BYZANTINE STANDARDS

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


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27.      BYZANTINE STANDARDS

The old-style bandon (the same as the older vexillum) had now become the Imperial standard, 27a showing an example of c. 856. Many variants of the crucifix or cruciform pattern are to be found in contemporary art.

The other principal standard which accompanied the Emperor was an ikon which instead of a crucifix bore an image of the Blessed Virgin. This was the famous 'Lady of Blachernae', still recorded as late as 1204 when together with the Imperial standard it was captured by the crusaders from Alexius V; at that time it was described as 'all of gold and charged with precious stones.'

Draco standards similar to those described under 63a and 122a remained in use with infantry units at least during the 7th and 8th centuries, but had largely disappeared by the time Leo's Tactica was written c. 900; however, certain Excubiti standard-bearers were called draconarii, which implies that they at least continued to use draco standards. Leo records-instead that a new type of swallow-railed bandon had become the principal standard of both infantry and cavalry units. Its size appears to have varied with the size of the unit, those of dhoungoi and turmai apparently being similar to but longer than those of banda. 27b and c show such standards; they postdate this period, being from the Scylitzes ms., but were probably copied from 11th century originals. In this source the number of tails varies between 3 and 8, the standards often being grouped in such a way as to suggest that the greater the number of tails, the larger the unit. This would perhaps give us 3 tails for an allaghion, 4 for a hekatontarchion, 5 for a bandon, 6 for a moira, 7 for a meros or turma, and 8 for a stratos or thema.

Standards are normally shown in contemporary sources in shades of red, blue or purple, sometimes green, and often gold-decorated. In Scylitzes they are usually red with a white cross and alternating white and red tails, though tails are sometimes red, blue and white. Leo says that the standards of each of the banda should be a different colour but it is hard to conceive hat here could be enough colours in the spectrum for this regulation to be strictly adhered to; perhaps was only the tail colours that differed. The cross appears to have been the most common (perhaps even regulation) standard device, often embroidered in gold or silver. Even the navy's standards had crosses on them, though surrounded in their case by 4 fire-siphons.

Auxiliary and mercenary units generally fought under their own standards though Sigfus Blöndal suggests that the Varangians, having replaced the Excubiti, may like them have had draco standards.



See also a Byzantine Standard in Homilies (Commentaries) of Gregory of Nazianzus, Byzantine, 879-883AD
Next: 28. SUB-ROMAN BRITISH CAVALRYMAN in Armies of the Dark Ages 600-1066 by Ian Heath