By Alexander Koev (MA) academic member of the Academy of Historical European Martila Arts ‘Leontes’
I write this article in relation to the Byzantine weapons used in the last part of Byzantine Empire’s existence. Namely, the history after recapture of Constantinople in 1261 A.D.by Emperor Michael VIII Palailogos to the fall of the city to the Ottomans in 1453 A.D. I will as a result examinte the period between Emperor Michael VIII Palailogos and Constantine XI Palailogos (Oxford Dictionary: Palailogos, pp.1557-1560). I will try to show in my article that the Military Studies used by the Byzantines were under Latin (Western) and Ottoman (Eastern) influence. I will give two weapons as an example in order to show traditional elements and how Muslim influences got to Byzantium. Then I will discuss Italian fencing styles by refering to a specific written manuscript in order to prove Latin influence. I will descriptibe and analyse in order to show that Byzantium had several infuencing elements including Latin and Muslim (Haldon: Byzantium At War, pp. 86 – 89).
Byzantium was very adaptable Empire in order to survive more than 1000 years. Namely, year 395 A.D., where the Roman Empire was divided in two – Western and Eastern (Byzantium). Byzantium remained the sole surviving part, which represented the Roman world – Pax Romana in 476 A.D., when the Western Empire collapsed. Byzantium faced war on three continents – Africa, Asia and Europe. All its history, the Empire was adapting to new enemies, strategies and weapons as Persian wars, Arabian expansion, different warlord led invasions where one very emminent threat in the face of Bulgaria became a problem for the Empire up to its end, Crusaders threat, where Fourth Crusade took over Constantinople in 1204 A.D. up to the Ottomans wars resulting in the end of Byzantium in 1453 A.D. All these needed adaptation, development and borrowing of weapons.
The Palailogos Era was marked with the increased Western presence. Thus, weapons and battle styles were borrowed from the West. On the other hand, the rise of the Ottomans in Asia Minor led to use of the Ottoman mercenaries, which left their mark on the Byzantine war machine. I want to examine trade exchange. Namely, Venetian presence in the Byzantine ports and waters. Another goods influx to Constantinople was done via the Ottomans and Muslim Realms. Here, I envision the Silk Road, which connected the Old World’s trade. All trade exchange left specific goods, culture behind them and adaptation, which Byzantines made themselves (Haldon: Byzantium At War, pp. 86 – 89).
2. Existence bettwen the Latins and Ottomans.
One has to say that when Emperor Michael VIII Palailogos retook Constantinople in 1261 A.D. and restored as Byzantines called themselves – the Roman Empire, then this event was a suicide. The entire world back then perceived Byzantium as a threat and the Holy Roman Empire (Germany) claimed it was the successor of the Roman Empire. Venice and the other Italian States as Florence and Genoa had interests in Byzantine Realm and the Papacy had conflict with Byzantium over the true faith. The Great Schism in 1054 A.D. determined the relation between Catholics and Orthodox who perceived each other as heretics. My description of the world after the destruction of the Latin Empire and rebirth of Byzantium can go on, but Nicean Empire faced significant difficulties (Haldon: Byzantium At War, pp. 86 – 89).
Another challenge was the fact that Constantinople was sacked by the Latins. In order to refill the missing gaps Byzantium needed to reimport its former knowledge as well as new influx of mercenaries and weapons was needed. Latins even tried to end the Schism in their advantage. Byzantium’s glory was reduced in this period. Latin assistance was welcomed especially in the face of major threats on the Balkans and Asia Minor. One should note that the Bulgarian and Serbian mercenaries and trade exchange with these lands was common. Thus, their weapons’ types were most probably borrowed as well. Another influx of influence came from the Ottomans. This faction steadily expanded to the Balkans and captured the Bulgarian Kindom even before Constantinople. The Capital of Bulgaria – Veliko Tarnovo fell in 1396 A.D. This was the setting of the Byzantine last centuries (Haldon: Byzantium At War, pp. 86 – 89).
