Military figures sketches- Byzantium

Byzantine war flag
Byzantine war flag

Posted by Powee Celdran 

For another time, I am back blogging about the amazing world of Byzantium, this time it would be plainly focusing on Byzantium’s interesting and very detailed military. he military was one of the major and most important parts in the history and civilisation of Byzantium. The Byzantine Empire, which lasted for about 1000 years dominating the eastern part of the world in the Middle-ages had a very detailed army, somewhat powerful but not overall powerful. The Byzantine army is best known for being diverse, having many different types of units such as cavalry, infantry, skirmishers, and hired mercenaries, some were not even from the empire itself. The Byzantine army then took design seriously but also fought effectively. Here it will show how different types of Byzantine military units look like, their armour, weapon sets, and colours shown in my sketches of different Byzantine soldiers.

my sketch of Byzantine army captain
My sketch of Byzantine army captain
sample Byzantine captain
Sample Byzantine captain

Above here shows my sketch of a Byzantine army captain, a set of weapons, and the standard of Byzantium’s military. First of all (shown in the first picture far above) is Byzantium’s war standard, a red flag with a yellow cross, and the eagle symbol at the centre together with 4 seals in each square, the shields used this same symbol too. In this panel right above, it shows the Byzantine war flag an its imperial symbol, the 2-hear eagle; it also shows a simplified set of Byzantine weapons including a mace, sword, bow and arrows, round shield, and a war flag. The army captain to the left has a distinct look, looking large and a lot stronger with a full lamellar armour or metal padded armour, though it has a distinct look for leading the different army units of Byzantium in battle. This army captain has a large protective metal helmet with a plume, a green cape, gold metal shoulder pads, metal bracers and greaves, and an ornate red silk outfit under the armour; for weapons, the captain holds a large one-handed xiphos sword. This Byzantine captain somewhat is based on an Elven army unit from LOTR and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien as the Elven races may resemble the Byzantines (in my opinion).


My sketch of a Byzantine rifleman and infantry soldier

In this panel shown above are two types of different Byzantine army units, a rifleman (left) and a foot-soldier (right) together with the Byzantine war standard and the eagle symbol. On the left shows a Byzantine rifleman or arquebusier, this was however a unique type of Byzantine army unit which came a little later in Byzantium’s history, towards the end of the empire, during the Palaiologos dynasty when gunpowder from China was introduced to Byzantium making a new type of weapons for the arm, the gunmen equipped with rifles as their weapons. The rifleman does not carry any other weapon but the advanced weapon of a rifle powered with Chinese gunpowder, and on the other hand a Byzantine dagger for melee combat. The rifleman shows more of a Chinese appearance mainly because of the gunpowder it uses which comes from China as well as the silk it wears making it have an oriental pattern. The rifleman however is not and does not have to be fully armoured but instead wears a silk robe with a few pads for protection and a simple round helmet and a pack of gunpowder and bullets; these units are placed above buildings to shoot from above. On the right is a sketch of a Byzantine foot soldier, a common type of infantry soldier in the empire throughout the whole history of Byzantium, these units were called skoutatoi. This type of solider is most likely ordinary in battle only equipped with a regular sword and round-shield, it simply serves as a common soldier together with thousands of others. This foot soldier wears simply a round cone helmet with chain-mail protecting the face and neck but not covering the arms an body; protecting the body is a lamellar armour of metal plates with a sash and a sheathe, under is a tunic, also has a pair of greaves and bracers. This foot soldier is an evolved version of a Classical Roman infantry soldier. Both these soldiers shown above (the rifleman and infantry soldier) are both local Greek army men and not hired but recruited from within the empire making them not as advanced as Byzantium’s special forces but serving as auxiliary units. The rifleman however may not be accurate as it is based on the Byzantine rifleman from Assassin’s Creed Revelations (2011).

Byzantine crossbow soldier
Byzantine crossbow soldier

Above here, this single unit is a sketch of a Byzantine crossbow archer. This type of Byzantine soldier is not part of the special forces or elite army but part of the common infantry and under archers, as it is not a powerful in battle, these units are usually Greeks. This crossbow man is a later unit in the Byzantine military only appeared at the time of the Palaiologos dynasty before the fall of Byzantium. This is a more advanced version of a Byzantine army unit as it holds a more effective archery weapon, usually placed above buildings or on walls during sieges for short-distance shots on enemies. This crossbowman carries its basic weapon, the effective short-ranged crossbow and a short-sword for melee combat; the helmet may look more different designed for aiming with a wide brim. This soldier’s armour is a little more different, instead of metal cuirass it has a padded vest called epilorikon, and leather strips protecting the arms and thighs together with a cape covering. This soldier unit was sort of based on a type of Byzantine army unit from Assassin’s Creed Revelations.


