Featured Figures: Byzantine Infantry (10th – 13th Century)

“Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople…”

In a break from the Napoleonic cavalry theme, (here on the blog at least), I present a complete change of era. Until the other year, I’d never attempted what they term in soldier painting circles “ancients”. These usually encompass anything from Ancient Egyptians right up to the medieval period. I’d become interested in the history of the late Roman empire period and attempted most of HaT’s wonderful range of late Romans such as the heavy infantry. I’ll post some photos of these on the blog at some point.

Of course, when the western half of the Roman Empire finally ended, it left the eastern half still very much intact with its capital at Constantinople. Historians call this the Byzantine empire, Byzantium being the former romanized Greek name for Constantinople (which is now called Istanbul – clear?).

But I’m not happy about that. It seems to me to be a bit of a convenient label applied by historians in the West. You see, the “Byzantines” called themselves “Romans” and their Persian, Slavic and Islamic contemporaries, who would eventually overwhelm them, also called the state Rûm. But the West had its own ‘recreated’ Roman empire after the original one collapsed; the Holy Roman Empire. It also had a separate church, the Roman Catholic one centred in Rome, as opposed to the Orthodox one based in Constantinople. So politically, geographically and theologically speaking; there has been controversy surrounding this Empire: is it a new successor state which we could call Byzantium, or the surviving continuation of the remaining half of the Roman Empire? It appears that the ‘Byzantines’ and their regional neighbours certainly seemed to consider themselves to be the latter.

Whatever it was, it had a fascinating history that survived many threats and crises for a thousand years after western Rome fell. In a Romantic finale, the final ‘Roman’ Emperor (appropriately called Constantine) was apparently last seen joining the final desperate fighting as the Ottoman Turks poured through a breach in the walls of Constantinople.

This blog’s about my plastic soldiers, you know. And here are some I’ve painted from the 10th – 13th Century era. Orion produces two more eras, earlier and later, to span the 1000 years of Byzantine history during which time its soldiers had changed from Late Roman legionaries to medieval soldiers becoming increasingly familiar with the introduction of early cannon and even handguns. Orion produces lovely sculpting but the sprue comes with horrendous flash (the plastic edging that leaks out of the mold). It was so bad, that they were barely salvageable and took a long time to get them vaguely presentable. You’ll notice that in my efforts to improve the figures I managed to chop the end off of an axe. He now wields a particularly nasty looking pointed stick…no wonder those Ottomans won…

The fellow on the left sports a padded Gambeson. This form of armour was effective in stopping bladed weapons. Interestingly, Dervish commanders were wearing this form of armour as late as the 1898.
Pointed stick guy means business. Not sure about the knobbly, wobbly spear from the soldier in the red either…
Again, great figure – shame about the knobbly spear!
I used a bristle from a plastic scrubbing-brush to create his bow-string. It kind of works but the glue was a bit too thick?
The Dervish commanders in the late 19th century Nile expeditions also sported the kind of conical helmet shown by the middle figure. I saw this in more than one museum.
Another Gambeson on the left. Great figures, just a shame about the flash.

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