I want to give some specific weapons (swords or Byz. xiphos) as examples, on which one can reflect about how Byzantines were affected in their culture by own tradition and the imported elements. One has to note that as Timothy Dawson says “It is a curiosity that the manuals discuss swords in much less detail than other equipment. Only the tenth-century Sylloge Tacticorum specifies a size — the maximum length of a cavalry spathion or paramerion shall be ‘4 spans without the handle’.12 If one applies the ‘royal span’ of 12 daktyls to this and adds a handle (~18 cm), the result is 112 cm” (Dawson: ‘Fit for the task’, Swords, pp. 1–12). I want to firstly describe one very popular traditional weapon of the Byzantines – Spatha. It was transfered from the Roman sword – gladius. (Aleksic: Some typological, p. 130) As a result, I would like to mention the article of Marko Aleksic – “Some typological features of Byzantine spatha”. Byzantine Spatha is described as the following: “All the said archaeological finds of cross-guards are distinguished by straight, horizontal arms and cylindrical, oval collars, which extend to the blade on the lower side, and to the hilt, on the upper side.” (Aleksic: Some typological, p. 125). One should mention that it was used before Palailogos Era and it was very widely disseminated. Moreover, “The spatha was one of the most frequent terms used in Byzantine sources as the word for a sword. It was taken from the Roman, that is, Celtic spatha, the type of straight and, in its time, long, two-edged sword. In Byzantine written sources, this term generally retained its meaning for the type of long, two-edged sword, and it was not used to denote, for instance, types that had single edged or curved blades.” (Aleksic: Some typological, p. 130). However, Paramerion – another sword, single-edged curved sabre, which was transfered in Byzantium via Turks and Khazars from 9th century onward can be found as commonly used by the Byzantines’ army equipment in the Palailogian Era (D’Amato: Byzantine Imperial, p. 41). In the Middle East, Muslims used scimitars, whose form may have inspired the Byzantines. One can clearly see how the emloyment of Muslim mercenaries transfered their weapons to Byzantium. Muslim presence in Asia Minor must have had a tremendous effect on trade. Muslim habits up to cooking, medicine and herbs were transfered. Many Byzantines converted as well to get privileges in the tax, military and administrative spheres.
This transfer was also true for the Latins and what they imported to Byzantium including weapons, books, goods and new fencing styles. All these elements were transfered from the Latin Western Italian States under the influence of the Papacy, Venetia, Genoa and Florence. Western weapons were used by the Byzantines when they transfered Western tournaments to Constantinople before the sack of the city by the Latins in 1204 A.D. (Cinnamus: Brief description, B. 3, Ch.16). I want to mention Giusiniani Longo who arrived with Italian (Western) mercenaries to assist the defence of Constantinople in 1453 A.D. and was mortally wounded (Encyclopedic: Vol. 3, pp. 124-128). He was given a high rank and trust to lead the defence. All this suggests that battle tactics and strategies including weapons and fencing styles were used in Palailogos Era along with old Roman equipment and mentality. I would like to give as an example the following manuscript – Die Blume des Kampfes (“The Flower of Battle”), which dated back to ca. 1428 A.D. and it reffered to the Italian master Fiore de’l Liberi. Giusiniani Longo most probably was trained and was aware of this school’s technique and fencing styles. Byzantium had ties with Italia and the cultural exchange was taking place. Thus, when I say books were imported to Byzantium, then I mean manuscrips like the aforementioned. It was used to train the Byzantine soldiers and learn the knowledge of the enemy. No way, one can withstand an enemy, if he/she does not learn his/her knowledge. As a result, Byzantium incorporated redefined knowledge from the West, which was studied and practically observed from the Western mercenaries in the capital city – Constantinople as well as other main cities of the Empire.
