin. A study of pre-Islamic South Arabian material may one day give a clearer picture of the military equipment used by both settled and nomadic Arabs, but as yet little information is available. The lance (rumḥ) was the chief cavalry weapon, javelins (mizrāq) being used in the infantry. The bow and a short spear (ḥarba) were also used by foot soldiers. The sword, straight bladed, single or double edged would probably have been reserved for the well-to-do, at least in the early decades. Until large amounts of booty became available, it seems unlikely that many tribesmen could have afforded this expensive weapon. The Arabs did not normally use the bow from horseback, which their early Persian foes could do, although the bow was essentially an infantry weapon even in Sasanian Iran, Arab horsemen appear from the scanty evidence to have wielded their lances with both hands, thus precluding the use of a shield. For the wealthy, segmented helmets of late-Roman type were available. Lamella and mail were not unknown but the most valued armour of that era was a long mail hauberk known as the dir' (figs. 4-7). So valuable was a dir' that in the pre-Islamic period, tribes would carry out raids specifically to capture them.
    The Umayyad caliphs, (661-750 AD), reorganized the Muslim forces as their expanding Empire met increasing resistance. Muslim expeditions took progressively less booty and the armies became more professional. The most obvious change came at the end of this period when the Caliph Marwān II, alter experiencing warfare in mountainous Armenia, changed the tactics of Arab armies from a massed charge in a straight line to the movement of close-packed regiments or squadrons known as karādīs, which were found to be steadier and more flexible in battle.5 The term khamīs now referred to the five divisions of an army, each khamīs itself being divided into a number of karādīs consisting of three ranks, archers (fig. 8) (and later crossbowmen), infantry armed with shield, spear and sword, and heavy cavalry. Light cavalry acted as skirmishers. The role of the heavy cavalry was to deliver charges through lanes left by the infantry, while the latter sought to break counter attacks. In case of acute numerical disadvantage the entire force would form squares which the Byzantine Emperor Leo VI (886-912 AD) recorded as being very hard to break. Other points that Leo noted, and which still appeared in the Crusader era, were the habit of cavalry carrying infantry into battle on their horses’ cruppers, the use of war axes. the Arabs’ skill at night fighting, their well fortified encampments and their conscious efforts to adopt the best war-techniques of their adversaries. One of the most fundamental of such adoptions was the stirrup. There has been a great deal of discussion about the Chinese or Central Asian origin of this device which the Arabs first encountered at the end of the seventh century.
    Many of these specifically Arab military practices continued to be used in Muslim Spain long after being superseded in the central and eastern areas of Islam. As late as the end of the eleventh century Abū Bakr al-Ṭurṭūshī described the Andalusian order of battle (fig. 9) as ranks of kneeling infantry carrying, shields, javelins and lances ‘resting obliquely on their shoulders, the base touching the ground’, with archers behind them and cavalry in the rear. When the enemy charged they were met by a hail of arrows, and javelins and lances used as pikes, after which ‘the infantry and archers open their ranks in an oblique movement to the left and right, [figs. 10-11] and through the open space the Muslim cavalry fall on the enemy and put them to rout, if God wills’.6 Typical of the difficulties inherent in a study of this early period is the fact that al-Ṭurṭūshī may have been referring to the famous Almoravid infantry phalanx of presumed Berber origins, in which case this account cannot be regarded as the general practice of the time.


    Meanwhile, in the east, Arab warriors in the service of the 'Abbāsid Caliphate had been downgraded in favour of Persians and subsequently of Turks. 'Abbāsid caliphs such as al-Ma’mūn and al-Mu'tasim (813-842 AD) established a slave-recruited mamlūk army personally loyal to them (figs. 12-13). During the first sixty years of the 'Abbāsid Caliphate the politically unreliable Arab military aristocracy was largely replaced by a foreign mercenary corps and the Arab military encampments, strategically situated within the Muslim Empire, were demilitarized. Their role in internal security was largely taken over by Iranians. On the frontiers those Arab warriors eager to fight formed themselves into semi-independent ghāzī bands. Unpaid and living by booty and their own agricultural efforts, these ghāzīs fought alongside volunteer murābīṭīn warriors who lived in monastery-like ribāṭs established by pious foundations to aid the Holy War.

The Arabs - ninth to thirteenth centuries
The urban militia of Syria and Iraq such as the aḥdāth (fig. 14), or the sappers of Aleppo may be regarded as essentially Arab, not only in personnel but also in military techniques. These forces were largely infantry and played an important part in Muslim resistance to the Crusaders.
    The Arabs did not disappear entirely from the centre of military affairs. Ninth-century caliphs still recruited the Bedouin of Lower Egypt and there were Arab soldiers even in Samarra, the new 'Abbāsid capital built to isolate the ruler’s new Turkish army from former forces in Baghdad. The Arab warrior re-emerged during and after the tenth century in Syria, Egypt and North Africa with the political collapse of the 'Abbāsid Caliphate in Iraq and the decline of the rival Fāṭimid Caliphate of Cairo. This was an era of minor dynasties such as the Ḥamdānids and Mirdāsids of Aleppo, the 'Uqaylids of Mosul, and the Mazyadids of Hilla. Even in Egypt itself Arabs, either settled clans or nomadic


175 The Denial of St Peter, Syriac Gospel, thirteenth century. (Vat. Syr. 559, f.135, Biblioteca Apostolica, Vatican)


tribes, once again played an important military role, though this was shared with Berbers, Armenians, Sudanese and Turks.
    Though at first the strength of the Shī'ī Fāṭimid Caliphate (909-1171 AD) rested upon Berber warriors of North African origin, as this state reached a peak of splendour in Egypt so its forces were diversified. Caliph al-Mustanṣir (1035-1094 AD) was, for example, credited with an army that included at least 15,000 Ḥijāzī Bedouin warriors, according to the Persian traveller Nāser-i Khosraw.7 M. Brett has suggested that a methodical infantry advance was the normal Fāṭimid form of attack.8 This rich state was certainly able to equip some of its heavy cavalry with armour by the tenth century. Arab soldiers and Arab tactics were still used by the Fāṭimid Caliphate during its prolonged struggle with the Crusader States. Annual expeditions from Ascalon between 1099 and 1107, and the smaller raids of later years, were undertaken by forces of cavalry and infantry trained to fight in exactly the same manner as earlier Muslim armies. When faced by the more heavily armoured Crusader cavalry these Egyptian armies were at a severe tactical disadvantage for they provided the tank-like Frankish knights with just the static target they required.9
    After Saladin took control of Egypt in the later twelfth century, largely disbanding or massacring the Fāṭimid military establishment, he still employed 7000 Bedouin Arab warriors in 1171 AD. The amīrs and iqtā' holders of the Kinaniyya tribe who had migrated to Egypt from Palestine after Ascalon fell to the Franks in 1153, plus the 'Asāqila or surviving regulars of the Ascalon garrison, were all retained by Saladin for many years. Yet they were only paid half as much as the sultan’s Kurds and Turks. In addition Saladin could field local militia infantry armed with spear and sword, plus the muṭawwi'a volunteers and the excellent siege infantry of Aleppo and Mosul.10
    In this later age when horse-archers dominated Middle Eastern warfare, cavalry armed in the traditional manner with lances often appeared in large numbers, for instance at the battle of al-Bābayn in 1167.11 Usāma ibn Munqidh, a Syrian amīr of the twelfth century, records many occasions when he and his comrades fought in the old way with lance and sword, generally in inter-Muslim warfare, sieges, or during minor border skirmishes with the Franks. On one occasion some time before 1109 he claims to have urged his rather pacific tutor, Shaykh Abū ‛Abdallāh ibn al-Munīra to join in the battle by saying: ‘O Professor, if thou should’st put on a jerkin with a helmet, dangle a sword at thy side, carry a lance and a shield and stand by the Mashhad al-‛Āṣī (a narrow place where the Franks - may Allah’s curse be upon them! - used to cross the river), not one of them would dare pass by thee’.12
    Even as late as the period following the death of Saladin, cavalry armed with sword and lance enjoyed a pronounced revival in the Fertile Crescent and Egypt at the expense of Turkish horse-archers, a situation temporarily reversed after the Mamlūks’ close-run battle with the Mongols at ‛Ayn Jālūt in 1260. Shaykh al-Harāwī in his military treatise written for an Ayyūbid prince around 1215 AD13 urged the ruler not to neglect masons, ballista operators, arbalast workers, naptha throwers,



176 Fāṭimid wooden panel showing warrior leading mount, eleventh twelfth century, (Louvre) Photograph by Musées nationaux.


