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Cole Nelson




Location: Washington State
Joined: 23 Sep 2013

Posts: 4

PostPosted: Sat 08 Mar, 2014 9:56 pm    Post subject: Byzantine Arms and Armor         Reply with quote

Hey everybody,

I have recently become very interested in the history of the latter Roman Empire, or what most people would consider the Byzantine Empire. In particular It seems to me that there is a serious lack of information concerning the military equipment fielded by its troops. In particular some information, such as that dealing with Varangian Guard, has been greatly misconstrued to the point that is hard to tell fact from fiction. Most *cough* "reputable" sources would have you believe they were blood thirsty barbarians dressed like the some of the protagonists on the History Channel's Vikings. I am aware that there is some information about artifacts from the period, but pitifully little considering the size and scope of the empire that kept afire dying flames of Rome for nearly a millennium. Any information on the subject would be greatly appreciated.

Best Regards,
Cole Nelson

It is better to live one day as a lion than one thousand days as a sheep ~ Arabic Proverb
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Greg E




Location: Nebraska
Joined: 14 Jul 2013
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PostPosted: Sun 09 Mar, 2014 9:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

One thing to keep in mind about the Varangian guard is that the type of people who were in it changed over the many years of it's existance. So at one point it contained mostly Swedish Viking types at the beginning of it. The Varangians were populated, in later years with Norwegians, Danes, Rus and Anglo-Saxon Huscarls after the fall of England to William the Conqueror.

I guess if one considered Vikings as blood thirsty barbarians, then that is what the Varangian Guard was made up of at some points. But, one can be bloodthirsty mercenaries and still have a professionalism about them. That is my take on it.
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Chuck D.




Location: NW FL
Joined: 22 Feb 2014

Posts: 39

PostPosted: Sun 09 Mar, 2014 5:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

"Bloodthirsty" barbarians is all wrong anyway. The Northmen were adventurers, traders, mercenaries, etc and came from a rich and fascinating culture. The Church did much to paint them as savages merely because the Northmen resisted conversion to Xristianity into a relatively late period compared to mainland Europe. Indeed, the makeup of the Varangians did vary with time, and by the latter part of the Byzantine empire they were quite 'civilized.'
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Chuck D.




Location: NW FL
Joined: 22 Feb 2014

Posts: 39

PostPosted: Sun 09 Mar, 2014 5:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

You might get some indirect insights into Byzantine arms/armor by researching Greek and Turkish arms/military history that coincides with the Byzantine era if any sources are to be found? Just a thought.
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R. Kolick





Joined: 04 Feb 2012

Posts: 114

PostPosted: Sun 09 Mar, 2014 7:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

what period of the Varangian guard are you interested in particular because till about the 1200-1300's (i can't find a source that agrees on the the exact date of when the guard become more greek) it the guard was made up solely of northmen mercenaries from all over scandinavia in fact it became so prevalent for people to go to Constantinople to join the guard for a time that laws were made that stopped people from inheriting if they where in Greece. eventually the guard becomes more greek through intermarriage of the guardsmen to the local women. for the early part of the guards history it was made up of the "blood thirsty barbarians" that had terrorizing the rest of Europe. this being said the guard wasn't equipped like the rest of the byzantine army. for how you want to know what the guard was equipped with i suggest that you look into how the rest of the norse world was equipped
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Dan Howard




Location: Maitland, NSW, Australia
Joined: 08 Dec 2004

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PostPosted: Sun 09 Mar, 2014 8:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Yep. Nobody has a clue what gear the Varangians used but it is likely to be the same as their Scandinavian cousins. So their armour would be mail, not lamellar.
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Cole Nelson




