The Ostrogoths were amongst the main opponents of the Eastern Romans during the 6th century, particularly during the long Gothic War in Italy (535-553).
Reconstructing the proper equipment of an Ostrogothic warrior is a difficult task. Being the archaeological finds that could be directly linked to the Ostrogoths quite rare, we have to cross various sources (archaeological, visual and written ones) coming from a variety of contexts, in particular from the Eastern Roman Empire.
Clothing and footwear.
Apart from belt fittings and brooches, no archaeological finds of Ostrogothic clothing have ever been found.
The reconstruction of the clothing has to be based on those iconographical sources, of Byzantine production, in which there are figures of Barbarians which had been identified generally as “Germanic”.
The two main visual sources are the Ivory Barberini (to be dated between the reigns of Anastasius and Justinian) and the silver plate of Isola Rizza (first half of the 6th century). Both sources features Barbarians wearing tunics and large trousers sporting decorative stripes with lozenges motifs.
Both the typology of clothing and of decoration, probably of Eastern origin, were widespread in the Mediterranean basin between 6th and 7th century.
The model of the tunic is copied from specimens found in the Egyptian necropolis of Antinoe, which feature tassels under the sleeves and on the sides. The typical “T shaped” decoration is taken from archaeological sources too, and confirmed by various iconographical sources.
The trousers are partially taken from finds from both Germanic and Egyptian areas which, although being afar, sports the very same features and shape. However, in line with the iconographical sources, we decided not to have the bottom cut and laces which were present on the archaeological examples, apparently being totally absent from the visual sources.
Lozenge decoration are widely supported by archaeological finds, almost exclusively coming from Byzantine Egypt, that are in museums all around the world.
To choose the belt, which is almost invisible in our iconographical sources, we could rely on various archaeological specimens both Ostrogothic and Byzantine, coming from Italy, in particular from Emilia Romagna and Rome. In the first half of the 6th century, the typical belt worn by the Ostrogoths usually featured a simple buckle with a rectangular belt plate. The plate, as confirmed by various archaeological finds – such plates have been also found in Rome –, could either be plain or richly decorated. Another typology of buckle, widespread from the second quarter of the 6th century and that could either feature the belt plate or not, was the type with solid ring and shield-shaped barb, a model that will be still used during the 7th century.
For our reconstruction, we did choose the first type of buckle. We also added a simple strap end, without any decoration.
Finally, a last, difficult element to reconstruct are the shoes, since we don’t have any archaeological finds and since from our two main visual sources, they aren’t represented very clearly. However, we luckily can gain some information from an Eastern Roman written source, the Strategikon, a famous military treatise probably written by emperor Maurice Tiberius (582-602). In the chapter dedicated to infantry, the author describes describes shoes of Gothic typology, “with thick soles, broad toes, plain stitching, and fastened with no more than two clasps”. Low, simple shoes with no or simple fastening were widely used by the Eastern Romans: in particular, such types of shoes, that could be linked with the ones described in the Strategikon, were found in great numbers in Egypt. For our reconstruction, we opted for shoes copied from a pair found in the necropolis of Antinoe.
In our reconstruction of Ostrogothic warrior, we didn’t have any cloak. This would have probably been very similar to a Roman sagum, fastened on the right shoulder by a crossbow fibula.
Amongst the Germanic peoples, during the Late Antique period, a complete defensive panoply could be afforded only by the richest persons (i.e. aristocrats). In particular, the armour was probably one of the most expensive pieces of military equipment.
The presence of armours amongst the Ostrogoths is well testified by Procopius of Caesarea – Ostrogothic noble warriors and “champions” wearing armours, although the typology is never specified, are mentioned in a number of occasions in the “Gothic War” –, and the famous medallion of Senigallia shows king Theoderic wearing a scale armour with pteryges, derived from Roman models.
However, armours were probably something that could have been hardly seen in an Ostrogothic army of the period, and in fact also the two warriors on the Isola Rizza silver plate don’t wear any body defence. So, for our reconstruction we opted not to use any armour.
Probably, helmets were a more affordable piece. The iron spangenhelm was the most widespread kind of helmet in the Mediterranean world during the 6th century CE, used by both Ostrogoth and Eastern Romans.
This typology of helmets features a usually quite oblong skull, composed by four or six segments, linked one to the other by the means of vertical riveted bands, a top plate and a brow band.
For our reconstruction, we chose a replica of a spangenhelm coming from Sinj, in Croatia, dated to the 6th century and probably a Byzantine production.
Finally, to complete our reconstruction of the Ostrogothic warrior defensive equipment we chose a shield – which actually was the main component of the Ostrogothic armament, alongside the spear.
The shield was round in shape – and maybe also oval, as the Isola Rizza silver dish seems to indicate –, and had a pointed shield boss to protect the hand. The pointed shield boss typology, in various forms, was the most widespread during the 6th century, but it was already in use at least from the 4th century CE.
Like the majority of the warriors of the Late Antique period, the main weapon of the Ostrogothic warriors was the spear. Not having nor archaeological finds neither visual sources, we chose a simple leaf shaped spear head, a typology quite widespread both amongst the Eastern Romans and the Lombards.
As a side weapon for our Ostrogothic warrior, we opted for a spatha. During the 6th century, both spathae with totally organic hilts and with hilts made in horn or wood and metallic fittings were widespread. The spatha was a weapon used also by the Ostrogoths, as confirmed by the descriptions of Procopius of Caesarea, the iconographical evidence of the plate of Isola Rizza and some archaeological finds from Italy.