Byzantium had to adjust to new realities, because it was in a weak situation and it was loosing territories. One can speak of mass extermination of those who identified with Byzantium and Orthodoxy in this last period of the Empire. Knowledge was also adapting theological discourse from the Catholics. Latin presence as already mentioned was very strong. Use of Muslim mercenaries fortold the future of the territories once ruled by Byzantium. One can say that Byzantium was in a way using alliances with the Muslims to withstand the Latins. Thus, all of this created amalgam of Roman, Greek, later Imperial period and Muslimo-Latin presence of technologies, goods, philosophies, schools and etc. Adaptation marked the later Imperial period of the Palailogos Era. Byzantium was squeezed on two fronts by two massive worlds – Latin Catholic (Western) and Muslim who were represented by the rising Ottomans. Byzantium was also most probably characterized by Byzantines who prefered to live in the safety of abroad like Italy and one should also mention the flow of Byzantines to the Realms that would become known as Russia. Not accidently this country was called the Third Rome (Tertia Roma). This is based on Philoreus’ prophecy: “For two Romes have fallen, but the third stands, and there will never be a fourth.” (Laats: The concept, p. 98). One can say that the influx of Byzantine refugees and knowledge including know-how may have contributed to the rise of the Orthodox State – Russia in the North and subsequent wars with the Ottoman Empire, which were directed at liberating Constantinople. In a way those in the post Kievan Rus States also had impact on Byzantium. Although Byzantines Imported more there.
Logothetes tou Dromou – the Byzantine officials who were successors of the Roman Empire’s Agentes in Rebus (Данилов: Война, pp. 146-154) – can be described mostly as today’s Intelligence Agency and they were having impact on Byzantine exchange with the foreigners (Oxford Dictionary: Logothetes tou Dromou, pp.1247-1248). One can most surely attribute the Zoe marrige to the ruler of Muscovy – Ivan III as their deed, which happened since ca. 20 years from the fall of Constantinople. Important to note that even people who were Catholics in the Papacy may have been Orthodox and they worked for Byzantium and could have organized the transfer of Byzantine legacy with Zoe marrige. Not accidently, Cardinal Bessarion had Byzantine roots and he was active in the same period (Oxford Dictionary: Bessarion, p. 285). The Byzantines who lived abroad contributed to the import of know-how and goods including weapons and books, which was also true for the Italian States. One has to add here the converted Byzantines who lived now under the Ottoman rule. They were adapting to Muslim traditions and played a role for the transfer of Muslim ways to Byzantium.
As a result, Muslim and Latin exchange to Byzantium was taking place. Byzantium took from these two worlds in order to withstand its weaker condition in the Palailogos Era. It adapted to new realities and traditional spatha sword was most probably still used, but paramerion sword with Muslim influence managed to get in the Empire long before Palailogos Era. Latin knowledge from Italy got presence in Byzantium. This was the real state of things in Byzantium before 1453 A.D.
In conclusion, Byzantine weapons were affected by the geographical area of Byzantium, which had Muslim and Latin influx of goods. The Silk Road’s exchange of weapons as goods had an impact on Byzantium and it linked the territories of the known Old World. Byzantium preserved the sword – spatha as its heritage from the Roman Empire, but Muslim influenced paramerion sword found a place in Byzantine military equipment. Latin schools of wielding weapons were imported from the West. Logothetes tou Dromou – the successors of Agentes in Rebus in the Roman Empire determined the exchange of knowledge and goods with the foreign lands. Their influence dictated the rejection or incorporation of new things. As a result, Byzantines were under Latin (Western) and Ottoman (Eastern/Muslim) influence.
I would like to conclude my article, which I am writing for Leontes Academy with confirming the use of Western fencing master’s manuscripts as a source to study Byzantine hand-to-hand combat. Weapons used in the Latin, Mediterrenean and Muslim worlds could have been also borrowed by Byzantium and be subject to study at Leontes Academy including older type of weapons, which may have continued to be used in Byzantium.
Aleksic, M.: Some typological features of Byzantinespatha, Recueil des travaux de l’Institut d’etudes byzantines XßVII, Belgrade, Serbia, 2010.
