Military Review

Guards axes. Armament, equipment, uniforms Varangi. H. 1

The armament and equipment complex of the warrior Varanga combined national and proper Byzantine elements.

The military theorist and practitioner Emperor Nicephorus II Fok wrote that the actions of a fighter using the weaponto which he is used [Nikifor II Fock. Strategy. SPb., 2005. C. 6].

Arriving at the imperial service with their personal weapons, the Varangas subsequently received weapons from the Byzantine arsenals (this concerned, above all, defensive equipment), and captured weapons were used. For the late era stories The Varangian Guard (XIV - XV centuries) features were mostly leveled - the armament complex began to wear a pan-European universal character.

The visiting card of the Varangian Guard was the famous axes.
Writes about them, talking about the mercenary units of the Byzantine service, Nicephorus Fock. Some of the contemporary authors believe that the axes were an attribute of the Russian-Varangian period of the history of Varanga, while swords are of the Anglo-Scandinavian era. This is not true. Sekira remained in service with Varangi throughout its existence, being both combat and ceremonial weapons. Sources make it clear.

When the Romans, at the end of 1031, took Edessa, their troops included a Varangian squad, armed with axes or axes [Chronique de Matthieu d Edesse. Paris, 1858. R.49].

A description of the 1043 triumph of Konstantin Monomakh notes the Sword, the Ironhanger and those "who shake their axes on the right shoulder" [Psellos M. Chronography. Short story. C. 142].

Speaking of negotiations with Isaac Komnin, M. Psellos notes that some soldiers "were girded with swords," while others "shake with iron axes" [Ibid. C. 148].

Speaking about the protection of the empresses Theodora and Zoe, he also speaks of the “close” wands, spearmen and stunning axes. In the episode associated with the young emperor Michael, the shield bearers participated, who shook the ax with their ax, “heavy iron” and sharp on one side.

Talking about the events related to her father, Anna Komnina mentioned the elite infantry, and reported about the axes and swords that were in service with the guards.

We meet the emperor Alexis "warang" in the Battle of Dyrrachia - they are armed with "long-armored bristles". Anna's husband The Komnins Nikifor Vryenniy [Vrienniy Nikifor (1062 - 1137) is a statesman of the Comnin era. The author of "Historical notes", one of the key sources on the history of Byzantium 976-1087 period.] mentions the Varangian Guard three times. 1) Describing it, noted the fact that the people of this people came from a barbarian country, which is located near the ocean. Since ancient times, they were distinguished by loyalty to the basil, armed with a shield and carrying axes on their shoulders. [Vryenniy N. Historical Notes (976-1087gg). M., 1997. C. 53]. 2) During the battle at Zompsky Bridge, the central grouping of the army was “barbarians” who were armed with axes and shields - it was they who were always entrusted to the guard of the imperial palace [Ibid. C. 83]. 3) When telling about Alexey Komnin a source mentions the royal guard - “berdshnik” [Ibid. C. 133].

The Byzantine official and historian George Acropolit noted that when in 1190 the troops of Isaac II Angela were drawn into the gorge, the Bulgarians attacked the Byzantines from all sides. And the bodyguards of the basil had to cut through their axes for the emperor and his entourage - among the soldiers enveloped in panic and the wagon train.

Robert de Clary [De Clari Robert (app. 1170 - after 1216) is a French chronicler. Participated in the 4 Crusade, author of "The Conquest of Constantinople"], speaking of the capture by the crusaders of Constantinople in 1204, mentions the Danes and the English with axes - they stood from the city gates to the Vlacherna Palace.

Nikita Choniates [The Great Logophone, the head of the royal bedroom, the Philippine governor and Senator Nikita Nikita was born in the middle. XII century. and died shortly after 1206. fled to Nicea. Byzantine “History” author from 1118 to 1206], describing the events of 1204, wrote about the "ax-barbarians" who had crushed the Crusaders from the embankments of the ascents.

In his “History”, John Kantakuzin, describing the coronation of Andronicus III in 1316, wrote about the imperial guard - “the varangians with their axes”. And the last mention of the British armed with axes, who were in the imperial service, refers to 1404.

Axes of the following types were used.

The earliest is skeggox (the so-called “bearded ax”).