Cataphract cavalry, elite forces
Cataphract cavalry, elite forces
Byzantine cataphract units, standard bearer and cavalryman
Byzantine cataphract units, standard bearer and cavalryman

Shown above here are 2 types of Byzantium’s elite forces, the Cataphracts (my sketch above), called Cataphractaii or Kataphraktoi in Greek. On the left is a different type of cataphract, a standard bearer holding the Byzantine war banner in battle; this unit has a round leather helmet and a cape with fur; for armour it has chain-mail underneath and lamellar over it, also additional leather strips. The standard bearer is shown fully covered up in winter battle outfit, although it carries basic weapons, a Byzantine one-handed sword and a cataphract’s pointed long shield. On the right is a cataphract cavalryman shown with its horse, both the horse and the soldier fully armoured.  The Byzantine cavalry cataphract such as this is in full armour from head to feet, it has a round pointed helmet with a plume sticking out and chain-mail flowing from head to body protecting the face and neck. The cataphract cavalryman has a full set of armour with chain-mail under and silver lamellar (plated) armour over it together with a cape, leather strips, a set of bracers and greaves. The cataphract cavalryman carries not just a single weapon but a number of them at the same time; it uses either a long kite-shaped shield called skouton or as shown here a large or small round shield; for melee weapons it carries a one-handed longsword for close-combat or a mace, it also holds a spear for lancing when riding; sometimes these horsemen carry bows as the first weapon they use; the horse as well is armoured. The cataphracts were basically fully armoured soldiers, this is what it means in Greek. The cataphracts were invented in the 10th century during the time of Byzantine emperor Nikephoros II, these units were inspired by eastern cavalrymen from the Sassanid and Parthian Persian empires carrying a set of weapons, which was very effective, these cavalrymen were mostly Greeks from Greece and Turkey, the major parts of the empire. The cataphracts were actually successful in the Byzantine army having horse archery and wedge-formation in battle, the performed tactics including missile throwing while spinning in a circle and shock charge with the wedge formation; these units however were not much used in the later period of Byzantium.


Varangians at battle
Varangians at battle
Byzantine Varangian guards
Byzantine Varangian guards

Above here (my sketch) shows 2 types of Varangian Guards, however these units were much alike an do not have much difference. The Varangian guards were the Byzantine elite units mostly serving as the emperor’s bodyguards at battle. These units were basically not from the empire and not Greeks but began as Viking, Germanic, or Rus’ (Russians) mercenaries originating as the imperial bodyguards during the reign of emperor Basil II after his conquests of Rus’, afterwards those warriors turned to serve Byzantium. For the next couple of centuries, these units became one of Byzantium’s most important army units and elite forces just as the cataphracts were. The cataphracts however were more effective as cavalrymen while the Varangians were more effective infantrymen and extremely skilled in battle and loyal soldiers. The Varangians were more trusted as they were not Byzantines but Norsemen or Russians making them brave and strong as well, there were also highly equipped and armoured. The Varangians had a double set of armour including a full helmet but not covering the eyes or mouth but having chain-mail protecting the face and neck going down to the body. They had either a wide round helmet with cheek guards or a 2 sharp points and scaled at the back, which sort of makes it look like a Samurai helmet, their helmets had a long plume sticking out. For armour, these units had chain-mail underneath sometimes or just their silk outfit but they always had their lamellar armour, their main protection over, their armour included leather strips, greaves, bracers, and a short or long cape either coloured red or green. The Varangian guards carried quite a lot of weapons including a one-handed longsword and a mace or war-axe carried at the same time as well as a large round shield, which was more of Viking use than Byzantine, these units however were not much of missile soldiers but heavy infantrymen for melee combat. The Varangian guards to simply put it were more more influenced by Viking war tactics than Byzantines, though they were in great use for their discipline and bravery in battle for over 500 years of the Byzantine Empire.


Byzantine units- Almogavar and archer
Byzantine units- Almogavar and Archer

Above here is another my Byzantium army sketches, this one shows two units far different from each other an Almogavar mercenary and an archer called Toxotai or PsiloiThe Almogavars although were not Byzantines within Greek territory themselves, neither from Turkey or nearby but were Catalans and Aragonese from the Kingdom of Aragon in Spain. The Almogavars have a distinct look from all Byzantine soldiers being bigger in size and heavily armoured however the real Almogavars were not as big in size and heavily armoured but were fully armoured in chain-mail and a round helmet carrying a shield with the red and yellow colours of Aragon. The Almogavar unit shown in my sketch is actually based on a Dwarven army unit from LOTR and the Hobbit, wearing a set of padded square-linked armour, chain-mail, a heavy battle-axe, a dagger sheathed, a tunic under, and covered in fur; though the exact Spanish Almogavars did not have this Dwarven look. On the right is a Byzantine archer unit, these were actually soldiers from Byzantine Greek territory themselves, coming from the regions of Asia Minor (Turkey). The archer shown here is a lot similar to how the exact Byzantine archers looked like, with padded lamellar armour, the standard round helmet, a tunic under, but with the bow as their main weapon. The archers were the standard infantry units of Byzantium, using archery as their skill though held a sword as their secondary weapon. The archers were not overall powerful forces but were important in the army especially as they fire arrows at the enemy having also to incendiary skill launching flame arrows, in battle, they were protected by the Cataphract cavalry, while the cataphracts shock charge, the archers are protected in firing arrows.

