Dedicated to the military history and civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire (330 to 1453)

"Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things and drowns them in the depths of obscurity."

- - - - Princess Anna Comnena (1083–1153) - Byzantine historian

Monday, July 20, 2020

Byzantine Armor Reproductions

Eastern Roman 10th century armor reproduction. The mural in  Agios Nestorios church below was used as a model by Agios Nikolaos.

From Byzantine Army Facebook

The armor of Eastern Romans are unknown to the general public largely because there are no sufficient archaeological findings to allow an easy and immediate reconstruction of their original form. 

The armor of Orthodox Military Saints reflect precisely the power of the Eastern Roman Emperors, the invincibility of the army, the grandeur of the Empire, the triumph of victories, the Roman military virtues (virtus invicta, virtus perpetua, auctoritas, dignitas, virtus, pietas), the Divine Protection and Welfare. So far there has not been found any manual that describes the exact detailed structure of Byzantine armors (also known as "Klivania"), so we are not able to know the exact method of construction.

The Byzantines had an innate preference for armors of composite construction, leather and metal being the two key elements of their Klivania. The main types of Klivanion armor of 10th and 11th centuries were the following:
  • Scale armors (Klivanion)
  • Chain mail
  • Padded armors
  • Plate armors (Muscle cuirass)
  • Lamellar armors
The combination of these types of armor resulted in the production of a wide variety of defensive weapons. A heavily armed Byzantine Cataphract was almost immune to enemy attacks.
There were several military manuals written in the Eastern Roman Empire. Some of them list the pieces of armor worn by the different classes of infantry and cavalry soldiers. 

The hoplitai (‘heavy’ infantry) who formed the bulk of the foot soldiers were deployed en masse in pike blocks. Essentially a ‘mobile fortress’ for the offensive cavalry arm to sally from and retire to, they would engage in close combat only as a last resort. 

Relying mainly on their large shields and a forest of points for protection, they wore a coat (kabadion) padded with raw silk or cotton. In the first half of the 10th c. the sleeves of this coat extended to the wrist, providing some protection for the lower arm. Later, the sleeves were shortened toward elbow length. In both cases the sleeves were slit and buttoned so they could be folded back, presumably to prevent overheating on the march. 

They did not even have metal helmets - only a thick felt cap (kamelaukion) worn under a turban (phakiolion). The infantry wore boots, which could be supple and thigh-length, or thick (“doubled”) and knee-length, providing some leg protection.

Roman soldiers 6th and 7th century
Facebook.com/Numerus Invictorum

6th Century Eastern Roman Cavalry 

The 6th Century historian Procopius speaks in detail of the armored horse-archers of his time. They would use arrows to break up enemy formations and then charge in for the kill.

(Armies in the past) "were so indifferent in their practice of archery that they drew the bowstring only to the breast, so that the missile sent forth was naturally impotent and harmless to those whom it hit. Such, it is evident, was the archery of the past. 

But the bowmen of the present time go into battle wearing corselets and fitted out with greaves which extend up to the knee. From the right side hang their arrows, from the other the sword. And there are some who have a spear also attached to them and, at the shoulders, a sort of small shield without a grip, such as to cover the region of the face and neck."

"They are expert horsemen, and are able without difficulty to direct their bows to either side while riding at full speed, and to shoot an opponent whether in pursuit or in flight. They draw the bowstring along by the forehead about opposite the right ear, thereby charging the arrow with such an impetus as to kill whoever stands in the way, shield and corselet alike

 having no power to check its force. 

Still there are those who take into consideration none of these things, who reverence and worship the ancient times, and give no credit to modern improvements." 

(500 to 560 AD)
History of the Wars


In later times the kaballarioi or ordinary cavalry wore helmets (kassidia) and a short klibanion (lamellar corslet) or lorikon (mail shirt), legs were unprotected except again by boots, and speculatively by padded hose (toubia). Mounted archers also had belted kabadia, padded coats with long and full skirts screening their legs (and the flanks of their horse), probably as they were not able to use their shield as cover from missiles while using the bow.

Around 950 a superheavy cavalry unit was formed - the klibanophori or kataphraktoi. Their entire body, and their horses as well were armored. Over their lamellar klibanion, which had elbow-length sleeves (manikia), they wore an epilorikon, which was a padded surcoat. Their iron helmets (kassidas sideras) had doubled or tripled zabai (‘screens’, of mail?) covering the whole face except the eyes. 

Both lower arms and thighs were protected by thickly padded silk or cotton guards, called manikelia for the arms, and kremasmata for the legs, but reinforced by zabai, here possibly meaning panels of mail or strips/plates of leather or horn (or possibly metal). On the lower leg greaves (chalkotoubai) were worn - their construction is not described and the term is a transference of an ancient one, originally referring to the solid bronze ones worn by classical Greek hoplites.

Byzantine Armor
Manufactured by Dimitrios
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.

Equipment included a padded leather coat( peristhethidion) underneath that extended to the elbows and then a layer of steel Lamellar scales known as the Klivanion were put on over that. Other sources indicate that one or two layers of mail were put in between the jacket and Lamellar, but whether this was adopted before or after the is unknown.  On top of all this armor was a padded and highly decorated coat known as the Epilorikion.

The Roman armor was so effective against lances and other 
piercing/slashing instruments that in the battle of Dyrrakhion the Emperor Alexius Commenus  sustained several lances to various parts of his body which only managed to slightly unseat him. When he finally fled he many of the lances were still stuck in him, giving him the appearance of a pincushion.

(members.ozemail.com.au)    (hellenicarmors.gr)