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The Great Stirrup Controversy (wikipedia.org)
44 points by apsec112 on Dec 21, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 13 comments

> White believed that the stirrup enabled heavy cavalry and shock combat

or one can say that warming climate (which resulted in Roman Empire fall and led to the rise of the Franko/German territories to the north of it) allowed for heavy cavalry which would otherwise wouldn't get through the swampy forests which were there before. If you look at dry regions at other places/times you'd see pretty heavy cavalry there too.


"While they varied in design and appearance, cataphracts were universally the heavy assault force of most nations that deployed them, acting as "shock troops" to deliver the bulk of an offensive manoeuvre, ... While their roles in military history often seem to overlap with lancers or generic heavy cavalry, they should not be considered analogous to these forms of cavalry, and instead represent the separate evolution of a very distinct class of heavy cavalry in the Near East that had certain connotations of prestige, nobility, and esprit de corps attached to them. In many armies, this reflected upon social stratification or a caste system, as only the wealthiest men of noble birth could afford the panoply of the cataphract, not to mention the costs of supporting several war horses and ample amounts of weaponry and armor."

Informative about the Eastern heavy cavalry, thanks!

But it was 500+ years between the fall of the Roman empire and heavy cavalry owning the battle field in Western Europe?

that warming up took the whole first millennium, and the degree of the warming up that severely impacted grain production in Mediterranean (while at the same time enabling better agriculture and thus resulting in population growth north of Danube) wasn't necessary the same that made the German forests dry enough to make heavy cavalry use feasible. Before heavy cavalry, it made it dry just enough for the Goths/"barbarians" (and don't forget the Huns) tribes to move efficiently through starting in the 3rd-4th century. In many cases they had cavalry and since then it was down the hill toward the 7th-8th century emergence of the knights.

Interesting. I have a theory that most historic shifts are mainly due to some technological advancement or invention, and not mainly due to politics. For example, Nazi Germany may have been the result of the invention or mass distribution of the radio as a method of influencing a nation. It is known that the Romans conquered Europe due to military strategy and superior iron weapons. The list goes on and on, however, history books tend to focus only on the sociological or political story.

I am generally in the same camp (technological changes have the greatest effect) but radio->Nazi Germany seems a bit too extreme reductionism.

On the other hand, you can partly derive the political system from technological changes too (I.e. without the socialist scare you don't get fascist regimes, and without the industrial revolution you don't get socialism)


I mean that was said in sarcasm, but there is a lot of discussion going on that the changing methods of communication can be having significant ramifications in all aspects of society.

People have made arguments stating that Trump is a manifestation of anti-social behaviors that are reliant on reinforcement through online echo-chambers which remove any form of social-moderation. The extent of which I agree with this arguments I'm not quite certain, but I do think from a sociology standpoint it's foolish not to investigate how the internet's changes to how we communicate have lead to changes in how we think, and potentially our collective political leanings.

Media theory is really fascinating when you dig in to it, and we should be mindful that we're still in the early days of the internet in the grand scheme of things, and society is still adjusting to what will forever be the new normal.

Do note that this idea of technological determinism[0] is referenced directly in the parent article.

As for me, I'd like to think that a bit more nuanced approach is better. Yes, stirrups might enable men to use horses in new ways and to brace themselves on horseback. But this sort of expensive heavily armoured cavalry cannot exists in a vacuum. It needs a class of wealthy people who can buy armour and horses. The wealthy need some sort of motivation to train themselves as warriors and so on. If you are interested in the subject, The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change, 950-1350 by Robert Bartlett [1] is an excellent book on the subject.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_determinism

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Making-Europe-Conquest-Colonization-C...

> It needs a class of wealthy people who can buy armour and horses.

A chicken/egg cycle, initialized by temporary imbalances that created a stable system: an increased advantage of cavalry over infantry drives up the price for "protection", which in turn feeds the horses. With less advantage of cavalry over infantry, the class system would have been much less pronounced.

In the spirit of "strange women lying in ponds distributing swords": a fluent socio-economic power structure was converted into an intransparent class system self-stabilized by the barrier of entry imposed by the inherent cost of heavy cavalry.

> I'd like to think that a bit more nuanced approach is better.

I agree. I think that a given technology has requirements and consequences that determine a lot about the society it is in, but it also presents various possibilities that will be determined by external factors, such as politics.

The theory of Kondratiev waves link closely to this idea, though the link between Nazi German and radios might be a somewhat too simplified model. There were quite few other historical antecedents that can be linked to rise of Nazi Germany.

This reminds me of being handed some Lyndon LaRouche documentation[1] that claimed that World War 2 was due directly to English machinations around the pound sterling in the 1920s. As in, something that may have had some minor peripheral add-on effect is being claimed by a fanatic to be the One True Cause.

[1] I hesitate to call it 'literature'...

Oh wow - I read about this theory about 20 years ago and I've never been able to find anything about it since.

Were academics calling it "Great" ironically (as a form of hyperbole) and the name stuck?

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