Location: Washington State
Joined: 23 Sep 2013

Posts: 4

PostPosted: Mon 10 Mar, 2014 3:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you all for your input, but I must apologize for how I phrased myself in my previous post. I made it sound like I was under the impression that the Varangian Guard was made up of exclusively "true vikings" from the Scandinavian peninsula, rather than their Baltic kin, and Anglo Saxon's after the invasion of 1066. I was also under the impression that they were equipped in much of the same manner as their Norse counterparts, with a gradual shift toward more greek styles of equipment as time when on. What I am really interested in is the equipment for the average infantryman or cavalrymen during the 9th or 10th century. I have read quite a bit about the topic but still have some questions, such as the prevalence of lamellar/scale armor throughout the empire, or the makeup of its field armies. Thanks again for all the input.
It is better to live one day as a lion than one thousand days as a sheep ~ Arabic Proverb
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William P




Location: Sydney, Australia
Joined: 11 Jul 2010

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PostPosted: Sat 15 Mar, 2014 9:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

well the good news is that the 9th-11th centuries was the hight of the byzantine army, they had regained a lot of territory they lost to the arabs and lombards during the 6th 7th and 8th centuries

one person who has done a LOT of work on middle byzantine armies is tim dawson, while there is controversy on his recnstructions on the lamellar used by the troops. most of his other stff seems to check out

http://www.levantia.com.au/military/armour.html#C10
http://www.levantia.com.au/military/weapons.html this is a description of the weapons used.

the army itself had a few divisions in the infantry,
before i go on a LOT of information comes from manuals written to be distributed to commanders in the field to assist them in how to organise the troops and get things set up.
during the 10th century i believe, specifically during the reign of nikephorous phokas
the infantry had these main divisions of being either light infantry or heavy,

generally the main troop classes were akontistai aka like javelin throwers and general psiloi aka slingers and stuff

(one very interesting thing about these akontistai... during the 10th century, manuals noted the rus as being best deployed as these troopers, this is significant because it was this time that the rus were supposedly the men which made up the first body of men in the varangian guard...

archers: these had a bow and arrows as usual, armour was light, probably a gambeson of some sort at most, plus a helmet if they had the cash and a thick felt cap and/or a turban on their heads if they didnt.. for a sidear,m it was apparently reccomended that they have a hand axe with a curved blade and spike on the other end a couple of inches long...

for heavy infantry arms, the main armament was the kontarion or spear, these apparently came in 2 forms, short (up to 2.4metres) and long (4 to 5 metres). long kontarion were essentially pikes, and from what ive been lead to believe, these pikement made up the bulk of the front line infantry in a battle line.

side weapons was the spathion aka your typical double edged sword, byzantine swords were notable for, very often, having spherical pommels.
another was the paramenion which was a curved sword kinda like a sabre..

byzantine cavalry loved using the mace

the front line infantry i mentioned before were apparently known simply as hoplites their armament was supposedly as pfollows
a kontarion, a shield, a sword for weapons plus possibly an axe or mace
for armour i'll simply reiterate what's written in the levantia website

" For the front line infantry the Composition on Warfare (I.3-4) describes a set of minimal equipment consisting of a turban over a thick felt cap and a coat (kavadion) made of coarse silk quilted with cotton wadding “as thick as can be stitched”. To avoid the encumbrance to movement that such a stiff, heavy garment would inflict, the arms are to pass out through openings in the armpits and the sleeves buttoned back to the shoulders. "

"also wears padded leggings, kampotouva or touvia and the type of boot probably called mouzakia in our source"


the last of the heavy infantry is the one we arnt so sure about..is the menavlion bearers. these men from what i understand fnctioned as 'heavy skirmishers' but also had a role of reinforcing the front line of the hoplites against charghes of super heavy cavalry fielded by their arab enemies. in fact these men might have been formed in direct response to this threat.

their armament consisted, we THINK of primarily some kind of spear, the manuals hint that the length of the shaft was about 2.4m with a head around 30cm in length, most seem to think it was some kind of winged cuting spearhead.. the shaft was unusual in that it was supposedly ct from a whole sapling, 'as thick as a man can grip, so we might be looking at around 5cm thick when you do the math, that is a very hefty spear..
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Ryan S.





