For everyone who is seriously interested in military history, this attribute of the rider’s equipment is interesting, in particular, because it was he who, having gone beyond his purely utilitarian function, turned into a symbol of valor, nobility, and noble position. In the Middle Ages, the new dignity of the knight was marked not by a gilded sword or shield, but by golden spurs, which served as a distinctive sign of entry into the upper class.
Spurs are a purely European notion. In the case of another object, without which a cavalryman has been unthinkable since ancient times, stirrups, disputes about the “copyright” to this remarkable invention, which at one time provided a real breakthrough in military affairs, have been going on for centuries. India, China, many other countries claim to be the birthplace of stirrups, citing their evidence. With spurs, everything is simpler: the first samples of them were found in burials in the north of the Balkans. For centuries, the Eastern peoples have controlled their horses with the help of a whip. By the way, even in Russia, which adopted a lot in cavalry from its nomadic neighbors, before the military reforms of Peter I, spurs were not very common. The Cossacks did not favor them even afterwards … However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The most interesting thing is that the first points, attached to the back of the rider’s shoe, played a completely opposite role to that which they played later. To “spur a horse” did not mean to speed it up, but to slow it down! The explanation for this fact is extremely simple: the stirrups did not yet exist and as soon as the horse set off at a faster pace, the poor rider literally began to dangle on his back, risking flying with extremely unpleasant consequences for himself. Accordingly, his legs, devoid of support, dangled, inflicting very sensitive pricks on the animal’s sides, forcing it to stop or at least slow down.
Celts, ancient Germans, Iberians – all peoples for whom horseback riding was the norm, as well as the inclusion of horsemen in their troops, used this invention quite actively. Initially, it consisted of the simplest spines, sharpened quite sharply. The familiar and much more humane (from the point of view of horses) wheel spurs appeared, according to researchers, around the 13th-14th centuries. What they were, is clear from the name: instead of a point, an “asterisk” with points (from 4 or more) was attached to the heel of the rider, with the help of which the “enlightenment” of the horse took place.
The largest spurs were sported by medieval knights – warriors of heavy cavalry. These equipments for riding, worn by the riders of that time, had truly monstrous dimensions – up to 30 centimeters, and the rays of the “burdock”, the very “star” mentioned above, were also several centimeters. The point here was not a desire to look cooler or richer (knights wore golden spurs, squires – silver), but the fact that the smaller size of this device simply did not make it possible to reach the sides of the horse, hidden under reliable armor.
The wheeled spurs were indeed less unpleasant for the horses – turning, the burr did not allow the points to inflict significant scratches and injuries on the animal.
The problem was that during a long ride – on the march, especially in battle, the wheel was clogged with mud and became motionless, starting to hurt seriously. Sweat, dust, manure fell into the resulting wounds, and everything could end badly. It was because of this that the military cavalry came up with a gardkrota (literally – “defender from manure”), a spur that did not have a movable wheel, but had just a protruding part, but blunt, without a tip. Today it is such spurs, or wheel ones, but with a smooth burr, completely devoid of thorns, that are used in equestrian sports.
In the Russian Empire, the wearing of spurs acquired an especially wide character from the 18th century, when regiments of regular cavalry began to form massively – Uhlans, Dragoons, Cuirassiers, Hussars. From about the same time, the obligatory wearing of this attribute was prescribed to many of the highest court officials of the Imperial court. It would be incredible if there were no fashion for wearing them and even some kind of “rules of good taste”.
Memories of St. Petersburg officers of that time have survived, claiming that by the sound of spurs it was easy to determine who was walking behind you on the pavement: a gendarme, a provincial officer, or a true metropolitan guardsman, whose gait was accompanied by a “soft and noble crimson ringing”. There was also a master in the “spur issue”, whose products were considered unsurpassed in quality and therefore especially prestigious among the military, – Peter Savelyev.
In Europe, the times of chivalry, and in our Fatherland, the age of brilliant cavalry guards and hussars went down in history not only to the sound of swords, sabers and swords, but also to the delightful sound of the spurs of magnificent horsemen who flew into eternity.