177 Carved wooden panel of warrior-hunter, from Fāṭimid Palace. Eleventh/twelfth century. (Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo)

shield carriers and sappers in his army, and to take council with these men together with the crossbowmen and javelin throwers. It is interesting to note that he also suggests that infantry archers, crossbowmen, pikemen and javelin throwers precede the cavalry into battle, just as had been the practice of previous centuries. Even more striking is the evidence offered by the writings of ‛Umar ibn Ibrāhīm al-Awsī al-Anṣārī that infantry be trained to take cover, chase cavalry, check cavalry, and scatter and startle horses.14 The placing of infantry in front of the horsemen during an advance is justified by this author in order to protect one’s own horse from enemy infantry.15 It is arguable, however, how far such treatises reflect the reality of war at that time.
    In the Maghrib, early Islamic battle practice tended to persist. The role of the Banū Hilāl in the eleventh century is of particular interest. Generally assumed to have been merely irregular tribal warriors, it would seem that in fact the menfolk were to a large extent trained soldiers, similar to their kindred Banū Qurra who remained in Fāṭimid Egypt to guard the Western Delta. As was later the case in Saladin’s Egypt, such warriors were employed as auxiliary horsemen on pay that ranged from the lowest almost to the highest rates.16 These Bedouin cavalry continued to be used in the eastern part of the Maghrib up to the fifteenth century. Like the comparable, perhaps identical, Saracens employed by the Norman rulers of Sicily and Southern Italy, their tactics and weapons were conservative, being based upon a ‘laager’ containing tents, animals and non-combatants, from which the by now normally mounted Arab warriors would emerge to engage in traditional karr wa-farr tactics.17

The Byzantines
Emperor Leo VI, called ‘The Wise’, wrote in his Tactica that Saracen armies were not only organized like the Byzantines but had copied the Romans in such equipment as helmets, cuirasses,


178 Detail of stone alter screen, sixth/seventh century, from Tsebelda Church. (S.N. Dyanashiya State Museum of Georgia)


lined half-boots and gauntlets. The Byzantine forces that these armies of the Caliphate were supposedly copying were highly professional. Based in Constantinople were full-time cavalry and infantry regiments, while in the provinces troops were organized in themes or military regions. Heavy infantry carried spear, sword and shield: the officers, and perhaps some of the ranks, wore mail. Cavalry, in particular horse-archers, were considered vital for the defence of the Empire’s eastern frontiers; but as the centuries passed so the units based in Constantinople appear increasingly to have consisted of high quality, though often unreliable, mercenaries.
    Byzantine cavalry had already been reorganized to deal with North African Berbers and Sasanian horsemen, before the Muslim armies became a threat. Heavy cavalry normally wore full length mail with coif, sleeves and gauntlets, a crested helmet, chausses, round shield, surcoat and woollen mantle bearing the regimental colours. Their main weapon was a heavy lance, 3.6 metres long and surprisingly equipped with a throwing thong, plus sword and dagger. Byzantine horse-archers, though apparently equipped much like their northern and eastern foes, were not trained to fight in the same manner. They were generally unamoured save for a shield, and carried a bow, sword and dagger. They used the bow from the saddle though not while in motion. Each rank would loose at command, the front rank first, these men then leaning on the necks of their horses while covering their own necks and shoulders with their shields as the successive ranks shot.18 A somewhat similar manoeuvre was adopted by Byzantine infantry who were also drawn up in ranks. Those in front knelt behind their shields while those behind covered the heads of those in front, those at the rear holding their shields above the heads of all. Later Muslim practice was clearly derived from this source. Aly Mohamed Fahmy19 points out that at sea, where the Muslims inevitably followed Byzantine practice, Arab officers, upper deck seamen and marines wore helmets with facial protection, a scale or lamella cuirass over a quilted jerkin, mailed gauntlets and a metal shield. Other seamen made do with lighter shields and leather jackets padded with felt. Weapons included swords, spears, javelins, bows and arrows, halberds for cutting ropes, and extra long lances or pikes. M. A. Shaban has recently drawn attention to the Umayyad recruitment of native Egyptians into the Muslim navy.20 Their dominant naval tradition was of course thoroughly Byzantine, Egypt having been formerly a Byzantine province.
    Throughout the former Byzantine territory the Arab conquerors constituted a military minority, the manpower resources of which became increasingly stretched. Arab forces seem to have been supplemented by mawālī (clients) whose origins are still a matter for debate. David Ayalon21 has convincingly retranslated the term as ‘freedmen’ rather than ‘clients’. Their military role under the early Umayyads appears to have been quite important. Apart from providing a possible origin for the characteristic Muslim mamlūk system of army recruitment,22 the mawālī are interesting for, even as late as the reign of the Caliph al-Ma’mūn, they apparently fought on foot having ridden to battle like the early Muslim troops.23 mawālī of Syrian origin might be expected to have inherited the Byzantine military traditions of warfare. Byzantine practice also had a profound impact on the new Turkic states of Anatolia, particularly on the Saljuqs of Rūm from the eleventh century onwards. The fact that it had been traditional Turkish tactics that wrested much of Anatolia from the Byzantines in the first place might make any later Saljuq adoption of their defeated foes’ military traditions seem strange. Yet once established as a state, the Saljuqs of Rūm faced much the same defence problems as had their predecessors (figs. 15-16).
    In the twelfth century a Saljuq standing army was established containing many Greek slave soldiers, particularly from the border area of Kastamonu. Such slave soldiers were preferred for the sultan’s personal guard and were also highly regarded as garrison troops for their loyalty and technical skill. The Saljuq rulers were clearly deeply influenced by Byzantine tradition in the creation of their ajnād, a territorial force of free men subject only to the obligation of military service in exchange for state pensions or functionary positions on the state registers.24

The Iranians
Unlike the Byzantine, the Iranian influence on Islamic arms and armour is very clear in the illustrated sources. ‛Umar, the second Muslim caliph (634-644 AD) appears to have recruited elements of the Arabs’ defeated foes,25 particularly Iranian warriors, probably heavy cavalry, asāwira, and infantry known as ḥamrā’ or ḥamrā’ al-Daylam. They were offered conditions of service even more favourable than those enjoyed by Arab Muslim warriors themselves. This policy was not pursued quite so vigorously by subsequent caliphs, though there was a large Iranian element in many Iraqi garrisons. Ḥajjāj ibn Yūsuf, governor of Kūfa and Baṣra in the early eighth century, is credited with recruiting the first standing army in Islam,26 composed of men with no strong tribal loyalties in Iraq and western Iran, though how many were Arabs and how many Persians is not clear. There is also evidence of mamlūk forces being recruited by the Umayyads, though almost nothing is known of them.
    A definite era of Iranian influence was inaugurated in the mid-eighth century with the ‛Abbāsid revolution in Khurāsān and this dynasty’s subsequent seizure of the Caliphate, largely by force of Khurāsāni arms. How far these warriors from the Central Asian frontier of the old Sasanian Empire had adopted Turkish tactics and equipment is uncertain. Following the ‛Abbāsid occupation of Iraq, the bulk of these troops seemed to have remained in Khurāsān, serving the autonomous Ṭālhrid governors for half a century. At the political centre of the Caliphate these Khurāsānīs is were soon downgraded in favour of Turks from Farghāna. This area had long been under strong Iranian influence, and the peoples of Khurāsān and Farghāna were famed as horse-archers, though the bow had perhaps slightly higher prestige among the Turks. Stylistic features introduced by the Persians have been listed as curved quillons, an angled hilt and the wearing of a sword-belt rather than a baldric.27 It was the resistance of this Iranian army or abnā’ in



179 Eleventh/twelfth-century Byzantine warrior saint, fresco in 'Serpent Church', Göreme, Turkey


180 Detail of eleventh/twelfth-century Byzantine 'Skylitzes' manuscript showing Byzantine and Saracen troops. (Biblioteca nacionale, Madrid. Skylitzes Manuscript - Cod 5-3. NZ)



181 Inlaid silver bottle from early thirteenth-century Persia showing mounted warriors using lances and crossbows, also infantrymen (or dismounted cavalry) with swords. (Freer Gallery of Art, Washington)

