The Byzantine breast plate armors

By George E.Georgas

It is wrong to believe that the Eastern Roman warriors have only scale mails or lamellar armors or chain mails. On the one thousand years of this empire, the Byzantine warriors also had heavy armors such as the breast plates or plate mails.

Above is one mid 14th century depict of month “March” in a manuscript from Holy Mountain Athos. The helmet is very different than others Byzantine helmets , while the horse is not armored (The byzantine cataphracts had always armored horses) . Possible new kind of helmets or direct imported are used in parallel with the other Roman/byzantine ones.

Off course just a manuscripts does not prove that the Byzantine warriors had heavy armors. But we have also a description from other source.

In Muslim sources, and the Ibn_Battuta (first half 14th century), when refer the comeback of a Roman/Byzantine princess(=named as khatun to the text) who took license of her Usbek sultan husband for travel back to Constantinople, Ibn Batuda describes how her brother Roma/Byzantine prince with a part of the army , well come her, and he gives details of the soldiers and their equipment and formation (to the text Kifali=Kεφαλή=means Head chief) :

‘…The Greeks had heard that this khatun was returning to her country, and there came to this fortress [at the Byzantine border] to meet her the Greek Kifali [Greek kephale, meaning chief] Nicolas, with a large army and a large hospitality-gift, accompanied by the princesses and nurses from the palace of her father, the king of Constantinople.’

And continue:

… Then her brother, whose name was Kifali Qaras, arrived with five thousand horsemen, fully accoutred(=equipment) in armour. When they prepared to meet the princess, her brother, dressed in white, rode a grey horse, having over his head a parasol ornamented with jewels. On his right hand he had five princes and the same number on his left hand, all dressed in white also, and with parasols embroidered in gold over their heads. In front of him were a hundred foot soldiers and a hundred horsemen, who wore long coats of mail over themselves and their horses, each one of them leading a saddled and armoured horse carrying the arms of a horseman, consisting of a jewelled helmet, a breastplate, a bow, and a sword, and each man had in his hand a lance with a pennant at its head. Most of these lances were covered with plaques of gold and silver.

Unfortunately the horseman manuscript is not unic. There are too many frescos and manuscripts that give to us the information that the Byzantines were equipped with plate armors or breast plates. Here are some of them:

Above we have Alexander the great in Asia. Byzantine Manuscript of 14tc century. The cavarly are equipted with breast plates.

In photo above we have a Byzantine Military Saint of 14th century. Fresco located in the Chora Church. St. George is equipted with breast plate and exept his spear has also long sword!

Orthodox martyr,he equipped with plate armor.

On the holy  icon    above St.Theodoros of Tyros who slay the dragon. Holy icon of 15th century. Byzantine museum of Athens. He is equipped with breast plate armor.

The Crucifixion. Observe, all the Romans were equipped with plate mails.

The Judas treason. Observe, all the Romans were equipped with plate mails.

We can understand that the armors change the combat style of the army, the military tactics and the art of war. It is obvious that the Byzantines did have familiarities with many European combat styles.

George E. Georgas is the founder of the Hellenic Academy of Historical European Martial Arts ‘Leontes’. He is certificated fencing instructor of the Hellenic Fencing Federation and also national referee of the Hellenic Fencing Federation at the epee. He is instructor of Meyer Freifechter Guild with the rank of Fecther and he is the Guild Unterhauptman for Greece. He is also member of Learn Sword Fight (Gladiatores). He is in the Administration Council of the ‘Pammachon’. He is also instructor of weapon fighting of the Association of Historical studies ‘KORYVANTES’. He is studying the ancient Greek and Byzantine warfare, such as the use of rompaia, spathion and paramirion types of swords and other weapons such as the spear. He is also give stage fighting lessons to the theatrical team ‘The Blue Rose.’


From: Scholae Palatinae



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