The Clibanarii or Klibanophoroi (Greek: κλιβανοφόροι, meaning "camp oven-bearers" from the Greek word κλίβανος meaning "camp oven" or "metallic furnace") were a Sassanid Persian, late Roman and Byzantine military unit of heavy armored horsemen.

The oldest known relief of a heavily armoured cavalryman, from the Sassanid empire, at Taq-i Bostan, near Kermanshah, Iran (6th century).


Similar to the cataphracti, the horsemen themselves and their horses were fully armoured. There are several theories to the origins of this name, one being that the men were literally nicknamed "camp oven bearers" (due to the amount of armour they wore that the troops heat up very quickly in the heat of battle) or that the name is derived from Persian word griwbanwar or griva-pana-bara meaning "neck-guard wearer".[1]

The Clibanarii cavalry of Shapur II is described by Greek historian Ammianus Marcellinus, a Roman staff officer who served in the army of Constantius II in Gaul and Persia, fought against the Persians under Julian the Apostate, and took part in the retreat of his successor Jovian, as:

"All the companies were clad in iron, and all parts of their bodies were covered with thick plates, so fitted that the stiff-joints conformed with those of their limbs; and the forms of human faces were so skilfully fitted to their heads, that since their entire body was covered with metal, arrows that fell upon them could lodge only where they could see a little through tiny openings opposite the pupil of the eye, or where through the tip of their nose they were able to get a little breath. Of these some who were armed with pikes, stood so motionless that you would have thought them held fast by clamps of bronze.
"The Persians opposed us serried bands of mail-clad horsemen in such close order that the gleam of moving bodies covered with closely fitting plates of iron dazzled the eyes of those who looked upon them, while the whole throng of horses was protected by coverings of leather."

See also


  1. ^ ARMY i. Pre-Islamic Iran. Encyclopædia Iranica. December 15, 1986, Updated: August 12, 2011.

Primary sources

Secondary sources

  • Hugh Elton, Warfare in Roman Europe

External links


Argbed (etymology uncertain) were a class of military commanders in charge of castles and fortresses of the Parthian and Sasanian Empires of Persia (Iran) between the 2nd and 7th centuries CE. The office became more important under the Sasanian Empire.Argbeds were granted their command by the Sassanian emperor (Shahanshah) and were responsible for maintaining the security of their area of operation (usually a trading post, military fortress, or city), fighting the encroaching nomadic tribes such as Bedouin Arabs, White Huns and Oghuz Turks, and resisting the advances of settled enemies such as Romans and Kushans.

The Sasanian king usually selected Argbeds from wuzurgan, Iranian noble families who held the most powerful positions in the imperial administration. This rank, like most imperial administration, was mostly patrimonial, and was passed down through a single family for generations. In many ways, the Argbeds had the same function and status as medieval castellans.


Aspbed or Aspbad (“commander of the cavalry”, from Old Iranian *aspa-pati-), was a title of Iranian origin used by the Parthian and Sasanian empires.


The Aswārān (singular aswār), also spelled Asbārān, was a military force that formed the backbone of the army of the Sasanian Empire. They were provided by the aristocracy, wore armor, and ranged from archers to cataphracts.

Battle of Turin (312)

The Battle of Turin was fought in 312 between Roman emperor Constantine and the troops of his rival augustus, Maxentius. Constantine won the battle, giving an impressive display of the tactical skill which was to characterise his whole military career. The campaign ended with his more famous victory at the Milvian Bridge immediately outside Rome.

Byzantine battle tactics

The Byzantine army evolved from that of the late Roman Empire. The language of the army was still Latin (though later and especially after the 6th century Greek dominates, as Greek became the official language of the entire empire) but it became considerably more sophisticated in terms of strategy, tactics and organization. Unlike the Roman legions, its strength was in its armoured cavalry Cataphracts, which evolved from the Clibanarii of the late empire. Infantry were still used but mainly in support roles and as a base of maneuver for the cavalry. Most of the foot-soldiers of the empire were the armoured infantry Skutatoi and later on, Kontarioi (plural of the singular Kontarios), with the remainder being the light infantry and archers of the Psiloi. The Byzantines valued intelligence and discipline in their soldiers far more than bravery or brawn. The "Ρωμαίοι στρατιώται" were a loyal force composed of citizens willing to fight to defend their homes and their state to the death, augmented by mercenaries. The training was very much like that of the legionaries, with the soldiers taught close quarters, melee techniques with their swords. But as in the late Empire, archery was extensively practiced.


A cataphract was a form of armored heavy cavalry used in ancient warfare by a number of peoples in Europe, East Asia, Middle East and North Africa.

