The armors of military saints of the Eastern Roman Empire come to life again in their physical dimensions. Heavily armed cataphracts with an exotic as well as terrifying look are recreated again after centuries, based on available archaeological, artistic and literary evidence of the era (10th-14th century).
The armors of Byzantines are unknown to the general public largely because there are no sufficient archaeological findings to allow an easy and immediate reconstruction of their original form. However, one may easily admire the icons in the Orthodox churches as well as other religious art forms, e.g. reliefs, ornaments etc.
As was the case of Monarchs of the Hellenistic kingdoms, the Roman and subsequently the Eastern Roman Emperors attained the realm of deification / sanctification / legend only through armed conflict and victorious struggle – their immortality had to be deservedly won through successful campaigns. These metaphysical notions were already expressed in the art of the Hellenistic period with secular and religious displays of armed Kings which continued virtually unchanged in Imperial Roman and Byzantine periods.
The armors of Orthodox Military Saints reflect precisely the power of the Byzantine Emperors, the invincibility of the Byzantine army, the grandeur of the Empire, the triumph of victories, the Roman military virtues (virtus invicta, virtus perpetua, auctoritas, dignitas, virtus, pietas), the Divine Protection and Welfare. So far there has not been found any manual that describes the exact detailed structure of Byzantine armors (also known as “Klivania”), so we are not able to know the exact method of construction.
References to Byzantine armors can be found in the following essays, manuals and textbooks:
- In “Strategicon” (“Στρατηγικόν”) of Maurice, late sixth century.
- In “Tactica” (“Τακτικά”) of Leo the Wise, written around 905.
- In “Sylloge tacticorum” (“Συλλογή τακτικών”) written at the time of Constantine Porphyrogenitos, about 950-960
- In the very important “Praecepta militaria” by despot Nikephoros (“Στρατηγικὴ ἔκθεσις καὶ σύνταξις Νικηφόρου δεσπότου”) which is attributed to Nikephoros II Phocas, written in the period 963-969
- In the “Tactica” (“Τακτικά”), written by Basil II’s most worthy general, Nikephoros Ouranos, around 1000
- In “Alexiada” (“Αλεξιάδα”) of Anna Comnena which contains descriptions of the warfare in her contemporary period, 1081-1118
The Byzantines had an innate preference for armors of composite construction, leather and metal being the two key elements of their Klivania. The main types of Klivanion armor of 10th and 11th centuries were the following:
- Scale armors (Klivanion)
- Chain mail
- Padded armors
- Plate armors (Muscle cuirass)
- Lamellar armors
The combination of these types of armor resulted in the production of a wide variety of defensive weapons. A heavily armed Byzantine Cataphract was almost immune to enemy attacks.
Lamellar Armor with Leather Strips
Klivanion of Theodore Stratelates, of composite laminated construction. The reproduction of the armor is based on 11th century iconography from St. Luke’s Steiriotes monastery (Boeotia). The icon can be seen on the northwest side of the monastery’s main church.
Klivanion with Metal Scales
This reconstruction was based on icon depicting the Saints George and Theodore and dates to the first half of the 11th century. The icon is found in the church of “St. Nicholas of the Roof”, in the area of Kakopetria, in Cyprus.
Klivanion with Large Scales
Based on miniature folio 213v of the so-called “Skylitzes manuscript” (“Madrid Skylitzes”). The miniature depicts the episode of George Maniakes and Stephan after the battle of Troina in Sicily. The armor was meant to be worn by senior officers.
Klivanion of Saint Nestor
Experimental reconstruction of the Klivanion of St. Nestorius, based on a fresco from the Church of St. Nicholas, Kastoria, Greece. The construction of this armor makes use of natural only materials including leather, copper and bronze plates.
It consists of the chest, the detachable sleeves and the “kremasmata”, that is the strips covering the groin and upper thighs. Over 300 copper and bronze laminates are riveted alternately onto leather belts to create a robust and agile structure able to effectively protect the warrior.
Bronze epaulets decorated with bronze crosses cover the shoulder area linking the two sleeves to the main trunk via a system of straps and staples. Hand-made Byzantine bronze staples are also used for securing the trunk of the armor and of the “kremasmata” belt wrapped around the waistline of the warrior beneath the armor.
The Klivanion requires the use internally of a “kamvadion”, i.e. a padded garment which protects the body of the warrior from shock and scratches. A characteristic technical detail of the armor is that all leather belts are held together only with leather laces. It can also be used with chain mail, sported in-between the Klivanion and the “kamvadion”. This armor is also suitable for use by cavalry.