Spring AS XLI (2007)
Volume XII, Issue 3 (#45)


From the Nachalnik

Springtime greetings to all of you! While it might not be foremost in your minds yet, Pennsic will soon be upon us and, if we are going to have a gathering this year, planning should start now. If you are interested in hosting the gathering (or helping the host/ess), please drop me a note. As has become my habit, I won't actually be there, but am happy to help coordinate and publicize the “official” gathering.

In a similar vein, do continue to keep the Slavic University in mind and on your calendar (December 8, 2007 – and yes, I plan to be there). Zygmunt has placed a call for classes (see below) and plans for the event continue to develop. I hope to see all of you there!

This issue, we conclude Zygmunt's opus on the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth military (for more such material, please visit his Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth site at http://www.plcommonwealth.org ) and have a short piece from Mordak on the origins of the word boiar . As always, I am soliciting contributions for future issues. The major editorial requirement is that articles/artwork be relevant to the mission of the Group (to promote Slavic and Eastern European medievalism).


Slavic University of the Midrealm

By Zygmunt Nadratowski

I am in the process of putting toegther the web page for the Slavic University. If you would like to teach, please send me the title of your class(es) and the following information:

  • Name - or - SCA name (however you want it displayed), home group, and Kingdom

  • Class title and description

  • Any class fee

  • Any other special requirements you may have

    Send them to me ( Zygmunt Nadratowski, Tom Nadratowski, 8074 Parks Dr. E1, Spring Arbor MI 49283, moxfool@aol.com ). Thanks!


    Sarmatian Baroque: Military Dress/Organization in Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, 1550-1600: Part Three

    By Zygmunt Nadratowski


    The Classic Hussar

    Not until about 1632 was the armor of the 'classic' hussar adopted, which included the szyszak helmet, napiersnik breastplate, skrzdla wings and karwasze arm guards. So while this is easily the most identifiable set of armor for a hussar persona, it's out of period. Now, you can approach it from a Creative standpoint, in that all the components previously existed in the Commonwealth or in other cultures they had contact with before the end of the SCA's cut off, and so possibly justify their use. Just realize that, no matter how hard you'd like it to be different, the tres chic ‘winged hussar' is past the SCA's 1600 barrier.

    Some photos show hussar kits with attached cuisses of overlapping steel plate (figure 15). Hussars did wear them, but it seems that it was on an individual basis. Brzezinski makes an excellent argument that these cuisses were rarely, if ever, used by the vast majority of husaria in period, and that museums were not above attaching them to hussar breastplates to which they did not belong in order to complete their displays (figures 14 and 15).

    Base Garb. The was little governance of what the husaria could and could not wear, save for expense, since they were the ruling elite of Commonwealth society, and were very resistant to anyone telling them what to do. They provided their own dress and those of their fighting retainers.

    Many of their clothing items and horse furniture did double duty in home use as well, as it was another way to show off their Sarmatian spirit and their martial prowess. Husaria wore a padded zupan (called a zupanik) as a gambeson under their armor, although at times they seem to have worn zupany under their armor made from whatever fancy fabric they could afford to destroy in the service of being sweaty and deadly. Due to Bathory's reforms of the Polish army, red was the overwhelming favorite color. Other colors mentioned are green, navy and light blue. Blue was worn by both the infantry and poorer szlachta for the same reason – it was the cheapest color to dye cloth. By the end of 1600s, this blue, light blue color was the official uniform color for Polish light cavalry (for more about the colors and cloth of the szlachta see section one).

    No hussar would be caught dead without his animal hide cloak. Borrowed from the Turks, the practice was already wide spread by Bathory's time. It can be clearly seen among the hussars on the Stockholm Roll (Figure 10 a & b). Another kind of cape the hussars used was called a welensy. It was worn on those occasions when they wanted to wear something to cover up their armor. It can also be seen on the Stockholm Roll, as the cloaks with the stars and crescents (a popular Easter design at the time).

    Fig 10 a & b Hussars from the Stockholm Roll, 1605. Note the single wing attached to the saddle behind the rider. From the collection of Wawel Castle, Poland. Photo: Rick Orli.


    Hussar Wings. No feature is more identifiable or more misunderstood than the hussar's wings. No one is completely sure of what their purpose was.

    In the mid to late 1500's, they were real bird wings, stuck on to the front of hussar shields, in imitation of the Turkish deli horsemen . One account of a parade mentions hussars struggling with the awkward weight of an entire stuffed eagle mounted on a shield! After Bathory did away with the shield, the wing idea remained, at first as a single wing attached to the saddle cantle on the shield side. In the 1630's, the wings moved to the rider's back-plate.

    They were made from a wood frame which was covered with red velvet. Each wing ( skryzdlo) had a single row of holes drilled in the wooden framework. After they were covered in velvet, a row of eagle, crane or heron feathers was inserted. Since many of these species are protected, we can't use real feathers for our re-creations. Turkey and buzzard feathers are available online, and hobby stores carry plain white feathers than can be painted to look like real.

    There is only a little evidence that wings were ever used in battle. Many period paintings show no wings worn, and credible eyewitness testimony doesn't describe them being worn in combat either.

    Some have suggested that they were used to protect the rider from Tatar lassos; others have said they were used to generate a terrifying noise to scare enemy horses. Both arguments fail a basic reality check. Another theory states that they were supposed to look like angels. The most likely reason is that the hussars liked them because they thought they made them look cool, and to increase their size visually for intimidation, both of enemy soldiers and their mounts.

