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Part 5


In the last centuries of Byzantium we have the best preserved images of the Betrayal episode. The details are rich of evidence for the [There is rich evidence for details of] military costume, and the images show now a strong mix of Western and Eastern equipment. The presence of the Franks in the territories of "Romania" and the circumstance that many local militia was [were] fighting at [in] the service of the new masters - Franks or Venetians, as well as the strong presence of Western mercenaries in the last Roman armies, played a decisive role in the models used by the artists for the execution of a Biblical scene in which the armed militia played a fundamental role. The painted soldiers are the reflex [reflection] of the local reality and are of inestimable value for the costume not only of the Roman soldiers of Byzantium but also of the Frankish and Venetian militiamen, Greeks or Latins.
    The armed militia of Thessalonika, who played an important role in various civil uprisings of the 14th c., is immortalised in the fresco of the Betrayal of Saint Nikolaos Orphanos Church, of about 1310-1320 AD (Fig. 43). Here the Biblical description finds one of its most literal representations, but the costumes of the mob, the weapons of the soldiers and the armour of the chiliarchos mirror the Balkans armament of the early 14th c. Noteworthy is the armoured Peritrachelion (armoured gorget, gorgére)66 of the officer, widely used by the Balkan warriors of the period.67 Local militiamen, regular soldiers and armed mobs are painted in a very detailed way, and the dramatic scene seems to evoke the furious fights between various factions of Thessalonika in the 14th c.

66 Bartusis 1992, p. 323.
67 Nicolle 1988, Plate F1, p. 45.

Fig. 43. The Betrayal, Church of Nikolaos Orphanos, in Thessaloniki, c. 1310–1320 AD, courtesy photo Dr. Andrea Babuin

    The frescoes of the Panaghia of Roussospiti, of the early 14th c., in Crete, show a very great deal of equipment in a pure Balkan style (Fig. 44). Details of the mail armour (λωρικιον) with hauberk (Fig. 45) and of the military footwear (kampagia - Fig. 46) are clearly visible on the armed men represented in the mob, who seem to be again the reflex of a local Greek militia. Also the scene of the Betrayal in the church of Aghios Sotir of Potamies makes the same impression (Fig. 47): but here the left side of the speira is formed by armed brigands, the right side by regular soldiers. In the Church of Archangel Michael of Kavalariana (Crete), frescoed by the great Iohannes Pagomenos between 1327 and 1328 AD,68 the warriors are dressed in a mixed Western-Eastern military accoutrement, and the chain mail protecting the body of a soldier is shown in realistic detail with alternate rows of iron and bronze rings,69 as in some actual specimens. A padded gambeson is worn by one of the soldiers. Brimmed helmets are visible on the soldiers arresting Christ in the Church of the Virgin Mary the Myrtiodissa at Gephyra (Crete).70

68 Cultural Association of Kandanos 1999, p. 69.
69 Cultural Association of Kandanos 1999, p. 81.
70 Cultural Association of Kandanos 1999, pp. 106, 129 (in this page erroneously referred to the Church of Saint Mary of Spina).

Fig. 47. The Betrayal, Church of Aghios Sotir in Potomies, 14th c., author’s photo

    In the third quarter of the 14th c. the frescoes of Panaghia Phorbiotissa of Asinou, near Nikitari, Cyprus, show the soldiers arresting Christ armed in a mixed Eastern-Western style, brandishing spiked weapons and torches.71 They not only wear scale armours (κλιβανια), but the group on the left is protected with scale, mail and organic padded corselets, while the group on the right is clad in corselets of small scales and chain-mail alternated again in different rows of iron and copper-alloy rings, as in the Kavalariana Church. The red and grey helmets are fitted with flexible mail aventails. The various specimens of represented armours were all still in use in the 14th c., so the artist did not borrow them from older prototypes, but copied them from real soldiers of his age. Also it is significant that the Chiliarchos is armed with a mace as symbol of command and further protected by a shield, and also the officer of the opposite troops is armed in the same way, but without shield.