Guards axes. Armament, equipment, uniforms Varangi. H. 1

"Bearded Ax" (skeggox)

He was distinguished by a blade pulled down and a straight upper edge. The cutting edge was about 15, see. The ax handle is up to a meter long. The blade of the “bearded” ax was gradually rounded to the bottom, which, apart from the chopping ones, gave the weapon and cutting properties. This design, allowing you to take an ax under the butt (then the blade covered the hand), was convenient for combat conditions. The notch also reduced the weight of the ax.

Later, the "bearded" ax became larger, turning into a breidox - an ax with a long handle and a wide blade.

Varangian axes (breidox), XI-XII centuries. Like swords, axes sometimes had names. In the hands of a strong tall warrior, the ax is a crushing weapon that can knock a rider off his horse and cut through almost any armor

The ax was distinguished by a sickle blade and was made of high-strength metal. The blade had a width of up to 30 cm (cutting edge - 23 cm). The total length of the blade (the perimeter of the curved edge) - 45 cm. Sometimes the edge was made of even better steel, welded on the main part of the ax. The ax was the average length of 1,25 m. And the total length of the weapon was 1,5 - 1,8 m. Sekira was the favorite weapon of Varangi.

And in the palace period of the history of the Varangian Guard appears ceremonial or ceremonial hatchet.

Known and the ax with a narrow blade and a short handle - a favorite weapon of the officer's body Guard.

Axes could be richly decorated with gold and silver inlays.

A battle ax is probably the most effective (until the appearance of a halberd) weapon of the Middle Ages. It made an indelible impression on the enemy, inflicted very heavy injuries. As historical experience has shown, the action of a battle ax is destructive against any armor, allowing one blow to cut the shield, cut off a horse's head or ruin a man in two. Effectively hem an ax and spear shafts. The warrior-ax had a hatchet with his right hand below, and his left hand above. This made it possible to swing against the enemy’s right side, which was not covered by a shield. To parry the blow of the ax was extremely difficult.

The weapon showed excellent results and in the course of confrontation with heavy cavalry - in battles with the Norman knightly cavalry, Varang became the winner in the overwhelming majority of cases (and the defeat in 1081 in the battle of Dirrachia became a consequence of a flank attack). Tapestry from Bayo, dedicated to the Battle of Hastings, shows how houskl blow ax knocks rider with a horse.

Axes are not only terrible, but also multifunctional weapons. Thus, in 1122, in the battle of Eski-Zahr, the warangas of John II Comnenus, acting as axes, cut their way in the wagons of the Pechenegs, who were encircling the camp of nomadic predators. It is significant that the Pechenegs, under the cover of this peculiar wagenburg, defended for quite a long time and even successfully counterattacked, but could not oppose anything to the fierce attack of the guards ax axes.

In fact, an ax (battle ax) is the national weapon of the Varangian-Russian and Anglo-Saxon fighters Varangi. Thus, the bodyguards of the creator of the great northern empire of the king of Norway, Denmark and England Knut the Great (994 / 995 - 1035) were armed exclusively with axes. Later Khuskarly, also armed with axes, guarded the kings of England. Appearing in Varang as a model of the main offensive weapons of its first soldiers (who arrived in the empire with these weapons for service), it later became an indispensable element of the weapons of the Varangian Guardsman. The weapon successfully combined effective combat qualities with the national color of the carrier fighters, in fact immortalizing the Varangian Guard.

In the Byzantine Empire, the ax (two-handed ax) is a weapon that has become the exclusive belonging of Varanga. In the Byzantine army itself, battle axes were always held with one hand, leaving the other hand free - for the shield. A two-handed ax, though there were in the arsenals, but were used only as a tool for splitting firewood.

It is not clear whether the romfayas (romfei) were in service with Varangi.
Romfaya is a weapon of the Roman (Byzantine) guard units, guards and palace guards. Being a melee melee weapon, the romfaya had a slightly curved one-sidedly sharpened blade on a long handle (the handle, as a rule, was longer than the tip, but sometimes it was equal to the length). The blade was about 80 cm long. The bend was not pronounced. There was also a romfaya with a straight blade. It could be used both as a slashing and piercing weapon. The principle of romfayi was similar to the long Japanese sword (katana). The difference was that to increase the cutting effect required - for Katana ottyag, and for romfayi - pressure. A comfortable long handle was perfect for an ideal distribution of forces, which determined the reliability and significant stability of the weapon.

