Figure 4 - Military saints on the Harbaville Triptych: carved ivory ikon, Constantinople mid 11th c. Left, detail - the two Saints Theodoros, teron and stratelates. Right, detail - Saints Georgios and Eustathios.
(source: Wikimedia Commons).
A catalogue of early medieval limb armours
and comparative material
1. Splinted greave from Nymphaeum (Crimean peninsula), Ukraine.
Date: 5th c. BC.
Find: Assigned to Tomb VI of an uncontrolled excavation of Scythian tumuli.
Figure 5 - Nymphaeum, splinted bronze greave. (source: Vickers, Pl. XVI-b).
Description: Only one of the pair excavated still survives. Total length 20.4 cm, the narrower end is shaped (to fit over the foot?). It is made of thirteen tapered bronze splints joined to each other with bronze wire staples through paired holes in a staggered arrangement, this also serves to hold them to a leather backing (sheep/goatskin). The splints look like they overlap and their exposed edges appear to be turned under slightly. All edges were bound with a strip of calfskin, for which closely spaced holes were punched through the metal, though the leather is well preserved whatever lacing was used appears to have perished. In use the greave probably was slipped inside a boot or legging. According to Vickers description, there are no traces of straps for attaching it to the leg, but he does not account for large holes at each corner at the narrow end which clearly show in the photograph - see Fig. 5.
Held: Ashmolean Museum, Oxford UK.
References: Vickers, p.45.
2. Splinted limb armour from Valsgärde, Uppland, Sweden.
Find: Grave 8 - richly furnished boat grave of a Migration Age Germanic warrior including a helmet, and mail and splint armour (Fig. 6), and including equestrian equipment.
Figure 6 - Reconstruction of Valsgärde 8 panoply. (source: Engström, fig. 6).
Figure 7 - Valsgärde 8, splints of Group 1 armguard. (drawing: PB, after Arwidsson 1954 pl. 7).
Description: The armour had been folded up and stored together in a wooden casket in the burial. A total of 21 iron splints and fragments of leather straps which originally connected them were found. The splints could be sorted into three groups of seven each, based on length and number of straps. Group 1 (Fig. 7) were the shortest (23.5 to 27.4 cm), and were riveted by 1 or 2 domed bronze nails to two thin straps (1.5 cm wide). Five splints were broad and tapered while the other two were narrow and more or less even width. Each was bent upward at the wide end while their narrow end is formed into a dragon-head with features outlined in slight relief, a small iron ring is inserted through each nostril. The wider splints are otherwise unembellished while the narrow ones are covered in cross-wise grooves.
Figure 8 - Valsgärde 8, splints of Group 2 left leg. (drawing: PB, after Arwidsson 1954 pl. 8).
Figure 9 - Valsgärde 8, splints of Group 3 right leg. (drawing: PB, after Arwidsson 1954 pl. 9).
Group 2 (Fig. 8) were 33-34 cm long, all more-or-less rectangular with a slight taper, though one has one scalloped and one straight edge. Both ends are slightly bent outward. There are four broad splints which have a pair of lines cut parallel to the edges, alternating with three narrower ones which are again marked with (diagonal) hatching. At the narrower end are from 2 to 4 holes for rings linking them to a mail garment. Though they all have five matching rows of 2, 3 or 4 bronze rivets, only the top, middle and bottom rows were functional, attaching them to three leather staps (1.2 to 1.6 cm width).
Group 3 (Fig. 9) is pretty much a mirror-image of Group 2, though slightly longer (35.5 to 36.7 cm) and the system for attaching them to mail differs - the end of each splint is bent over and has notches filed into it, wherein the rings are fitted and held in place with a piece of wire (Fig. 10):
Figure 10 - Valsgärde 8, attachment of mail to splints (left) Groups 1 & 2; (right) Group 3 (source: Arwidsson 1954, fig. 19).
Group 1 is currently interpreted as a forearm guard with attached mail hand protection, and Groups 2 & 3 as shin guards with attached mail foot protection. Also found were two small bronze buckles and six small iron buckles, which fastened the straps of the arm and leg armour respectively.