The English word is derived from the Greek κατάφρακτος Kataphraktos (plural: κατάφρακτοι Kataphraktoi), literally meaning "armored" or "completely enclosed". Historically, the cataphract was a very heavily armored horseman, with both the rider and mount steed draped from head to toe in scale armor, while typically wielding a kontos or lance as their weapon.

Cataphracts served as either the elite cavalry or assault force for most empires and nations that fielded them, primarily used for impetuous charges to break through infantry formations. Chronicled by many historians from the earliest days of antiquity up until the High Middle Ages, they are believed to have influenced the later European knights, via contact with the Byzantine Empire.Peoples and states deploying cataphracts at some point in their history include: the Scythians, Sarmatians, Alans, Parthians, Achaemenids, Sakas, Armenians, Seleucids, Pergamenes, Kingdom of Pontus, Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, the Sassanids, the Romans, the Goths and the Byzantines in Europe and the Mongols, Chinese, and Koreans in East Asia.

In Europe, the fashion for heavily armored Roman cavalry seems to have been a response to the Eastern campaigns of the Parthians and Sassanids in the region referred to as Asia Minor, as well as numerous defeats at the hands of Iranian cataphracts across the steppes of Eurasia, the most notable of which is the Battle of Carrhae. Traditionally, Roman cavalry was neither heavily armored nor decisive in effect; the Roman equites corps were composed mainly of lightly armored horsemen bearing spears and swords to pursue stragglers and routed enemies. The adoption of cataphract-like cavalry formations took hold among the late Roman army during the late 3rd and 4th centuries. The Emperor Gallienus Augustus (253–268 CE) and his general and putative usurper Aureolus, bear much of the responsibility for the institution of Roman cataphract contingents in the Late Roman army, though this had been questioned by some historians.


Darigbed was a Sasanian title equivalent to the Byzantine title kouropalates ("palace

superintendent"). The title is first mentioned in the inscription of Shapur II (r. 240-270) at Naqsh-e Rostam.

Equites cataphractarii

Equites cataphractarii, or simply cataphractarii, were the most heavily armoured type of Roman cavalry in the Imperial Roman army and Late Roman army. The term derives from a Greek word, κατάφρακτος kataphraktos, meaning "covered over" or "completely covered" (see Cataphract).


The Grivpanvar (literally: neck-guard wearer), were an elite late Parthian and Sassanian division who fought as heavy knights or Cataphract cavalry. According to Roman sources, the Grivpanvar had the ability to impale two men on the long, heavy spears that they carried. Historical evidence suggests that the heavily armoured Parthian grivpanvar were at least partially influenced by the military of the Central Asian steppes, who in turn had inherited their armoured cavalry traditions from the Massagetae and the late Achaemenid Persians.


Hazārbed (meaning "the commander of thousand"), also known as hazaruft or hazaraft, was a Sasanian office which functioned as the commander of the royal guard.


The kanārang (Persian: کنارنگ‎) was a unique title in the Sasanian military, given to the commander of the Sasanian Empire's northeasternmost frontier province, Abarshahr (encompassing the cities of Tus, Nishapur and Abiward). In Byzantine sources, it is rendered as chanaranges (Greek: χαναράγγης) and often used, for instance by Procopius, in lieu of the holder's actual name.The title was used instead of the more conventional marzbān, which was held by the rest of the Persian frontier wardens. Like the other marzbān, the position was hereditary. The family holding it (the Kanārangīyān) is first attested in the reign of Yazdegerd I (r. 399–421), but was descended from some pre-Sasanian, most likely Parthian, dynasty. They enjoyed a high prestige and great authority in the Sasanian Empire's northeastern borderlands, as reflected in their glorified description in the Shahnameh of the great Persian poet Ferdowsi.The family was active until the very end of the Sasanian realm. A man called Kanāra in Arab sources commanded the Persian light cavalry at the decisive Battle of al-Qādisiyyah, and his son, Shahrīyār bin Kanāra, is reported to have fought valiantly before being killed. The family is later recorded as assisting the Muslim conquest of Khorasan by Abd-Allah ibn Amir, and being rewarded with the right to keep the province of Tus and half of the province of Nishapur under their control.

Kontos (weapon)

The kontos (Greek: κοντός) was the Greek name for a type of long wooden cavalry lance used by Iranian, especially Achaemenid successors' cavalry, most notably cataphracts (Grivpanvar). It was also used by the Germanic warriors of the south as a pike. A shift in the terminology used to describe Sarmatian weapons indicates the kontos was developed in the early to mid 1st century AD from shorter spear-type weapons (which were described using the generic terms for "spear"—longhe or hasta—by Greek and Roman sources, respectively), though such a description may have existed before the Battle of Carrhae, in which Parthian cataphracts, in conjunction with light horse archers, annihilated a Roman army of over three times their numbers.