71 Stylianou, Stylianou 1992, p. 575ff., Pl. 319.

    The Church of Aghios Georgios in Missolourgaki (1401 AD)72 introduces us into the Betrayal’s scenes of the 15th c. (Fig. 48): but here the mass of men-at-arms is undoubtedly that of a small army of regular soldiers. Their helmets, of segmented construction (Fig. 49), find good parallels with archaeological specimens found inside "Romania," such as the helmet from Veliko Tarnovo (Fig. 50) or the Byzantine-Bulgarian helmet from the fortress of Asenova Krepost, today preserved in the Historical Museum of Kazanlik (Fig. 51).

72 Spatharakis I. Byzantine Wall-Paintings in Rethymnon, Rethymnon, 1998, pp. 52-54.

Fig. 50. Helmet from the fortress of Veliko Tarnovo, 14th c. AD, courtesy photo Dr. Stanimir Dimitrov

fig. 51. Helmet from the fortress of Asenova Krepost, 14th c. AD, ex Conèev.

The last frescoes of the Betrayal show more evidently local difference in the armament of the soldiers. They are even more convincingly based upon real warriors members of the local militia, or garrison troops. In Thessaloniki the soldiers are more similar to the Gospel descriptions, although copied from the local militia. Various kinds of dresses, shoes, type of armours, showing a mixing of military influence from Latin states, Byzantium and Venetia are more visible in the Cretan and Cypriote frescoes. In some paintings the warriors wear typical Western equipment, like in the scene of the Betrayal of [in] Saint Paraskevi [Church] in [near] Kandanos [Kantanos, Candanos], where the soldiers wear red lacquered bacinettos,73 very similar to the specimens found in [K]Halkis,74 or in the Church of St. Herakleidos of the Monastery of Saint John Lampadistis, in Cyprus (c.1400 AD):75 in this last painting the armour of the soldiers is purely of Western type, dominated by a "bascinet" fitted with a camail or a curtain [of] mail, i.e. a slightly pointed helmet with a piece of mail attached to its bottom rim and spread out over the shoulders, overlapping the plate armour as additional protection, which is a typical evolution of the 14th c. in the West. One of the bascinets has a white plume, probably a symbol of command. The artist mirrored probably warriors of the Lusignans, rulers of Cyprus until 1489 AD. This is confirmed also by the sign of the cross painted on the epaulets of one of the warriors.

73 Cultural Association of Kandanos 1999, pp. 217-218.
74 Nicolle 1999a, p. 63 nn. E,F [G].
75 Stylianou, Stylianou 1992, p. 577, Pls. 320-321.

    In the Chapel of Saint George in Artos, Crete, the Rethymnon district, the tall soldiers wear Western armours, conical helmets painted in blue, red and yellow and a great quantity of spears.76 Were the Venetian colonial infantrymen the model for such a painting?

76 Δρανκακης 1957, 115, Pl. Η.


    The frescoes representing the scene of the Betrayal are a valuable source that furnished a realistic picture of the evolution of the military equipment of the Eastern Mediterranean World and Byzantium. If at the beginning the frescoes, though representing the reality of the material culture of the period of their execution, were more focused on the Biblical description, since the late 12th c. they begin to be always more militarised, i.e. to represent a band of fully armoured soldiers. The final result shows that the usual consideration of the Byzantine iconography as conventional and not responding to reality is wrong, at least for what concerns the images of warriors and the detail of the military equipment.
    The frescoes offer not only a good instrument for the dates of weaponry found in archaeological context, but, compared with the written sources and other iconography, also a good way, sometimes within the limits of the hypothesis, to identify the image of famous regiments or ethnic groups in the territories of "Romania," i.e. the former territories of the Eastern Roman Empire.


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Source: Raffaele d'Amato The Betrayal: Military Iconography and Archaeology In The Byzantine Paintings Of The 11th-15th C. AD Representing The Arrest Of Our Lord

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Index of Illustrations of Costume and Soldiers

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