Held: Gustavianum, Uppsala University Sweden.
References: Arwidsson (1939 & 1954); Engström.
3. Armoured gauntlet(s) from Langobardic cemetary at Castel Trosino, central Italy.
Date: 7th c. AD.
Find: Grave 119 - tomb of a fully equipped warrior, including Avar or Byzantine lamellar corselet and helmet.
Description: A small rectangular patch of mail that apparently covered the back of the hand. Whatever it was attached to (leather glove?) has disappeared. Size about 11 by 8 cm, made of several rows of round section mail. Two similar are displayed seperately in the museum, but it is not clear if both originated in grave 119.
Held: Museo nazionale dell Alto Medioevo, Rome (pers. obs. 1994).
4. Plate greave(s) from Kuban or Khazar cemetary at Borisov, Russia.
Date: 8-9th c. AD.
Find: Burial near Gelendzhik, in Krasnodar krai on the northeastern coast of the Black Sea (modern-day Russia). A helmet; mail armour; greave(s); two arm/shoulder guards; and weapons were placed together in a large pot.
Figure 11 - Borisov, greave: (left) front plate; (right) rear plate. (drawing: PB); (below) reconstruction as tubular greave. (source: Gorelik, pl. XI-5).
Description: Iron armour for lower leg, made of anatomically-formed solid plates. Fragment 1 (Fig. 11, left) protected the shin - a narrow but solid strip with pronounced V section; the top end expands slightly to a T-shape and the lower end curves outward near the ankle; along the sides six pairs of lugs to which (a) poorly-preserved thinner plate(s) is/are attached with prominent rivets. Fragment 2 (Fig. 11, right) from the rear, a single thin plate, anatomically moulded as the calf muscle. In its current state it would reach only part way around to the back of the leg - possibly an accident of preservation (or was it designed to protect only the exposed outer side of the calf?); some holes, which may be attachment points (or just corrosion) - according to Gorelik the front and back parts were joined by loops on the outer side of the leg and straps on the inside (reconstruction - Fig. 11, below).Held: Not known, possibly Moscow Historical Museum.
References: Exhibition - Horse and Rider at Musée Guimet (Musée nationale des arts Asiatiques, Paris), 2003, documented with photographs on the Tozhe Gorod website ; Gorelik, p.135, plate IX-5 ; Nicolle & McBride , p.11, 45.
Comment: Similar greaves are seen in Chinese paintings of the period, possibly their ultimate source . Viewed in this context a slightly earlier painting of an armoured equestrian figure from the Central Asian kingdom of Sogdia (Fig. 12) might conceivably show solid armguards of semicylindrical plates, an early ancestor of the bazuband:
Figure 12 - Part of wooden shield covered with painted parchment, width 61 cm . Qalai Mugh (120km east of Samarkhand, modern-day Tajikistan), Sogdian, 7-8th c.
5. Parts of Khazarian splint armour from Koz'i Skaly, Russia.
Date: 9-10th c. AD?
Find: Various pieces of Khazarian armour plus weapons found on Koz'i Skaly, a peak of Mount Beshtau in Stavropolsky krai, near Pyatigorsk (in modern-day Russia).
Figure 13 - Koz'i Skaly: (above) splint from vambrace; (below) splint from greaves.
(source: Kuznetsov & Rudnicki).
Description: Only one large splint from a greave and one smaller from a vambrace are shown (Fig. 13). Both appear to have been riveted to pairs of leather straps (a similar construction to Catalogue, 2). The greave splint is reflexively curved which could conceivably fit a rider in bent-legged position but seems impractical for standing - possibly this is post-depositional damage. The vambrace broadens at both ends and is bent out, presumably to accomodate the joints.
Held: not known.
References: Kuznetsov & Rudnicki; Gorelik, p.140, plate IX-5. Acknowledgements to Tozhe Forum internet forum.
