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The Hidden Church
(Sakli Kilise)
The Soldiers

Two soldiers at the crucifixion show the likely armour of the lower classes of soldier in the Empire. However, care needs to be taken - it is very unlikely, for example, for a common soldier to wear a tunic of the quality shown on the soldier to the right (above). However, as the person who offers the sponge to Christ, he is possibly regarded as deserving of special treatment in the painting. An interesting detail is the vessel he carries for the liquid. It appears to be of white metal, suspended from a chain by two loops at the edges. His face is hard to make out, but he seems to have his head tilted well back, looking at Christ, and may be wearing a turban or similar headgear. The spear of the soldier on the left is probably about ten or eleven feet long, and has a fairly large head with a long socket. This may be typical of the infantry spear, as opposed to the much shorter head of the cavalry lance used by the mounted figures in the Dovecote Church, Cavusin.

The soldier on the left appears to be wearing a mail lorikion, which in this case is belted at the waist and has wide, elbow length sleeves, echoing the red tunic beneath it. Lorikia are not commonly represented in Byzantine religious art, though what this implies about the frequency of its use is uncertain. At least one, and possibly both mounted figures in the Dovecote Church in Cavusin wear mail under other armour. Perhaps mail, which provided less protection than scale or lamellar, was confined to lower class warriors.

His sword presents a problem - it is done in what appears to be a very primitive style, resembling more a child's wooden toy than a real weapon. However, the suspension straps are more realistic, attached to a baldric. The soldier appears to barelegged, and perhaps even barefoot, unlikely as this seems.

He appears to be wearing a hat, perhaps the felt kamelaukion, a "thick cap which covered the back of the neck and ears"(1) prescribed in Byzantine military manuals to be worn by lighter armed troops.

This view gives more detail of the soldier to the right of Christ. It shows more clearly that his head is tilted well back, almost at right angles, with his chin to the far left. It also shows the headgear more clearly, though not well enough to be sure what exactly it represents. My opinion is that it is most likely to be a turban, something known to have been prescribed wear for footsoldiers. This detail also definitely shows what the other only hints at - the soldier is barefoot!

(1) Haldon, J.F. "Some Aspects of Byzantine Military Technology from the Sixth to the Tenth Centuries" (Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies Vol. 1, 1975)

The left-hand soldier is referenced on p21 Byzantine Infantryman, Eastern Roman Empire c.900-1024 by Timothy Dawson
A common soldier depicted spearing Christ at the Crucifixion in the 'Hidden Church' (Tokali Kiliesi) at Göreme is protected by a mail shirt falling almost to his knees. The sword in his left hand is evidently a belt-hung spathion from the clearly visible scabbard mounts and straps (Photograph courtesy of Steven Lowe)

The left-hand soldier is referenced in figure 225 in The military technology of classical Islam by D Nicolle
225. Fresco, Crucifixion, c. 1070 AD, Byzantine, in situ, Sakli Kilise, Chapel 2A, Göreme, Cappadocia (Cor).

Back to the Hidden Church (Sakli Kilise) Cappadocia, Turkey, showing Byzantine Costume & Soldiers