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Cavalrymen


When did cavalrymen step onto the stage of war? Cavalry battles had already been recorded by inscriptions on the tortoise shells and oracle bones of the Yin Dynasty, but cavalrymen were still uncommon at that time, only limited to nomads in the northwestern region. The reform of “wearing the clothes of the minority and shooting arrows on the horseback” launched by King Wuling of the State of Zhao in the third century B.C marked the beginning of the people on the central plan to learn to fight on the horseback. Since then, cavalrymen in various states on the Central plan grew rapidly in strength and became an indispensable branch of the services in war. However, in the history of archaeology, material data of cavalry men in ancient times have been scarce. The 200 clay cavalry figures excavated from the Qin terra-cotta Army Pit 2 provide us for the first time with material data of the cavalrymen in the past, demonstrating the dress, equipment and tactical features of the cavalrymen over two thousand years ago.

The dresses of the cavalry figures are quite different from that of the infantrymen and charioteers. The figures wear a small round headgear with its two hands tied in a knot beneath his chin. He is dressed in a tight-sleeved and cross-collard garment which buttoned on the right, a pair of trousers with tight bottoms and short boots. Except for the short and small armored suits on his body, there is no amour on his shoulders and arms. The clothes are short and light, and the amour simple and handy. This special way of dressing is due to the tactical features of cavalrymen, which require them to be quick and brisk in action. The loose and long robes of the Chinese Plain in ancient were apparently unfit for the cavalrymen’s fighting on horseback. Only by wearing the close-fitting, tight-sleeved minority clothes which buttoned on the right would it be possible and convenient for cavalrymen to mount their horses and shoot their arrows.

There were strict criteria for the selection cavalrymen in ancient times. It is stipulated in books on the art of war the cavalrymen should be under the age of 40, with a height of over 7 chi and 5 cun( approximately 1.7 meters) . The clay cavalry figures of the Qin terra-cotta army pits are indeed realistic works of art. Each of them is over 1.80 meters tall, with a slender figure and an alert and resourceful expression. Judging from his face, the cavalrymen are just in the prime of life. He raised his head, throws out his chest and looks forward, with halters in one hand and a crossbow in the other, as if waiting for orders to set off. The sculpture successfully revealed the spirit of cavalrymen who is strong, alert, quick and agile.

There were also standards for the selection of horses in ancient China. The laws of the Qin dynasty stipulated that the horse must be 5 chi and 8 cun in height to be selected. That is, the horses should be 1.33 meters, representing the image of a horse strictly selected by the rule.

On the back of the clay horse is sculptured a saddle with its texture appearing to be that leather. The two ends are slightly raised and a row of saddle nails are sculptured on the surface. Tassels and short laces are decorated around the saddle. Only the stirrups are missing. This is the kind of soft saddle of earlier times, which is different from the bridge-shaped saddle invented later. It was believed that saddles appeared during the west Han dynasty. The discovery of the saddle on the pottery horse in the Qin terra-cotta army pits proved that horse saddle had already existed in China before 200b.c. The use of saddles was of great significance in the history of cavalry tactics because it freed the two hands of the cavalryman and significantly increased the combat effectiveness of the cavalry force.

Cavalrymen had their own fixed position in battle arrays. The cavalrymen in the square battle formation of ancient Creece were placed on the two sides or in the front. Likewise, the terra-cotta cavalry figures discovered from the Pit 2 are also placed on the left side of the battle array. Obviously, the purpose of this special arrangement is to bring into full play of the force’s tactical features of attacking the enemy swiftly and unexprctedly.

 
 
 

 

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