Byzantine weapon set part1
Byzantine weapon set part1
Byzantine weapon set part2
Byzantine weapon set part2


The Byzantine army carried a range of weapons too; their standard weapons and battle equipment were swords, spears, shields, war-axes, daggers, clubs or maces, bow and arrows, crossbows, and javelins. Shown above in my sketches are different types of basic Byzantine weapons. There were two basic types of swords most military units used called Paramerion, a thin-long curved sword and a Spathion, a long wide straight blade; the paramerion was a later version of a Byzantine bale inspired by eastern Scimitar swords while the spathion was a classic Byzantine swords inspire by the Roman longsword, Spatha, whig was however very heavy. For shields, the Byzantines used many different types, mostly inspired by Roman round and square shields with the same Roman colours red or blue however the Byzantines coloured their shields differently with red, green purple, black, or white having new Byzantine symbols this time such as the (PX) symbol, the Byzantine war flag symbol, or simply 2 coloured stripes; a common type of Byzantine shield mostly used by the cataphracts and light infantry was the skouton, or the long oval kite-shaped shield made with wood and iron. Other basic weapons included a spear, called Kontarion, which was 2-3m long, the main weapon for he cataphract cavalry use for thrusting when doing shock charge. The rest of Byzantine weapons included a shot war-axe as a secondary melee weapon and a mace or club together with a dagger. war-axes, maces, and daggers were used by most soldiers such as archers, cataphracts, and light infantry as a secondary weapon for the sword if the sword may be too heavy or too slow to pull out, it would be quicker to defend themselves with a shorter and denser weapon. Also shown above here are other weapons such as bows used by archers when firing at a long range and by cataphracts as one of their weapons; the Byzantines too used crossbows as an alternative for bows when at a short range, in the later period of the empire they began to use gunpowder weapons including rifles. Other battle equipment shown here is the Byzantine war standard with the (PX) symbol replacing the Roman (SPQR) and having the classic Byzantine yellow 2-headed eagle.


types of Byzantine shields
Types of Byzantine shields
sample Byzantine spatha
Sample Byzantine Spatha
sample full lamellar armour
Sample full lamellar armour
full Byzantine Varangian armour
Full Byzantine Varangian armour

In terms of armour, the lamellar plated armour was what was unique to Byzantium in the Middle-Ages as most of Medieval western European armies did not use this advance type of armour with decorations on them. The Byzantines used many different layers of armour, some were worn at the same time, though different units wore different types. The elite forces such as the Cataphracts and Varangians had 3 sets of armour including the Kavadion or tunic under the cuirass, Lorikion or chain-mail, and the paced lamellar vest called Klivanion, here the types of armour shown in the previous sketches are mentioned. In addition, some Byzantine soldiers wore the lamellar vest together right the chain-mail but some just wore either one of them. However there were more armour sets but used optionally such as the Epilorikon worn over the armoured vest or over a leather vest if the soldier did not use armour, and also the Kremasmata which was the leather strips used to protect the soldier’s legs and arms which were not really covered by armour, most soldiers usually used these leather strips. Another part of the armour required by all soldiers was the bracers and greaves to protect the arms an legs, either made of leather or metal. Of course the Byzantines had different colours over and under the armour, though this was not important in battle, just to show their empire’s colours. To make it short, Byzantine amor is an improved and more covering version of Roman armour, either heavy or light and is sort of a cross-over between Medieval European armour and Japanese Samurai or Asian armours but it it is its own.

sample Byzantine armour style with basic weapons
Sample Byzantine armour style with basic weapons



To simply describe, Byzantium’s warfare is its own but inspired by different warfares of different cultures from other empires before and during their time. Part of Byzantine battle strategies including armour and types of weapons were inspired by Roman warfare from the Roman empire before it. Part of Byzantine warfare such as cataphract cavalry and archers were inspired by the warfare of eastern empires such as the Sassanid Persians, and some parts such as the Varangians were inspired by the northern people. As it is inspired by different cultures, this is what makes the warfare of Byzantium interesting, but in fact it made it its own. This is all for now, it may have been long but surely interesting, anyway up next, more on Byzantine warfare… watch out for more!

Published by The Byzantium Blogger

Powee Celdran, currently majors in Entrepreneurial Management, a Byzantine scholar and enthusiast, historical military sketch and bathroom mural artist, aspiring historical art restorer, Lego filmmaker creating Byzantine era films and videos, and a possible Renaissance man living in modern times but Byzantine at heart. Currently manages the Instagram account byzantine_time_traveller posting Byzantine history related content.

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