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


These heavy infantrymen wear iron helmet, characteristic short lamellar corselet buckled down front or back (horn or iron scales or mail could also be worn), leather gauntlets, splint-armour vambraces called cheiropsella or manikelia (never, to my knowledge, shown in a contemporary Byzantine illustration) and square-toed boots. The ring on top of the helmet would take a crest like that of 13 on parade and sometimes in battle, but such crests appear only rarely in the sources.

The Tactica of Leo VI records that body-armour of this kind was often worn only by the front 2 ranks, others wearing instead a padded and quilted corselet called a bambakion with hood and 18-inch sleeves. The name 'bambakion' derives from the Arabic 'pambuck', cotton, in the same way that the mediaeval aketon was later derived from the Arabic 'al-qutun'. As early as the 6th century such padded tunics were being worn under the body-armour. They are described as being ¾ inch thick.

A certain proportion of men in each unit carried a heavy javelin of cornel, oak, or other non-splintering wood called a menaulion in place of the kontarion. Secondary weapons for all skutatoi were a light hand-axe called a tzikourion (the Roman securis), or sword (spathion) or paramerion, the latter a sabre-hilted one-edged weapon which first appeared in the late-9th century. The mid-10th century Praecepta Nikephori suggests that the axe might be replaced by a mace, while both the Praecepta and Leo mention that some skutatoi might be armed in addition with slings, though Leo's seems to be no more than a suggestion, and I have found one 10th-11th century casket which shows a heavy infantryman using a sling and holding his skuta before him. Leo also mentions another one-edged sword called a machaira, possibly an alternative name for the rhomphaia. While the sword was invariably suspended from a baldric during this era, the paramerion was usually girded at the waist.

Note the beards, rare before the 9th century but by the 10th century essential to the dignity and masculinity of every Byzantine male. They were usually neatly trimmed.

See splint-armour vambraces on a Magyar?, Khazar?, Alan?, or Bulgar? horseman on a gold ewer from Nagyszentmiklós, 8th-10th century,
Byzantine lamellar-armoured skutatoi on an ivory plaque with scenes from the book of Joshua, 10th century. Victoria and Albert Museum 265-1867,
spangenhelms in Sacra Parallela by Saint John of Damascus, Byzantine, 9th century. Bibliothèque nationale de France, mss Grec 923,
and spiral ear defences on helmets in David and Goliath, Paris Psalter, Byzantine, 10th century. Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS. gr. 139.
Beards are not common, see a bearded St Theodore Stratilates in the Menologion of Basil II, Byzantine, c.1000AD, Vaticano Griego 1613.

Next: 5. 10TH CENTURY BYZANTINE FRONT-RANK SKUTATOS in Armies of the Dark Ages 600-1066 by Ian Heath

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