Baghdad, together with that of the surviving Arab units, to increased preference shown towards Turkish mamlūk soldiers that obliged Caliph al-Mu‛tasim to move his capital to Samarra in 836 AD. But although the traditional, heavily armoured Iranian cavalry apparently lost their pre-eminence, there is every reason to suppose that they remained in service, just as Arab cavalry survived in the western provinces. Certainly the ‘Agulani’, probably Albanians or Aghovanians from the Caucasus, who fought at Doryleum in 1097, were within this tradition. They ‘numbered three thousand: they feared neither spears nor arrows nor any other weapon for they and their horses are covered all over with plates of iron. They will not use any other weapons except swords when they are fighting’.28
    Iranian infantry played an increasingly prominent role in the Muslim army. Most notable were the Daylamīs from the mountains south of the Caspian Sea, who were regarded as the best foot soldiers of the tenth and eleventh centuries. It was on them that the power of the originally Daylamiī dynasty of the Buwayhids largely rested. This Shī‛ī dynasty established a century-long protectorate over the Sunnī caliphs of Baghdad. Daylamī infantry also served during much the same period in the armies of the rival Fāṭimid caliphs of Cairo whose most favoured guard unit in the mid-eleventh century consisted of three hundred Daylamīs carrying axes and spears. Rather more surprising was the prestige enjoyed by these Daylamīs in the service of the Sunnī Ghaznivid rulers of Islam’s easternmost provinces in the eleventh and twelfth centuries (fig. 17). The Ghaznivid army was noted for an organization developed beyond



182 Tenth-century carving of Goliath. Armenian church of 'Gagik' on Aght'amar island. Lake Van. Turkey.

     that of immediately preceding dynasties, with its roots deep in Sasanian military tradition. To balance a large Turkish element, the Ghaznivids employed warriors from many other areas, including Iranians of Central Asian origin and Dayiamī infantry. The ruler’s elite foot-guard consisted of fifty such men bearing golden or bejewelled shields. More practical were Daylamī mounted infantry, riding to battle on camels but dismounting to fight, thus providing the Ghaznivid army with strategic manœuverability comparable to that of the early Arabs.

The Turks
The Caliphs al-Ma‛mūn and al-Mu‛tasim were responsible for introducing a sizable Turkish element into the Muslim armies, suppressing some Arab units and largely replacing the Khurāsānīs. At first these Turks were free men from Farghāna, on the frontier of the Islamic World. Both al-Ma‛mūn and al-Mu‛tasim pursued a policy of vigorous Islamization in Transoxania, and recruited large numbers of freeborn soldiers with their own leaders (figs. 18-20). These men entered the service of Islam with military traditions, techniques and weapons of their own. Adolescent slaves, mamlūks, were also purchased from this area, to be known in Baghdad as Farāghina and Ushrūsiyya. Turco-Iranian Khwārazmians were also, for a while, sold as mamlūks.29 Later on, mamlūks were normally acquired from beyond the Dār al-Islām (figs. 21-23).
    There is a widespread misunderstanding about the status of the mamlūk warrior. He was purchased as a slave, and remained as such during his military training. Converted to Islam and now a competent soldier, he was given his liberty and continued to serve his master as a free man. Between them was a bond of gratitude and loyalty that is hard to comprehend today. It is worth pointing out that al-Mu‛tasim only once used this Turkish army against the Byzantines, in 838 AD. For several centuries after al-Mu‛tasim no caliph is believed to have commanded his army in person, mamlūks taking orders only from their own generals.
    Those who entered the Muslim world as children to be trained by the Muslim establishment would hardly have brought their own arms and armour with them. Though these mamlūks were equipped by the state, the traditional arms of their lands of origin were later to exert a profound influence on Muslim weaponry. In Central Asia, long under Sasanian influence, the lamella cuirass and skirt with short mail sleeves and segmented helmet with mail aventail were quite common. A small round shield of cane bound with silk thread was also of Central Asian origin. According to the Byzantine Emperor Leo VI the nomad Turks were equipped with cuirass, sword, lance and bow, the horses of their leaders wearing iron or leather armour (figs. 26-27). Horse archery at the gallop had been characteristic of Turkish warfare even before the advent of the stirrup.30 According to Leo VI, these nomads appeared to have little order in battle, particularly when retreating, yet they were able to regroup almost instantly and take advantage of any error on the part of their enemies. They would return to the attack again and again, alternating between lance-play and horse archery. They did not divide into three


groups for battle as did most armies in the Middle East, gathering instead into many bands which attempted to surround the foe. Each band was separate but was able to support its neighbours, the weary retiring while their places were filled by those already rested. Hence Turkomans could maintain an attack almost indefinitely. Their reputation for pursuing a beaten foe to utter destruction, a practice rarely followed by the regular forces of either Byzantine or Islam, added to their fearsome reputation. However, Turkoman warriors themselves feared disciplined infantry and ranks of cavalry who could injure their horses. Thus the ‛Abbāsid mamlūks and the free Turkomans, though having similar origins, fought in very different ways.


183 Detail of eleventh century Byzantine 'Skylitzes' manuscript showing Saljuq Turks pursuing foes.
(Biblioteca Nacionale, Madrid. Skylitzes Manuscript - Cod 5-3, NZ)

    Byzantine and Muslim descriptions of Turkoman warriors are confirmed by Latin chroniclers of the Crusades. The anonymous author of the Gesta Francorum, describing the battle of Doryleum, 1097, stated that ‘the Turks came upon us from all sides, skirmishing, throwing darts and javelins and shooting arrows from an astonishing range’.31 The Muslim army at Doryleum consisted largely of Turkomans, unlike that which defeated the Byzantines at Manzikert twenty years earlier. This had been a regular force, though with tribal auxiliaries. Of course such archery tactics seldom gave victory on their own and it normally proved necessary finally to close for hand to hand fighting. Bows would then be hung from the left shoulder as these Turkoman warriors charged with mace and sword (fig. 28). ‘Li Tu virent que nostre gent et leur chevaux estoient moult blecié et a grant meschief, si pandirent isnellement leur arz aus senestrez braz esouz leurs rouelles et leur coururent sus moult cruelement as masces et as espees.’32 (‘The Turks came at our men when their horses were much wounded and in great difficulty, then they hung their bows from their left shoulders under their shields and attacked them most cruelly with maces and swords.’)
    Turkoman warriors were reputed to owe their speed and manœuverability to the lightness of their arms and armour, the Turkish lance being lighter even than that of the Arabs.33 Their small round shield was known to the Crusaders as the pelta. Though the Turks were able to load and shoot very rapidly, their arrows apparently lost penetrating power at long range. Horses could still be incapacitated, however, and this was the primary intention.
    In the spring, warriors would meet at a spot previously designated by the sultan. Among the Saljuqs of Rūm this was often at Kayseri. The summer would then be spent in training, horsemanship, archery, fencing and polo. In the later years of Saljuq rule, trained men were also levied as tribute, some being drafted for further training in the use of spear and sword (fig. 29) though the elite apparently remained horse-archers.
    Parallel to this levying of trained professional warriors was a tendency to send free Turkoman tribesmen to troublesome frontiers where they could fight the infidel as ghāzīs, as Arab warriors had been sent in earlier centuries. Meanwhile professional armies became almost exclusively mamlūk. The standing forces, ‛askars, of governors or local rulers might include slaves, free and freed men. These were available for small-scale operations at any time. Larger campaigns such as those aimed at the Crusader states required an assembly of both central and regional ‛askars, plus Arab or Turkoman tribal auxiliaries, freehooting Kurds and others (fig. 30). Such armies often suffered from disputed leadership and were at best" fragile gatherings of frequently rival forces.
    Shīrkūh’s expedition to Egypt in 1168 AD included 6000 hired Turkoman cavalry and an ‛askar of 2500 mamlūks, and free Kurds.34 When Saladin was struggling for control of Egypt the greater part of his small army appear to have been free Ghuzz Turkoman tribesmen. Even under the later Mamlūk sultans of Egypt, Turkoman light cavalry provided a covering force for one flank of the army, the other wing being protected by Bedouin Arab horsemen. Nevertheless the sophisticated tactics evolved by this later Mamlūk warrior state could hardly be termed Turkish. Horse archery continued to play an important role, but the overwhelming importance given to lance training in the Furūsiyya exercises, the use of ordered ranks and formations in battle35 and the dismounting of cavalry if wind and dust put them at a disadvantage,36 are far removed from Turkoman tribal practice. Only the use of such battle formations as the hilālī crescent by the Mamlūks echoes an earlier age.