There is evidence that romfaya from the II-III centuries. was in service with the Roman army. In Byzantium romfaya was in service with the imperial guard only. If it was in the arsenal of the Varangos, it was used as a ceremonial ceremonial weapon, although, of course, we cannot exclude the possibility of its combat use. Bulgarian archaeologists have found several copies of this interesting and characteristic weapon. 3 romfayas (but with shorter blades) were also found on the site of a Georgian fortress - in the XI century. it contained the Varangian garrison.

Anna Komnina mentions romfaye - and speaks of her as an alternative to spears and swords, and uses to refer to it a term that differs from the name of a battle ax. He mentioned the single-edged weapon lying on the shoulder of the Guardsmen, and M. Psellos - he also distinguished between the axes and the romfayas.

As noted above, in addition to the battle ax, there were swords and spears in the Varang arms. Anna Komnina wrote about swords on the right shoulder [Komnina A. Aleksiada. St. Petersburg, 1996. C. 3, 9, 91]. The sword is a very expensive type of medieval weapon. [For example, an English source of X century. noted that a good sword cost 120 bulls]. A good sword was very much appreciated by the warrior, often inherited. Many swords had names.

Scandinavian swords (850-950's)

In the XI - XIII centuries. armed with Varangi swords, as a rule, were double-edged, 80 - 90 cm length with blade width 5 - 5,5 cm. Arm length - about 10 cm. Sword weight - 2 kg. To balance the heavy blade, an 3- or 5-longitudinal (later discoid) massive head was set on the end of the handle.

Swords of the XI. Pay attention to the shape of the handles.

Handles of swords X-XI centuries. You can see the 5-dolnaya head, the "case on the kettle" type head and the "walnut" type head. In the last sword, the garda is curved in the direction of the blade - this is typical of the 11th century

Handles of swords. Large head served as a counterweight, facilitating the action of the sword

Since the XIII century. the crosshairs of the sword are extended, reaching 18 - 20 cm (the average length of the crosshairs in the previous period - 9 - 12 cm). A long crosshair better protected the hand from enemy strikes that slid along the blade. Characteristic of the end of X - XII centuries. curvature of the crosshair of the sword in the XIII century. replaced by straightness. So arose the so-called. "One and a half" swords, and then two-handed.

Swords, mid-XII century.

Sword of the Varangian Guardsman, found at Drastar, Bulgaria. This surprisingly preserved copy of the end of the XI century. has a total length of 87cm and a handle length of up to 20 cm


Swords of the X - 1 half of the XI century., Balkans

Sword hilt

Varang values ​​and impact strength were valued, not the number of attacks or the art of fencing. The blade and hilt were decorated with silver, gold, copper or niello.

Handles of swords - reconstruction

Swords - reconstruction

The wooden sheath was covered with treated leather and had a metal fitting at the end. The sword was worn on the left thigh (a sling over the right shoulder or suspended from the waist belt). Bands, belts, buckles were decorated.

In the late period, both Byzantine-style sabers and European swords were used. The German two-handed swords have proven themselves to be the most effective in this period.

Auxiliary weapons were also used - daggers of different types. In X - XI centuries. The most common was the so-called. Sax (Scandinavian version - Scramasax). Blade length reached 50 cm, thickness was over 5 mm, sharpening was one-sided. Most of these blades - heavy, wide, with a straight back, which turned into a sharp end. Scramasaks were used both in Russia and in Europe.

Saxons. The second on the left has a handle with a guard. Handles are made of horn, wood or bone. The handles of some of the Saxons consist of 2 cheeks, planted on rivets, while in others the handles are solid, mounted on the shank

The scramasax blade, being quite thick, could reach 8 mm in thickness at the butt. Thanks to a decent weight, the stabbing blows of such a dagger were very strong - he pierced both leather armor and good mail.

Garda such a dagger, if there was, was small. The blade was decorated with inlay. The cheek handles were made of wood, sometimes also decorated with carvings. The head of the scramasax arm was often made in the form of the Varangian emblem - the head of a crow.

