Arms and Armour of the
Crusading Era, 1050-1350
By David Nicolle
9A-D Carved capitals, Duchy of Burgundy, c.l120
(in situ Church of La Madeleine, Vezelay, France)
A - 'Infidel in combat with a knight'; B-C - 'Goliath'; D - 'David'. Though largely fanciful, the figure of the 'Moorish' or 'Saracen' infidel (A) includes a number of interesting features. His peculiar leaf-shaped sword is clearly meant to be different from normal Christian weapons. On his head he appears to wear a mail cap and he carries a small kite-shaped shield with an angled axis similar to those shown on slightly later carved capitals from the Crusader church in Nazareth. The figures of Goliath and of David are muchmore straightforward. They wear long-sleeved mail hauberks without coifs and are armed with broadswords hanging from belts rather than baldrics. Their shields are typically large kite-shaped types. The helmets are, however, distinctive. All are conical, fluted, and have slightly curved lower rims. They also have chin-straps which pass directly through small extensions to the sides of the helmets. Perhaps we have here either an idiosyncratic local variation or an attempt to make the helmets look 'exotic'.
10A-G 'Races of Mankind', carved relief, Duchy of Burgundy, 1120-5
(in situ central tympanum, Church of La Madeleine, Vezelay, France)
A - ' Lydian hunter' ; B-C - 'Weapons of Italians' ; D - 'Lydian hunter' ; E-F - 'Saracens'; G - 'Mace of a Saracen'. The slightly later carvings on the tympanum at Vezelay use both similar (E) and dissimilar (F) conventions to indicate mail. The interpretation of this relief as a stylised representation of the Races of Mankind is by no means certain, but if the identification is correct, then the weapons given to each indicate some interesting current opinions about various peoples. A mace (G) would, in fact, be correctly associated with Muslims. The 'Lydians' are shown as simple and uncivilised huntsmen who hold simple rather than composite bows (A and D). One of these would clearly be considered a longbow (D). Note that when unstrung the string of this weapon has slipped down the bow itself. A bag-like quiver hangs from a shoulder-strap. At this time, in almost all parts of Europe, the longbow was regarded as a hunting rather than as a war weapon, though exceptions were found in areas under strong Scandinavian, Byzantine or Islamic influence. Two supposed Italians hold peculiarly hooked spears (G and D). Since the Italians were noted sailors, these may represent militarised 'boat hooks'. On the other hand the northern Italian cities were already famous for effective infantry militias, so these weapons could be seen as exaggerated versions of a type of infantry weapon designed both for thrusting and for pulling horsemen from their saddles. As such it could be regarded as a forerunner of the halbard. It is also interesting to note that the designer of this carved relief might have considered the true 'Saracens' as armoured horsemen in the same mould as Crusader knights (E and F).
11 'Flight into Egypt', carved capital, Duchy of Burgundy, c.1120-30
(in situ Cathedral, Autun, France)
Joseph's weapon appears to be another example of a large, single-edged blade mounted on a short thick haft. Such a weapon could have evolved out of the single-edged, but long-hafted, so-called 'war-scythe' and may in turn have evolved into the 13th-century/a/c/rfon.12 'Life of St Nicholas', carved relief on a font, County of
12 Flanders, 1150-75
(in situ Cathedral, Winchester, England)
Fonts carved from hard black stone were a speciality of Tournai and were exported to many places. This example shows what could be regarded as a version of the 'bearded axe', in which the blade extended down and back from a point level with the place where its sleeve went over the haft. Such a style would become popular in central and eastern Europe. In the north and west, however, war-axes developed differently, with an upwards-sweeping edge evolving out of the almost symmetrical 10th and 1lth-century so-called 'Danish axe'.
13 'Visions of Sts Peter and Paul', carved relief on a font, County of Flanders, early/mid-12th century
(in situ Church of Our Lady, Dendermonde, Belgium)
St Paul or one of his companions lies prostrate on the road to Damascus. The figure wears a perfectly normal long-sleeved mail hauberk, but on his head is a helmet clearly made in two pieces joined along the central comb and reinforced by a band around the rim. Such helmets were more commonly seen in the south but were not normally associated with Northern Europe by the 12th century.
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