By George E. Georgas, fencing coach, instructor of pammachon, historical fencing and hoplomachia.
English translation: Panagiotis N. Klonos, member of Leontes ‘HEMA’ Academy and of the Meyer’s Freifechter Guild – Hellas.
The female warriors of the Byzantine army.
Nowadays, there is a wrong opinion that the women of the Byzantine Empire had no rights and they used to live in a severe male-dominated society. This is completely wrong, because the Byzantine Empire was the only medieval state which used to be ruled by empresses. It was also a theocentric state and not theocratic, where woman’s place was significant, if we think of Virgin Mary as Invincible Champion.
There are also new researches, whose result was the fact that women had an important role in an affair which used to be considered definitely male- dominated. The war.
In the great military manuals of our Byzantine Emperor, there are information about a military group which used to be very important in the army. These people were specially trained and their role was to infiltrate behind the enemy lines, to chart and to collect information about the enemy, so that they can deliver these information to the Empire’s officers. According to the Taktika manuals, they used to be trained for the use of several weapons, in case they had to defend themselves. The Byzantines used to call them ‘’ Exploratores’’. Theophanes says that there were women who used to be Exploratores. It must be noted here that the duties of Exploratores were difficult, because they had to infiltrate in enemy regions, which were probably uncharted, they had to know the tradition, the customs and the language of the people they were spying. They also had to know a martial method to protect themselves, horseback riding, swimming, climbing and how to be oriented and in case of being arrested not to betray the Empire. They were ready to die. Therefore, the Explorator was a well-trained soldier – spy – scout and this was the role which women usually had in the medieval era.
During the 12th century, Eustathius of Thessalonica provided us with important information. On his book “The history of Thessalonica’s fall by the Normans” (Ιστορικόν της Αλώσεως της Θεσσαλονίκης υπό των Νορμανδών) where he had seen all those severe facts, he says that during that period, the commander of Thessalonica, David Komnenos had recruited even women to fight against the too many Normans (80.000 warriors). The women had basic military training and their duty was to protect the city’s walls. Most of them were archers and sling shooters (Psiloi) or used to throw stones from the ramparts to the Normans. The medieval Greeks were unprepared to face the Normans and because of that, the women where most of them participated voluntarily in the army, had been forced to construct their protection equipment alone. They constructed cotton turbans with silk plating and kavadions by thick cotton, which were the same with those of the soldiers of the Empire. Thessalonica had fallen by the Normans, however the bravery of its defenders was commendable for the Greeks and their foreign allies as well (except the Germans who betrayed the Empire in the end by opening the gates to let the Normans get inside) who fought the enemy.
Provided that there were women spies, exploratores and sometimes warriors in a society where women had their own places, there were also women officers. They used to inspect and transmit orders to the low ranked or high ranked officers. They wore daily clothes but their rank was visible by a white veil which they used to wear on their head.
As we can see here, the medieval Roman Empire And the medieval Hellenism is full of surprises. This research is to be continued.
Many thanks to the historian mr. Nicolas Petrou for the information he provided with his research.
At 1st photo: Fencer and reenactor of the Academy of Historical European Martial Arts ” Leontes “.
-The history of Thessalonica’s fall by the Normans, by Eustathius of Thessalonica
-Chronographia, by Theophanes the Confessor
-A History of the Crusades, by Steven Runciman
-Taktika, by Leo VI the Wise