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 The year of the formal inauguration of the Imperial Varangians guard unit is debatable, the mainstream position is 988 (eg. Franklin & Cutler) but anyway it is likely to be within a couple of decades either side of 1000. PB (back)
 I acknowledge of course that the label Byzantine Empire is a neologism, and its inhabitants justifiably called themselves Rhomaioi, Romans, not Byzantines. With due respect to modern scholars who prefer to use more accurate terms like Rhomania, or the continuing Eastern Roman Empire, I have used the more generally familiar Byzantium, which thanks to their efforts is now largely devoid of the negative associations it used to conjure. PB. (back)
 Most relevant information comes from two manuals:
1. Nikephoros II Phokas (Emperor), c.965: Stratigiki Ekthesis kai Syntaxis Nikephorou Despotou (Presentation and Composition on Warfare of the Emperor Nikephoros); commonly referred to as Praecepta Militaria; for Greek text and English translation see McGeer, p.12-59. Dawson, p.83. Although padded toubia (probably those called kamptotoubia: Gk. kampos = country or rustic) are not specified in the military texts, they are described in a Byzantine dream interpretation book, the Oneirokritikon of Achmet, c.10th c., §242: From the Persians, concerning shoes, toubia, and trousers - ... if the toubia and their padding were made of wool, <the dreamer> will effortlessly get proportionate wealth from an official; if of cotton, he will aquire wealth from a gracious homeowner; if of raw silk, the wealth will be less but more splendid. Oberhelman, p.216-7. See also footnote 25. (back)
2. Anonymus, c.950: Sylloge Taktikon (Compendium of Tactics); Greek text - Dain; no full translation in English is available (J. Haldon, in prep.?); some extracts discussed in McGeer. (back)
 Dawson, p.87. (back)
 Alternatively called cheiropsella in Nikephoros Ouranos Taktikon of c.1000 (§60), which here mostly follows the earlier Praecepta (see note 3 above) in its descriptions. McGeer, p.114-15. (back)
 For an instructive, though early example of this type of zaba, see Catalogue, 3 - but note that at the time when this item was deposited, zaba designated an entire coat of mail: Haldon, p.24. (back)
 Anna Komnene (princess) c.1150, Alexiad, Book IV-vi. Sewter, p.146. (back)
 By 1066 the Norwegian king Harald hardrada owned an unusually long and strong coat of mail dubbed Emma, reaching below the knee (King Haralds Saga, ch.91: Magnusson and Pálsson, p.151). No source, however, states that he obtained it during his Byzantine service (c.1035-44), and there is no compelling reason to suspect so - it must after all be the royal perogative to have the finest equipment in any case! PB. (back)
 Alexiad, Book IV-vi. Sewter, p.147. (back)
 Heath, p.38, Plate F. (back)
 Praecepta Militaria ΙΙΙ,4: McGeer, p.34-5. (back)
 Alternatively they could be constructed of laminated metal plates with leather edge bindings, like a partial 3rd c. limb defence (James, cat. no. 446) from Dura Europos, Syria - this is a late witness to the strong tradition of laminated armour use in late Hellenistic and imperial Roman armies (James, p.126-28), but it seems there was no continuity into our period. It is generally believed that laminated construction was reintroduced into Europe by the 13th c. Mongol incursions - for this, and for evidence of laminated armour in pre-Mongol Rus, see Kirpitchnikov, p.15-18; Medvedev, p.175-182. (back)
 c.900. Commonly referred to as the Tactica of Leo the Wise, Emperor Leo VI wrote Ton en Polemois Taktikon Syntomos Paradosis (Short Instruction of the Tactics of War), intending it to be a practical manual. Although he sought the advice of his generals, he mostly rehashes Maurikos Strategikon (early 7th c.) and Classical military manuals, so it may not reflect the then current practise of warfare. For Greek text and English translation, see Dennis. (back)
 When describing the skoutatos heavy infantry equipment (Constitution VI, 21: Dennis, p.92-3) Leo gives these two names for armguards, which are generically called cheiromanika, to be made of iron or wood. It is not clear whether these are actually two different types of armguard, and if so that the distinction was due to the materials they were made of - though, if the given order of names matches that of the materials, it contradicts the definition provided at Const. VI,3 where he indicates that cavalrymans cheiropsella are cheiromanika sidera, iron armguards (Dennis, p.84-85). Likewise the two names for greaves (generically called periknemidas). Given the natural properties of wood, splints are probably the most practical construction in this material. PB. (back)
