11TH CENTURY BYZANTINE KATAPHRAKTOI

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


[Based on a Byzantine gilt-bronze plaque of Saint Theodore, 11th century. British Museum AN265591001.] [Based on f.190v David meets Saul enthroned
Psalter of Theodore of Caesarea, Byzantine, 1066. British Library Add MS 19352.
]
[Based on Scylitzes-Chronicle. Biblioteca Nacional de Espaņa manuscript Graecus Vitr. 26-2.]

20, 21 & 22.      11TH CENTURY BYZANTINE KATAPHRAKTOI

20 dates to c. 1050 though his equipment is equally characteristic of 10th century pictorial sources. Note the lamellar corselet with pteruges at shoulder but not waist (a common practice) and his circular shield, which appears to be 30-36 inches in diameter; a shoulder-strap, called a guige in the West, was adopted during the 10th century. He wears the sash of an officer (see note 6). His tunic is red, cloak dark blue with a heavily embroidered gold and black tablion (decorated panel) and trousers are brown or tan brocade. The lamellae of his corselet are shown in the original as blue and yellow in alternate horizontal rows, such decoration of lamellar being not uncommon.

21 is from a ms. of 1066. He carries a tapering kite-shield, the predominant type amongst Byzantine heavies by the mid-11th century, though as we have seen the circular shield also remained in service. The Byzantines may have developed this modified version of the kite-shield themselves from the indigenous type described in note 13, or it may have been adopted as the result of western influence, possibly being introduced by Norman mercenaries who were first employed in 1038. It should be noted, however, that this modified Byzantine type was somewhat broader than that in use in the West, being of an 'almond' shape that prevailed in Eastern Europe for as long as the kite-shield did. The type of grip most commonly employed by the Byzantines on their kite-shields can be seen in figure 22.

He wears a scale corselet, tubular upper-arm defences, and a helmet which in the original is depicted blue or red, possibly indicating it to be cloth-covered or dyed leather. His shield could be red, blue or green with a gold pattern. The source shows tunics and trousers in the same three colours. Boots are black.

22 is from the Scylitzes ms. of c. 1200 which contains a vast number of illuminations largely copied from earlier originals. This figure, judging by his complete armour, is possibly a late klibanophoros, even though the original shows such figures mounted on unarmoured horses. Note that he too carries a kite-shield.

Cavalry lances appear to have become generally shorter judging from the illustrative sources, probably under the influence of mercenaries from Western Europe. However, the 12-foot kontos or kontarion remained in use until at least the mid-11th century, and the word 'kontos' itself was still in use when Anna Comnena wrote c. 1140. By the late-10th century the lance was usually couched underarm, though the source from which 21 is taken shows lances being used both over and under arm.



See a cloak with tablion worn by horsemen in The Life of St Alessio, Church of San Clemente, Rome, Italy, 11th Century
and a helmet crest in the Joshua Roll, Byzantine, 10th century. Biblioteca Apostolica, Vatican, Vat. Pal. Graec. 431.
Next: 23, 24 & 25. VARANGIAN GUARDSMEN in Armies of the Dark Ages 600-1066 by Ian Heath