The Byzantine Empire was known for its military might which played a vital role in ensuring the Empire’s existence nearly a millennia after the fall of the original Roman Empire.
Byzantine military power drew from sheer number of troops that the Empire could muster, the highly well-organised nature of the military, the diversity and prowess of the weapons wielded by the military machine and the creative tools related to warfare that were mastered by the Empire.
Among these were tools related to laying siege as well as those which were critically effective in helping the military at all times, such as the Greek fire. Among the regular weapons wielded by Byzantine soldiers on the battlefield was the spear, sword, axe, mace, bow and javelin.
Byzantine Missile Weapons
The Byzantine military was divided up into various units, each meant to play a definite role on the battlefield.
The light infantry was a part of the Byzantine army which was used for quick attacks given their agility. This infantry wielded light weapons and often used missiles to wreck damage on the enemy lines. Among the missile weapons used by this unit was the small spear, or javelin, which was used as a missile from a distance.
The light infantry also used composite bows, a weapon they shared with the infantry of the army. The composite bow used by the Byzantine army was inspired from Hunnic design and later from the Turkish bow.
Spathion Sword used by the Byzantine Army
The most well-known and elite unit of the Byzantine army was the Varangian Guard which usually accompanied the Emperor on the battlefield and was also used as shock troops.
The Varangian troops were mostly drawn from Anglo Saxons and later, Normans. They carried a sharp and heavy double-handed Danish axe. This axe was a ferocious piece of weaponry wielded by the Varangian troops at close quarters with lethal efficacy.
Some units of infantry, meant to engage the enemy lines in minor skirmishes, was also equipped with a lighter variant of the axe which was usually thrown as a missile from a distance.
Byzantine soldiers typically carried swords as a secondary weapon. Two types of swords were commonly used by the Byzantine troops. These included the sabre-shaped single-edged swords which was slightly curved in its shape and was called the paramerion.
The other type of sword was called the spathion, which more closely resembled the standard double-edged straight sword used in contemporary Europe. The heavy cavalry unit of the Byzantine army, meant to be used as a formidable disruptive force when needed, carried both swords to aid them in horseback combat.
Byzantine Army Weapons
The Spear was among the most commonly used weapons by the infantry and cavalry Byzantine troops who were meant to engage in close combat. The spear used in close combat was called a kontarion and probably had a heavier build to aid in thrusting the spear through an enemies armour.
Lighter variants of the spear were used as javelins by the skirmishing units of the army. Historical evidence also suggests that specialist infantry units may have wielded a heavy-shafted variant of the spear for close combat.