The Cataphract Class

by Alex the Bold

Hail, noble warlords and generals. This class is about one of the most feared and respected units in the virtual world of Rome Total War: the Cataphracts.

At first, let's define what a cataphract is. Cataphracts are the mounted units whose both soldiers and mounts are covered with mail armour from head to toe. Now, some historical facts. The eastern people have always had a proud tradition of fighting as heavy cavalry covered in heavy armour. These heavy cavalrymen were probably first used in the Near East and consisted of the nobility of the nomadic peoples. The first attested use of cataphracts in organised units was in the early Neo-Assyrian Empire in the 8th century BC. Then their use spread to other peoples, such as the Scythians and the Persians, and later the Greeks and even the Romans, during the reign of Hadrian.

Enough with the historical facts. Now, let's examine the cataphracts in our Virtual Realm with the help of General Sajaru's pictures. Cataphracts ride the strongest horses which are able to carry the huge weight of their armour. They are covered completely in mail, except for two holes in the eye level in order to see. They are available to three factions in the third tier stables: the Parthians, the Armenians and the Seleucids. However, there are some other cataphract units which will be examined later. Cataphracts carry two weapons. Their primary weapon is a short lance called "Kontos" in Greek and their secondary, but most important, weapon is an elaborately decorated, albeit powerful mace. Now, how are they used properly? At first it is important to remember the cavalry golden rule: Never charge prepared spearmen frontally. But now many of you may say "OK, so what makes cataphracts so useful?" The advantage which cataphracts have is that they possess an armour-piercing secondary weapon: the mace. So, the right way of using the cataphracts to their full potential is to aim them at a non-spear unit and Alt-Attack. Then you'll see your cataphracts charging the unit with their lances, thus getting the charge bonus, and then they'll draw their maces tearing the remnants apart in melee.

So, how can this seemingly unstoppable unit be countered? The first solution is phalanx, as no cavalry commander with a little common sense would charge a phalanx head-on. But, the phalanx formation can be flanked easily, so it's not the best solution. There are also some other solutions which are more uncommon and less effective than the phalanx. The first is using hit-and-run tactics with javelin cavalry, as cataphracts tire easily due to their heavy armour and the javelins can do more damage than arrows. Another one is using armour piercing units, such as the Scythian Head Hunting Maidens, which will cause many casualties to the more expensive Cataphracts. The final, but less honourable solution is to charge them with a lot of peasants and overwhelm them with your numbers (and your general's bodyguard).

Now, let's examine those unique cataphract units I mentioned before. The first one is the Camel Cataphract, available only to the Parthians. This unit is more suitable for cavalry battles than the horse cataphracts, as the awful smell of the camels terrifies enemy cavalry units. In addition, they are much slower, which makes them quite tricky at times, as they can be hunted down by heavy cavalry. They also cannot match the speed of the stallions ridden by other soldiers, so it's better to use them against already engaged cavalry in order to turn the tide in a cavalry battle. Unfotunately, these unjts can only be recruited in regions where camels are available, such as the deserts, so they should not be used in far away regions, as their casualties will not be replenished. Finally, these units receive bonuses when fighting in deserts, so they should be used there for maximum advantage.

The second one is the Cappadocian cavalry, available to Pontic generals, which is exactly like the horse cataphracts without the secondary weapon but for a shield. This unit can be used as any heavy cavalry, utilising the infamous cavalry circle. You charge, kill some enemies wih the tremendous impact these cavalrymen have, then withdraw and regroup further away, only to recharge. It is important to keep them moving, as the lack of an armour piercing weapon makes the less able in melee than other cataphracts. Another advantage they have is their shield, which makes them capable of defeating other havy cavalry in melee in correlation with their shield. Their only disadvantage is their low stamina, as they tire easily, especially in hot climate. So, they must not be used in deserts.

The last one is the Cataphract archer, available only to the Armenian commanders. This is a combination of the noble Cataphract and the cowardly, albeit useful, Horse Archer. This unit can be used as any horse archer unit, but it is slower and better in melee combat. The only way to counter this unit is to use fast heavy cavalry to chase them, such as the Companion Cavalry or the Scythian Nobles. These units should not be ordered to perform the Cantabrian circle, as they tire easily due to their heavy armour. They should not engage in melee, too, unless the enemy is severely depleted, as they carry a mere butter knife apart from their powerful composite bow.

Class dismissed, gentlemen. Use the tactics taught here wisely and you should conquer the world. May Ares favour you. More information on cataphracts during the Barbarian Invasions is coming soon