Can war itself ever be beautiful? Perhaps not, but if anything, its trappings often tell a lot about the culture for which an army stands. As with books, paintings, maps and objects, the warrior himself becomes an icon of culture. Everything from the armor he wears to the weapons he represents his heritage. In effect, the warrior not only carries these arms into battle, but he carries his culture, spreading this cultural heritage by the sword as a book would spread ideas between the minds.
The above picture depicts the barding and armor of a Mughal cavalryman. Like his leaders, who were responsible for the spread of Islam throughout South Asia, his trappings reflect those of Arab and Islamic warriors. Characteristic of Islamic armor was the rounded plate helmet, and the coif that covered the chin and face, often made of chainmail. These items would have been worn in tandem with plate armor on the body and arms. The warrior also carries a round embossed shield, another key component carried by Islamic warriors, which, along with the quiver strapped to his hip, display intricate patterns in blue and gold trim. Even the legs of his bow come decorated with alternating zigzag patterns.
The barding on the horse is unlike any I have other seen either. It seems to be made out of plate armor, but unlike many other displays of barding I had seen, the armor contains intricate detail.The plate has been fashioned in marked strips, with pairs of concentric circles by the rear leg, front leg, and neck of the horse.
Not only does the armor and weaponry serve a functional purpose, but they are also works of art in themselves, and contain the most discerning details. The warrior becomes both fearsome and beautiful to behold, fully displayed and armored. For the Mughals, who founded their empire upon conquest of the Southern Lands, this warrior provided the vehicle by which their influence spread, both politically and culturally. Armed in this way with traditional Islamic armor, he became a symbol for Islamic Mughal ideology in the same way words written in Persian had.
Not only does the warrior icon bring up the question of the culture they represent, but it also poses a greater question: why do people go to such lengths to combine art and war? Beyond the example of functional equipment, many armies developed highly intricate coats of arms abundant with symbols of flowers and animals. They carried the standards of their generals, emblazoned with personal crests and heraldry. In function, these symbols were used to identify the combatants during the battle: battles would frequently become chaotic, and the bright colors and standards helped to identify friend from foe. But something seems to go beyond that in the way the warriors decorated themselves for war. Not only did these icons serve to identify the warrior’s allegiance, but it also seemed to define the warrior’s identity. Often times, warriors were one among legions, and in battle, it perhaps was very easy to feel like an unknown amongst endless ranks (the concept of the unknown soldier is a theme that has been explored in depth today, but I feel like the need for identification in this regard is not a new concept).
One’s armor and weapons, then, became the icons in which a warrior could define and express himself, and in the grand scheme, icons which could become key symbols of the culture for which these armies fought. In the same way the Roman gladius was unique to the legionnaires, the icon of the Mongol horse archer, a heritage adopted by the Mughals, became feared throughout the world at the time, and could unmistakably be associated with its rulers riding in to conquer the land both for the rulers and for their art, religion, and ideas.