Daggers were worn in a scabbard at the thigh — the sheath and the belt were connected with the help of bronze rings. Like the sheath of swords, the sheath of some skramasaks was made of wooden plates covered with leather and richly decorated.

Asohik recalls the spears and shields, which were in service with Varangi Vasiliy Bulgaroboytsy [Asohik. General history. Moscow, 1864. C. 200-201].

A spear is a universal weapon, the main element of a medieval warrior's weapons complex. It could be used both at a distance and in melee combat.

Tip shape - diamond-shaped or leaf-shaped. Often the tips were supplied with a kind of "wings". The Wings did not allow the spear to enter the body too deeply (making the removal of weapons more difficult) and allowed the warrior to more easily repel the blows. Tip length - 15 - 30 cm. The tips of the spears were made of welded steel, and many of the Varangian spearheads had Christian symbolism - a metal cross was placed between the tip and the spear shaft (it also served as the “wings”). On the other spears, the tips were decorated with 2's ravens of the Norse god Odin, Munin and Hugin. The tips of the copies were decorated with geometric patterns and inlays.

Sheet-shaped tip of the Scandinavian spear. Found in Bulgaria

Spearheads On the bottom ill. visible "wings"

A spear in the hands of an experienced warrior is an effective weapon that dealt a powerful blow. He was held in one or in two hands - and the spear allowed not only to prick, but also to chop, deliver cutting blows, beat the shaft and fend off attacks. The piercing spear had a pole up to 2 m long. Typical for the X century. there was a 2,5 pole, cm thickness, and in the XII - XIII centuries. thickness increased to 3,5 cm.

A long spear is a convenient weapon at the time of the beginning of a hand-to-hand fight, but then, when the enemy was too close, the spear had to be thrown away and wielded with a sword or ax.

Swords and spearheads

Reconstruction of a Varangi 11 fighter.
Belezos D., Giannopoulos C. Byzantine Armies 325 AD - 1453 AD. Periscopio Publications, 2009.

To be continued

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  1. Cat
    Cat 25 October 2017 06: 51
    I liked it, we are waiting for the continuation!
    1. Cat
      Cat 25 October 2017 20: 37
      I dare to summarize, for all who commented on the author below! The article is extremely successful!
      Thanks sincerely !!!
      1. OAV09081974
        25 October 2017 21: 00
        Thank you dear Kotisch to you and all dear colleagues for your appreciation! hi
  2. kalibr
    kalibr 25 October 2017 08: 12
    Very good stuff!
  3. XII Legion
    XII Legion 25 October 2017 08: 47
    Detailed and clear
    The ability to operate with different types of weapons is a sign of versatility and professionalism
  4. Lieutenant Teterin
    Lieutenant Teterin 25 October 2017 09: 45
    A wonderful and informative article. Previously, it was not necessary to meet research on the weapons of Varanga. The author - my sincere gratitude for the work done!
  5. Barcid
    Barcid 25 October 2017 10: 11
    Good illustrations. We look forward to continuing.
  6. Barcid
    Barcid 25 October 2017 11: 25
    I would like to note one thing that the article covers the melee weapons of Varanga quite thoroughly. And it is even written about such weapons as rumfaya. Little is written about him, but nevertheless it actually preceded the saber and, in general, exploring the Byzantine military affairs, it can be noted that it overtook its time. Thanks to the author for a detailed analysis.
  7. Eight
    Eight 25 October 2017 12: 04
    The last moment in the battle biography of an ax came already in the twentieth century.
    In August 1915, the headquarters of the Southwestern Front of the Russian Army made an anecdotal attempt to arm some infantry companies with axes mounted on long arms to cover field artillery. The commander of the 9th Army, Infantry General P.A. Lechitsky, forbade the further passage of this order so as not to undermine the authority of the military authorities.
    1. Weyland
      Weyland 26 October 2017 00: 45
      Quote: Eight
      In August 1915, the headquarters of the Southwestern Front of the Russian Army made an anecdotal attempt to arm some infantry companies with axes mounted on long arms

