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An extract from Armies of the Dark Ages 600-1066
by Ian Heath


This is based on sources dating to the reign of Heraclius (610-641). Equipment consists of lamellar corselet with pteruges at shoulder and waist, 3 by 4 foot oval shield called a skuta (hence skutatos), a 12-14 foot spear called a kontarion that had a socketed 18-inch blade, a sword suspended from a baldric, and a plumed helmet. The kontarion could be thrown in battle. Javelins were also carried, apparently by ranks 5 back.

The skuta was constructed of leather-covered wood. It was slightly curved but not convex, as can be seen from its profile view here. An anonymous 6th century military manual describes those of front-rank men having a circular metal reinforcement with a 3-inch spike at centre.

Main differences from late Roman dress are the substitution of trousers and boots for breeches and sandals, and the addition of leather shoulder reinforcements, secured by a breast-strap rather than tied down Greek style. This leather harness is not mentioned in any of the manuals of the period but is to be found in practically all contemporary illustrations. It was probably buckled at the centre of the back.

The late-6th or early-7th century Strategicon substitutes a mail corselet for the lamellar and lists heavy javelins or martiobarbuli (see 15a) in addition to the kontarion. Short mail corselets and cloaks are shown in some pictorial sources, as are plain leather cuirasses.

2a and b show alternative helmets of c. 600 and c. 630. The latter is that of a senior officer, those of ordinary soldiers having only the central plume.
[Based on Byzantine plates of the reign of Herakleios with biblical characters in Roman costume & armour, early 7th century]

Next: 3 & 4. 9TH-10TH CENTURY BYZANTINE SKUTATOI in Armies of the Dark Ages 600 1066 by Ian Heath

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