By George E. Georgas, fencing coach, swordsmanship & Pammachon instructor
Translation from Greek language Aggelos Pileidis
“.. and strong and well prepared. Cover well during the battle your head with shields. Your right (hand) should hold the romphaia in long distance. Your helmets and your breastplates and your iron armaments combined with the weapons we have that our opponents lack, are more than sufficient to protect you in battle. Stand, then, covered inside the walls, because those who are uncovered cannot easily approach.“
This is an excerpt from the book of protovestiarites (“Lord of the Imperial Wardrobe”) George Sphrantzes, close confidant to Constantine XI Palaiologos, the last Roman Emperor, translated by G. Theofilos and printed in 1866.
Protovestiarites George Sphrantzes didn’t just hold a high office in the emperor’s court, he was also a warrior proficient in the weapons of his age. Thus, his writings have more credit that the writings of someone unversed in the art of war. Constantine XI Palaiologos, on the other hand, was a warlord that had taken part in countless battles and skirmishes, with a personal guard of 300 German knights.
The excerpt presented above is from his last speech before the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans, and among the advice he gives the defenders of the city, both Roman and foreign, on how to fight their enemies, is the following:
“In battle, cover your heads well with your shields, and with your right hand hold your swords out.”
The emperor not only advises about a guard used in battle, he also all but names it, since in German swordsmanship what he describes is called Long Point ‘Langort’ and in Italian swordsmanship ‘Posta Longa’ (in the two-handed sword). A very similar guard is given in an older manual, MS I.33, with sword and buckler, with the same name.
Since the emperor was talking to a multitude of warriors of different nationalities, described it simply so that everyone would understand him. There was no need for further advise, since his objective was not to train his men, all able warriors already, but to steady their resolve.
All we have to do now is to look to the manuals, like that of German swordsmanship instructor Martin Simber (that had come in contact with Greek swordsmanship instructors) and see how could someone fight from that “romphaia makra esto” (in Greek: Tην ρομφαία μακρά έστω) or Long Point guard, and to test it not only in duels but also in battle simulations involving many “combatants”.
- Άλωσις της Κωνσταντινούπολεος υπό των Τούρκων, του Γεώργιου Φραντζή πρωτοβεστιάριου του τελευταίου αυτοκράτορος των Ελλήνων Κωνσταντίνου Παλαιολόγου. Μετάφραση του Γ. Θεόφιλου, Αθήνα 1866
- Codex Speyer by Martin Syber
- Flos Duellatorum by Fiore dei Liberi
- Walpurgis Fechtbuch (MS I 33) by Clerus Lutegerus
Mace was one of the favorite weapons used by the East Roman (byzantine) army. Various names regarding mace can be found in contemporary sources, describing probably various types. Apelatikion, bardoukion, matzoukion, koryni, ropalon, ravdion, sidiroravdion are just some of these terms. Mace was carried by humble soldiers -like apelatai and akritai- ,as well as by the elite tagmata regiments of cataphracts, nobility and the emperor himself. Different types were used for throwing or just for thrusting.