“Have the romphaia in long distance”, the guard that the emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos advised the defenders of Constantinople to use in their last battle.


By George E. Georgas, fencing coach, swordsmanship & Pammachon instructor

Translation from Greek language Aggelos Pileidis

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“.. 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.

This is a detail from the book of Johann Jacob von Wallhausens, titled Romanische Kriegskunst, and published in 1616 in Frankfurt, Germany. The author had studied Vegetius, that gave information about the way the Romans were trained in swordsmanship. The same method was used by the Romans in the age of emperor Mauricius and it is the same method emperor Constantine advised the defenders to adopt against their enemies.
This is a detail from the book of Johann Jacob von Wallhausens, titled Romanische Kriegskunst, and published in 1616 in Frankfurt, Germany. The author had studied Vegetius, that gave information about the way the Romans were trained in swordsmanship. The same method was used by the Romans in the age of emperor Mauricius and it is the same method emperor Constantine advised the defenders to adopt against their enemies.

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 use of Langort against Halpschilt (half shield) with sword and buckler, from MS I.33.
The use of Langort against Halpschilt (half shield) with sword and buckler, from MS I.33.

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.

Here we can clearly see what the emperor advised. The illustration is from the book of Italian fencing instructor Capo Ferro, explaining the technique with sword and rottela type shield. Capo Ferro lived long after Palaiologus, but in his age the shield that was used by ancient Greeks, ancient Romans and the Romans of the East had again become popular.
Here we can clearly see what the emperor advised. The illustration is from the book of Italian fencing instructor Capo Ferro, explaining the technique with sword and rottela type shield. Capo Ferro lived long after Palaiologus, but in his age the shield that was used by ancient Greeks, ancient Romans and the Romans of the East had again become popular.
A different version of the technique with an attack to the lower line, as given by Capo Ferro.
A different version of the technique with an attack to the lower line, as given by Capo Ferro.
The same method of attack, as given by Venetian mercenary and swordsmanship instructor Nicoletto Giganti.
The same method of attack, as given by Venetian mercenary and swordsmanship instructor Nicoletto Giganti.

 

As we can see from this illustration from around 1310-1320 from England, the same method was used in mounted swordsmanship.
As we can see from this illustration from around 1310-1320 from England, the same method was used in mounted swordsmanship.

 

We see the same method in a Byzantine illustration that depicts the Byzantine emperor defeating the Turkish leader.
We see the same method in a Byzantine illustration that depicts the Byzantine emperor defeating the Turkish leader.
The same guard that produces the same technique that the emperor advised from a french book from around 1280-1300.
The same guard that produces the same technique that the emperor advised from a french book from around 1280-1300.
The same guard that produces the same technique that the emperor advised, against a warrior with an almond-shaped shield, possibly Normand, from a french book from 1350.
The same guard that produces the same technique that the emperor advised, against a warrior with an almond-shaped shield, possibly Normand, from a french book from 1350.

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”.

Constantine IX Palaiologos dead from the Marcian Library of Venice, George Clotzas codex
Constantine IX Palaiologos dead from the Marcian Library of Venice, Codex George Clotzas .

Bibliography

  • 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
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2 thoughts on ““Have the romphaia in long distance”, the guard that the emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos advised the defenders of Constantinople to use in their last battle.

  1. Surely the emperor could have afforded the latest Italian plate armour of AD 1453. I have never understood why he is always depicted (see at top) in the lamellar armour of AD 953.

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