The Byzantine Empire was the direct descendant of the Roman Empire and in terms of military organisation, borrowed heavily from its Roman legacy.
As a result, the Byzantine army was highly organised, well-versed in advanced tactics and very effective on the battlefield. The Byzantine army evolved significantly from the beginning of the Empire in the 5th century until its end in the 15th century.
During this period, the nature and type of armour worn by Byzantine soldiers also changed significantly. Among the most common pieces of armour used by the Byzantine armies were the shield, the helmet and body armour which often included horse armour as well.
Round shields called skoutaria’s were among the most popular types of shields used by Byzantine soldiers.
According to extant historical sources, the most notable type of shield used by Byzantine soldiers was the kite-shaped shield, although it is probably that infantry soldiers used a different variant of the shield.
On the battlefield, nearly all Byzantine infantrymen were required to carry a shield while the cavalrymen relied more on other pieces of armour and frequently abandoned the shield for better agility and speed in combat.
Many types of helmets were used by the Byzantine army. Historical evidence suggests that the spangenhelm was commonly used by Byzantine soldiers. This type of helmet was typically constructed by forging together different pieces of metal with a tall and pointed protrusion at the top to deflect weapons.
Another type of helmet used was conical in shape and usually made in a single-piece construction. Such a helmet was stronger but more expensive to produce.
Byzantine helmets usually came with elaborate defences for the neck and face as well, in some cases with the use of enhanced leather. Helmets that supported hooking up mail to defend the lower face have also been found to be used by Byzantine soldiers.
Byzantine Body Armour
Byzantines used different types of body armour on the battlefield. Notable among these was a body armour made from thick padding of clothing which fell all the way until the knees.
Being inexpensive to produce but sufficiently useful in combat, the armour was frequently worn by Byzantine infantry and cavalry, especially the light troops in the Byzantine army who were required to move quickly.
In contrast, the heavy cavalry of the army usually came with metal body armour which comprised of chain mail, scale armour and lamellar. The Byzantine lamellar was uniquely constructed by using round-top metal lamellae against a leather base, making it very resistant to most weapons and a very effective piece of body armour.
However, being quite expensive to produce, the lamellar was largely limited to rich and elite units of the Byzantine cavalry.
Byzantine Horse Amour
Byzantine cavalrymen used horse armour although its use was limited only to the wealthiest aristocrats who served in the army. Horse armour was constructed either by using rawhide lamellae or by padding thick layers of quilted clothing and then covering the horse with it.
Metal-made horse armour was often resistant to most weapons while padded armour could also withstand most blows to the horse. The armour was vital to the Byzantine army in cases where the Byzantine cavalry led the first charge of a battle, as was the case at the Battle of Sirmium between the Byzantine Empire and Hungary.