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Forum LockedThe Late Byzantine Military (1204-1461)

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    Posted: 14-Jun-2006 at 13:44
Byzantine military history is my favorite topic of discussion.  Specifically I enjoy the late period, which I like to define as the period from the fall of Constantinople to the crusaders (1204) to the conquest of the final Byzantine Greek outpost, Trebizond, in 1461.
 
So, with this post I would like to open a topic for the discussion of the late Byzantine army, its units, its weapons, its armor, its enemies, its tactics/strategies, and its battles.  Feel free to use my timeframe (1204-1461) and include discussions on the army of Trebizond if you wish.
 
I encourage seasoned Byzantinists to be as detailed and as specialized as you want.  Furthermore, I would like to encourage anyone (Byzantinist and non-Byzantinist) who has questions about late Byzantine military history to ask them here.
 
To start out, I will pose a question of my own:
 
Concerning the armor of late Byzantine soldiers, to what degree can we trust depictions of them in things such as military saint icons and the Alexander Romances?
 
-Was there still a classical Greek and Roman influence on late period armor, which reflected typical Byzantine conservatism?
 
-Or, did the Byzantines adapt armor from Western Europe and the Turks?
 
-Is the modern statue of Constantine XI Palaiologos accurate in its depiction of armor, or is it fantasy?
 
     -If not, what did a 15th century Byzantine soldier look like in terms of armor - was it different than that of the 14th century?
 
Let the discussion begin! Clap
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Menumorut Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14-Jun-2006 at 15:01
    
I think any depiction made in an epoch like that (in West and even more in East), and even later (in Eastern countries), corresponds only with the epoch in which the depiction was made. There are no reason to believe that the men of 15th century and before have any idea about the difference of clothing in different epochs.


I think that the last elements of classical Greek and Roman tradition vanished in 7-8th centuries, when was a great fall of Byzantine civilization. What was before 8th century is totaly different of what followed, in everything.

The lost of classical elements started in 4th century, accentuated in 6th century (when we could put the border between Antiquity and Middle Age) and later but the disorganization in 7-8th century where like the death of a society and world and the born of another one, of few resemblances to the old one.



I thing that in all epochs Byzantine clothing was an amalgam of elements of different traditions. Before the 9th century the Western influences missed because we cannt say that was a distinct Western tradition.



The soldier from 15th century should have been more Western like in appearance than one of 14th century.


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Digenis Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14-Jun-2006 at 16:24
Too many questions Smile

I hope i ll find time to try give some evidence too.

For now...
As for differences in armor between 14th -15 th centuries .

During the 14th century there was a continuous collapse of the numbers of the army ,as well as a territorial elimination of the Empire.

2 civil wars,
the destructive pass of catalan company,
the conquests of Turks in Asia Minor,
and Serbians of Stephan Dusan,followed by the Ottomans in the Balcans,
resulted an empire extended in the Constantinople ,Thessaloniki,and Peloponnesos in the end of 14th century.

So ,there wasnt enough land for raising local soldiers,traditional swordsmith centers have been lost,there werent mines for metal,and the economics of the empire were in terrible condition.

So,simply in the 15th century,armor was imported.
Imports were made mainly by Italy,through the Venetian and Genoese lands of the East.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Kapikulu Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14-Jun-2006 at 18:25
Originally posted by Byzantine Emperor Byzantine Emperor wrote:

  
So, with this post I would like to open a topic for the discussion of the late Byzantine army, its units, its weapons, its armor, its enemies, its tactics/strategies, and its battles.  Feel free to use my timeframe (1204-1461) and include discussions on the army of Trebizond if you wish.
  
 
About battles, I don't remember any major victory in that era except liberation of Constantinople from Crusaders.
 
Byzantines were actually destined to decline after a certain time...At the final era you mentioned, Byzantines lost control of even Peloponnisus to local governors and even the small kingdoms of Balkans were more powerful then Byzantines.And lately, even though the city(Byzantium) was taken back,Genoese was colonizing around in Galata, while the Venetians were getting control of Aegean islands,which is crucial for security of the Straits.
 
I actually connect liberation of Constantinople to Mongol invasion...Had the Mongols haven't invaded Anatolia and Turkish strikes to the West hadn't stopped, I doubt the Byzantines could have found enough force to take Constantinople back, even though the whole folk of the city was against Crusader rule and rebelling periodically.
 