As shown by contemporary artwork, the kontos was about 4 metres long, though longer examples may have existed; later Parthian and Sassanian clibanarii (Middle Persian: Grivpanvar) reportedly used kontoi of longer lengths; only highly trained cavalrymen such as those fielded by the Arsaco-Sassanian dynasties could have used such weapons. It was reputedly a weapon of great power compared to other cavalry weapon of its time, described by Plutarch as being "heavy with steel" and capable of impaling two men at once. Its length was probably the origin of its name, as the word kontos could also mean "oar" or "barge-pole" in Greek. Thus, it had to be wielded with two hands while directing the horse using the knees; this made it a specialist weapon that required a lot of training and good horsemanship to use. In addition, most Parthian cavalry (even possibly including cataphracts) carried bows, so this meant daily practice with the weapons.

The Romans adopted a variation of the kontos transliterated as contus. The Roman contus was also wielded two-handed. The later Byzantine kontarion was used by Byzantine cataphracts, from c. 1100 it was used single-handed couched under the armpit, as was the contemporary knightly lance.

The name is the stem of many words for cavalry lances in languages of the region, like gönder (Hungarian), gönder ("Roman lance") or rumh (Arabic رُمْح via Turkish), and quntariya قَنْطَرِيّة (Arabic).

List of Sasanian revolts and civil wars

This is a list of civil wars or other organized internal civil unrests fought during the history of the Sasanian Empire (224–651). The definition of organized civil unrest is any conflict that was fought within the borders of the Sasanian Empire, with at least one opposition leader against the ruling government.

Military of the Sasanian Empire

The Sasanian army was the primary military body of the Sasanian armed forces, serving alongside the Sasanian navy. The birth of the army dates back to the rise of Ardashir I (r. 224–241), the founder of the Sasanian Empire, to the throne. Ardashir aimed at the revival of the Persian Empire, and to further this aim, he reformed the military by forming a standing army which was under his personal command and whose officers were separate from satraps, local princes and nobility. He restored the Achaemenid military organizations, retained the Parthian cavalry model, and employed new types of armour and siege warfare techniques. This was the beginning for a military system which served him and his successors for over 400 years, during which the Sasanian Empire was, along with the Roman Empire and later the East Roman Empire, one of the two superpowers of Late Antiquity in Western Eurasia. The Sasanian army protected Eranshahr ("the realm of Iran") from the East against the incursions of central Asiatic nomads like the Hephthalites and Turks, while in the west it was engaged in a recurrent struggle against the Roman Empire.

Parthian shot

The Parthian shot is a light horse military tactic made famous in the West by the Parthians, an ancient Iranian people. While in real or feigned retreat their horse archers would turn their bodies back in full gallop to shoot at the pursuing enemy. The maneuver required superb equestrian skills, since the rider's hands were occupied by his composite bow. As the stirrup had not been invented at the time of the Parthians, the rider relied solely on pressure from his legs to guide his horse.

You wound, like Parthians, while you fly,And kill with a retreating eye.

In addition to the Parthians, this tactic was used by most nomads of the Eurasian steppe, including the Scythians, Huns, Turks, Magyars, and Mongols, as well as armies from elsewhere such as the Sassanid clibanarii and cataphracts.

The Parthians used the tactic to great effect in their victory over the Roman general Crassus in the Battle of Carrhae.

The tactic was also used by Muslim conqueror Muhammad of Ghor in the Second Battle of Tarain in 1192 against Indian elephants and heavy infantry, by Alp Arslan in the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 against the Byzantines, and by Subutai in the Battle of Legnica in 1241 against Polish knights.


The Pāygān-sālār were commanders of the infantry units (paygan) within the Sassanid armies. The Paygan-salar were very respected and trustworthy men, they would be guarded by the elite Dailamites.

Shock tactics

Shock tactics, shock tactic or shock attack is the name of an offensive maneuver which attempts to place the enemy under psychological pressure by a rapid and fully committed advance with the aim of causing their combatants to retreat. The acceptance of a higher degree of risk in order to attain a decisive result is intrinsic to shock actions.

Stor Bezashk

Stōr-bizeshk were veterinarians within the Sassanid Persian army whose purpose was to ensure the safety and health of the steeds before battles. These men would care for the horses, feeding them and grooming them. According to some of the sources if the steeds would die in their care the Stor bezashk would be fined. They also had thorough knowledge of herbs.


Zhāyēdān (literally "The Immortals") were warriors of an elite unit within the Sassanian army, numbering 10,000 men. They are possibly modeled on the former Immortals, who served the rulers of the Achaemenid Empire, and possibly wore the same clothing as their predecessors. These warriors bore the very finest quality weaponry and armor of the entire Sassanian military. The Zhayedan were led by a commander bearing the title of "Varhranighan-khvadhay".

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.