Sunday, January 13, 2008

Armour in statuary

I honestly don't know the provenance of the above little bas relief, but I really like it! It looks kind of Celtic, and so I will go with the idea that it might be Iron Age Irish, but I lean towards Byzantium. But then, the armour was used almost without change from Greece to Hybernia, so lets just examine it for interesting features.
Weapons first. He is holding a spear, and it looks like a Roman Pilum. A lot of damage does not totally obsure the heavy wooden shaft halfway up,then the change to a tapered part that chucks in the yard long slender shaft. The long sword does not match the infantry pilum....a gladius is really a short nasty bit of work, not a nice long horseman's glaive. And the sword is buckled high on his armour on the right...just like Roman infantryman, and the artist had a lot of trouble figuring out to mount it on the right side of his subject's body (perhaps the artist was a former soldier?) and seems to have given up on it, having the sword sort of cross his body in the back. In a very accurate composition, this DOES seem to be the only real bit of awkwarness. There may be a good reason, and perhaps I will have to make this armour and weapons combo to actually see why! Note the lack of dagger, scepter, mace, boot knife, or any similar backup weapon. This guy was more likely an officer than a soldier.
Shield. A very plain "Norman" style shield. Such a shield is only really used for mounted soldiers, and perhaps the long sword, lower leg armour, and lance indicates that this fella was actually a mounted infantryman. I doubt at the age, we really had anything resembling cavalry, but hey...cavalry of a sort persisted in Byzantium right up to the time of the conquest of Constantinople, so maybe. I shy away from the idea that this is is a stele from the Eastern Roman Empire mostly because of a gut feeling that the saint represented here should have a more "iconographic" feel to it. But thats just me. The Roman Arch screams "Roman Empire", not "Beowulf". YMMD.
Armour......splinted arms, chain mail under skirt, scale tunica, greaves, bare thighs, multipiece leather kilt. The splinted armour of the arms is SO telling....the vikings who worked for the Byzantine Empire (called Jannisaries) took that style everywhere they went. Simple, effective, easily repaired easily adjustable. The thick leather vambraces over his arms look like they are meant for business. The scales are more likely made from leather than from steel or bronze....big scales like that usually are. Bronze ones would be much tinier. As would the "cataphract" armour iron scales...also they would be much tinier. Leather can be waterproofed with wax, oil, or asphaltum....(tar mixed with talcum dust to prevent it from being sticky), and it is pretty common to make armour that way. Such armour is called "jack" armour. Note that he does not wear boots, but rather, shoes with high greaves. They look to me like leather jacks, (think spats, or boot tops) because steel greaves would be more shaped to the leg.
The kilt is made from many long, narrow strips of leather. I suspect leather instead of steel because of the sheer size of the kilt...if it was of steel strips, it would weigh far too much. I note that there is a suspension system underneath...they each have 6 holes puched down their length, and a leather thong, or linen cord has been threaded through them to hold them in place....perhaps laced onto an underlying tunic in much the same fashion as the scales were laced on. It is possible that the underlying tunic might be a chain mail shirt, but that is unlikely....there are no really good reason to double up the armour. More likely, it is a softer leather tunic, or a linen coat underneath. The skirt which is coming out from under the kilt looks like chain mail...though it could be a heavy linen tunic. It hangs like chain though, not like the beautiful woolen cloak in behind.

If anybody wishes to add anything to this analysis....the comments section is open. And if anybody knows who took this photograph, I am happy to give credit where credit is due.

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