Even though he is counted as a good emperor by some, there was a great mistake that Cantacuzenos did...In order to eliminate factions against him to strengthen his rule, he requested help from Orhan I, the Ottoman Sultan and gave him the Fortress of Çimpe, in southern part of Gallipoli...And this had been a stepping stone, and a great base for Ottomans towards their expansion in Europe.
 
The year that Çimpe was given to Ottomans was 1353, and Adrianople fell in 1363Confused...So quick...And the Ottomans encircled Byzantium very soon, enabling a conquest attempt by Bayezid I.
 
And basically, the empire was short of sufficient manpower and economical power to raise new armies or qualified soldiers with good armaments and training.


Edited by Kapikulu - 14-Jun-2006 at 18:50
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14-Jun-2006 at 21:51
Originally posted by Menumorut Menumorut wrote:

I think any depiction made in an epoch like that (in West and even more in East), and even later (in Eastern countries), corresponds only with the epoch in which the depiction was made. There are no reason to believe that the men of 15th century and before have any idea about the difference of clothing in different epochs.
 
Well, the Byzantines considered themselves to be the heirs of the Roman Augusti right down to the late period.  And they did have most of the old military manuals available for them to read and emulate (like Vegetius).  So they would know what the cuirass and shields of the Roman legionnaire looked like.  The traditional style of 14th and 15th century icons depicting military saints is either highly classicized (which the Byzantines were apt to doing) or a representation of real military uniforms, or perhaps both.  I tend to think that there was a little of both.
 
Originally posted by Menumorut Menumorut wrote:

The lost of classical elements started in 4th century, accentuated in 6th century (when we could put the border between Antiquity and Middle Age) and later but the disorganization in 7-8th century where like the death of a society and world and the born of another one, of few resemblances to the old one.
 
I agree, but do you think that the military saints do look in essence Roman in their armor?  Maybe it is just classicizing on the part of the icon painters...
 
Originally posted by Digenis Digenis wrote:

Too many questions

I hope i ll find time to try give some evidence too.
 
That is a good thing!  We have plenty of space; take all the time you need and reply more, please.  :)
 
Originally posted by Digenis Digenis wrote:

So ,there wasnt enough land for raising local soldiers,traditional swordsmith centers have been lost,there werent mines for metal,and the economics of the empire were in terrible condition.
 
This is an interesting point.  Where did the Byzantines end up in terms of smithing and armor construction?  I don't think they were making plate armor like in Western Europe, so that leads me to think they did not have blast furnace technology and certain metallurgy techniques.
 
I remember reading some early this year in a fairly new study on Byzantine economics, edited by Angeliki Laiou.  It had a couple articles on Byzantine mines in one of the volumes.  I will have to look up what the condition of the mines was in the 14th and 15th centuries.
 
Originally posted by Digenis Digenis wrote:

So,simply in the 15th century,armor was imported.
Imports were made mainly by Italy,through the Venetian and Genoese lands of the East.
 
Are you talking about the full suits of plate armor, like Maximilian armor and the like?  It would seem that only nobles could afford that kind of gear.  Perhaps Constantine XI and Lukas Notaras were armored in such suits at the siege of 1453?  Or were they wearing the klibanion, Roman style skirting, and grieves?
 
Originally posted by Kapikulu Kapikulu wrote:

At the final era you mentioned, Byzantines lost control of even Peloponnisus to local governors and even the small kingdoms of Balkans were more powerful then Byzantines.
 
Eventually this happened.  But in the 14th century Andronikos III and John VI Kantakuzenos did make some headway in Serbia and Thrace.  They kind of went back and forth in sovereignty, but Andronikos took advantage of weakness in the Serbian kingdom and re-established imperial control over northern Thrace.
 
The Serbs had a tricky way about them:  they offered the services of heavily armed cavalry to the late Byzantine emperors and gave the illusion that they were helping.  But at the first sign of a loophole they either recalled the troops or took what they could get at Byzantine expense.  LOL 
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Menumorut Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15-Jun-2006 at 02:03
   
Quote So they would know what the cuirass and shields of the Roman legionnaire looked like.




Sorry for that hurried opinion. I think that the Byzantine territory was full of sculptures from Antiquity, like that in the center of Constantinople:






Quote The traditional style of 14th and 15th century icons depicting military saints is either highly classicized (which the Byzantines were apt to doing) or a representation of real military uniforms, or perhaps both.


I also think for both. The iconographic tradition and the military uniform tradition were mantained (I supose) by the presence of that sculptures.