Cinnamus, John: Brief description of the reign of John and Manuel Comnenan:Ed.: V. N. Karpov, Book 3, ch. 16, S. Peterburg: G. Trusov’s Printing house, 1859. [Киннам, Иоанн: Краткое обозрение царствования Иоанна и Мануила Комнинов. Переводпод редакцией В. Н. Карпова.Книга 3, Глава 16. С. Петербург: Типография Г.Трусова, 1859].
Dawson, T.: ‘Fit for the task’. Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies. Vol. 31, No. 1, 2007.
D’Amato, R.:Byzantine Imperial Guardsmen 925–1025. Oxford, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012.
Encyclopedic Prosopographical Lexicon of Byzantine History and Civilization. Ed.: Savides, A. & Hendrickx, B. 3 Vol., Cambridge University Press, Athens, 1965.
Haldon, J.: Byzantium At War. Ospfey Publishing Ltd., Oxford, England.
Laats, A.: The concept of the third rome and its political implications, Kaitseväe Ühendatud Õppeasutused, Issue 12,2009.
Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. Ed.: Alice-Mary Talbot. Vol. 3. New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
Данилов, Е.С. [Danilov, E.S.]: Война и разведывательная деятельность в античном Риме. [War and intelligence activities in the Ancient Rome.], ЯрГУ. [Ya. State University], Yaroslavl, 2011.
The Sword and buckler, the saber and the one and half sword were some of the fighting styles of Greco Roman fighters of the empire. The saber was used from foot soldiers of the late period, the one and half sword used from the nobles, the officers of the Byzantine army and from the mercenary knights of the west and the sword and buckler was used also from cavalry and footman. It was similar to the German fighting style of the same period. The sword and buckler origin come from the Roman Empire and it used to all the periods of Byzantine Empire from the soldiers. In the central and western Europe was one the fighting styles.
Academy of Historical European Martial Arts ‘Leontes’
Πολύτιμα μυστικά στο σκοτάδι
Πέμπτη 12 Ιουλίου 1470. Η αποφράδα ημέρα για την Εύβοια και για την Γαληνότατη Δημοκρατία του Αγίου Μάρκου. Το φημισμένο λιμάνι του Νεγροπόντε (Χαλκίδα) καταλαμβάνεται από τα Οθωμανικά στρατεύματα, μετά από στενή πολιορκία που κράτησε σχεδόν ένα μήνα.
Η θαλασσοκράτειρα Βενετία χάνει για πάντα ένα λαμπερό πετράδι από το πολυποίκιλτο στέμμα της ναυτικής αυτοκρατορίας της. Τα βάρβαρα στίφη ξεχύνονται με εκκωφαντικούς αλαλαγμούς στους δρόμους της καστροπολιτείας, λεηλατώντας ασυγκράτητα και σφαγιάζοντας ανελέητα τον άμαχο πληθυσμό. Η ανεξέλεγκτη δήωση θα συνεχιστεί για τρία μερόνυχτα. Το Σάββατο 14 Ιουλίου, ο Μωάμεθ Β’ ο Πορθητής (Fatih Sultan Mehmet) διαβαίνει το κατώφλι της «Άνω Πύλης», την στιγμή που παραδίδονται και οι τελευταίοι υπερασπιστές στο καστέλι του πορθμού του Ευρίπου. Κάθε ικμάδα αντίστασης έχει πλέον εξανεμιστεί. Ο σουλτάνος επιθεωρεί χαιρέκακα την αποτρόπαια θηριωδία των αλλοφρόνων ανδρών του, διατάζοντας να ενταθεί ο εξανδραποδισμός των κατοίκων και κατόπιν αποχωρεί στην σκηνή του, πλησίον της γυναικείας μονής της Αγίας Κλάρας, για να απολαύσει ανενόχλητος τον θρίαμβο του.
Ολο το άρθρο εδώ : Οι μεσαιωνικοί θησαυροί της Χαλκίδας