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Byzantine castles: 6th century

Fortification is as old as urban living, with Jericho's tower dating back to about 8000 BC, but its purpose is defensive - to guard the place where people live and keep their wealth. A different concept of fortification is pioneered by Belisarius, the great general who recovers north Africa and later much of Italy for the Byzantine emperor Justinian.

Following the African campaign of 533, the Byzantine army builds the world's first castles - strong protective shells in which armed men may safely lurk, and from which they can control a nearby pass or the surrounding district. This is fortification with an aggressive purpose. The castle becomes, during the Middle Ages, an important means of military expansion.

The Arab armies of Islam: 7th century

Speed, rather than weight of armour, is the secret of the armies which achieve the most rapid and far-flung conquests in history. This is true of the Arab expansion in the 7th century AD, and it will be true of the Mongols six centuries later.

The Arab tribesmen in the armies of Islam use the classic techniques of the skirmish to overwhelm the more organized troops of the Byzantine and Persian empires.

Mounted on camels and horses, and preferring to fight in flat areas of desert or scrub, the Muslim warriors arrive at speed in an extended line to torment the ranks of the enemy. In a single burst of aggression, they fling their javelins and fire off their arrows before wheeling fast away, out of range of retaliation.

This tactic is repeated until a break appears in the enemy's ranks. On the next charge the tribesmen plunge into the breach and set about their opponents at close quarters with the sword. In their early campaigns the Arab horsemen ride without the benefit of stirrups - an innovation which they probably discover when they conquer Persia.

The development of the stirrup: 2nd c. BC - 7th c.

It is probable that early nomadic horsemen, such as the Scythians, use some form of looped fabric to support their feet. But the first direct evidence of a stirrup is a loop for the big toe used by Indian cavalry from the 2nd century BC. Suitable only for use by barefoot warriors in warm climates, this device spreads gradually through southeast Asia.

At some time before the 5th centurythe Chinese, who need to keep their boots on, transform the toe loop into a metal stirrup for the whole foot. From China this crucial device moves westwards, through Iran to the Muslim world in the 7th century, and then through the Byzantine empire to western Europe.

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