The Kurds
Concurrent with the rise of the Turks was the brief emergence of the Kurds as a major military factor in medieval Islam (fig. 31). Though related to Iranians in language and culture, the Kurds maintained a military style of their own. The effective collapse of Baghdad’s central authority not only permitted the rise of various Arab or Persian regional dynasties at the end of the tenth century, but also a few similar Kurdish ruling clans such as the Marwānids of Diyār-Bākr and the Ḥasanwayhids in Kurdistān itself. Further east the Turkish rulers of Ghazni recruited Kurdish warriors into their heterogeneous army, partially in an effort to maintain a racial balance. Later the Saljuq sultans made use of Kurds for much the same reason (fig. 32). These warlike mountaineers rose to prominence with the Kurdish Ayyūbids in Egypt and Syria although prior to the reign of the great Saladin, his uncle, Asad al-Dīn Shīrkūh, took the Kurds of his own ‛askar on his expedition to Egypt in 1168. It would appear from Usāma’s memoirs that the Kurds were noted horsemen, fighting,


as the Arabs did, with sword and lance.37 Their equipment could even be mistaken for that of the Crusaders, since one short-sighted unfortunate named ‛Annāz took the head of his own brother as a trophy after the seizure of Kafarṭāb in 1113 AD, mistaking his corpse for that of one of the Frankish foe.38

The Berbers
Of the various other peoples whose traditions had an impact on Muslim military techniques the most important were the Berbers of North Africa. In pre-Islamic times these Moors fought, according to Strabo, with sword, short, heavy iron javelin, and carried round leather shields. Herodotus had previously mentioned that their shields were reported to be made of ostrich


184 Saljuq 'mīnā 'ī ware' painted bowl from early thirteenth-century Persia, showing a castle being besieged. (Freer Gallery of Art. Washington)


185 Inlaid brass writing box showing allegorical figure (of Scorpio?), from Mosul c.1200-1250 AD (Franks Bequest, British Museum)


skin. Such shields are the most widely mentioned item of Berber equipment. The leather shields known as lamt, white in colour according to Ya‛qūbī (c.871-891 AD), were at one time made in Morocco. 1900 such lamt shields were found in Egypt in the arsenal by Sa‛d al-Dawla in 1068 AD while in Christian Nubia and Ethiopia such shields were, according to Ibn Sulaym al-Aswāniī I (975-996 AD), called ‘bucklers of Axum’.39 According to Lhote and Hourst,40 Tuaregs continued to use a spear made entirely of iron, except for copper ornamentation, up to quite modern times.
    The Berbers accepted Islam readily and fought in Muslim armies, particularly during the conquest of Spain. Not all Berbers fought on horseback, although they were noted for this. Maghribi infantry served the ‛Abbāsid Caliphs in Baghdad and Samarra41 while the Berber Almoravids (or Murābiṭs) of North Africa and Spain apparently used the infantry in phalanxes (fig. 33). Similarly, a probably Fāṭimid tactic in battle was the methodical infantry advance.42 The Fāṭimid army, even in its decline in the eleventh century, included 20,000 Berbers of the Kitāma tribe descended from those veterans who first won Egypt for the Fāṭimids, plus 20,000 Masmūda Berbers and 15,000 other North Africans.43 A century or so later Usama ibn Munqidh specifically mentions Berber warriors of the Lawātah tribe44 among others seen during his service under the Fāṭimids. Such men, like the Arabs and Kurds, were cavalry fighters with sword and lance. An elite, perhaps aristocratic, corps of heavy cavalry had emerged in these Berber forces at least by the tenth century when some in Fāṭimid service wore armour.45 A similar elite appeared in the Sanhāja tribes which established various dynasties in the Maghrib in the eleventh century, for whom jousting was a popular pastime.
    To the west, in al-Andalus, after their contribution to the conquest of the peninsular, the Berbers seemed to have played a surprisingly minor role, Umayyad amīrs and caliphs of Cordova used both Berber and Sudanese negro mercenary troops in addition to local volunteers. Berber dominance of the military establishment did not apparently occur until the time of the vizier al-Mansūr (978-1002 AD) and his ‛Āmirid successors. North African troops were then usually accepted as tribal units and armed head to foot in the current, largely European, style of al-Andalus. This led to an increased reliance on cavalry, infantry being used largely for siege warfare and as garrisons.46
    From the eleventh to the thirteenth century, this process continued having a profound effect on the arms and armour of al-Andalus. For example there was the introduction by the Bani Marīn tribes of both the short hilt and a fencing technique using one finger over the quillon that was ultimately to influence much of Western Europe.47 This style of sword-play was perhaps Sasanian or Chinese in origin.

The ‘Sudanese’
As the Fāṭimids gradually lost control of their North African possessions, so the importance of the Berbers in their army declined. When the final Fāṭimid collapse came it was other nationalities within their forces that put up the last resistance to Saladin’s takeover, most prominently the so-called Sudanese.
    Perhaps the first appearance of these troops was at the time of al-Ma’mūn, the seventh ‛Abbāsid caliph of Baghdad (813-833 AD), who enlisted Saharan Berbers as well as his better known Transoxanian Turks.48 Certainly the Byzantine Emperor Leo VI stated that Saracen infantry consisted of ‘Ethiopians’, un-armoured but armed with large bows. Ibrāhīm ibn Aghlab, governor of Ifrīqiyya, present day Tunisia, (800-812 AD), organized a unit of black slaves,49 while M. Brett believes that later the Zirid’s elite bodyguard of ‛abīd similarly consisted of negro slave troops.50 Somewhat better documented are the Sudanese slave soldiers of the Fāṭimid caliphs — though even their origins are unclear. The Persian traveller Nāser-i Khosraw refers to the 30,000 Sudanese household troops, and Usāma


186 Painted paper fragment from Fusṭāṭ, twelfth century, showing Fāṭimid troops emerging from fortress to engage European Crusaders. (Dept. of Oriental Antiquities, British Museum)


187 Late fourteenth-century painted leather ceiling in 'La Sala de los Reyes', Alhambra, Granada.


writes of a negro in the vizier’s or the caliph’s bodyguard whose gorgeous cloak seems to have rendered him too conspicuous following an unsuccessful conspiracy.51 Such bodyguard elites were presumably not the same as those Sudanese infantry archers, again referred to as Ethiopians by the Crusaders, who fought for Saladin at the battle of Arsūf. Rather earlier, during the siege of Jaffa in 1102, these Sudanese bowmen engaged in a prolonged contest with the Frankish archers. Perhaps only the Sudanese guard units of the Fāṭimid palace establishment were destroyed by Saladin in l169.
    Almost as mysterious are the Fāṭimid naval troops who continued to serve under Saladin. Were they North Africans from the former Fāṭimid provinces of the Maghrib, Syrians from the Eastern Mediterranean ports most of which had long been under Crusader domination, or Egyptians from the Delta coast?

The Armenians and Syrians
So far no mention has been made of one of the Middle East’s most ancient peoples, the Armenians. They fought long, and ultimately unsuccessfully, to preserve their homeland, and at the


188 Late fourteenth-century painted leather ceiling in 'La Sala de los Reyes', Alhambra, Granada.



189 Beatus manuscript, twelfth-century Spain. Army of Nebuchadnezzar etc. (Pierpoint Morgan Library)


same time served as mercenaries with practically every passing army. Most notably they fought as infantry archers in the Fāṭimid forces during that empire’s declining years,52 paying the penalty of resistance to Saladin by being massacred with their Sudanese comrades in 1169. Rather more surprisingly in the light of later history. Armenians served the Turkish sultans of Rum. They fought for the Frankish Crusaders as well53 as infantry and light cavalry, often under the command of their own princes. Their military practice was similar to that of their immediate neighbours.
    Cast in a somewhat different mould were the Syrian Christians. With the exception of the Maronites of Mount Lebanon, who were famed as infantry archers,54 their military role was minimal and would in any case have echoed the styles and traditions of Muslim Syrians.

Indians and Europeans
Two further peoples must be given at least a passing mention, though their influences were felt only on the fringes of Islam. To the east were those Indians, largely Hindus, who fought for the Ghaznivids probably as infantry or elephant-handlers. The ‛Abbāsids had earlier used Hindustanis and Sindīs, either as mamlūks or mercenaries, but the impact of these warriors from the sub-continent has yet to be investigated fully.
    The influence of developing European styles was obvious in the earlier centuries of al-Andalus where Franks were employed as mercenaries by the Ummayads of Cordova, in addition to heavily armoured mamlūk infantry and cavalry of Christian and perhaps also of pagan Slav origin (fig. 34). There was, for example, the squadron of Frankish mamlūks given to Ḥākim II by Ja‛far al-Esclavon, fully equipped with cuirasses, helmets, hauberks, lances, swords, gilded buffalo horns and horses.55 Mercenaries from Catalonia and even France also served the Almoravid sovereigns of the twelfth century.
    During the thirteenth century, lbn Sa‛īd stated quite categorically that, ‘very often the Andalusian princes and warriors take the neighbouring Christians as models for their equipment [figs. 35, 36]. Their arms are identical, likewise their surcoats of scarlet and other stuff, their pennons, their saddles. Similar also is their mode of fighting with bucklers and long lances for the charge. They use neither the mace nor the bow of the Arabs, but employ Frankish crossbows for sieges and arm infantry with them for encounters with the enemy.’ Muslims in Spain, Ibn Sa‛īd continued, unlike those of North Africa, were ‘weighed down by the burden of buckler, long thick lance and coat of mail, and they cannot move easily. Consequently their one aim is to stick solidly to the saddle and to form with the horse a veritable iron-clad whole.’56
    Less well documented were the ṣaqlabī or ‘white skinned’ slave-recruited guards of the later Aghlabid governors of Tunisia, probably captive Balkan Slavs or Mediterranean Latins, and the ṣaqlabī of Egypt similarly recruited from slaves, many of them shipped to the east via Venice.57
    Franks had served Byzantium in large numbers before the disaster of Manzikert in 1071. The Saljuqs of Rūm similarly

190 Saracen giant Faragut slain by Roland, twelth-century carved capital from the Palace of the Dukes of Granada, Estella, Spain.
191 Saracen warrior following Faragut, twelth-century carved capital from the Palace of the Dukes of Granada, Estella, Spain.



