The Red Kaganate

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Bek-Beké armour
By Dmitry Rukavishnikov,
Translated from Russian by Dmitry V. Ryaboy

Click images to view large versions of the same
The armour was found by I.V. Spitsin during 1948 excavations in Western Kazakhtan. This find is very interesting but regretfully poorly documented - not even a drawing of grave's layout was made.
The results of the dig were published in "Izvestiya Instituta Material'noy Kultury (Institute of Material Culture News) Issue 32 in 1949. The text below is a compilation from this publication and the unpublished excavation report, available in archive of the Archeological Institute of Russian Academy of Sciences ( Р-1 240 ). Pictures were taken from the report.
The burial date suggested by author is IX - X century (ie. the pecheneg - tork period). Regretfully, pictures of arrowheads and stirrups which can be used as dating material are not available, and this dating may not be properly confirmed (it should be noted, however, that description of chisel-pointed arrowheads is close to the type BXI, and therefore the whole burial may be a much younger Polovets one (XIV c., Golden Horde period))

Most interesting among this group of graves was the burial of an armoured warrior. It was discovered on the slope of a dune, in the region of sand hills located alongside eastern shore of lake Saraidin, Bik-Beké area, 7 km. to the east from Djanganly village. No traces of a barrow or of the contours of a grave were found.

A male skeleton was lying on the slope of a bare hillock. The warrior was lying on his back, head pointing to the East. He was clad in a sleeveless armour of iron scales, rusted toghether over time. The right arm, bent in the elbow, was lying on the stomach over the armour. The left arm was lying alongside the body and was slightly covered by the armour.
On the right-hand side of the skeleton lay horse bones - the skull and the legs; the horse's head was positioned near warrior's legs, facing West. Two iron stirrups with flat oval foot-rests and flattened upper arches with long thin slits for the belt were on the horse's back.

On the left-hand side of the skeleton was found a massive, single-edged sword with a circular guard (104 cm total length: 93 cm blade, 11 cm handle. The blade is 4.5cm at the widest point and 1 cm thick on the back edge). The last 30 cm of the sword were sharpened on both sides. Wooden plates were attached to the tang by a small pin. The handle is slightly bent towards the blade like on the saber.

Close to the handle were bones from horse's rump and several flat arrowheads with wide chisel-like points and long necks. Under the armour, on the right, by the belt, two small iron buckles and a single-edged knife were found. Small patches of leather were all that survived from the man's shoes.

Besides the burial ritual itself, the armour and the sword are particularly interesting items. The armour was shaped like a long sleeveless shirt, reaching almost to the knees, fastened on the back like a hospital gown. Dimensions: length 1.10 m , width across the shoulders 0.4 m, width of the lower edge 0.6 m (the lower part of the armour was folded up, forming a band of 4 layers of plates).

Armour is made from 6.5x3.5 cm iron lamellae, up to 1.5 mm thick. One end of each lamellae is rounded, the opposing end is cut flat and pierced with three 1 mm holes. Similar holes are located on the sides, but the advanced stage of oxidation there prevents identification of their location and number. The center of each plate is embossed with a half-spherical shape with a diameter of up to 1 cm. Shoulder protection consists of six 12 by 7 cm plates bent in an arch (three plates on each shoulder).

The lamellae were connected in horizontal rows so that the left edge of one plate covered the right edge of another, and holes on each side matched. The rows of plates are connected in the following fashion: The first upper row of plates was attached (possibly rivetted?) to four iron strips -- two in front and two on the back, placed near the shoulders. The dimensions of these strips are 19 by 3.5 cm. The plates are connected to the strips rounded end up; their lower ends are connected with a leather girdle that covers 1 cm of the plates. The leather is laced through the holes with a thong. The lower row covers the upper row by 1.5 -- 2 cm, thus forming lamellar armour consisting of 25 parallel rows.

Traces of canvas-like cloth can be found on the back of the plates. This cloth probably served as backing to the armour. Cloth of finer weave is found on top of the plates, and probably came from the clothing or the coverings of the buried man.


The original Russian article and this translation can also be found at "Tozhe Gorod" ("Also City") (http://www.tgorod.go.ru), a resource of the reenactor community of the states of the Former Soviet Union.

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