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Military discovered in the ruins of the Great Palace of Constantinople

The seat of the emperor and his ministers, also called the Great Palace or the Sacred Palace, was located on the south-eastern part of Constantinople in the district Bukoleon, and  it covered an area of about 250 acres. Within the borders of the Palace there were churches, palaces, porticos and even stables for racehorse. On the west side there was a hippodrome connected with the palace through a private passageway1. During the reign of Alexius I Comnenus (April 4, 1081 - August 15, 1118) the complex lost its original character. The new seat of emperors from dynasty of Komnenos became the The Palace of the Porphyrogenitus in the district Blacherny2.

The ruins of the Great Palace of Constantinople were researched during excavations carried out between 1935 and 1938 by Professor J.H. Baxter from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Apart from the well-preserved mosaics from the fifth century, on the rubble there were found remains of a cobbled street, but also more than 200 pieces of strip armor associated with lamellar armor. However, most of them were melted in a fire. The normal fragments were found in six regular sizes. They varied in width from 3 to 6 cm.; where the whole piece was found, the length was approximately twice the width. All were pierced with holes for attachment; the regular arrangement was three along one end, one on the other, and two along each side. On more than half the examples of each size a flange along the centre was beaten out from back to front.3The remained holes have diameters of approximately 2,5mm.  Different sizes of lamellar plates do not have to prove the presence of several armors. Based on findings from the Middle East area, there can be noticed a trend in the construction of armor made of plates in different sizes and shapes.
Frescoes of the Holy Warriors in Pavnisi and Panuwani or the fragment of a steatite icon from Traianopolis dated the twelfth century, confirm the presence of identical forms discovered during the above mentioned excavations. Similar lamellar plates of size approx. 4x9cm were discovered in Ruthenia (Dorogobuzh)4  – also dated the twelfth century.

To other spectacular discoveries belong  fragments of 9 iron battle masks of having a simple anthropomorphic form and length of approx. 18cm. Unfortunately, in most cases they are not well preserved. This type of facial protection was already known in the ancient Rome. However, in the Byzantine army it could have been possessed by mercenaries e.g. Cumans (similar findings of masks from Serensk - Kaluga Oblast or Volga Bulgaria) or used by heavy Byzantine cavalry (kataphraktoi)5.. Another argument assigns this type of facial protection to the troops dealing with the so called Greek fire.

In addition to the above-mentioned elements of the armor parts, there was found arrowhead of the lanceolate spearhead, approx. 50 arrowheads, fragments of the yoke, spurs and horse cheek protection6.

During cleaning the coin of Manuel I (1143-1180) was found, which was attached to the fragments of the findings. This allows for very precise dating of all the relics.


Military reconstructions

Military reconstructions discovered in the ruins of the Great Palace of Constantinople, dated for the end of the twelfth century.  One of nine battle masks (originally without the hinge visible in the photo), elements of lamellar armor, spear and spear arrowheads.



1   J. A. Evans, Justynian i Imperium Bizantyjskie, Wydawnictwo Bellona, 2008, p. 42.
2   Cyryl Mango: [w:] Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Oxford University Press, Inc., 1991.
3   Brett, Macaulay and Stevenson, The Great Palace of the Byzantine Emperors,  1947, p.99.
4   Літописний Дорогобуж в період Київської Русі. До історіїъ населення Західної Волині в X-XIII, Прищепа Б.А., Нікольченко Ю.М., 1996.
5    Konstantinos Porphyrogennetos, De ceremoniss, p. 669.
6   Brett, 1947.




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