192 'Horseman of the Apocalypse' Spain, twelfth/thirteenth century. (Pierpoint Morgan Library)



193 Queen Melisande's Psalter, twelfth century, Palestine Syria, Crusader workmanship from the Frankish States - armour shows Western, Byzantine, and Islamic types. (British museum)


employed Western mercenaries until the Mongol conquest of 1243. ‛Alī ibn Yaḥyā of Tunisia apparently also employed some Europeans, probably as heavy infantry, in 1123 AD. The influence of these troops on local developments is not known.
    The effect of the presence in the Near East of the Crusaders is easier to determine. Scanlon states that: ‘there can be little doubt that the Crusades brought home to the Muslims their vulnerability and their need to improve military tactics and armaments in the face of the heavier European cavalry and more complicated siege machines and weapons.58 Lynn White similarly states that the Crusaders marched east with the best military equipment of the day.59 He also suggested that the kite-shaped shield known in Islam as the ṭāriqa came originally from the French targe, though Hoffmeyer would seem to suggest a possible Spanish origin for this shield which was certainly in use in the east long before the First Crusade. Lynn White draws attention to Byzantine and Muslim imitation of certain Frankish cavalry techniques. This era produced a great deal of writings in Islam on military subjects. There was already a great deal of similarity between the combat styles of the Franks, Arabs and Persians. Usāma described in gruesome detail various ‘notable’ lance thrusts and sword blows of his experience, making no distinction between those of Frank or Muslim. Yet the Muslims’ ultimate success against the Crusaders was in part due to their willingness to learn from their foes.
    As far as tactics were concerned the Turks still endeavoured to provoke an enemy charge at the wrong moment through horse archery and harassment, though presumably with great caution after having experienced the shattering effect of a Frankish charge. Regular armies, notably those of the later Mamlūk era, were still giving more emphasis to training in the use of a lance than any other weapon, particularly during the reign of Sultan Baybars I, 1260-1277. Nevertheless there was a steady change in the movements involved and in the method of holding a lance during the Crusader era.60 This had already been hinted at earlier by Usāma who recommended that a lance be held tightly beneath the arm, allowing one’s horse to provide the required thrust — in other words the Frankish fashion that had appeared in Western Europe in the mid-eleventh century.61 Although there was a general tendency for cavalry to be more heavily armoured in this period, the trend never went as far as it did in Europe. In Mamlūk Egypt, some decades after the final expulsion of the Franks from Syria, the royal mamlūks who displayed their skill at lance-play during the return of the pilgrims from Mecca, wore iron cuirasses covered with coloured silk while their horses were armoured in steel caparisons and cheek pieces.62

Weapons training in the later period
Records of the number and state of repair of cavalry training grounds (called maydāns) provide a good indication of the thoroughness of Muslim military training. During the era of the Bahrī Mamlūks of Egypt (1250-1390 AD) there were many such maydāns in and around Cairo, including that built by one of the last Ayyūbid sultans, al-Ṣāliḥ Najm al-Dīn in 1243. Two others were built by Baybars and a third by Kitbughā. One rather splendid maydān had a stone wall around it, and contained wells, water-wheels, public drinking places, palms and other trees. In or around this maydān stood pavilions for the sultan and his leading amīrs, plus stables for the breeding of war-horses.63 Here the sultan and his warriors would practise furūsiyya exercises such as la’b al-rumḥ, the lance game. In this two teams faced each other, both led by their ‘masters’ who would joust first, being followed by their deputies, first pupils and so on. La’b al-kurra, the polo game, was particularly popular under the Ayyūbids, while the qabaq or ‘gourd’ game was much liked by the Baḥrī sultans and consisted of archery practice from the saddle.64 Other games included that with the mace, fann al-dabbūs, and with the javelin, birjās.

Early Muslim swords
The weapons used in the Muslim World during the seventh to the thirteenth century were very varied, reflecting the diverse ethnic and cultural origins of those who used them.
    The sayf badawī or Bedouin sword was straight-bladed and had a single or double edge.65 If the former was in fact the most common, then the famous sword of ‛Alī normally illustrated in the Middle Ages as having either a bifurcated tip or a longitudinally cleft blade, might in reality have been double-edged since a sword with two blades would have been most impractical. Ada Bruhn de Hoffmeyer describes the normal early medieval Byzantine sword as long-bladed and double-edged, shaped for cut and thrust.66 The cavalry were recommended by Leo VI to carry such a weapon plus a smaller semi-spatha. Light horsemen carried the single edged machaira. The Muslim Arab cavalry were likely to have been lightly armed during the early decades of Islam. This Byzantine habit of carrying two swords, though not necessarily using both at the same time, brings to mind the much later mamlūk training in the use of two blades, one in each hand.67 The Marathas of Western India likewise carried two swords during their late seventeenth and early eighteenth-century campaigns.
    Rabie refers to the weights of mamlūk swords used in furūsiyya exercises, from two to five pounds, and to the skills demanded of a trained fāris who was expected to be able to choose precisely how much injury, from slightly incapacitating to slaying, he wished to inflict upon his adversary.
    In general Muslims listed their swords according to the place of origin of their blades: imported examples tended to be praised for their strength, locally manufactured weapons for their decoration. Al-Idrīsī mentions the arrival of ‘Chinese’ blades at Aden, but it is not clear whether they were made in China or merely arrived on craft trading with China. Evidence supporting the latter view includes the writings of Chau Ju-Kua, a Chinese geographer who described the trading produce of various lands in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. His work indicates that Palembang in Sumatra, prior to its conquest by the Javanese who drove out the original Malays, was a centre of iron-ore and sword trading. Blades seem to have been manufactured in the ‘Pirate Islands’ in the Karimata Straights, Southern Borneo, Java, possibly parts of Sumatra, and either the Coromandel Coast or


eastern Gujarat in India. Iron-ore apparently came from India, Tonkin, and the East African Sofala coast.68 S. Q. Fatimi argues convincingly that hindī, or Indian, swords came not from India itself but from the ‘Indian Islands’, present day Malaysia and Indonesia.69
    Generally speaking it is easier to trace the variations in the design of the hilt rather than in the blade when these weapons are shown in crude or stylized representation. Varying fashions in quillons, bar-shaped, broad, narrow, tapering, curved or cruciform, also tend to appear earlier in the East than in the West. The sloping and curved hilt is almost certainly of Iranian origin, and was subsequently adopted by the Muslim Arabs. Surviving swords from both the Sasanian and Muslim eras show this feature, but how far it reflects a technique of fencing is unknown. The shape of the quillons and, more particularly, the method of grasping the hilt provide an indication. There are, for example, many illustrations which show the forefinger hooked over the quillon. This appears on certain fourth and fifth-century Sasanian silver dishes in the British Museum, on a ninth to tenth-century fresco at Bazaklik in Turkestan, the Varqeh va-Golshāh manuscript from twelfth-century Āẕārbayjān now in Istanbul, the 1217 AD Kitāb al-Aghānī manuscript from the Jazīra, also in Istanbul, and on a late thirteenth-century Spanish ‘Martyrdom of St Lucia‘ in the Bosch Collection, Barcelona, to name but a few. These widespread examples must surely indicate a more developed fencing style than the primitive, hacking blow current throughout most of early medieval Europe, because of the greater control that this grip made possible.
    One much debated issue of Islamic arms and armour is the origin and spread of the curved sword blade. This question has a direct and obvious bearing on the style of sword play preferred at any particular time or location. The normal view, expressed by L. A. Mayer70 and B. W. Robinson71 suggests that the early fourteenth century saw the first appearance of curved sword blades in Islam. Yet there are sufficient exceptions to rebut this belief. The literature of the period is not a sure guide. There is no certainty, for example, that the qalāchūr mentioned by Ferdawsī in his Shāh-Nāmeh was in fact the same curved sword known as a qalāchūr in later centuries. One is safer studying the illustrated sources, and the few surviving blades.
    The sword attributed to Caliph ‛Uthmān (644-656 AD) in the Topkapu Reliquary is a single-edged straight sword where the only curvature is at the very end of the cutting edge. Similar, though shorter, blades appear on a ninth or tenth-century silver dish from Iran that is now in the Hermitage, Leningrad: also on a silver inlaid bronze bowl from thirteenth century Iran now in the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Wade Cup, and on the so-called ‘Baptistry of St Louis’, an inlaid bronze cauldron from Egypt c. 1300 AD, which is now in the Louvre.
    Particularly interesting is a very short but very curved sword on a fresco at Bazaklik in Turkestan (fig. 37). This was dated by A. von Le Coq to the ninth or tenth century. Next come blades with widened tips of the scimitar type showing varied degrees of curvature and length.