      However, the same Austrians actively used home-made mini-morgensterns during the WWII - and didn’t worry about it!
      1. Eight
        Eight 26 October 2017 07: 38
        They used crossbows. Following your logic, did you have to introduce acrobalists to the artillery batteries?
  8. Alexey-74
    Alexey-74 25 October 2017 14: 26
    Thanks for the stuff.
  9. abrakadabre
    abrakadabre 25 October 2017 23: 30
    In the XI - XIII centuries. armed with Varanga were swords are usually double-edged, 80 - 90 cm long with a blade width of 5 - 5,5 cm. The length of the handle of the weapon is about 10 cm. The weight of the sword is 2 kg. To balance the heavy blade, a 3- or 5-lobed (later disk-shaped) massive head was set at the end of the handle.
    Wrong. The average weight of the Carolingian type sword in this era was 1000–1300 grams. The blade itself was not massive and very flexible. The Romanesque sword was also not heavy - an average of 1100-1400 grams. Only in especially large specimens the weight exceeded 1500 grams. It was simply not required. Since at this moment good armor was very expensive and not all wars had it. Well, a weakly hired opponent can be cut off with a completely light blade.
    From the 18th century the crosshairs of the sword are extended, reaching 20 - 9 cm (the average length of the crosshairs in the previous period is 12 - XNUMX cm). A long crosshair better protected the hand from enemy attacks sliding along the blade.

    Swords that have survived to our time, especially for those instances for which combat use is quite well known, do not have traces of such sliding attacks. Therefore, at the moment, this version of the functional use of the guard remains only a version not confirmed by anything. The weak arrogance of a considerable chill of fighters who used a sword imposed a completely different picture of the collision than most modern people imagine. None of the then fighters in their right mind would turn up / risk with their own hands without a plate glove / gauntlet, and often without a wrist, going to hard parry the enemy’s blade with their own blade. The sword was cherished. The shield was always actively exposed to the blow.
    There is another no less believable version: the guard protected the brush when striking the opponent’s shield.
    Typical of the late X - XII centuries. curvature of the crosshairs of the sword in the XIII century. gives way to straightforwardness. So the so-called "One and a half" swords, and then two-handed.
    What is the relationship between the curvature of the guard and the appearance of one and a half swords? No. From the word at all. Bastard swords appeared simultaneously and as a result of reinforcing armor at the end of the 12th century, with the introduction of the first brilliant vests - reinforced with surco plates and the widespread use of tire protection of limbs. For the former one-handed sword was not effective enough to break through the strengthened armor. The first one and a half swords did not differ structurally from one-handed counterparts, except for size. The practice of their use very quickly led to an increase in the length of the handle for a more comfortable pickup with the second hand.
    The shape of the guard did not in any way affect the appearance of one and a half swords.
    This is if in brief about the very beginning of their use.
    1. XII Legion
      XII Legion 26 October 2017 06: 44
      Wrong. The average weight of the Carolingian type sword in this era was 1000-1300 grams

      These facts, as I understand it, are not taken from the moon
      So there were swords
      double-edged, 80 - 90 cm long with a blade width of 5 - 5,5 cm. The length of the handle of the weapon is about 10 cm. The weight of the sword is 2 kg.
      1. kalibr
        kalibr 26 October 2017 07: 45
        No, not from the moon. There is a very detailed study of the "master of swords" Oakeshott and several other experts.
        1. XII Legion
          XII Legion 26 October 2017 08: 27
          Here I am about the same. That the author of this article meticulously approached the question - and they did not take the facts from the moon. There is a work by Oakeshot. And there are wonderful works by Kirpichnikov - built on a rich factual base
          And when some abrakadabre say:
          Wrong. The average weight of the Carolingian type sword in this era was 1000–1300 grams. The blade itself was not massive and very flexible. The Romanesque sword was also not heavy - an average of 1100-1400 grams. Only in especially large specimens the weight exceeded 1500 grams.

