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An extract from Armies and Enemies of the Crusades 1096-1291
by Ian Heath


The axe remained the principal weapon of the Varangians, John VI Cantacuzenus writing of 'Varangians with their axes' as late as 1329. The usual blade-shape can be clearly seen in this figure, from Scylitzes ms.. A spear could also be carried. The illustration from which this figure is taken indicates that some at least continued to carry the round shield as late as 1200 or perhaps even later, though Niketas (who wrote in the early-l3th century) describes Varangians with axes and 'long' (i.e. kite) shields at Eski Zagra in 1122.

74a depicts the head and shoulders of a Varangian Guardsman in state dress from a portrait representing John VI in 1351; in this source hats are white with gold trim and tunics are blue. 'Sky-coloured' silk tunics are also recorded by Haroun ibn Yahya as being worn by guardsmen in the 10th century, presumably Varangians since they carried gilded axes.

Their armour was generally heavy - we hear from Anna Comnena, for instance, that 'the weight of their arms' soon brought on fatigue at Durazzo in 1081. Quite what should be made of an alternative source for the same battle referring to a lack of mail corselets amongst the English (i.e. Varangians) I do not know.

The Guard probably ceased to exist towards the end of the 14th century.
[Based on Scylitzes Chronicle f26v lower register. The execution of an Anti-Emperor, Varangians in the background.]

Next: 75, 76, 77 & 78. BYZANTINE HEAVY CAVALRYMEN in Armies and Enemies of the Crusades 1096-1291 by Ian Heath

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