Enemies of Cuirassiers

The weapon of the Turkish horsemen of the 17th century. On the left are two sabers gaddare (Pers.), Or fell (Tur.). They differed in a relatively short (65-75 cm), but wide (5-5.5 cm) blade, and had a thick (up to 1 cm) butt. Some blades (including those in the photo) had a yelman, but its width was small. The handle with a crosshair had a characteristic shape. The crosses were small and bent forward. The scabbard was of wood and covered with black leather. On the right is a Circassian saber with a point at the end of the blade to pierce chain mail and a straight broadsword (Dresden Armory)
… and their cavalry covered the hills.
Judith 16: 3.

Shootout behind the hills;
Looks at their camp and ours;
On the hill in front of the Cossacks
The red delibash is twisting.
Pushkin A.S., 1829

Military affairs at the turn of the eras. Last time we found out that the enemies of the plate cavalry of cuirassiers and reitars at the turn of the Middle Ages and the New Age, in addition to infantry with pikes and muskets, were numerous units of light cavalry, including national ones. She was certainly more numerous, although not as well armed. In the previous article, it was about the Hungarian hussars, Venetian stradiots, Wallachians and dragoons. Today we will continue the story about the enemies of the cuirassiers. And we will start it with the Turkish heavily armed horsemen of the Sipah cavalry, who are closest to the type of European spear horsemen in full knightly equipment or in three-quarter javelin armor.

Enemies of Cuirassiers
Turkish equestrian warriors 1600 1 – rider of the Sipah cavalry, 2 – rider of Delhi, 3 – rider-mercenary of the Arab auxiliary cavalry. Fig. Angus McBride

At first, the Sipahs were ordinary heavily armed horsemen, mounted on horses, dressed in armor blankets and armed with spears and maces. It is clear that the armament of the Sipah warrior, as in the case of the European knight, directly depended on his wealth and the size of his land ownership – timar. By the way, these warriors were often called Timariots after him. That is, it was an analogue of our “landlords”. Since the Sipahs fired from bows from a horse, the protective equipment they used had to provide high mobility of the shoulder girdle. Hence the prevalence of ring-plate armor among them. Turban helmets with chain mail aventails and a nose plate were popular. Other types of helmets were shashak and misyurka, from the Arabic word Misr – Egypt. Since the 16th century, caracene armor has been spreading. The arms above the wrist were protected by tubular bracers. Kalkan shields were relatively small in size, but they were made of metal – iron or copper.

Sipah cavalry rider (Army Museum, Paris)

When the warriors were called to a campaign, every tenth of the sipahs, by lot, remained at home to maintain order in the empire. Well, those who ended up in the army were distributed among the alay regiments, which were commanded by the commanders of the cheribashi, subashi and the alaybei officers.

Armor of the Hungarian hussars – opponents of the Sipahs and Delhi. (Arsenal Graz, Austria)

It is quite possible to say about the sipahs that they were a kind of nobility of the Ottoman Empire and an analogue of the Russian local cavalry. A plot of land with peasants, trading rows, mills – all this could be declared a timar (the word spahilyk was also sometimes used), and transferred to the use of a sipah, who, using the funds received, had to arm himself and bring a small detachment of soldiers with him. Timars of the heyday of the Ottoman Empire were not hereditary holdings, but were only temporarily in the use of the holder (timarly or timariot) only while he was in the service. It is clear that under such a system the sipahs did not have complete power over their peasants. Moreover, while in the service, the sipakhs did not receive monetary allowances from the treasury, but they had the right to booty of war.

Three-quarter cuirassier armor. (Arsenal Graz, Austria)

If the sipah avoided fulfilling his duties, his profitable property could be taken from him and returned to the treasury. After the death of the Sipahi, his hold on his family remained, but only if he had a son or some other close relative who could replace him in the service.

17th century Turkish Vulture Horseman (Dresden Armory)

From 1533 the Porte government established a new Timar system along the Hungarian border. Now, instead of living in their local estates, the sipahs were required to serve permanently and stay in border cities with the soldiers of the garrisons located in them.

The cessation of an active policy of conquest and the spread of corruption became the reasons for the massive evasion of the vultures from service. Moreover, by hook or by crook, they began to try to transfer the timars into their private or religious property with the payment of the corresponding contractual rent.

Kalkan shield (woven from rods) and other weapons and equipment of Turkish horsemen. (Dresden Armory)

In the XV-XVI centuries, the cavalry of the Sipahs was very numerous: about 40,000 horsemen, and more than half came from the provinces of the empire located in Europe, in particular in Rumelia. But then, from the end of the 17th century to the end of the 18th century, over 100 years, their number decreased by more than 10 times. So in 1787, when Turkey was once again going to fight with Russia, Porta, with great difficulty, gathered only two thousand horsemen.

Turkish edged weapons and firearms: in the center of the showcase are scimitars and cavalry pistols, left and right – muskets inlaid with ivory and coral (right) (Dresden Armory)

Well, then Sultan Mahmud II in 1834 completely abolished the Sipahs, after which they were included in the new regular cavalry. At the same time, in 1831-1839, the military-feudal system of Timars was liquidated. The lands of the former landowners were transferred to the state, which now paid them salaries directly from the budget. However, the memory of the brave riders of the sipahi has not died. From this name came another – Spahi (spagi). Only now did the light cavalry units in the French and Italian armies begin to be called that, where the aborigines were recruited, but the commanders were from the French, as well as the Sepoy (sepoy) – the well-known British colonial troops from the Indians in India, arranged in a similar way.