          That before saying "wrong"
          a) agreed on a CLEAR source and
          b) where did it come from that we are talking about the same swords.
          The weak overbearing of a considerable number of fighters who used the sword imposed a completely different picture of the collision

          It's clear
          But we must speak very carefully about "weak hospice", remembering the era (and Varanga existed for 500 years) and regional features
      2. alatanas
        alatanas 26 October 2017 10: 32
        It must be borne in mind that people in that era were much shorter in stature. It matters for the length of the blade.
        1. XII Legion
          XII Legion 26 October 2017 11: 14
          It is very relative
          For example, Napoleon is called a small corporal, a man of small stature. Is 1 meter 69 cm is a small stature? Not even now
          And in the Middle Ages, the average height of a man is 170 cm.
          Only 2 cm less than average height now
          1. alatanas
            alatanas 26 October 2017 11: 32
            Have you seen knightly armor in arms, or Thracian armor in museums? Even the size of the sarcophagus in the Thracian burials is such that it’s hard to push the 13-year-old girl of our days there
            1. XII Legion
              XII Legion 26 October 2017 13: 11
              Even now, 13-year-old girls are different
              1. kalibr
                kalibr 27 October 2017 11: 40
                Students from India and Bangladesh study at my place. Slender, small. What is the soul ... and next to my granddaughter ... "eighth-class" of my height! And the height of Henry 8 was 1 m.80.
                1. alatanas
                  alatanas 27 October 2017 16: 40
                  Tsar Kaloyan - 1m 90 cm, but these are exceptions. Thracian sarcophagi no more than 1m 60 cm long - 1m 70 cm.
                  1. XII Legion
                    XII Legion 27 October 2017 17: 38
                    Tsar Kaloyan - 1m 90 cm, but these are exceptions

                    And like Charlemagne
                    By the way, the Varangians were tall guys - and the corresponding swords
                    Thracian sarcophagi no more than 1 m 60 cm long - 1 m 70 cm.

                    Well, they answered it themselves.
                    160-170 cm is a normal average height. What now, what in the Middle Ages
                    1. alatanas
                      alatanas 30 October 2017 15: 53
                      Mortuary "butt" in the sarcophagi are not inserted. So also -10 see. Now the average growth is much larger than in the Middle Ages, even among the Japanese. In addition, the Thracian burial place is much earlier than the Middle Ages.
  10. Maksim
    Maksim 26 October 2017 00: 14
    So, in 1122 in the battle of Eski Zagra

    In fact, in the 12th century it was called Boruy, Beroe, or Vereya. And Zaara will be called by her Turks after 3 centuries.
    In fact, making articles about that period, you need to use the name of the city as it was then. And do not rewrite the names from Russian maps of the 19th century. Otherwise, Constantinople will always be Istanbul, and Kirv will be Kuev.
    1. XII Legion
      XII Legion 26 October 2017 08: 29
      And you, in my opinion, have already written about the name of this city in some kind of comment?
  11. alatanas
    alatanas 26 October 2017 10: 23
    By the way, the "bearded ax" in Bulgarian is shabby, and the other is an ax. (these items are translated into Russian from Bulgarian in one Russian word - an ax).
    1. Eight
      Eight 26 October 2017 13: 12
      Honestly, your comment did not understand. What is translated and by whom? In Russian, the ax and ax are different objects.
      1. alatanas
        alatanas 27 October 2017 09: 44
        Bradwa is a bearded ax.
        (for the dull) what
        1. Eight
          Eight 27 October 2017 10: 20
          In Russian, there is a general concept - a battle ax, which includes all its varieties, which have their own specific names, including skeggox or, in Russian, a bearded ax. Obviously, you simply do not know this.
          1. alatanas
            alatanas 27 October 2017 14: 15
            Are you Slavic blood or "skrggox" dull? He simply gave you an example of how this battle ax is from time to time and is still called Bulgarian pop. We Byzantines contacted more time. St. Clement of Ohrid even invented the Cyrillic alphabet and named it in Honor of St. Cyril. So, something, and I know, no matter how strange it was to you. Dear misunderstanding
            1. Eight
              Eight 27 October 2017 14: 20
              "He even came up with the Cyrillic alphabet of St. Clement of Ohrid and named it in honor of St. Cyril."
              This is one of the hypotheses, there are others.
              1. alatanas
                alatanas 27 October 2017 15: 46
                Lay out, discuss.
  12. felix
    felix 6 November 2018 22: 51
    Very good article)
    Except for one moment, after the picture of Swords X ХІ Balkans there is a picture with the signature - the hilt of the sword. But in the picture HELMET HANDLER