194 Tenth-century fresco, Iran. (Museum of Islamic Art, Tehran)

Perhaps the earliest is shown in the hands of the Prophet Muhammad in the frontispiece of the Kitāb al-Aghānī from the school of Baghdad, now in the Egyptian National Library, dated 1217-1218 AD (Fig. 38). From two decades later comes a treatise of Astrology by Abū Ma‛shar al-Balkhī in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, which shows an almost identical blade. A similar but shorter and broader blade also appears on the Baptistry of St Louis, while surviving swords of the type, supposedly from the late thirteenth century, are to be found in Turkey, in the Topkapu Armoury and in the collection of Bey Koyunoglu in Konya (Fig. 40).
    As for more distinctly curved and regularly tapering sabre blades, the earliest surviving, examples are from graves around Kursk and Kiev, dating from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries (fig. 41). Less curved but earlier blades are seen in fifth to sixth-century cave paintings at Ajanta in India, on an eighth-century fresco of an armoured horseman from the ‘Stadthöhle’ cave at Sorçuq in Turkestan, and on a tenth-century fresco of a horseman in the Museum of Islamic Art, Tehran (fig. 42). The earliest Islamic representation from the Arab area appears on a painted paper fragment from Fustāt (Cairo) (fig. 43). This shows a demon riding an elephant and comes according to B. Gray, from around 1200 AD.72 Such a slightly curved sword would appear to be shown on the late twelfth-century painted bowl from Raqqa which is now in the State Museum, Berlin. Similar curved weapons are certainly shown on an early thirteenth-


century Mīnā’ī ware bowl from Iran in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington. Equally clearly illustrated in the above mentioned Astrology of Abū Ma‛shar al-Balkhī is a sabre carried by another allegorical figure, also in a Coptic pen drawing of the Flight to Egypt, c.1299 AD. in the Medicea-Laurenziana Library, Florence. Such a blade has also been reported in the Bey Koyunoglu Collection in Konya and is supposedly from the late thirteenth century, while a weapon of this type clearly appears on the carved stone gateway from twelfth or thirteenth-century Sinjār, now in the National Museum of Baghdad. A new wave of Central Asian culture followed the conquering Mongols into the Middle East in the mid-thirteenth century (fig. 48). Not surprisingly the fourteenth-century inlaid cauldron in the Mevlana Museum, Konya, shows every warrior wearing a distinctly curved sword (fig. 49).
    What then of the blade Gajere in the regalia of the Katsina Amirate of Northern Nigeria? Evidence suggesting that the curved blade was known in Islam at an earlier date than generally believed, would support the mid-thirteenth century date suggested by A. D. Bivar as its earliest likely origin.73

Hafted weapons and their use
An Islamic hafted weapon of considerable interest is the broad-bladed cavalry spear. This was usually held in both hands, indicating a lateral cutting as well as thrusting usage. Al-Ṭarsūsī describes this weapon in the twelfth century as being long with an acorn-shaped blade,74 while a massive example of such a weapon appears on an early thirteenth-century manuscript of the Automata from the Jazīra, now in Istanbul. Others are shown with somewhat smaller blades, but the two-handed technique appears in various places; in al-Andalus on the ivory casket of ‛Abd al-Malik in Pamplona (1004-1005 AD), on a twelfth-century ivory box from Sicily, on the 1206 AD Jazīra Automata inthe Topkapu, on an early thirteenth-century Iranian silver inlay bottle in the Freer Gallery of Art, and on the Baptistry of St Louis (figs. 44, 45).
    This two-handed lance technique is very ancient and long predates the stirrup, being the fighting style of the late Roman clibanari, the Frankish Merovingians and the sixth-century stirrup-using Chinese and Central Asians. Tacitus notes that the Sarmatians fought in this fashion, though he considered it hazardous since no shield could be carried. Lynn White must surely be wrong to blame iconographic conservatism for the constant representation of this supposedly inferior style of lance play long after the Frankish ‘couched’ fashion had been encountered75 since one would hardly expect to find such

195 Manuscript of the Automata (Jazīra 1206 AD, showing warrior with very large 'Acorn-bladed' spear and two-handed method of holding. (Topkapu Library, Sulṭān Ahmet III)


iconographic conservatism in furūsiyya manuals of the late Middle Ages, the sole object of which was the training of mamlūk cavalry. Observation of fully developed European jousting techniques of the High Middle Ages would also not support Lynn White’s contention that the couched lance led to a crouched riding position and consequently smaller body target.76 The survival of the two-handed lance technique suggests that there must have been more to recommend it than is generally recognized. Perhaps this is also indicated by the revival of the lighter weapon of later lancer units in Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and India. Some of the lance targets placed on the ground during mamlūk furūsiyya exercises77 are reminiscent of Indian ‘tent-pegging’ as practised by British lancers in the nineteenth century.
    Similar though shorter spears also appear in the hands of infantry from eleventh-century al-Andalus to thirteenth-century Iraq and Iran (figs. 46, 47). A further variation on this theme of the oversize lance-head seems to be of essentially North African, perhaps Berber origin. Here the kabārbara had a shaft of five arms’ length with a blade of a further arm’s length.78 Weapons of essentially this form are illustrated in the Cantigas of Alfonso X in the Escorial, particularly clearly in Cantos LXIII, CLXV and CLXXXV. Such extravagantly large lance-heads had appeared over a century earlier, in the Apocalypse of Beatus from Spain, c.1091-1109, now in the British Museum (fig. 50). A Spanish manuscript Bible made between 1422 and 1433 for the Grand Master of the Knights of Calatrava and now in the Duke of Alba Collection, Madrid, indicates that such lances were still in use in the fifteenth century (fig. 51). Similarly long blades are carried by a presumably Arab horseman on a well-known tenth-century papyrus from Egypt now in the Rainer Collection, Vienna and also by Arab Bedouin in a thirteenth-century manuscript of Ḥarīrī’s Travels, in the Hermitage. These latter lance-heads are mounted on bamboo lances (figs. 52, 53), a Bedouin style that persisted down to modern times.
    Another ‘large-bladed’ type of lance (fig. 54) seems to have entered Islam from a totally different direction, from Central Asia., where ‘waisted’ lance-blades appear on the eighth-century Buddhist frescos of the Kyzyl Valley. Subsequently this form reappears on the Vienna Kitāb al-Diryaq from thirteenth-century Mosul, on an eleventh or twelfth-century illustrated paper [carving] found in Egypt and now in Cairo’s Museum of Arab Art (fig. 55), and in a rather unusual almost ‘fish-hook’ form, on a twelfth-century Egyptian painted paper in the British Museum’s Department of Oriental Antiquities.
    One further type of spear cannot be ignored. This is the zūpīn, the traditional weapon of the Daylamī infantry (fig. 56). It is described as two-pronged, but this could either mean double-ended or with some sort of flanges or spikes protruding from the sides of the blade. The former type is shown on two fine inlaid metal vessels, the Wade cup and the Blacas Ewer, from Cleveland and the British Museum respectively. They are from the Āẕarbāyjān and Mosul area, both being dated around the early thirteenth century. Similar, though much longer weapons occasionally appear in the hands of later Iranian horsemen. Infantry carrying short spears with ‘winged’ blades are quite often shown in manuscript illustrations (figs. 57, 58, 59, 60, 61). The clearest known to the author are Iranian, in particular on the Varqeh va-Golshāh now in Istanbul.
    A comprehensive dictionary of technical terms relating to Islamic weaponry and tactics incorporating Arabic, Persian and Turkish, has yet to be written and in view of the complexity of such a work may never be attempted. Yet the threat of war and the fear of incidental violence must have permeated society, resulting in considerable attention being given to the appearance of a new foe or an innovation in arms and armour. The investigation of weapons and warfare would therefore seem to provide a useful guide for the identification of cultural trends and influences in the early medieval Muslim lands.


