Full Version: Byzantine Weapons and Warfare
You're currently viewing a stripped down version of our content. View the full version with proper formatting.
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43
Australian Steve Lowe and his Varangian site have an interesting link
The last photo probably shwos Byzantine scales
Kind regards
At some stage I think the Book of Ceremonies mentions a spathovaklion (from spathion – a sword and Latin baculus, Greek baktron – a stick, a club) which Grotowski says can be interpreted as sign of a Scholia unit. (See St Bakkhos below)

Any more clues on this ( as he starts to put together info on the uniforms -ceremonial or otherwise of the Scholae)? Better still does any one have an illustration of an actual archaeological find of a maniakion ( golden torque) from the 9 - 12th C.
Peter this image might give insight as to how the Varangian "akolytos" looked like.
Timothy Dawson in his sight at gives a good interpretation of the "kabadion". "kabadion" is close linguisticaly to "gabeson"!

Steve Lowe in his subpage "wacky weapons" has a Venetian image that shows the "apelatikion".

Kind regards
I would appreciate some thoughts on the Menavlion / menaulion.

(borrowed from an old thread I posted elsewhere)

The military system described in Nikephoros Phokas' Praecepta Militaria is similar to that of Maurice’s time, with horsemen trained in shock and archery being the dominant arm, supported by a heavy infantry base with missile infantry arrayed amidst/behind the heavy foot. There is an additional component which puzzles me somewhat: the menavlatos. These are a variant of the heavy infantry, armed with a menavlion.

The standard heavy foot, like their predecessors in the time of Maurice, have large shields, long spears (pikes, really), and their main job is to provide a base of maneuver for the cavalry. They are formed up in blocks, with intervals between each block for the horsemen to retreat through, but also for missile troops to assemble and harass the foe. The menavlatoi are shock troops, but form up with the missile troops in most cases. The exception is when a strong enemy cavalry attack seems likely to break through the heavy infantry. In this case the menavlatoi are formed behind the pikemen, to form the final line of resistance to the enemy.

The regular heavy foot are armed with a shield of 6 spithames in length, and spears of (up to?) 25 – 30 spithames. The spithame is supposed to be about 8 inches, which makes for 48 inch shields and 16-20 foot pikes. The menavlatoi have smaller shields than the heavy foot, and a 1 orguia (1.8 m / 6 ft) shaft to the menavlion. The head of the menavlion is up to 2 ½ spithames (20 inches).

The question is: what sort of weapon is a menavlion, and how was it used? The text emphasizes the need for a strong shaft on this weapon, whereas the composition of the pike shafts is never discussed. The role of these men is clearly more dynamic than that of the pikes, and they are specifically mentioned as the last force to stop an enemy cavalry breakthrough. With a relatively short shaft and large head, the menavlion sounds suspiciously like a polearm of some sort. The menavlatoi do carry shields, but they are smaller than the body shields of the pikemen, and could be as small as a buckler, which would not interfere with polearm use.

Does anyone have any suggestions?
(This comes from Eric McGeer's Sowing the Dragon's Teeth, a translation of Nikephoros Phokas and Nikephoras Ouranos.)
I have been researching this myself. The best article I have read on this subject is Michael P Anastasiadis - On handling the menavlion - In: Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 18, 1-10 (1994).

He outlines the material for their construction as being recorded in the anonymous mid 10th C Sylloge Tacticorum and the late 10th C Praecepta Militaria attributed to the Emperor Nikephoros II. Hard species of wood are the acceptable sort. Preferably in their natural state ie unhewn saplings of oak, cornel or the as yet unidentified artsekidia. If unhewn wood can’t be found then they must still be hard wood and as thick as possible for hands to wield.

Anastasiadis covers other citations of the menaulion and reconciles what may appear to be differences in dimensions by different authors. He goes on to cite the Excerptum Tacticum and states the menavlion was originally a type of hunting spear being a distortion of the Latin venabulum. The poet Prudentius in c. AD 400 refers to the venabulum as being used in the taurobolium. Images of venatores (or in Gk theriomaches) show them either dressed and armed as gladiators, or wearing a tunic and leg wrappings, with a spear as their only weapon. Most venatores would fight with a venabulum, with which they could stab at the beast, whilst keeping themselves at a distance. The cross piece on the venabulum is a simple design feature to prevent the wounded animal from advancing up the shaft to attack the hunter. A secondary function is to keep the spear blade within the victim so the victim’s struggles assist the blade’s efforts to kill.

