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Meaning of colors in the Byzantine army

Throughout the Byzantine period, color choice remained among the most powerful expressions of symbolism1.Since the late Roman period there had begun the process  aimed at replacing the Roman red tunics with colorful costumes. This may be confirmed in the multicolor iconography, however, it is worth noting that although the painters/miniaturists used  completely different pigments , they drew inspiration from everyday life. An important cognitive work was of the De Ceremoniis Treatise (De ceremoniis aulae byzantinae), by Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (reigned 913-959). - Major and minor ceremonies are described in minute detail from the perspective of court officials who staged secular rituals2.

In the famous medieval handbook on artistic techniques, the Monk Theophilus (ca. 1110-40) indicated on strong impact of the Greeks in terms of colors.

The color blue (obtained from indigo produced in large quantities in this region) and red (e.g. madder, cochineal) were the dominant colors of the apparel of the Byzantine army3. There was also a shade of green (a mixture of various herbs)  and natural / white color being the original color of linen or linen bleached with natural techniques - this color is assosiated with units of kandidatoi. These four colors probably originated from the circus faction4.
The sources mention colourful kremasma, nevriks, himations, epilorikons/epanoklibanions or kabadions. The latter is synonymous with skaramangion courttunic  in shades of carmine or teal or even  embroidered with gold thread and pearls, which was characteristic for commanders of the military units and constituted a part of emperor’s parade costume5.

Each military unit of the Byzantine army had its own color scheme depending on the function and stationing region. Colors of tunics in one bandon were uniform. The same way of marking was reflected in paintings and colors of  shields or the simple simeia signs which were used on their surface.


Hand-woven natural indigo dyed cotton (various shades depend on the amount of pigment and the length of the dyeing process).

Footgear was produced by shoemakers (from the 12th century onward, the traditional terms for shoemaker began to be replaced by the word tzangarios). Shoes were usually black or white (alum bleached), though bright colors (purple, green, blue) had social significance and were worn by the emperor and officials of highest ranks6.

vegable tanned leather

Vegable tanned leather. From the left: natural color - nude, brown obtained by rubbing linen oil, dark grey – naturally dyed.



1  Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Edited by ALEXANDER P. KAZHDAN, Oxford University Press 2005, p. 482.
2   Ibidem, p.595.
3   Byzantine Armies 886-1118, I. Heath, A.McBride, p. 30.
4   Circus Factions: Blues and Greens at Rome and Byzantium, A. Cameron, Oxford University Press.
5  De Ceremoniis, p.577-578.
6   Byzantine Infantryman Eastern Roman Empire c. 900-1204, T. Dawson, A.McBride, p.42
7  Buzantinōn bios kai politismos, F. I. Koukoules, Institut français d'Athènes.



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