Ludy Europy Wschodniej
Military equipment

According to the way of imaging used in sculpture, the Polovtsian women were very frequently equipped with knives of diverse blade length, held in sheaths, installed on the right and the left side of the belt with straps. In some cases, two knives were carried. There are also images of women armed in quivers, placed on the right or the left side of the belt. One of the statues presents a woman armoured in a typically masculine breast plate, installed by a system of straps, with a sabre at her left side.

The finds of iron knives in feminine burials prove a common use in daily life, in which they had both utility and military usages. Knives were discovered both near the left and the right hand. There were also cases of two knives in a grave, placed by the right hand, under the left arm or by the feet of the dead.

Purely military was the nature of the following items: an iron sabre, placed by the right hip of the dead, an iron khanjal, lying by the left side of the skull of the dead, a massive iron axe, discovered in a feminine burial and the elements used to install a quiver. These finds confirm the reports of the medieval European travellers, speaking with admiration of the Polovtsian women, who could wield weapons and who could compare their energy and physical agility with men.

Within the burial inventory of a female warrior, a leather armour, combined with copper bows. It is difficult to describe the appearance of a ceremonial silver armour, also found in a woman's burial, as, unfortunately, the authors of the research have not included a detailed description of this unusual burial gift.


The Polovtsian warriors, according to the images of the steles, were armed in combat knives and sabres. They were also wielding a neuroballistic weapon, which was common for the nomads, namely the bow. Their bodies were protected by breast plates and rarely full armours. The heads were protected from various mechanical damages by diverse helms.

The chainmail is not presented on statues, though it was known and used by the Polovtsians, which is proved by numerous finds of such items in burial inventories. They were probably worn under caftans, which is the reason why the only element of body protection presented on the steles were breast plates, installed with a system of straps.

The images of smooth, oval breast plates, appeared very commonly on stone statues. The plates were adorned with lines on the circuit. The straps of the armours were embossed or shod with metal plates.

[Rozmiar: 24198 bajtów]
Visible ornament of helm's band    
and massive ring shaped earring    

With that in background, the only known image of a warrior in armour seems to be unusual. The statue presented a warrior with breast plate, two flat plates on the sides and a back plate, worn on a caftan (the armour was similar to a cuirass). The ferrules protected as well the arms and forearms of the man. The buckles, holding the back and breast plates with straps were well visible. Metal belts secured the haunches. It is difficult to tell, whether the armour was metal or simply combined leather elements and metal ferrules. This statue also imaged a different type of helm, a skull cap with foils, with a visible ornament of the top of the helm.

Ring helms with one rim or Ruthenian type helms were most commonly imaged on steles. In some cases, it is difficult to tell if the item was a helm or a cap. There are known images of warriors: in helms with a kind of visor and in skull caps.

The quivers with arrows and bows in holsters were carried by the belt. In some cases, the arrowheads with clearly carved leaves (rhomboid or two-horned) are visible in the quivers. The bows were most commonly placed beside the sabres, by the left side, which is visible on several statues. The steles showing warriors with bows, holsters or quivers on the left or right side of the belt have been found.

A chain mail
A chain mail - found loosely near Kalka,  
Donetsk Oblast.  

The sabres were held exclusively on the left side. Knives and khanjals were more commonly carried on the left than on the right side of the belt.

Masculine burials contained a much richer inventory of militaria – there were also other kinds of weapons that presented on the steles: pole arms (spear, javelin), blunt weapons (axe, mace) and armour (shield).

Iron chain armours were common burial inventories, they were set in the grave pits, for example: near the left leg, at the feet, by the right side, folded and set beside the body, on the breast, by the left side and sometimes laid under the warrior. In some cases, two chain armours were found near the dead. The chain armours were gilded, some had bronze sleeve shells.

0180 Donieck 2007-8
Breast plates (detail)   

Breast plates, numerously imaged on the statues, occurred seldom in burial inventories. In the archives of Taganrog museum (Rostov oblast), notes, referring to the archaeological research of 1902 have been preserved. These notes describe the discovery of a burial under a kurgan, in which two round, bronze plates, swaddled in leather and wrapped in thin, silver foil have been found. These plates covered the breast of the dead, with some pieces of straps. In the region of the High Ingushetia, during the research on a complex of cemeteries dated for 13th or 14th century, a significant amount of bronze breast plates, discovered by one, two or three in each burial, has been found. The plates had diverse diameter. They were installed on the chest by a system of straps. The researcher, E.I Naroznyi remarked that these region has never been populated by the nomads and the plates have been acquired by the multi-cultural population directly from the Polovtsians not earlier than in the 2nd half of the 13th century. The plates occurred in the territory also during the period of the Golden Horde's dominance. Until present days, the researchers vary in opinions concerning this element of armour, starting from the size, material, true function and ending with the creators of the archer. It can be assumed that they were not deposed in the graves because of cult reasons (e.g.: a taboo, forbidding to include the plates in the grave inventory) or a custom (e.g.: to pass the plates on to a family member). There is some proof that empty quivers and holsters without bows were put beside the people who died by a blow hitting the head. Perhaps that the lack of plates was related with the cause of their owner's death.

