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Scenes from the book of Joshua

A Byzantine Plaque, 10th century

Place of origin: Byzantium (Istanbul, Turkey)
Date: second half of 10th century
Material: Elephant ivory
Dimensions: Height: 7.3 cm at left, Height: 7 cm at right, Depth: 1.5 cm, Width: 27 cm, Weight: 0.26 kg
Museum number: 265-1867

This plaque comes from the side of an ivory casket. Such recepticles were often decorated with scenes inspired by Roman art and mythology. The panel depicts the biblical hero Joshua. The scenes can be matched exacly in, and were probably copied from, the Joshua Rotulus manuscript in the Vatican Library, which itself derived from a 5th-6th century model. The plaque is a telling example for the legacy of Roman imagery and adapted style.

The panel depicts two scenes. In the first Joshua sits upon a chair receiving two men who offer gifts wrapped in their mantles (envoys from Gibeon), in the second he appears to beckon to two warriors armed with shields and helmets. The plaque is made up of three pieces which were presumably joined together after the panels had been detached from a casket.
Victoria and Albert Museum

Referenced on p.34 MAA-89 Byzantine Armies 886-1118 by Ian Heath & Angus McBride:
Though oft-reproduced, this ivory casket from the Victoria and Albert Museum still remains one of the best representations of 10th-century skutatoi. All wear lamellar corselets, that of the seated general at left reaching to knee as well as elbow, and carry kontaria so long that they disappear out of the top of the panel. Though badly cut the leather harness of breast-bands and shoulder-pieces is also apparent. Two large oval shields of the type called skutai are apparent, while the man at extreme left carries instead a circular thureos. The two figures at the opposite end of the panel are apparently wearing non-metallic armour, either leather or possibly quilted fabric, and are perhaps peltastoi. All have helmets with scale aventails, surmounted by a ring to which a crest would be attached on parade.

Referenced as figure 82 in Arms and armour of the crusading era, 1050-1350 by Nicolle, David. 1988 edition
82A-82B “Joshua and the people of Gibeon”, carved ivory box, Byzantine, 10-11 Cents. (Victoria and Albert Museum, no. A.542-1910, London, England) All the figures shown here represent Israelites and almost certainly faithfully reflect Byzantine arms and armour of the period. This would, however, be the equipment of Imperial or Palace troops rather than of the frontier themes. Short-sleeved mail hauberks, extending to the lower thighs in the case of the commander, were probably standard among cavalry armed with spears and large oval shields. The conical helmets appear to have aventails hanging from their rims in Eurasian steppe style rather than being worn over mail coifs as in western Europe. The sashes or straps worn around the chest and over the shoulders appear in much Byzantine art and have always been difficult to interpret. They might be an iconographical relic from earlier centuries. If, however, they are realistic then they could have been designed to stop a loose mail shirt from flapping about in combat and thus tiring its wearer unnecessarily. Perhaps they were of various colours and thus have served as unit identifications. Such sashes are, after all, also worn by the apparently unarmoured, perhaps light infantry, “messengers” on the right of Fig. 82A. The unarmoured “light infantry” figures also wear what might be early forms of brimmed chapel-de-fer war-hats. Such helmets first appear in Byzantine art around the late ninth century and become much clearer in the early eleventh.

by Giuseppe Rava
Plate A1: Katépanos of Vasilikoi Anthropoi
This senior officer of the ‘Imperials’ of the Guard is wearing a gilded thorax folidotos (scale corselet), covered by a crimson sagion (military cloak). Note the high pinkish-red boots (kampotouvia). The colours here are restored from the original pigments of a Joshua plaque now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Source: pp.12-13, Byzantine Imperial Guardsmen 925-1025: The Tághmata and Imperial Guard by Timothy Dawson

See also Byzantine Soldiers in the Joshua Roll, 10th century
A Byzantine Casket, 10th-11th century, Musée National du Moyen Âge, Paris, France
Other Illustrations of Byzantine Costume & Soldiers
10th century Illustrations of Costume & Soldiers

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