Joined: 04 May 2012

Posts: 132

PostPosted: Sat 15 Mar, 2014 9:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Chuck D. wrote:
"Bloodthirsty" barbarians is all wrong anyway. The Northmen were adventurers, traders, mercenaries, etc and came from a rich and fascinating culture. The Church did much to paint them as savages merely because the Northmen resisted conversion to Xristianity into a relatively late period compared to mainland Europe. Indeed, the makeup of the Varangians did vary with time, and by the latter part of the Byzantine empire they were quite 'civilized.'


The view of the Church was much influenced by the fact that it was the Vikings' main target. Most of the "blood thirsty" behaviour was commonplace during that time. As far as being civilized, I am not sure what you mean.
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Cole Nelson




Location: Washington State
Joined: 23 Sep 2013

Posts: 4

PostPosted: Sun 16 Mar, 2014 9:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
the army itself had a few divisions in the infantry,
before i go on a LOT of information comes from manuals written to be distributed to commanders in the field to assist them in how to organise the troops and get things set up.
during the 10th century i believe, specifically during the reign of nikephorous phokas
the infantry had these main divisions of being either light infantry or heavy,

generally the main troop classes were akontistai aka like javelin throwers and general psiloi aka slingers and stuff

(one very interesting thing about these akontistai... during the 10th century, manuals noted the rus as being best deployed as these troopers, this is significant because it was this time that the rus were supposedly the men which made up the first body of men in the varangian guard...

archers: these had a bow and arrows as usual, armour was light, probably a gambeson of some sort at most, plus a helmet if they had the cash and a thick felt cap and/or a turban on their heads if they didnt.. for a sidear,m it was apparently reccomended that they have a hand axe with a curved blade and spike on the other end a couple of inches long...

for heavy infantry arms, the main armament was the kontarion or spear, these apparently came in 2 forms, short (up to 2.4metres) and long (4 to 5 metres). long kontarion were essentially pikes, and from what ive been lead to believe, these pikement made up the bulk of the front line infantry in a battle line.

side weapons was the spathion aka your typical double edged sword, byzantine swords were notable for, very often, having spherical pommels.
another was the paramenion which was a curved sword kinda like a sabre..

byzantine cavalry loved using the mace

the front line infantry i mentioned before were apparently known simply as hoplites their armament was supposedly as pfollows
a kontarion, a shield, a sword for weapons plus possibly an axe or mace
for armour i'll simply reiterate what's written in the levantia website

" For the front line infantry the Composition on Warfare (I.3-4) describes a set of minimal equipment consisting of a turban over a thick felt cap and a coat (kavadion) made of coarse silk quilted with cotton wadding “as thick as can be stitched”. To avoid the encumbrance to movement that such a stiff, heavy garment would inflict, the arms are to pass out through openings in the armpits and the sleeves buttoned back to the shoulders. "

"also wears padded leggings, kampotouva or touvia and the type of boot probably called mouzakia in our source"


the last of the heavy infantry is the one we arnt so sure about..is the menavlion bearers. these men from what i understand fnctioned as 'heavy skirmishers' but also had a role of reinforcing the front line of the hoplites against charghes of super heavy cavalry fielded by their arab enemies. in fact these men might have been formed in direct response to this threat.

their armament consisted, we THINK of primarily some kind of spear, the manuals hint that the length of the shaft was about 2.4m with a head around 30cm in length, most seem to think it was some kind of winged cuting spearhead.. the shaft was unusual in that it was supposedly ct from a whole sapling, 'as thick as a man can grip, so we might be looking at around 5cm thick when you do the math, that is a very hefty spear..

Thank you William for providing so much information about the topic. The link you provided really does contain some interesting information, and I was until now unaware of those manuals published during the period. Turns out I really don't know nearly as much about the subject as I thought Laughing Out Loud .

It is better to live one day as a lion than one thousand days as a sheep ~ Arabic Proverb
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William P




Location: Sydney, Australia
Joined: 11 Jul 2010

Posts: 1,436

PostPosted: Mon 17 Mar, 2014 6:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

the byzantines are in an odd position of having a fair amount of literary and artistic evidence but not very much in the way or archaeological evidence.

other sources might be the skylitzes manuscript and the theodore psaltre
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