Drawing from Richard Knotel’s book on the history of uniform, depicting vulture riders. Berlin, 1890 (Berlin State Library)

The main problem of the Sipahs, like the problem of the Russian local cavalry, by the way, was that both of them were incapable of change. At a certain stage, their role was positive, but times changed, and the sipahs did not want to change with time. In particular, this was expressed in a disdainful attitude towards firearms, and where, in Turkey, where the gunpowder was of excellent quality, and excellent muskets and pistols were produced. But … the infantry was armed with all this. Mostly the Janissaries, who armed themselves at the expense of the state. But the sipahs did not want to buy firearms at their own expense, and if they did, they did not want to change their battle tactics, they say, grandfathers fought and won like that, and we will be the same!

Naturally, the heavily armed cavalry of the Sipahs had to be supported by lightly armed horsemen. And in the Turkish army there were those too. First of all, it is akinji (derived from the Turkish word akın – “raid”, “attack”). These were irregular formations, but they played a very important role in the military system of the Port. The organization of the akindzhi cavalry was called akindzhlik, and it was created as border troops to protect the beyliks – border areas. The Ottomans called such areas uj. Ugem ruled a bey, whose title was hereditary. Such bei were called akinji-bey or uj-bey.

A heavy fortress musket and javelins with which the light cavalry was armed. (Dresden Armory)

In the empire of the Seljuk Turks, Uj Bey was a very significant person. He only paid once a year a tax to the Sultan, and so he was completely independent of him. He could fight with neighbors, rob them – the Sultan did not care about that. In the state of the Ottomans, akindzhi diminished their freedom and they had to act on behalf of the sultan. In fact, the uj-bey received money from these lands, and on them he summoned cavalry detachments. The state did not pay them any maintenance, did not issue weapons and equipment, the akinji also bought horses themselves. But on the other hand, they did not pay the tax on production, and everything that fell into their hands remained with them!

Vulture rider. On the head there is a helmet-shishak, a shield – a kalkan, a kylich saber. The mass of such a saber reached one and a half kilograms. The stirrups are noteworthy. The Turks did not use spurs, but spurred their horses with the inner edges of their massive box-shaped stirrups. (Illustration from the book “Cavalry. The history of fighting elite 650BC – AD1914” Vuksic, V., Grbasic, Z.)

In fact, these were civilian detachments, where anyone could enroll, but it was necessary to present recommendations from the imam, village headman of the village or any person known to the uj-bey. The names of the applicants, as well as the name of the father and place of residence, were recorded and kept in Istanbul. Akinji-bey (commander) was appointed by the sultan or his governor sardar.

Turkish sabers: upper saber – gaddare, but with someone else’s handle. Below is a kylich with a developed yelman. (Topkapi Arsenal, Istanbul)

Ten horsemen were commanded by an onbashi (corporal), a hundred – by a subashi, a thousand – by a bigbashi (major). Already during the battle on the Kosovo field, the number of akinji reached 20,000, and under Suleiman I, more than 50,000 people. But then their number began to fall again and in 1625 there were only two thousand of them. Interestingly, in peacetime, they could live anywhere, but it was required that they constantly train and be ready to set out on a hike on demand. The akinji practically did not wear armor, but they had shields – either kalkans or Bosnian scutums. Weapons were used mainly cold: sabers, bows, lasso. Usually, these horsemen on campaigns were either in the vanguard of the army or in the rearguard. They had spare horses with them so that there was something to take out the prey. Most often akindzhi fought in Europe, but such sultans as Mehmed II, Bayezid II and Selime I used them in Anatolia as well.

Turkish chain mail of the 17th century, weight 10.52 kg. (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

At the beginning of the 17th century, these horsemen began to suffer heavy losses in battles with the imperial cavalry. Already in 1630, the akinji turned either into ordinary soldiers, or agreed to serve only for money. Instead, the Turks had to use the hired Tatar cavalry of the Crimean khans. They finally disappeared in 1826.

Horse of a Turkish rider in the outfit of the end of the 17th century. (Dresden Armory)

Another unit of the Turkish light cavalry was the Delhi riders, which can be translated as “rip-head” and “desperate brave”. They appeared in the late 15th and early 16th centuries and became famous for their desperate bravery, and also for their unusual clothing. However, it very often happened that military clothing was just conceived of such as to frighten the enemy’s soldiers. A contemporary described their outfit, emphasizing that many of them were covered with tiger skins, making them something like a caftan. Of the means of protection, they had convex shields, and their weapons were spears and maces attached to their saddles. Delhi headdresses were also made from the skins of wild animals and decorated with eagle feathers. They also decorated shields of the Boyesnian scutum type with feathers, and moreover, they also had feather wings behind their backs. So it is believed that the Polish plate hussars just from them, from Delhi, borrowed the idea of ​​wearing wings with feathers on their backs. Their weapons were spear, saber, bow and arrows. The horses of the Delhi riders were distinguished by their strength, agility and endurance.

Turkish bow 1719 -1720 Length 67.9 cm (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

In the 18th century, for some reason, Delhi began to wear hats that looked like cylinders 26 inches high, made of black lamb skin (!) And wrapped in a turban on top!

Riders in battle (left) with Hungarian horsemen (right), 1526. Miniature from the Sumeimanname manuscript (Topkapi Museum, Istanbul)

The organization of Delhi was as follows: fifty to sixty horsemen made up the bayrak (flag, standard). Delibashi commanded several bairaks. The recruit took the oath, received the title of aga-jiragi (“student of the agi”) and this very famous hat. If Delhi broke his oath or fled from the battlefield, he was expelled, and his hat was taken away!

1. Nicolle, D. Armies of the Ottoman Turks 1300—1774. L.: Osprey Pub. (MAA 140), 1983.
2. Vuksic, V., Grbasic, Z. Cavalry. The history of fighting elite 650BC – AD1914. L.: A Cassel Book, 1993, 1994.

To be continued…

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