Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Wallachian Cavalryman c. 1575

The original occupants of what is now known as Romania called themselves Vlachs (not to be confused with a similar word used in Serbia and Bulgaria for cattle-raisers), and formed three independent states: Wallachia about 1324, Moldavia in 1359 and Transylvania at the beginning of the fifteenth century. First they were vassals of Hungary, later battlegrounds for the interests of Hungary, Poland, Austria and Turkey. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, the Ottoman Turks appeared on the borders of Wallachia, which finally fell under their rule in 1526, after the Battle of Mohacs.

Prince Vlad Tepes the Impaler (1418-56) (also known as Count Dracula) gained notoriety through his cruelty in the struggle against the Turks, and it was from him that the Turks learned to impale their prisoners on stakes without killing them at once, a skill they were later to use extensively. After the Turkish occupation, the Vlachs shared the fate of all occupied peoples. The local feudal lords (bospodars) often rose against the Turks, and took to the mountains and woods with their armed bands.

In equipment and appearance, the Vlachs were similar to the Hungarians and Russians; they wore large fur capes decorated with feathers, and sported the characteristic long, rounded beards. After their victory over the Turks at Calugareni in 1595, Vlach armies became almost completely cavalry forces. Several contemporary engravings by de Bruyn, made between 1575 and 1581, help us to reconstruct the appearance of the Wallachian cavalrymen.

They belonged, for the most part, to a type of light cavalry (calarasi), who acquired much of their equipment and equestrian skills from the Ottomans. Besides training their horses to walk, trot and gallop, the Vlachs taught them to walk like camels, moving both legs on one side at the same time. Today one can find horses walking that way, but it is considered a bad trait.

From the end of the sixteenth century, Wallachians served as mercenary horsemen to both the Ottoman Empire and its enemies - Poland, Hungary and Russia. They were organized in squadrons (sotnia, from the Russian word for 100) of about one hundred men. At one time there were 20 sotnias in Polish service in the Ukraine, and one of the frequent motifs on their flags was a bull's head. Like the Ottomans, they refused to use firearms for a long time; their main weapons were spear, sabre and composite bow. For protection, they wore mail shirts and used a light round shield.

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