 The two armies may anyway have not been much different - the Roman system of antiquity had already been completely transformed by adoption of steppe tactics and equipment from the Huns, then the Avars (Luttwak, p.56-9). One possible example of transfer of Khazar military innovation is shield fences around encampments (noted by Abu Said Gardizi, an 11th c. Persian historian drawing on 9th c. sources: Gorelik, p.140), also used by the Byzantines from the 10th c. (the skoutaroma: McGeer, p.350). PB. (back)
 A disputed set of gold tableware discovered in modern-day Romania, and displaying features of Sassanian Persian, Byzantine and Central Asian art - different authorities have assigned it to the Avars, Bulgarians, Khazars or Hungarians, with dates ranging from the 6th to the end of the 10th century. Held - Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (Austria). (back)
 The Scythians probably invented splint armour, which is well-attested both in art of the period and in the archaeological record. PB. (back)
 Currently scholarly consensus holds that the ms. was produced in southern Italy (Palermo?), and should be dated 1150-75 (Anderson, 1997). Held - Biblioteca Nacionale, Madrid (Vitr. 26-2). (back)
 Heath, p.11. (back)
 The Harbaville triptych is held in the Louvre, Paris (inv. no. OA 3247: Kalavrezou 1997, cat. no. 80). The series prototype is held in the Palazzo Venezia (Venice), dated c.950. A third triptych of intermediate date is kept at the Vatican (Museo Sancta della Biblioteca Apostolia: inv. no. 2441: Kalavrezou 1997, cat. no. 79). (back)
 Kolias, p.65-9. (back)
 The expedition which took place against the island of Crete and the arming of both the ships and the cavalry under Constantine and Romanos, the Emperors born in the purple, faithful in Christ, in indiction seven, recorded by Constantine VII Porphyrogennitos c.949, incorporated in de Cerimoniis. Note that in this troop transport role, the dromons crew plus passengers totalled 300. Pryor & Jeffreys, [b].II 1-22 (p.556-7). (back)
 The very untypical (and legendary) Byzantine hero Digenis Akritis disdained to don armour, whether fighting men (even whole armies!), beasts or monsters - so it is interesting that he wears his manikin (bracers) when fencing with a most dangerous band of outlaws (Digenis, Grottaferrata version Book 6: Jeffreys, p.161). Although the setting of Digenis is the Arab-Byzantine frontier of the 9-10th c. our earliest known version was written c.1300, and it incorporates some later material (Jeffreys, p.xli). (back)
 For example, the experience of a Kurdish huntsman, witnessed and related by ibn-Munqidh (Syrian, c.12th): The lion came towards Zahr-al-Dawlah while he lay prostrate on the ground. He lifted his leg high and the lion bit at it. We rushed at the lion, killed it and pulled the man out safe and sound. Then we said to him, O Zahr-al-Dawlah, why didst thou lift thy leg to the mouth of the lion? He replied: My body, as you see it, is thin and lean; and I have on me only a garment and a tunic. There is nothing in me better clothed than my foot, with its stockings, boots and leggings. I therefore thought that I would keep the lion busy with it rather than my ribs, hand or head until such time as Allah (exalted is he!) should provide relief. (from Hitti, p.116).
A silk-covered kaftan excavated from 8-9th c. Alanic graves at Moschevaya Balka (northwestern Caucasus) had two interlayers in the sleeves = silk outer / raw linen / leather / linen lining (Hermitage, St. Petersburg: inv. no. Kz 6733: Ierusalimskaja & Borkopp, cat. no. 3, p.22-23). (back)
 There is no mention of soldiers wearing gloves in any source either, but it would be extremely unwise for us to go without these! Possibly manikelia incorporated protection for the hands as well as lower arms? PB. (back)
 In this reference the location is called Gendjik or Tuapse, and the reconstruction is different, but it is almost certainly the Borisov find. (back)
 Source: Fine Art Images (back)