Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>800 Carolingian schola
Subjectschola, eques heavy cavalry
Culture: Frankish
Setting: Carolingian empire, western Europe 8-10thc

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Nickel 1969 p45
"From among the Germanic tribes that helped destroy the Romans, the Franks emerged as the mightiest.  Under their greatest ruler, Charlemagne, they founded the Holy Roman Empire in 800 A.D. thinking to revive the great Roman civilization.  The Frankish system of government was feudalism, rule by a warrior aristocracy bound in loyalty to an overlord.  The mark of an aristocrat was the ability to own a horse and ride into battle.  In most European languages the word for horse is the root of the word that signifies a knight; chevalier in French, cavaliere in Italian, caballero in Spanish are derived from chevalcavallo and caballo; the German Ritter means rider.  The earliest knights were armored in mail shirts, conical helmets, and round shields, with lance and sword for weapons."

* Edge/Paddock 1988 p8-9
"The earliest contenders for the title of knight are the Paladins of Charlemagne's knight are the Paladins of Charlemagne's Court, who held the Latin title eques.  These were mailed horsemen who served the Emperor in his Frankish realm.  Under Charlemagne's successors the central authority of the emperor waned, and the defence of the outposts of the empire fell more and more into the hands of the Imperial Counts, their fortresses and their mounted retainers.  These retainers were granted land in return for supporting their lord in his quarrels and in war, and it is from this that the feudal system evolved. The first chivalric poems and tales are woven around the lives of these retainers; the Song of Roland and the tales about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table have a similar origin.  By the thirteenth century the chivalric tradition had become almost as much a part of the knight as his horse.  The shedding of blood in battle and the concept of honour and loyalty to one's lord and, latterly, the the [SIC] Church, were its cornerstones.  However, the concepts were part of Germanic tribal life as early as the first century AD, and among the Celtic and other European tribal traditions a warrior élite was supported by an agrarian society in return for its protection.  In other words, the traditions of the knight, as well as the form of his equipment and armour, are influenced by, if not descended from, those of Late Antiquity, and these were themselves strongly influenced by the Celts."

* Venner 1986 p39
"A Poitiers, en 732, on estime que l'armée de Charles Martel compte un cavalier pour cinq fantassins.  Son fils, Pépin le Bref, augmente la proportion de cavaliers: un combattant sur deux.  Quelques années plus tard, avec Charlemagne, la proportion est complètement renversée, les cavaliers sont plus nombreux que les fantassins.  La raison est claire.  Un armée montée gagne en mobilité et l'empire carolingien est immense.
"Le noble guerrier franc est donc devenu par nécessité un homme de cheval: un chevalier."

* Carey/Allfree/Cairns 2006 p49
"Initially, the Carolingian army comprised mostly infantry, but as campaigning took him farther and farther from his base in Austrasia, Charlemagne soon relied increasingly on mounted troops over infantry.  His numerous capitularies point to the raised status of cavalry.  Between 792 and 793 he issued regulations requiring vassals to have a horse, shield, lance, sword, dagger, bow, quiver and arrows.  In other royal decrees wealthier nobles were ordered to come to war wearing mail and were asked to bring rations for three months of service and clothing for six.  Furthermore, these great magnates were to make certain their own vassals came on campaign with a standarized panoply consisting of shield, spear, bow and twelve arrows.  Even attendants were required to be armed with bows."

* Hábitos y costumbres del pasado 1996 p127 caption
"Soldados francos  Los caballeros montados eran la espina dorsal del sistema feudal.  Fue durante el reinado de Carlomagno que apareció la caballería armada: usaban los estribas para controlar las monturas durante las batallas.  Desde entonces, la caballería se impuso en la estrategia medieval."

* Reid 1976 p32-34
"Charlemagne's accession in 800 AD marked the start of a new phase in the art of war in Europe.  He consolidated the Frankish use of cavalry and enforced a strict code of discipline on a levy whose maintenance was the responsibility of the state.  Instead of calling every adult male to service, Charlemagne's hereban ordered small groups of men to supply the arms and equipment for one soldier.
​    "To match the Avar horse-archers and the armored hosts of Lombardy and the Saracens, the proportion of cavalry in Charlemagne's army had to be increased.  The mandate does not mention mail, decreeing only that the cavalry were to be equipped with shield, lance, sword and dagger.  By 803 AD, owners of a total of four mansi were to supply these items and one man to bear them."


* Nicolle/Reynolds 2005 p48-49
"By the late 8th century the Franks had been influenced by late Roman and more recent Byzantine forms of cavalry warfare.  They had also absorbed Visigothic and Lombardic military influences, which gave higher prominence to the mounted warrior.  Tactically, most of these traditions relied upon a small but close-packed and disciplined cavalry formation known in Latin as a cuneus.  Later Roman and some early Germanic horsemen had also adopted heavy spears for close combat, and by the late 7th century Lombardic, Visigothic and Frankish cavalry relied on the spear, though the Visigoths and their early medieval Spanish and Andalusian successors still made considerable use of javelins, as did Breton cavalry, who seemingly clung to an earlier Roman tactical tradition."