Fig. 1. Carved figure from Cave no. 8, 'Nāga' Cave, Sorçuq; eastern Turkestan, eighth century. (Museum für Völkerkunde, Berlin)

Fig. 2. Stucco figure in shrine D II, Dandān-Uliq. Khotan: eastern Turkestan, late eighth century. (Sinkiang, China)

Fig. 3. Statuette from Sorçuq; eastern Turkestan, eighth century. (Museum für Völkerkunde, Berlin)

Fig. 4. Statue from Khirbat al-Mafjar; Palestine, eighth century. (Palestine Archaeological Museum, Jerusalem)

Fig. 5. Statue from Palace entrance hall, Khirbat al-Mafjar: Palestine, eighth century. (Palestine Archaeological Museum, Jerusalem)

Fig. 6. Statue from Bath Porch, Khirbat al-Mafjar: Palestine, eighth century. (Palestine Archaeological Museum, Jerusalem)

Fig. 7. Statuettes of warriors from Khirbat al-Mafjar: Palestine, eighth century. (Palestine Archaeological Museum, Jerusalem)

Fig. 8. Fresco from Khirbat al-Mafjar: Palestine, eighth century (Palestine Archaeological Museum, Jerusalem)

Fig. 9. Moorish soldiers from Spanish chronicle: Spain, late thirteenth century. (Escorial. Escorial Ms T-I-1)

Fig. 10. Moorish soldiers from Cantigas of Alfonso X (Canto XLVI); Spain, late thirteenth century. (Escorial. Escorial Ms T-I-1)

Fig. 11. Bodyguard of the Sultan. Cantigas of Alfonso X (Canto XXVII); Spain, late thirteenth century. (Escorial)

Fig. 12. Fresco from dome of Ḥarīm. Jawsaq-Samarra: Iraq, 836-839 AD. (Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, Istanbul)

Fig. 13. Fresco from Arcade, Jawsaq-Samarra: Iraq, 836-839 AD. (Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, Istanbul)

Fig. 14. Beheading of John the Baptist, Syriac manuscript: Jazīra, thirteenth century (Vatican Library, Ms Syr. 559. f. 18r)

Fig. 15. Carving of Turkish warriors: Turkey, thirteenth century (Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, Istanbul)

Fig. 16. Turkish helmets: Turkey, thirteenth/fourteenth century. (Topkapu Armoury, Istanbul)

Fig. 17. Frescoes from Lashkari Bazaar: Afghanistan, eleventh century. (Lashkari Bazaar, Afghanistan)

Fig. 18. Frescoes from the 'Painter's Cave', Kyzyl valley; eastern Turkestan, c. 750 AD. (Museum für Völkerkunde, Berlin)

Fig. 19. Painted paper from Manichean temple. Chotscho: eastern Turkestan. Eighth-ninth century. (Museum für Völkerkunde, Berlin)     [19. Manichaean Silk Painting, Chotscho]

Fig. 20. Fresco mounted warrior from Manichean temple, Chotscho; eastern Turkestan, eighth-ninth century. (Museum für Völkerkunde, Berlin)

Fig. 21. Carved heads in 'Sasanian' style from Tumsuq; eastern Turkestan, sixth-seventh century (Museum für Völkerkunde, Berlin)

Fig. 22. Carved figure of 'Indian' or 'Sasanian' style from Kyzyl eastern Turkestan, eighth century. (Museum für Völkerkunde, Berlin)

Fig. 23. Statue from Kyzyl valley; eastern Turkestan, eighth century. See Russkaya Turkestanskaya Exspediciya.

Fig. 24. Hand-axes on fresco from Karasahr; western Turkestan, eighth century. (Museum für Völkerkunde, Berlin)

Fig. 25. Axes on fresco from Bazaklik; eastern Turkestan. (Museum für Völkerkunde, Berlin)

Fig. 26. Clay figure of rider from Astāna cemetery, eastern Turkestan, seventh- eighth century. (British Museum Ast iii. 2.021)


Fig. 27. Fresco of horseman from 'Town Cave', Sorçuq; eastern Turkestan. eighth century. (Sinkiang. China)

Fig. 28. 'Iranians leaving Castle of Furud', lustre tile from Kāshān; Persia, thirteenth century. (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

Fig. 29. Stucco carving of Sultan Kilij Arslan II; Turkey, thirteenth century. (Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, Istanbul)

Fig. 30. Rabī‛ ibn ‘Adnān making a night attack, manuscript of Varqeh va-Golshāh; Āzarbāyjān, late twelfth century. (Topkapu Saray Museum, Istanbul, Top. Ahmet III, Ms Hazine 841, f. 3/6a)

Fig. 31. Figure on carved gateway from Sinjar; Jazīra, twelfth-thirteenth century, (National Museum, Baghdad)

Fig. 32. Figure from inlaid ewer by Ibrāhīm ibn Mawāliyā; Mosul, early thirteenth century. (Louvre, Paris, No. 3435)

Fig. 33. Caravan guard, carved wooden frieze from Fāṭimid Royal Palace / Hospital of Qala‛ūn; Egypt, eleventh century. (Museum of Arab Art, Cairo)

Fig. 34. Axe from Execution of Sham and Enoch. Commentary of Beatus; Spain, twelfth century. (Archaeological Museum, Madrid)

Fig. 35. Heads from 'Massacre of the innocents', carved capital from Santa Maria de Aguilar de Campo; Spain, twelfth century. (Archaeological Museum, Madrid)

Fig. 36. Moorish garrison. 'James I of Aragon-Catalonia entering Valencia in triumph', fresco in Castel d'Alcanyis; Spain, late thirteenth century. (Castel d'Alcanyis)

Fig. 37. Fresco from Avolokitesvaru at Bäzäklik; eastern Turkestan, ninth-tenth century. (Museum für Völkerkunde, Berlin)

Fig. 38. Sword carried by the Prophet, manuscript page showing bishop and prefect of Najrān in Yemen before Muḥammad; Baghdad, 1217-1218 AD. (National Library, Cairo, Ms 579 adad.)

Fig. 39. Allegorical Figures from 'Treatise on Astrology' by Abū Ma‛shar al-Balkhī; Egypt, 1240 AD. (Bibliothèque National, Paris, Ms Arabe 2583)

Fig. 40. Saljuq swords, believed to be late thirteenth century. (Bay Koyunoglu Collection, Konya)

Fig. 41. Swords from Patzinak graves near Kiev and Kursk; Ukraine, ninth-thirteenth centuries. (Kiev)

Fig. 42. Fresco, Iran tenth century. (Museum of Islamic Art, Tehran)

Fig. 43. Sword held by 'Jazrafīl who rides on an elephant', painted paper from Fusṭāṭ; Egypt, c. 1200 AD. (Department of Oriental Antiquities, British Museum)

Fig. 44. Carved ivory box of ‛Abd al-Malik; Spain 1004-1005 AD. (Cathedral Treasury, Pamplona)

Fig. 45. Painted ivory box; Sicily, twelfth century. (Museo Nazionale, Florence)

Fig. 46. Man riding an elephant, Sicilian painted ivory box; Sicily, twelfth century. (Capella Palatina Treasury, Palermo)

Fig. 47. Allegorical figure of War, manuscript of 'War and Medicine' by ‛Abdallāh ibn al-Faḍl; Iraq, 1222 AD. (Royal Asiatic Society, London)

Fig. 48. Inlaid cauldron, Jazīra, early fourteenth century. (Mevlana Museum, Konya)

Fig. 49. Figures from inlaid cauldron; Jazīra, early fourteenth century. (Mevlana Museum, Konya)

Fig. 50. Mounted Moorish warrior from Cantigas of Alfonso X (Canto CLXXXV); Spain, late thirteenth century. (Escorial)

Fig. 51. Lances held by Spanish cavalry, bible written for Grand Master of Knights of Calatrava; Spain, 1422-1433 AD. (Duke of Alba Collection, Madrid)

Fig. 52. Bedouin lances, 'Ḥarīrī's Travels'; Iraq, 1225-1235 AD. (Oriental Institute, Academy of Sciences, Leningrad, Ms S.23)

