Weapons Of The Bagratid Dynasty 9th – 11th Centuries

Modern Armenia, which is located in the South Caucasus region, is much smaller than medieval Armenia, which was ruled by the Bagratid dynasty. The Bagratid Kingdom was a decentralized state with a well-developed suzerain-vassal system, where small kingdoms, like Syunik, Vaspurakan, Tashir-Dzoraget, and Kars, had their own autonomy. They recognized the authority of the Bagratid King only in questions of war and peace.

In addition, the map above shows Armenia’s two powerful neighbors – to the west – the Byzantine Empire and the Arab Caliphate in the East and their vassal states.

Types of Armors

The Bagratid army wore three types of armors: lamellar, scale and leather armors. Let’s have a look at these armors one by one.

Lamellar armor

The best quality of armor was the lamellar armor, which consisted out of small rectangular plates of iron or bronze, laced in horizontal rows. From the end of the 10th century, craftsmen started using rivets for fastening the plates, which greatly simplified production and improved impact resistance.

Scale armor

The scale armor had a similar type of construction, with only one difference: the plates had an oval form while attached to each other and to a backing of cloth or leather in overlapping rows (like fish scales). Armenian warriors often used mail (a type of armor consisting of small metal rings linked together in a pattern to form a mesh). On average, a scale armor could weigh between 15 to 20 kilograms.

The scale armor was also an expensive type of protective gear to wear, so only a select group of honored warriors named ‘Azats’ of noble blood could afford one. The Azat warrior class were the prototype knights of Western Europe.

Leather armor

The ordinary soldiers and militia used to wear the popular and cheap leather type of armor, which had poor protective properties.

Helmets

Archaeological artifacts found in Armenia demonstrate the popularity of copper or iron helmets. These helmets often had a cone form which offered a better protection against sword attacks.

Other elements of body armor

According to Hovhannes Draskhanakerttsi, the Armenian nobles used other elements of the body armor to provide themselves with additional protection:

“In addition to lamellar or scale armour, Armenian nobles used vambrace, greave and copper plates which covered the back, breast, elbow pads from enemy attacks”.

A great part of the Armenian nobility were horsemen, which contributed to developing a great cavalry tradition in Armenia. Because of this, Armenian horsemen were highly popular during the 10th-11th centuries in the Near East and the Byzantine Empire as mercenaries. When the Armenian state was eventually conquered by Byzantium in 1045, a process of emigration started between the two states and as a result, the popularity of Armenian warriors in Byzantium increased.

Weapons of the Bagratids

Just like any army, Armenians also used swords, spears, axes, arrows and bows and so forth. The following overview will present the most used weapons by the Bagratids.

The Sword

The Armenian nobility most frequently used a typical one-hand sword, which had the length of around 75-80 cm. Swords could be sharpened on one or both sides.  In the picture below, you can see a saber, which appeared after the Seljuq invasion at the end of 11th century.

The Armenia landscape was rich with a material called ‘bulat’ – a quality iron with a high carbon content. This iron was used for the production of the bulat steel, which according to legends, could cut the enemy’s armor.

The Spear

Even though the sword was a very effective weapon of the Bagratid army, the most popular weapon was the spear, because it was cheaper to produce. There were mainly two types of spears in usage; the long spear and the short spear.

The spear was used by the Bagratid infantry against the enemy cavalry. The length of the long spear was 3 to 4 meters long, so the warrior using it had to hold it with both hands.

The short spear would be between 1 and 1,5 meters long, also used by the calvary. The shorter length of this particular type of spear would allow the soldier to hold it in one hand, leaving his other hand free to ride a horse or hold a shield.

Shields

In the picture below you can see a kite-shaped shield, which is generally regarded as a European development, however, it may have appeared in the Near East as an infantry shield (even though round shields were widely used by Armenian infantry). It’s a good example of how military traditions spread from the East to the West. These shields were made out of wood and leather.

Bows and Arrows

One of the most difficult and interesting questions deals with the use of bows and arrows during battles by the Armenians. There are many miniatures and reliefs, where archers (who had an oriental appearance) are using сomposite bows. In Armenian historical sources from the 9th-11th centuries, bows and arrows are very rarely mentioned. We only have one detailed description written by Hovhannes Draskhanakerttsi, where Armenian archers on boats had won a sea battle on Lake Sevan against the Azerbaijani Sajid dynasty. In my opinion, Armenian archers only performed an auxiliary function in battle, but they also served in the fleet and in castles as guard service.

When the Seljuk Turks first came to Armenia in the year 1016, they had a battle with the Vaspurakan king.

Matthew of Edessa described this battle as such:

“The Turkic warriors sent down a thousand arrows from their bows, killing Armenian soldiers. The Armenian commander said to his king – My king, we need to turn back because most of our soldiers were wounded by the arrows. Let us retreat and defend against those weapons that we see in the hands of infidels. Only the making of an other types of armor will protect us from their arrows”.

From this, we’ve learned that the Armenian armor was not suited against the arrows of the Seljuk Turks since Armenian warriors didn’t use projectile weapons often. This was one of the reasons why the Seljuk Turks were able to rapidly conquer the Caucasus, and eventually defeat the Byzantine army during the battle of Manzikert in the year 1071.

Written by, Dmytro Dymydyuk Historian in Medieval History & Byzantine Studies historyofarmenia.org

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