0183 Donieck 2007-8
Breast plate whangs, installed on the back,   
with use of an oval buckle (detail)    

The find of the remains of an armour in form of small iron plates sewed upon a leather caftan, covering the chest of a warrior or the pieces of leather belts from a strap armour prove that such kind of armour was also used by the Polovtsians.

Among the helms preserved in the burial inventories, the following items have been found: relatively frequently occurring Ruthenian helms, a well conserved iron conical helm, with leather and felt wad, skull caps and their elements (made in bone or metal), set by the left or the right side of the dead. In some cases, chainmail was installed in a helm to protect the cheeks and the nape.

The quivers were made of wood or birch bark. They were attached with bone rings or hooks. They were put by the right and more rarely also by the left side of the dead, sometimes on the lid of the log. A ceremonial quiver, wrapped with leather and adorned with amber was found at Zamoznoye site. The quivers were also adorned with metal overlays, painted and ornaments, in shape of lines, dots, curves, plants, geometrical forms or modified deer horns were also carved in wood.

Bows, especially bone overlays of forks and the rod, were rich adorned with the motif of slanting lines or with geometrical forms, were placed by the left side of the dead or on his chest and seldom by the right side. A bow in ceremonial holsters, adorned with amber, has been found in an aristocrat's grave at the Zamoznoye site. A find of a bow with an Arabic inscription carved on and an iron ring, protecting the archer's finger, lying by the left side of the dead, is known.

A shank oar shape arrowhead
A shank oar shape arrowhead - found loosely, Donetsk Oblast.

Numerous were the finds of the arrowheads with leaves of different times (with a shank, rhomboid, two-feathered and oar-like) and with preserved wooden parts of the arrow, with slits for a bowstring. The rods were painted in red or wrapped up in golden foil. The arrowheads were made of cast metal or of bone.

Szabla i łuk w łubiach
Kołczan ze strzałami i sakiewka

Over the heads of the warriors, the spearheads with sleeves, made of iron, have been found. The heads of the javelins were lying at the right or at the left side of dead, or near his head.

Sabres were very common, they were set at the right side of the dead. Seldom were the sabres set by the right hand of the warriors. The steles present them as held at the left side of the belt. It is probable that some Turkic beliefs could encourage the people to set the sabres in graves at the opposite side to at which they were held at life, as these beliefs presented the Underworld as a mirror reflection of the mortal world. E.g.: a ceremonial sabre in an aristocrat's grave at the Zamoznoye site was placed in this manner. In many cases, shod, wooden, sheaths have been preserved. They were made of lime wood and rich adorned with small metal plates. A sharp-edged sword, set at the left side of the dead was a rare find.

A sabre
A sabre dated for 12th-13th century - found loosely, Donetsk Oblast

Iron knives, often preserved in sheaths, belong to a numerous category of specimens, discovered in Polovtsian burials. They were set at the right or at the left side, at the feet or on the thighs of the dead. Ceremonial sheaths were adorned with inlaid plates of bronze. The following items can be classed as more utility than military items: a ceremonial knife with a gilded hilt, in an adorned sheath, found at the left side of a dead aristocrat, a knife used to prepare arrows, with gilded ferrule and two miniature knives of unknown purpose. The combat knives were also cutting weapons in fight. The khanjals, in some cases, with their sheaths did not have a fixed place of attaching, they have been found at the right side of the dead, at his feet, near his head. They could also be fixed on the back or at the left side.

Blunt weapons are represented by a ceremonial axe, inlaid with gold and adorned with geometrical and zoomorphic motifs (running deer and moose) and by an iron mace, fixed on a massive handle and set on the lid of the grave.

A ceremonial, wooden shield, covered with leather and adorned with small silver plates and amber, lied at the right hand of a dead khan at the Zamoznoye site.


Gołębiowska-Tobiasz A.
2004 - „Inwentarze grobowe a stele antropomorficzne u Połowców”, Katalog – and further sources there. Master Theses, no. 339, stored at IAUJ (The Institute of Archaeology at the Jagiellonian University).