Sunday, 15 January 2017

Lasso lazyblogging

Here's a new maxim for the bone idle. No matter how obscure the question, somebody on the Internet has already researched it first, so you don't have to.

When I guessed that the flamboyant wings strapped to the back of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth's "winged hussars" weren't there to stop the enemy from lassoing the hussars in battle, as some people had theorised, this was an educated guess, based on zero research. I simply reasoned that if people had successfully used lassos to defeat cavalry in warfare:
  1. the existence of war lassos would be far more widely known, to the point of being general knowledge, and 
  2. the "wings" themselves wouldn't have been unique to the winged hussars, because other cavalry would have had to use similar countermeasures to defeat a common lasso threat.
Well, it turns out that somebody else took a look at the extraordinary winged hussars and actually spent some time looking up references to the use of lassos on the battlefield. Namely, Lars-Peter Otzen, who blogged until recently* as "Neo Survivalist" (but who doesn't actually seem to be any kind of far-right gun nut - in fact, just an interesting guy - despite the stereotypical survivalist/prepper profile).

Otzen cites several instances of people using lassos as weapons of war. I hadn't read most of his sources, except for a passage in Herodotus' Histories, in which I'd overlooked/forgotten about:
There are also certain nomads called Sagartian; they are Persian in speech, and the fashion of their equipment is somewhat between the Persian and the Pactyan; they furnished eight thousand horsemen. It is their custom to carry no armor of bronze or iron, except only daggers, and to use ropes of twisted leather.

They go to battle relying on these. This is the manner of fighting of these men: when they are at close quarters with their enemy, they throw their ropes, which have a noose at the end; whatever he catches, horse or man, each man drags to himself, and the enemy is entangled in the coils and slain. Such is their manner of fighting; they were marshalled with the Persians.
I'm not particularly surprised or ashamed that I forgot, or skimmed over that bit - it comes at a point in Book 7 when Herodotus is exhaustively cataloguing the contingents forming the multi-national task force Xerxes deployed against the Greeks who opposed him and it's easy to forget some specific details in that huge list of allies (Parthians and Caspians and Lydians and Thracians and Paphlagonians and Cappadocians and Asiatic Dorians and so on and so on) and which of them brought cavalry, or camels, or triremes, or whatever, to the party. Most readers probably find their attention wandering at this point, just as it tends to do in the begetting and begatting bits of the Bible.

Apart from Herodotus, Otzen dug up references to lassos as weapons in the works of the Greek geographer Pausanias, in the Persian epic poem The Book of Kings by Ferdowsi, and, in pictorial form, in a 15th Century Ottoman miniature painting of the Battle of Kosovo.

Quite interesting, although that's still quite a sparse list of examples to be dredged up from the extensive history of humans and the ingenious ways they've devised to kill one another over the millennia. Otzen concludes that, even if a few people over the years did adopt the lasso as a weapon, that doesn't explain those wings, which he reckons would have been a feature, not a bug, for enemy lassoers:**
Personally I do not believe in this theory: Two large vertical appendages attached to your body is an open invitation to be roped and dragged off your horse.
I could do a bit more research of my own but, frankly, I'm not that bothered, so I'm grateful to Mr Otzen for satisfying my microdose of idle curiosity.

*He now blogs at Dreaming Of Sunsets Over Ochre Dunes.

** As the self-descibed "best Lariat thrower in Europe", I expect Mr Otzen has some idea what he's talking about here...