Fig. 53. Spear from manuscript by Naṣīr al-Dīn Siwasī; Persia, 1272 AD. (Bibliothèque National, Paris, Ms AF. Pers. 174)

Fig. 54. Fresco from 'Painters Cave', Kyzyl Valley; eastern Turkestan, c. 750 AD. (Museum für Völkerkunde, Berlin)
[Fresco of the 'Siege of Kushinagara - Eight Kings of the Relics Story', Maya Cave, Kizil]

Fig. 55. Carved wooden frieze from Fāṭimid Royal Palace / Hospital of Qala‛ūn: Egypt, eleventh century. (Museum of Arab Art, Cairo)

Fig. 56. Infantryman in battle between Banī Shayba and Banī Zabba. Ms of Varqeh va-Golshāh; Āzarbāyjān, late twelfth century. (Topkapu Saray Museum, Istanbul, Top. Ahmet III, Ms Hazine 841, f.10/12a)

Fig. 57. Spears carried by guards in Garden of Gethsemane, Syriac manuscript; Syria 1216-1220 AD. (British Library, Ms Add, 7170)

Fig. 58. Spear of Governor of Rahba, 'Ḥarīrī's Travels'; Iraq, 1237 AD. (Bibliothèque National, Paris, Ms Arabe 5847)

Fig. 59. Shoulder-high spear from frontispiece, Kitāb al-Diryaq: Mosul, mid-thirteenth century. (Nationale Bibliothek, Vienna. Ms AF.10)

Fig. 60. Spear. Sudan, nineteenth century, (Tatton Park)

Fig. 61. Rūm spear carried as symbol of rank in Bornu, about three metres long; western Sudan, early twentieth century.




1 H. W. Glidden, ‘A Note on Early Arabian Military Organization’, Journal of the American Oriental Society, LVI, 1936, pp. 88-91.
2 M. Khadduri, Peace and War in the Law of Islam, Baltimore, 1955, p. 92.
3 D. R. Hill, ‘The Role of the Camel and the Horse in the early Arab Conquests,’ in War, Technology and Society in the Middle East, London, 1975, Parry and Yapp (eds.), pp. 36-37, 40. Hereafter referred to as W T & S.
4 Hill, op. cit., pp. 33–37.
5 G. T. Scanlon, A Muslim Manual of War - Tafrīj al-Kurūb fī Tadbīr al-Ḥurub, by ‘Umar ibn Ibrāhīm al-Awsī al-Ansārī, Cairo 1961, pp. 97 - 98.
6 E. Lévi-Provençal, Histoire de l’Espagne Musulmane, Paris, 1967, Vol. III, p. 100.
7 S. Lane-Poole, The Story of Cairo, London, 1902, p. 146.
8 M. Brett, ‘The Military Interest of the Battle of Haydarān’, in W T & S, p. 83.
9 R. C. Smail, Crusading Warfare 1097-1193, Cambridge, 1956, pp. 83-85.
10 H. A. R. Gibb, ‘The Armies of Saladin’, Cahiers d’Histoire Egyptienne III, 1951.
11 Smail, op. cit., pp. 76-77.
12 P. K. Hitti (trans.), Memoirs of an Arab-Syrian Gentleman, Beirut, 1964, p. 114.
13 J. Sourdel-Thomine, ‘Les Conseils du Šayh al Harāwī à un Prince Ayyūbide’, BEO XVII, 1961-1962.
14 Scanlon, op. cit., p. 72.
15 Scanlon, op. cit., pp. 104-105.
16 Brett, op. cit., pp. 86-87.
17 Brett, op. cit., pp. 87-88.
18 Leo, Tactica, institution VI.
19 A. M. Fahmy, Muslim Sea-Power in the Eastern Mediterranean, Cairo, 1966, pp. 149-150.
20 M. A. Shaban, Islamic History AD 600-750, a new interpretation, Cambridge, 1971, pp. 123, 134-135.
21 D. Ayalon, ‘Preliminary Remarks on the Mamluk Military Institution in Islam’, in W T & S, p. 45.
22 Ayalon, op. cit., p. 47.
23 Ayalon, op. cit., p. 50.
24 C. Cahen, La Syrie du Nord au Temps des Croisades, Paris, 1940, p. 195.
25 Ayalon, op. cit., pp. 44-47.
26 Shaban, op. cit., p. 105.
27 A. Bruhn de Hoffmeyer, ‘Introduction to the History of the European Sword’, in Gladius I, 1961, pp. 62-63.
28 R. Hill (trans.), Gesta Francorum, London, 1962, p. 49.
29 Ayalon, op. cit., pp. 51-52.
30 C. Cahen, ‘Les Changements techniques militaires dans le Proche Orient medieval et leur importance historique’, in W T & S, p. 116.
31 R. Hill, Gesta Francorum, op. cit., p. 19.
32 ‘L’Estoire de Eracles’, in RHC Hist. Occ. II, Paris, 1859, p. 606.
33 Smail, op. cit., pp. 77-78.
34 A. S. Ehrenkreutz, Saladin, New York, 1972, p. 51.
35 Scanlon, op. cit., pp. 101-102.
36 Scanlon, op. cit., pp. 95-96.
37 Hitti, op. cit., pp. 63-64.
38 Hitti, op. cit., pp. 145-146.
39 H. R. Palmer, The Bornu, Sahara and Sudan, London, 1936, pl. IX, pp. 104-105.
40 A. D. Bivar, Nigerian Panoply, Lagos, 1964, p. 9n4.
41 Ayalon, ‘Preliminary Remarks’, op. cit., p.54.
42 Brett, op. cit., p. 83.
43 Lane-Poole, op. cit., p. 146.
44 Hitti, op. cit., p. 32.
45 Brett, op. cit., pp. 84-85.
46 Lévi-Provençal, op. cit., pp. 90-91.
47 Hoffmeyer, op. cit., pp. 43-44.
48 W. Montgomery-Watt, The Majesty that was Islam, London, 1974, p. 120.
49 C. E. Bosworth, ‘Recruitment, Muster and Review in Medieval Islamic Armies’, in W T & S, p. 63.
50 Brett, op. cit., p. 82.
51 Hitti, op. cit., pp. 33-34.
52 Hitti, op. cit., p. 136.
53 Smail, op. cit., p. 47.
54 Smail, op. cit., pp. 52-53.
55 Lévi-Provençal, op. cit., p. 196nI.
56 E. Lévi-Provençal, L’Espagne Musulmane au Dixieme Siecle, Paris, 1932, p. 146.
57 Bosworth, op. cit., pp. 63-67.
58 Scanlon, op. cit., pp. 4-5.
59 Lynn White Jr, ‘The Crusades and the Technological Thrust of the West’, in W T & S.
60 David Ayalon, ‘Notes on the Furūsiyya Exercises and Games in the Mamlūk Sultanate’, Scripta Hierosolymitana IX, Jerusalem, 1961, p. 47-48.
61 Hitti, op. cit., pp. 69-70.
62 Ayalon, op. cit., p. 48.
63 Ayalon, op. cit., pp. 40-44.
64 Ayalon, op. cit., pp. 52-56.
65 Abd al-R. Zaki, ‘The Sword in Islam’, in Studies in Honour of Prof. K. A. C. Creswell, Cairo, 1965, p. 270.
66 Hoffmeyer, op. cit., p. 62.
67 Hassanein Rabie, ‘The Training of the Mamlūk Fāris’, in W T& S, p. 162.
68 F. Hirth & W. W. Rockhill (trans.), Chau Ju-Kua on the Chinese and Arab Trade in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, St Petersburg, 1911, pp. 19n2, 46, 61, 77, 84, 97, 102n14 & 111.
69 S. Q. Fatimi, ‘Malaysian Weapons in Arabic Literature: a Glimpse of Early Trade in the Indian Ocean’, Islamic Studies, 1964.
70 L. A. Mayer, The Crusades, Oxford, 1972, p.44.
71 B. W. Robinson, ‘The Sword of Islam’, Apollo Annual, 1949, pp. 56-59.
72 B. Gray, ‘Islamic Charm from Fustat’, BM Quarterly IX, 1935.
73 Bivar, op. cit., pp. 20-21.
74 C. Cahen (trans.), ‘A Treatise on Armour written for Saladin by al-Ṭarsūsi’, Bulletin d’Etudes Orientates XII, 1948, p. 135.
75 Lynn White Jr, op. cit., p. 98.
76 Lynn White Jr, op. cit., pp. 98-99.
77 Rabie, op. cit., p. 156.
78 Cahen, ‘A Treatise’, op. cit., p. 135.

See also Illustrations referenced by The military technology of classical Islam by David Nicolle
Index of Illustrations of Costume & Soldiers

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