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BYZANTINE PSILOI

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


8, 9, 10 & 11.      BYZANTINE PSILOI

According to the military manuals psiloi (light infantry) wore neither body-armour nor helmet, carrying only a 12-inch diameter shield for protection, and even this was sometimes discarded in battle as too heavy according to the Strategicon while Leo actually forbids its use. However, pictorial sources - and a few written ones - indicate that most in fact wore light helmets and that shields were rather larger, as shown here. In addition light mail or lamellar corselets were supplied to as many archers as possible when available, but these were undoubtedly restricted to heavy units. Some sources show such armoured archers with not only waist-length corselets but helmets and fairly large circular shields too, usually slung at the back when the bow is in use. 8 shows such an armoured archer.

Although the principal weapon of the psilos-proper was also the composite bow drawn to the chest, some psiloi were armed with light or heavy javelins, staff-sling (spendobolon), or marzobaboula (often translated mace but really martiobarbuli, for which see note 15). Archers were often issued in addition with a sling as a reserve missile weapon. The crossbow (called a solenarion) was also used but dropped out of use after the mid-10th century to be reintroduced by the Normans in the late-11th, when Anna Comnena calls it by the name tzangra. The use of the bow itself seems to have undergone a decline during the 9th century which Leo VI was only partly successful in checking; he proposed the reintroduction of enforced archery practice (even for those exempt from military service) and instructed his generals to ensure that every household possessed a bow and 40 arrows, but apparently without effect. 40 was the usual number of arrows held in a quiver, though it occasionally held as many as 60. Psilos' secondary armament consisted of paramerion or tzikourion, carried by 9 and 10 respectively.

Nikephoros II Phokas (963-969) lists complete psiloi equipment as 2 bows, 4 bowstrings, 2 quivers containing 40 and 60 arrows, small shield, sword, tzikourion and sling. Psiloi were expected to keep their hair short. Servants, armed with slings, probably dressed similarly but less uniformly and would have been sans shield and helmet.



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