The iconographic tradition was totaly breaked off in the long iconoclastic period.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15-Jun-2006 at 02:25
I think that Byzantine designs in armour and weaponary were by the late period secondary to that dictated by the equipment that the mercenary armies brought with them. In Heraclian, Isaurian, Macedonian, 11th century Chronographia succession and to a lesser extent under the Komnenoi, the basis of the Byzantine army appears to me to have been a local force supplemented by mercenaries. Mercenaries were always a feature of the Byzantine military, often a specialised and reliable part of it.

It is when mercenaries became the dominant force in Byzantium that the equipment and soldiery are of types dictated by foreign customs rather than Byzantine standardisation. Hiring an entire foreign force wholesale became extremely common, while their rate of pay must have been disproportionately high compared to earlier centuries because Byzantium was economically much weaker and because the mercenaries knew they could squeeze more cash out of the militarily weak Byzantines.

Often the Byzantines had more soldiers down on paper than they did actually under arms. The theme system was destroyed and no viable replacement structure for providing military and economic power was properly devised. Frequently, in the late period the soldiers levied up in times of crisis were demoralised before even seeing battle. There was a lack of martial professionalism in the late Byzantine culture which compounded existing problems with recruiting local forces.

The result was outsourcing to foreigners on a massive scale, Alan steppe cavalry fought for the Basilaeos alongside Catalan heavy infantry, Genoese marines, Turkish cavalry archers and the infantry of Serbs and Bulgarians.

Also to note is that it is clear the West had an important effect on Byzantine military development, rather than before as had been the case. Both Manuel I and Andronikos III were noted for their love of the sport of jousting, considered a low class barbarian practice by the Byzantines. In the aftermath of 1204 I know that one author of the times made note of how the mixed offspring of Latins and Greeks seemed able to combine the martial abilities of both races.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15-Jun-2006 at 14:15

Originally posted by Menumorut Menumorut wrote:

I also think for both. The iconographic tradition and the military uniform tradition were mantained (I supose) by the presence of that sculptures.

The iconographic tradition was totaly breaked off in the long iconoclastic period.

That is an interesting sculpture you posted.  Is it from the 3rd-4th centuries or the Iconoclasm period?  I don't think it is from later than that.  Scultpure, especially of the secular nature, decreased in the later Byzantine periods.  Most sculpture would be found as a decoration on church buildings in the late period.
 
When I look at icons of the military saints (Demetrios, Nestor, etc.) from the Palaiologan period, I can see some continuity in the style of armor that is depicted. 
 
Here are some pictures that I think illustrate what I am talking about:
 
   
 
These first two are representations of Saint Demetrios, one on ivory (c. 950) and the other fresco (5th/6th c.?)  It looks like he is wearing the klibanion on his body, and then there is the very Roman skirting.  The armor looks like that worn by late Roman infantry:
 
 
Now, here are some icons from the Palaiologan period (c. 14th-15th):
 
     
 
The first is of Demtrios, and look at his body armor.  It looks like a klibanion, however, there is the classical muscle definition in the armor, plus the bottom portion which extends down over the lower abdomen a bit farther.  This seems to be a feature that the others do not have.  Then the skirting, again.  The second icon of Theodore Tiro, has the klibanion and the skirting.
 
There does seem to be continuity in the style of armor from late Roman to the late Byzantine period, as portrayed in military saint icons and monastery wall-paintings.  Now, the question is do the icons and paintings depict the reality of what late Byzantine armor  really looked like, or is it mere classicizing by the Byzantines?
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15-Jun-2006 at 14:29
Originally posted by Constantine XI Constantine XI wrote:

I think that Byzantine designs in armour and weaponary were by the late period secondary to that dictated by the equipment that the mercenary armies brought with them. In Heraclian, Isaurian, Macedonian, 11th century Chronographia succession and to a lesser extent under the Komnenoi, the basis of the Byzantine army appears to me to have been a local force supplemented by mercenaries. Mercenaries were always a feature of the Byzantine military, often a specialised and reliable part of it.
 
Originally posted by Constantine XI Constantine XI wrote:

It is when mercenaries became the dominant force in Byzantium that the equipment and soldiery are of types dictated by foreign customs rather than Byzantine standardisation.
 
Do you mean that there was some direct influence from the Latins, Turks, and Serbs on late Byzantine armor?  It is puzzling to me, should we consider the native Byzantine troops to be "behind the times" or less sophisticated in terms of Armor than that of the mercenaries that they were hiring in the Palaiologan period?  I tend to think the mercenaries still supplemented the numbers of the native troops, not their actual ability and effectiveness.
 