* Royal Ontario Museum > Arms and Armor
"... Les guerriers germaniques se servaient principalement de deux sortes de lances: la lance de jet et la lance d'estoc, laquelle était toujours gardée dans la main. Les fers de lance de cette époque qui ont été retrouvés ne permettent pas de faire la distinction entre ces deux sortes de lances. Quand l'empereur Charlemagne (768-814) réorganisa le système militaire des Francs et que la cavalerie lourde remplaça l'infanterie, la lance d'estoc fut à l'origine de celle du guerrier à cheval."

* Nicolle/McBride 1984 p11-12
"Spears were the most common and cheapest weapons for all warriors.  Those Frankish followers of King Carloman's envoy Dodo, who sacked the Lateran Palace in 769 AD, were seemingly only armed with spears, though they also wore mail.  Such weapons for both horsemen and infantry had large horizontal lugs or wings beneath their blades.  These were not to stop the weapon from penetrating too deeply into its victim, nor were they particularly suited to cavalry warfare as has sometimes been suggested.  Lugs first appeared on 4th-century Germanic weapons, and probably indicated a parrying, almost fencing use of the spear.  In other words the weapons were designed as pole-arms for both cut and thrust.  Such a style of spear fighting is also indicated by the languets extending from the blade some way down the shaft. These clearly protected the wooden shaft from sideways cuts by an enemy, and were well known from the 7th century onwards. Neither lugs nor languets are relevant to the couched style of lance-play."


* Edge/Paddock 1988 p8
"The first knights, the Paladins, were equipped in what is basically a debased form of late Roman armour.  For the most part they wore round or conical helmets constructed of a number of pieces, to which the modern term Spangenhelm has been applied.  These are direct descendants of the late Roman helmets produced at the Imperial Arms Factories during the fourth and fifth centuries.  As most of these factories and their workers fell into the hands of the migrating German tribes, this is hardly surprising."

* Nicolle/Reynolds 2005 p28
"Other questions concern Carolingian and post-Carolingian helmets of apparent one-piece construction.  Even more extraordinary are illustrations of fluted one-piece helmets, which appear long before Western armourers were believed capable of making such things.  Such fluted helmets are, however almost invariably worn by 'wicked' warriors such as Goliath, so it is possible that, in the eyes of monkish illuminators, such exotic protections were associated with 'enemy cultures' such as the Islamic world, where fluted helmets clearly existed by the 11th century if not earlier."

* Racinet 1988 p136
"His helmet is made of four plates of iron, which form a protective edge at the temple. His breeches are made of leather, and strips of iron have been sewn on to them for extra protection."

* Nicolle/Reynolds 2005 p60
"The helmet with an extended rear which appears in many Carolingian manuscripts has never been adequately explained.  Nothing survives in the archaeological record, but similar helmets were shown with greater accuracy in Italian art before and after the Carolingian period.  It was also in Italy that the similar salet helmet appeared in the 14th century, so it is possible that the problematical Carolingian helmet was descended from a late Roman form, which survived in Italy, and in the Byzantine empire, before spreading more widely across Europe as the 14th century salet."


* Nicolle/Reynolds 2005 p28
"The most common form of armour in Carolingian and non-Carolingian Europe was mail.  Nor was mail armour as rare as is sometimes though, although the south was wealthier in arms and armour than the north, with ex-Visigothic Septimania and the Spanish March, and ex-Lombardic Italy being most favoured.  The Byzantine Emperor Leo may have been out of date when he wrote that, 'They are armed with shields and spears and spathion kontoteron [short sword, or seax]'.  Other evidence suggests that the single-edged seax had fallen from favour by this date.
    "The most famous account of a fully equipped Carolingian cavalryman is the Monk of St Gall's description of Charlemagne himself during the siege of Pavia.  However, it was written a century after the event and must be used with caution: 'The appearance of the iron king, crowned with his iron helm, with sleeves of iron on his arms [ferreis manicis armillatus], his broad breast protected by iron armour [ferrea torace tutatis], and iron lance in his left hand, his right free to grasp his unconquered sword.  His thighs were guarded with iron, though other men were wont to leave them unprotected that they may spring the more lightly upon their steeds.  And his legs, like those of all his host, were protected by iron greaves [ocreis].'  The iron sleeves seems to be separate from the mail armour, and the leg defences could be interpreted as including rigid or splinted elements (coxarum exteriora, in eo ferreis ambiebantur bracteolis)."

