BERBER AND ANDALUSIAN LIGHT CAVALRYMEN, 12th-13th CENTURIES

An extract from Armies of Feudal Europe 1066-1300
by Ian Heath


[Based on Moors in the murals de la conquesta de Mallorca 1285-1290] [Based on Cantiga 181, Panel 6 of Cantiga 99 & Panel 5 of Page 2 of Cantiga 165]
77 & 78.      BERBER AND ANDALUSIAN LIGHT CAVALRYMEN, 12th-13th CENTURIES

On the whole Berber horsemen fought without armour, Ibn Sa’id stating that ‘only those who are noble and influential possess mail coats’. They were armed with a light lance or javelins and a light sword, sometimes slightly curved. The lance sometimes had a small hook below the head which was used to unhorse enemy cavalrymen, and was wielded overarm, seemingly capable either of being thrown or being used to ‘fence’ with the enemy. Those of Almohade guardsmen in 1199 are described as inlaid with ivory and silver and fitted with coloured silk pennons. Some Berber cavalrymen may have also carried bows. The superb Cántigas illustrations - drawn at first hand c.1264-81 by artists who accompanied King Alfonso X through Castile, Seville, Galicia and Murcia - certainly show bows amongst the weapons carried by horsemen, and the 14th century Andalusian authors Ibn al-Labbana and Ibn Hudayl both speak of Granadine cavalry using bows, but possibly these are all references to Turkish mercenaries in Andalusian or Berber employ. In Granada mounted crossbowmen also appear on occasion, the best representation of these being a 14th century fresco in the Partal of the Alhambra Palace (see figure 98 in Armies of the Middle Ages, volume I).

The characteristic heart-shaped shield, the adarga (a name possibly derived from tariqa or daraqa, Arabic for kite and round shields respectively), first appeared c. 1150 and was almost certainly introduced into Spain under the Almohades. Manufactured and used at first only by the Berbers of the Maghreb, it was exclusive to North Africa and Spain. It was made of hardened antelope hide (lamta) over a wooden framework, with a reinforced central panel as depicted in 78a to protect the hand-grip. A contemporary source claims that these shields were - presumably when handled correctly - ‘proof against sword and lance blows and the majority of arrows’ (crossbow bolts probably excluded). They were either left as plain leather or else dyed or painted, chiefly red, white with a red rim, or black, sometimes with a simple motif painted on (a star, for instance) and invariably decorated with hanging tassels. Even in the 13th century circular shields remained in use alongside the adarga.

Despite the fact that Ibn al-Khatib, writing in the early-14th century, records that very few of the North African Berbers serving in Spain, and even fewer or the Andalusians themselves, still wore the ‘Persian turban’ the illustrative evidence seems to indicate that turbans (invariably white) were in fact still usually worn during this era. Nevertheless, the ‘Cántigas’ mss. and other sources also show many Andalusians bare headed, while others wear a floppy cap, most often red like that of the Valencian depicted in figure 77, from a 13th century Catalan fresco. This became a common feature of Andalusian dress. Where bareheaded the ‘Cántigas’ figures usually have long black, red or yellow hair; in fact fair hair was not uncommon, and Mohammed ibn Yusuf of Granada was himself called The Red Man because of his red hair and fair complexion.

Moslem dress is invariably colourful in contemporary sources red, yellow, blue and white predominating, often with gold embroidery in the case of chieftains. However, the ‘Cántigas’ pictures indicate that the colours tended to be pastel shades.



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