So we are left with a short (in comparison to the kontarion), stout 6' long spear with a broad, long, winged head about 17-20" long. Quite a nasty close quarters weapon.

The weapon could be also set up on a bipod arrangement to form an oversize caltrop to also act as a barricade against the enemy.

Anastasiadis also covers the development in how the weapon was deployed over time. The Byzantine army was a combined arms outfit. So menaulatoi are variously used as skirmishers, support against a kataphract charge and mopping up party to outflank, encircle and dispatch stragglers. Used in line formation they were also used to their best advantage in the old fashioned infantry square where their stout weapons could withstand the impact of a cavalry charge even if the kontaria around them shattered.
This ivory Diptych c. AD 400 illustrates the use and shape of the venabulum:
Which of the whacky weapons is the apelatikion? Do we have other sources?

I think that a close examination of frescos and mosaics have a lot to teach us so long as we can refer to literary and archeological finds to support our arguments. Tim Dawson has spent a lot of time doing just that. In fact his Doctorate of Philosophy wasearned by his doctoral thesis on - The Forms and Evolution of the Dress and Regalia of the Byzantine Court: c.900 - c. 1400 .

Is the term Akolouthos ("Acolyte") a rank or title that appears anywhere else - I am unsure of this? I thought it had an ecclesiastical meaning as well. I haven't been able to find which source says the Akolouthos (Acolyte) is the title of the commander of the Varangian Guard. Perhaps it is cited in either Sigfus Blondal. Varangians of Byzantium: An Aspect of Byzantine Military History. Trans. by Benedikt S. Benedikz, Cambridge: 1978. ISBN 0-521-21745-8 or H.R. Ellis Davidson. The Viking Road to Byzantium. London: 1976 - I read them many years ago but do not have a copy of either. Perhaps someone could refresh our memories?

Which reminds me there are some excellent on line articles here:

Some people belive the "menavlatoi" were pilum/sword infantry like the old legionaries and that "meavlion" was a heavy javelin like the "veruta".

The "apelatikion" was a "chain/spiked ball" weapon.
The image that Steve Lewe has shows it on a long staff like the staff of the Hussite flail but sorter versions might have been more probable
Russians though belive it was just a spiked mace and they have some specimens in the Kremlin Armory but I belive it was confused with the other byzantine weapon.

The white colour was ascociated with imperial service or proximity to the emperors. That is why I said the image might give an idea of an akolouthos or even a spatharios.

The last image in this page (Credit goes to Steve Lowe)
"Betrayal of Christ, late 11th century, Cathedral of San Marco, Venice" ... 6424880530
The man in the left holds the apelatikio.

Kind regards
Thanks for that. I see what you are talking about. There are even whips / flails with lead weights (though their name escapes me) illustrated in the Skylitzes.

I agree about the white colour, but I can't think of a reference at the moment. There seems to be some iconic evidence that white was used for the Scholae at court ...I much more research to do. I' ll see what I can find.
Procopios says that Empress Theodora sent to Belissarios and his Voukellarioi , after the battle of Darra, helmets with white plums and white pennons for their lances.
Though the practice of giving white uniforms to imperial retinues comes from middle Roman period and the practice simply continiued in Byzantium.

The practise was later reindroduced by the Hapsburgs, the Romanovs and even by Napoleon at a time.

Kind regards
Thanks for the replies.

A menavlion might be a very strong shorter spear. Nikephoros Phokas seems to be specific in saying that they are deployed at the back of a body of spearmen when faced by a major heavy cavalry charge, which would be the opposite of the illustration. This position might have some merit to it - 16th century pike blocks had men with halberds or two-handed swords in the core of their formations; these shorter weapons might by handier in such crowded circumstances.

The text emphasizes the need for a thick, strong shaft to this weapon; this makes me feel more doubtful that this is some sort of missile weapon; the specific measurements for the length of shaft and head sound more like a shock weapon to me.
Nikephoros alsp says that they move forward to the front when needed - such as when enemy kataphraktoi attack.
A reserve unit armed with heavy pilum-like javelins could wreck havoc on a cavlary unit struggling through brocken lines.
Most hosrse would not be heavily armored and horsemem would be not in full speed so the heavy javelin stands.
Kind regards
However, Nikephoros does not talk about them counter attacking the kataphraktoi when the latter are already in combat.

The manavltoi move forward to be the front line to receive the attack.

IIRC their being in front of the normal spearmen is also mentioned in Leon VI's Taktika.
I was wondering if we could turn this board to a sticky.
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43