* Edge/Paddock 1988 p9
"On their bodies the Paladins wore either mail birnies or hauberks, scale shirts or, more unusually, coats of lamellar armour.  Examples of the latter have been found in the graves of the Wendel people of Scandinavia and are depicted in the Golden Psalter.  The shirt of mail, formed of interlinked metal rings, first appears in Celtic graves, and the Roman author Varro assigned its invention to the Celts.  It was first used in the Classical World in third century BC and became widely disseminated.  The Carolingian mail shirt was normally knee-length or a little shorter, and was pulled on over the head.  It had a plain round neck opening with a centre-front slit, and invariably had short sleeves, which only occasionally reached as far as the elbow.  At the centre backand front it was split from hem to groin level to enable the wearer to ride.  Early mail shirts were worn over an ordinary woollen tunic, with apparently no special garment beneath.  An Edict of Charlemagne dated 805 required all t hose individuals who owned more than 300 acres of land to supply themselves with a mail birnie.  The early knights were armed with swords designed to cut and thrust, broad-bladed spears and round, convex shields."

* Vuksic/Grbasic 1993 p60
"It is now impossible to determine whether burnia was a particular type of armour, named after the metal platelets and rings (brynja) sewn on to a goatskin shirt, or just a generic term for body-armour.  Carolingian knights used armour found  throughout Europe, of the type worn by Avars and Byzantines: lamellar, mail or scale hauberk and mail coif."

* Racinet 1988 p136
"A soldier from the beginning of the ninth century -- the time of Charlemagne. His armour consists of flat plates of iron rivetted on to a base of thick leather. Below this is a skirt, like a kilt, of thick leather.

* Carey/Allfree/Cairns 2006 p67
"The mail shirt lengthened to cover the hips, and mail greaves or chausses also appeared.  The round shield gave way to a kite-shaped shield in order to protect the equestrian's leg.  These changes offered superior protection for the knight against his unmounted foes, while giving him the necessary reach to kill them."


* Vuksic/Grbasic 1993 p60
"The sword was the most expensive and important piece of equipment; its production required great forging skill, and its quality reflected the status of its owner."

* Calizzano 1989 p58
"La période carolingienne produit des épées à lame nettement plus longue et atteignant le mètre.  Pour équilibrer le poids, le pommeau terminal de la poignée devient plus massif et la plaque ovale de la garde se transforme en une barrette à section quadrangulaire d'environ 12 cm de long.  Cette arme convient essentiellement aux coups du tranchant et aux fendants à la poitrine, et ppermet manifestement d'appliquer des coups puissants, spectaculaires et décisifs.  La littérature chevaleresque de l'époque fait état de combats réglés par un coup bien asséné qui défonçait un casque ou tranchait net une cotte d'armes et une bonne partie du chevalier qui se trouvait dessous.  De célèbres épées appartiennent à ces deux périodes: ScaleborDurendal ou Joueuse de Charlemagne qui, d'après la légende, portait planté dans son pommeau un clou de la Sainte Croix."

* Carey/Allfree/Cairns 2006 p66-67
"The rise of medieval heavy cavalry can be traced in the technological evolution of arms and armour, with the centrepiece of the knight's offensive arsenal being his sword.  The evolution of the cavalry sword in Europe dates back to the Roman spatha and Germanic swords of antiquity, long narrow weapons designed for slashing rather than thrusting.  In the Germanic world, the sword was a symbol of manhood, sometimes given to a boy at birth or at his naming, or presented at his majority as a symbol of his rite of passage from child to warrior.  These weapons were often given personal names and became heirlooms passed on from generation to generation.  In Charlemagne's many capitularies that refer to weapons, the sword is always prominent and was often represented as the cavalryman's primary weapon.
    ​"Evidence of the primacy of the sword in the Carolingian cavalryman's panoply can be seen in the disappearance of the francisca and single-eged scramasax in the eighth century, replaced by the 44 inch long sword, better suited by its reach for combat on horseback."

* Tarassuk/Blair 1979 p471
"In the Carolingian period the various parts of the grip became more defined and specialized in their function; the elongated small oval plate peculiar to the Merovingian period was turned into a small four-sided bar about 10 cm. (4 in.) long, i.e., the guard. The wooden grip ended in a pommel with a rectangular base which was larger and more massive at the center. The form of the Carolingian sword clearly shows that it was an excellent fighting weapon designed for cutting; larger and longer than the earlier swords, it measured 95 cm. (37-40 in.), the increase in length, and thus weight, being counterbalanced by a more massive pommel."


* Nicolle/McBride 1984 p12
"By Carolingian times the Frankish throwing axe or fransiska had been abandoned in favour of the seax, a single-edged short-sword or large dagger.  This may again have been of nomadic Asiatic inspiration, as was the contemporary Islamic khanjar.  While in Scandinavia the seax developed into a sizeable single-edged sword, in Frankish Europe it became a shorter dagger known as a scramasax."