12th century Western equipment - Louvre photos

Viking raiders or Frankish nobility?

12th century Western equipment - Louvre photos

Postby Rutger » Sat May 03, 2014 2:03 pm

A few weeks a go, I was lucky enough to be able to visit the Louvre museum in Paris. Because of its immense size, it is often advised that you pick only a few subjects you want to see and stick to them zealously. So, I decided to focus on early medieval art, which would be useful for inspiration for various SAGA projects and perhaps also supply a bit more historical references for choosing correct figures for the period.

First up, some Carolingian infantry from around 900.


A few things stick out, first of all, none of them are wearing armour. Second, notice the small round shields. Third, notice how they're all wearing that weird Carolingian style helmet.

Next, two military leader figures from a number of plaques which were dated to the period of 1160-1170 somewhere in France.


This is where it gets really interesting:
1. Both chainmail shirts are slit at the sides, not at the front, so are most likely meant for infantry combat (in a period when the mounted milites was dominant)
2. Both chainmail shirts are fairly short, reaching to the thighs and the elbow. No chainmail mittens or trousers are evident.
3. Both chainmail coifs appear to be very loose, not as tightly wrapped around as we've come to expect in this Crusading period.
4. Both helmets are of very different colour than the chainmail, suggesting that they might have been painted?

Not much to notice on this Scandinavian cavalryman from somewhere in the 12th to 13th century, except maybe the fact that he doesn't appear to be wearing a mail coif under his helmet and the lovely shape of his kiteshield (with shieldboss I might notice):

This was an extraordinary little treasure chest for a reliquary, dated to the end of the 12th century, if I recall correctly:

A few interesting things:
1. Notice here too that the chainmail only reaches to below the elbow and that chainmail mittens are absent.
2. Notice the absence of the nasal guard on the helmet. Perhaps this is merely to portray the face better, but it will come back elsewhere as well.

This was a fantastic piece of glass-in-lead (is that the term) from the History of Saint Blaise. From France, dated to the "first quarter of the 13th century", which I think is significant!


Things that caught my eye:
1. Again, the absence of nasal guards on helmets. None of these figures have it.
2. The use of heavy axes on some figures, in addition to their regular swords.
3. The interesting way in which their belts are tied. The belts don't appear to be made of heavy leather, but light curly fabric.
4. The pointy star pattern decorations on the yellow shield, which is also depicted in some Ospreys on Normans/Crusaders
5. The use of a small blue round shield in this late period.
6. Once again, the fact that many helmets appear to be painted.
7. The fact that many soldiers are fighting without helmets on and shields.
8. The absence of chain mittens or leg armour, in a period when this was supposedly already quite common.
9. The fact that their chainmail shirts are slit at the front, rather than the sides, but that they are still fighting on foot, rather than horseback. Perhaps it is some sort of urban fight.

A great sculpture of the fight between David and Goliath, from the "middle of the 12th century", which also had Goliaths horse on the side:


1. I think the amazing amount of detail on the sling indicates that this weapon was still in regular use at this time.
2. Once again, the absence of a nasal guard is striking (literally, because this lack of protection is what kills Goliath here)
3. The absence of the shieldboss combined with the very wide shield rim is very interesting. Haven't seen this type of shield before. I wonder if its actually a shieldrim or if its decorative painting.

Another great sculpture, this time of an infantry formation in action (quite rare, I think). Unfortunately, I didn't write down the period and location, but I think it was late 12th century.


Once again, a few observations:
1. The combination of armoured and non-armoured figures in the formation.
2. Again, the absence of nasal guard on helmet and relatively short chainmail shirt to elbows and knees.
3. The grips on the shield appear to be placed vertically, rather than horizontally.

Then finally, the most stunning piece of the whole museum. I was very fortunate, because there was a temporary exhibition of pieces from a monastery in Switzerland dedicated to Saint Maurice, who is often depicted as a soldier. Here is a link to a YouTube clip about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7So49NkmSs

This is a panel of Saint Maurice on a silver reliquary chest which is dated to exactly 1165:


(the second picture is from book, which is a bit clearer. I wasn't allowed to take photos in this particular exhibition, so I had to to it quickly)

A few noteworthy things:
1. The shape of the helmet. It wasn't a normal round spangenhelm, but was slightly angular and the point was tipped forward. Again notice the absence of a nasal guard.
2. The shape of the banner. I came across this shape when searching for Hospitaller banners as well. Very nice looking on a miniature I suspect.
3. The detail and decoration on the horse harness.
4. The relatively short length of the chainmail: once again, it only reaches to the thighs and elbows.
5. The long robes he is wearing underneath the chainmail.
6. The extensive decoration on the shield. I've not seen this type of cross on a shield before either. It looks almost Byzantine.
7. The fact that the sword scabbard is partially covered by the chainmailshirt, just like on the Conquest Miniatures Norman knights.

Finally, a stunning piece showing the execution of Saint Maurice that was on the bottom of that big silver head you can see in the YouTube clip. Same style and period as the piece above.


1. Notice the significant differences between the different chainmail shirts. The two on the left are once again quite short: to above the knee and slightly below the elbow. However the one on the right reaches down to the wrists and to below the knee. All are slit at the front btw.
2. Can I see mustaches on all three armoured figures?
3. Sword scabbards above the chainmail this time.
4. None of them wearing helmets, just like many of the figures in the glass-in-lead piece.

Now, what does this mean for us wargamers? I was quite surprised by the almost universally short type of chainmail shirts until very late in the 12th and start of 13th centuries. Of course, this is only a small amount of data, not representative, but still.

I think the most important conclusion is that the Conquest Norman figures are useful until a bit later than I assumed. The are simply perfect for most of the figures on display at the Louvre.

It also means that the usefulness of the Fireforge Miniatures Templars is definitely pushed back a bit (though only if your anal enough about this stuff). I had thought they would be acceptable for late 12th century, but I'm not so sure now.
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Re: 12th century Western equipment - Louvre photos

Postby Mike@ConquestGames » Sun May 04, 2014 11:54 am

An excellent walk-through of what you found on display at the Louvre exhibition - many thanks for sharing these details.

We designed our Normans to be usable over as wide a time period as possible (possibly to the 2nd Crusade in some cases), so utilised aspects from different periods on the same miniature, but not in such a way as to make them too anachronistic. Being a history and archaeology graduate I had access to many sources/collections that were unavailable to the public at the time and I tried to use as much of what I found on each miniature.

Your comments on the mail armour were very observant - knights would need the split to be up the front and back to allow for ease of use on horseback, and the side slits would make things a lot easier for the infantrymen to walk in. During the earlier crusades many knights lost all of their horses to either starvation or combat - this would have led to many knights having to walk! Some were so embarrassed by this that they took to riding cows just so they could show that they were still knights - a knight lost his position if he did not have a have a horse! Vanity and status were obviously very important to medieval warriors.

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Re: 12th century Western equipment - Louvre photos

Postby Rutger » Mon May 05, 2014 12:06 pm

My pleasure Mike. If you're a historian and archeologist you're aware of how careful this sort of evidence must be interpreted. I certainly wouldn't claim that it consists of proof of any sort.

Yet I must say I was struck by how uniform the chainmailshirts are depicted for this period.
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