A Question of Stirrups

I find the emergence of individual countries a really fascinating historical process. The gradual metamorphisis of Roman Gaul into Medieval France is case in point. For a start, it was a much slower transformation than might be suggested by simply looking at a timeline of dates, and certainly more profound. It was here, in the realm of the Franks, that Medieval Europe really had its roots, and one can’t really understand the history of Europe without some understanding of what was going on at this time and in this place.

I will deal with such changes as the decline of the Romano-Gallic cities, the rise of manorialism and the development of feudalism in later essays, but for now we’ve just posted a new page showing France in AD 750 in the Timemaps atlas of world history. We’re just beginning the process of putting up pages for AD 750, starting with Europe, and this new page gives the overall context in which the deep changes in society I’ve just referred to were taking place.

But I do have a bit of a question, and I wonder whether anyone can help me with it. For a long time I subscribed to the view that the coming of the stirrup was key to the rise of the mounted knight in European warfare (and society). Recently, some scholars have disputed this, and history seems to bear them out – heavy cavalry was being used in Iran from at least the second century BC, and in the Roman army from the third century AD. Can anyone give me a lead on what current thought is on this topic is?

I do like the idea of something as simple as the stirrup having such a huge impact of history – but if it’s not the case, well, too bad!

In the meantime, have a look at our new page in the Timemaps atlas, as well as the one we put up yesterday, showing Europe AD 750. I hope you enjoy them!


By Peter Britton