An extract from Armies of the Middle Ages, Volume 2
by Ian Heath


This figure is based on a medallion of John VIII Palaeologus executed by Pisanello in 1439, and portrays the somewhat Turkish appearance of many Byzantine soldiers that is recorded in other sources. As early as 1403-4 Clavijo observed that ‘as to their soldiers and warlike arms, the Greeks make use of the sword and the bow, the like of what arms the Turks employ, and they ride after the fashion of these last’ (ie, with a short stirrup), and although Clavijo was referring specifically to the Trapezuntines (see below) it is significant that Brocquière, visiting Constantinople in 1433, recorded one of the Emperor’s brothers and a score of other horsemen practising horse-archery in Turkish fashion in the Hippodrome (in fact, from his description they were performing qighaj exercises, shooting at a ground target). He says: ‘This exercise they had adopted from the Turks, and it was one of which they were endeavouring to make themselves masters.’

Colour notes appended by Pisanello to his sketches of the Emperor apparently describe his costume as comprising a green damask coat, crimson tunic, white kamelakion hat with a black-edged, turned-up red brim, pale yellow leather boots, and quiver, bowcase and scabbard all ashen-grey. Sphrantzes provides another description of such an outfit, presented to him by Despot Constantine (later Emperor Constantine XI) during the campaign against Venetian-held Patras in 1429; he describes it as a ‘double green tunic lined with fine green linen from Lucca [ie, probably some form of quilted doublet, a red hat decorated with gold, silken lining from Thessalonika, a heavy, gold-coloured kaftan from Brusa [in Turkey], a green coat, and a finely-worked sword.’ Since this was whilst on campaign, it was obviously not intended as court dress, but rather as functional combat-dress.
[Based on the Medal of John VIII Palaeologus, by Antonio Pisanello, Italy, 1438-1442]

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