Originally posted by Constantine XI Constantine XI wrote:

There was a lack of martial professionalism in the late Byzantine culture which compounded existing problems with recruiting local forces.
 
Well, I would say possibly in the ranks of the standard infantry, since they were still tied to the land as thematic soldiers through the Komnenian period.  In Palaiologan times, and possibly earlier, there was a shift towards cavalry being the most important component in the army.  The Pronoiar Cavalry to me make up a professional element in the late Byzantine army.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Menumorut Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 15-Jun-2006 at 16:17
Quote hat is an interesting sculpture you posted. Is it from the 3rd-4th centuries or the Iconoclasm period?


It's perhaps the most famous piece of Byzantine sculpture, even it's actualy from the late classical period.

It were disputes if it's from Constantine's time or Theodosius I (the end of 4th century) and now is considered correct the last opinion.


This is the basement of the Obelisc of Theodosius, an original Egyptian (1549-1503 BC), brought to Constantinople and erected just in the very center of the City, in the center of the Hypodrome. All the four sides of this sculptued base presents scenes with Emperor and it's court at the spectacles on the Hypodrome.



There are three columns in this point, the oldest, brought from Delphi, is the Serpentine column, made of bronze, from 3rd century BC. Another one is the so/called "Column of Porphyrogenetus". Since recently was considered to be erected in the time of Constantine Porphyrogenetos (912-959 AD) but recently is considered to be built by COnstantine the Great or Theodosius I.



In foreground the Obelisc of Theodosius, in background the Column "of Porphyrogenetos". Between them, the small Serpentine column:




Another side of the base of Theodosius' Obelisc:




The Sepentine column:





The "Porphyrogenetos" Column:




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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16-Jun-2006 at 00:48
Originally posted by Constantine XI

There was a lack of martial professionalism in the late Byzantine culture which compounded existing problems with recruiting local forces.
 
Originally posted by Byzantine Emperor Byzantine Emperor wrote:

Well, I would say possibly in the ranks of the standard infantry, since they were still tied to the land as thematic soldiers through the Komnenian period.  In Palaiologan times, and possibly earlier, there was a shift towards cavalry being the most important component in the army.  The Pronoiar Cavalry to me make up a professional element in the late Byzantine army.


I gleaned that conclusion from a passage I read in a book (sorry but I forget which) that detailed how the Byzantines assembled an army in Europe for campaign. The 2,000 cavalrymen turned up and were ready for action, but the thousands of foot soldiers were little better than a collection of untried artisans. The first concern of these men was to escape, which the quickly proceded to do so when the opportunity presented itself. While the dashing morale of the cavalry may have been enough to keep them together, the chronic problems of discipline seemed to have had a pretty bad effect on Late Byzantine infantry's staying power.


Edited by Constantine XI - 16-Jun-2006 at 00:48
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16-Jun-2006 at 19:33
Constantine XI, Digenis, and Kapikulu:
 
What do you think about the depictions of the armor in the Palaiologan icons?  Reality or classicizing?
 
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Kapikulu Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17-Jun-2006 at 06:06
Originally posted by Menumorut Menumorut wrote:

Quote hat is an interesting sculpture you posted. Is it from the 3rd-4th centuries or the Iconoclasm period?


It's perhaps the most famous piece of Byzantine sculpture, even it's actualy from the late classical period.

It were disputes if it's from Constantine's time or Theodosius I (the end of 4th century) and now is considered correct the last opinion.


This is the basement of the Obelisc of Theodosius, an original Egyptian (1549-1503 BC), brought to Constantinople and erected just in the very center of the City, in the center of the Hypodrome. All the four sides of this sculptued base presents scenes with Emperor and it's court at the spectacles on the Hypodrome.



There are three columns in this point, the oldest, brought from Delphi, is the Serpentine column, made of bronze, from 3rd century BC. Another one is the so/called "Column of Porphyrogenetus". Since recently was considered to be erected in the time of Constantine Porphyrogenetos (912-959 AD) but recently is considered to be built by COnstantine the Great or Theodosius I.



In foreground the Obelisc of Theodosius, in background the Column "of Porphyrogenetos". Between them, the small Serpentine column:




Another side of the base of Theodosius' Obelisc:




The Sepentine column:





The "Porphyrogenetos" Column:



 
I am even bored of seeing those three everydayTongue Just 10 minutes to my university...If you'd like some more specific pictures about some parts of them, I can take photos and bring them, together with some other Byzantine remnants in the area.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Menumorut Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17-Jun-2006 at 08:00
Could you put some photos with the column of Constantine?

