The Road to Plataea 2021 — The Cavalry Commander Speaks

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Plataea 2021 isn’t all about me.  I’ll be having guest bloggers discuss their preparations over the next year. Also, I hut my hand and can’t really type right now, so over to the Hipparchos, John Conyard.  Next edition will be on making your kit. CGC

My name is John Conyard, I live in York in the UK, and like many of Christian’s readers, I am passionate about recreating the past. Most weekends you will find me recreating one period or another, often on horseback.

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  1. Riding as a Greek with a Classic posture, but the helmet is too late for Plataea.

Back in October 2015, after a hard season re-enacting, a couple of us were committed to attend the event at Marathon organised by Christian on the actual site of the battle.  But Greece seemed a long way away, ten days out of my calendar seemed a long time, and I had not met the organisers, so it all seemed a bit nebulous. The evening before we set off we did our final supermarket shop and topped up with petrol. We looked at each other, and decided to make the trip a reality. It was a great decision, and one of the best experiences of my life. We drove across France and northern Italy, getting the ferry to Greece, and then enjoyed a few days in Athens before setting up camp on the beach at Marathon. Everything is possible if you set your mind to it, and the journey was in some ways as important as the actual event.

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  1. On the beach at Marathon

To many of you Plataea in July 2021 may seem a long time in the future and the idea of re-enacting in Greece may seem a dream, but hundreds of people across the world are beginning to plan for this anniversary. The event has local support and a great team behind it. Whether you are a hardened re-enactor with over 30 years experience, or somebody who would like to make this their first event, I would strongly suggest you start making your own plans now. You can make this happen with very little effort.

We intend to have a large number of horses at the event and I am putting together a team of riders. The battle saw the largest concentration of Greek cavalry during the wars, all fighting on the Persian side. So many of us are putting together Greek as well as Scythian or Persian equipment.  Please take a look at my facebook photo albums or at www.comitatus.net for ideas. At this stage I have no idea what the horses will be like, their size or their experience. So we will plan for everything. Riders will be riding bareback or on a fur, saddle cloths, or Scythian saddle pads. It is generally wise to keep the bit the horse is used to, but period bridles would be great, based on simple Western bridles without buckles. Ideally riders will be able to vault, stationary and at the canter, mount from both sides, be used to horse archery, lances, javelins and hand held weapons. We plan on doing mounted displays and hopefully use the horses in a battle scenario. This may sound difficult to achieve, but if it was easy everybody would be doing it, and this will be special.

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  1. A good symmetrical bow, with some blunt arrows are needed to play a Scyth or Persian. A gorytos is relatively easy to make.

Re-enactment is not just about wearing fancy dress or even historically accurate clothing and equipment. It is about reconstructing accurate clothing and equipment which is fit for purpose, in which you can run, fight, sleep and ride. This means we often have to learn how to make it, how to repair it and how to use it. Re-enactment is a great hobby with many facets, but for me learning the skills necessary to use period equipment is all-important. So as the Ancients tell us, riders should be able to vault, shoot the bow, and use the lance. Riders must be able to get the best out of their mount, please do not expect your horse to show you off to your best advantage. I really do not care if you are the world’s greatest rider or an enthusiastic novice who has worked hard, but I would like everybody to ride within themselves safely, doing a steady professional job.

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  1. Weapons displays will involve riding the horse first, then using the weapons. There will be no roped off tracks for the horses to follow.

This is perhaps not the place for detailed kit guides (http://www.comitatus.net/greek.html) but there is a facebook group to which I can add you that will answer many of your questions. The group also includes many of those from the UK who want to attend. Both female and male riders are welcome. Women generally portray Scythians, however they are also often the correct weight and build to portray the Greek riders of the period. Too many male re-enactors, myself included, are too old, too heavy or too tall. But we must insist that you look the part and that you are convincing as a soldier close up. Which means riders must be comfortable carrying and using their equipment, female legs and unauthentic tattoos must be covered, and glasses and modern safety equipment be left behind.  Many of us will be riding without helmets and I expect the ground will be rocky and baked hard, so get yourself some insurance.

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  1. Elizabeth Usher portraying a Scythian. Corinthian helmets will be a common sight at Plataea. Leather, felt, wool, linen and silk are all appropriate for a Scyth.

It is generally a pleasure to spend time getting to know and taking care of horses. So ideally we will be camping near them. Indeed if you can, staying in a period encampment is a great way of immersing yourself in the past. At this time armies camped in informal mess groups of friends and relatives around a fire, and if the group got too large it had to split. Cavalry, hoplites and everybody else mixed together. Cooking equipment is simple, I manage with a copper or bronze pot and some iron spits, but you can still turn out interesting meals. People slept on rush mats in their cloaks, simple tents and shelters, with an awning keeping off the sun. The period encampments at the event will be brilliant, a simple functional arrangement where people can cook, eat and drink together enjoying the special atmosphere.  And they will act as a base from which we can engage the public in polite conversation, at set times, and from a safe distance.

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  1. Camping on the beach at Marathon, two simple tents and an awning for kit and cooking.

Please find me on facebook or via my website www.historicalinterpretations.org, take a look at www.comitatus.net and the Comitatus facebook page. If you are interested in the cavalry or live in the UK please contact me about joining the facebook group which will keep you up to date and be able to offer advice. This really is something you can be part of, and it just may be the best thing you will ever do vertically.

John Conyard

www.historicalinterpretations.org

www.comitatus.net

 

One thought on “The Road to Plataea 2021 — The Cavalry Commander Speaks

  1. “Many of us are too old …”

    Although its worth remembering that Greeks and Romans didn’t have the youth fetish of many 20th century armies. Serving with a weapon in hand in your 40s, 50s, and 60s was not so unusual as it is today. And the kaloi k’agathoi loved to complain about artisans and the idle rich (totally different from the hunting, riding, and chatting with philosophers rich! totally!) with bent backs and paunchy bellies, even if their idea of ‘out of shape’ is probably our ‘active.’ So I hope nobody is dissuaded by being old, and just focuses on getting as active and as skilful as they can by 2021! (And maybe recruiting a few youngsters to balance them out and do the running).

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