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Kapikulu Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17-Jun-2006 at 11:01
The column of Constantine(Cemberlitas) is being restorated right now, so it is all covered for several months or so...
 
The old photos can be found all around internet, but I am eagerly waiting to see how it will be after the restoration..
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17-Jun-2006 at 15:19
Originally posted by Kapikulu Kapikulu wrote:

I am even bored of seeing those three everydayTongue Just 10 minutes to my university...If you'd like some more specific pictures about some parts of them, I can take photos and bring them, together with some other Byzantine remnants in the area.
 
I know you said the land walls are a bit out of your way, but if you are ever in the vicinity, I would very much like to see pics of the towers on the walls and the breaches made by Mehmet II's bombards.
 
Are there any museums in Istanbul that have Byzantine weapons or armor?  This would be interesting to see, especially if they have equipment from the late period.
 
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17-Jun-2006 at 21:35
I think that regarding the icons that they can be taken as mostly authentic representations of the clothing of Byzantine soldiers. We see the soldiers wearing the skirts of the classical era, but we also see many non-classical features in their attire which leads me to believe the depictions were of contemporary dress.  They do come with skirting, but not with chiseled Greek or segmented Roman torso armour. The scale mail armour I think is a feature through most of Byzantine history and can be taken as an authentic representation of the times. The Byzantines were very conservative in their tastes, it seems if they were going to preserve depictions of the classical period they would go all the way rather than show classical skirting alongside medieval capes and scale mail armour.

Also, the convex shield is authentically medieval. Later Roman soldiers, from what I have read, typically carried their sword on their right side. Yet the saint in the icon carries it on the left, perhaps a representation of contemporary practice and an indication of a departure from strict adherance to classical representation.


Edited by Constantine XI - 17-Jun-2006 at 21:37
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote BigL Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17-Jun-2006 at 21:56

Im not sure if this is Late Byzantine but Do you have any information on the Battle With Prince Syvalostov of Kiev and byzantines.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17-Jun-2006 at 22:09
Originally posted by Constantine XI Constantine XI wrote:

We see the soldiers wearing the skirts of the classical era, but we also see many non-classical features in their attire which leads me to believe the depictions were of contemporary dress.  They do come with skirting, but not with chiseled Greek or segmented Roman torso armour.
 
I tend to agree that they are an accurate representation of the time.  However, we must be careful in what we take at face value with the Byzantines in terms of art.  They are quite conservative in taste, and, especially in the arts and literature, they were always careful to pay homage to antiquity before revealing anything vernacular.  Maybe it is different with icons; saints' lives tend to depict real life settings in their stories, so perhaps the icons do as well.
 
It seems that there was not as much mass-production of arms and armor in the late period as opposed to other more prosperous times when the coffers were full.  Late armies gathered what equipment was available from imperial or contracted sources.  Perhaps individual Byzantine soldiers who had the wealth could commission the casting/creation of an outfit of armor that suited their tastes, hence armor that might hearken back to classical designs.
 
 
This one, I believe, comes rather close to looking like a classical Greek cuirass or breastplate.  It does not look like the klibanion, chain mail, or the Roman segmented chest protection - but it does look like classical Greek armor with the muscular outlines and the part that extends at the bottom over the lower abdomen, plus it has the skirting.
 
Anyways, I guess we can conclude that officers or nobles who were independently wealthy could afford to have customized armor made for them.  The armor was by no means mass-produced for late Byzantine footsoldiers as it had been in the old days.
 
Originally posted by Constantine XI Constantine XI wrote:

Also, the convex shield is authentically medieval. Later Roman soldiers, from what I have read, typically carried their sword on their right side. Yet the saint in the icon carries it on the left, perhaps a representation of contemporary practice and an indication of a departure from strict adherance to classical representation.
 
Good point, I did not know this! Big smile
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Tobodai Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18-Jun-2006 at 00:54
Found a website you all might find intresting
 
 
Heavy cavalry and cataphracts are of course my favorite military unit of all and any times, I once heard its prevalence in Byzantiums armies was a reaction and adaptation to war against the Sassanids.  Is this the correct chain of events if we know such things?
 
My knowledge of medieval Persian history is quite alot better than that of Byzantium, though this is soemthing I seek to rectify.
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