    Hussar Armament. H ussars were heavily armed. They preferred to fight first with their long kopia (lance) which was over five meters in length (16.4'). In order to make it a useful weapon and yet retain that great size, it was constructed from fir and hollowed out along most of its length. If the kopia broke, the hussar would next use either the koncerz or the pallasz , depending on which one they liked .

    These swords are both long (average length being 140 cm [55”]), but are very different after that, in form and function. The koncerz has an unsharpened blade with a triangular cross-section, used solely for thrusting as an extension of the arm as a hussar charges. The pallasz is a long sword, also averaging 140cm in length, although on occasion they were unsharpened as well. There is some evidence to suggest that the koncerz was favored and used by the veteran hussars, since it was seen by them to be a more prestigious weapon, and mark of distinction. In addition, the wealthier hussars would guild the scabbards of their koncerz' with gold or silver and costly stones, especially turquoise.

    As in many things, the Szlachta borrowed this tradition from the Turks, since it was believed that turquoise protected the wearer from wounds in battle. The added expense of all this bling kept the ‘poseur hussars' from having them, leaving them to use the pallasz. At close range, they would fall back on their wheel lock pistols and finally their trusty sabers.

    Hussar kit. Mid-1510's, ‘early' hussar kit (Battle of Orsza-era, Figure 11) – Hungarian magierka felt hat, or Western Europe ‘top hat', Hungarian giermak or mente coat, trousers, half boots, sword and Hungarian-style shield. No other visible armor.


    Fig 11 Hussars from the "Battle of Orsza" painting. http://www.jasinski.co.uk/wojna/conflicts/conf02.htm, 6/21/06


    1540's-1630's hussar kit (Figure 9 – see the Winter Slovo ) – Kapalin or Szyszak helm; round or Hungarian-style shield (shield until the 1580's or 90's), mail hauberk or Hungarian style breastplate of thin overlapped plates. No other visible armor. Officers often wore a full steel gauntlet on their left arm, and carried a budzygan mace, as badges of rank.


    Fig 12 'Classic' Hussar saber. The thumb ring places it in the late 1600's. Compare w/Fig. 3. Zygulski, Winged Hussars, 102.


    Fig 13 Hungarian style hussar Shield, ca. 1520. Zygulski, Winged Hussars, 92.


    Fig 14 'Classic' Hussar, mid-late 1600's. Ostrowski, 204. Legend: A – Skrydla (Wings); B – Sszyszak (Helmet); C – Obojcznik (Gorget); D – Narammionik (Pauldrons); E – Karwasze (Vambraces/Bazubands); F – Napiersnik/Napiecznik (Breastplate/Backplate); G – Nabiodrki (Cuisses).


    1630's – 1690's hussar kit – Szyszak helm, breastplate (sometimes with a backplate, otherwise with a small metal disk on the back to hold the straps for the breast plate), gorget, vambraces, kopia (lance), pallasz or koncerz, two pistols, sometimes an obuch (a warhammer with a haft long enough to be used as a walking stick) or nadziek (an axe with a haft long enough to be used as a walking stick), saber.


    Fig 15 ‘Classic' Hussar and mount, mid-late 1600's. The Kopia can be seen behind the horse, extending out of frame. Zygulski, 99.



    The Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania has a wide variety of unique armor and fighting types that have been rarely seen. Hopefully this article has inspired your to branch out and explore this new culture.


  • Sir Donngal of Atenveldt He makes Polish SCA-legal armor and accessories and works at Windrose Armory http://windrosearmoury.com/zen_new/

  • Polish Hussar Supply not interested in SCA-legal stuff? Try Eric Jadazewski's Polish Hussar Supply Plus:




  • Arnold, Thomas F. Renaissance At War, Cassell & Co., London, England, 2001.

  • Brzezinski, Richard. An Illustrated History of Poland, Podsiedlik-Raniowski & Co. LTD, Poznan, Poland, 1998.

  • Brzezinski, Richard. Polish Armies 1569-1696 (1), Osprey Publishing, Oxford, United Kingdom, 2001.

  • Brzezinski, Richard. Polish Armies 1569-1696 (2), Osprey Publishing, Oxford, United Kingdom, 2003

  • Davies, Norman. God's Playground, A History of Poland, Volume I – The Origins to 1795, Columbia University Press, New York, USA, 1982.

  • Grabowska, Irena. Gallery of Arms and Colours in Poland , The National Museum in Cracow Exhibition guide. Krakow, 2005.

  • Gutkowska – Rychlewska, Maria. Historia Ubirow (History of Costume). Zaklad Narodowy Iminia Ossolinskich – Wydawnictwo, Warsaw, Poland, 1968.

  • Ostrowski, Jan K., et al. Land of the Winged Horseman: Art In Poland 1572 – 1764, Art Services International, Alexandria, Virginia, USA, 1999.

  • Stefanska, Zofia. Polskie Ubiory Wojskowe z XVI i XVII w (Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Military Dress in the 16 th – 17 th c.) , Wydawnictwo Ministerstwa Obrony Nadowej, Warsaw, Poland, 1964. Translated by the Sienkiewicz Society, 2004.

  • Taras Bulba . Directed By J. Lee Thompson, Produced by Neil Wayne and Nigel Schofield, Metro Goldwin Mayer, 122 minutes, Videocassette, 1962.

  • With Fire and Sword ( Ogniem i Mieczem ). Directed by Jerzy Hoffman, NTSC, 176 minutes, DVD, 1999


    Boyar: A High Eastern Title With Some Surprising Origins

    By Mordak Timofeyvich Rostovskogo

    Titles denoting nobility of one level or another abound in these current middle ages. At some events one can hardly avoid tripping over viscounts, dukes, counts, barons (both landed and granted), and a virtual plethora of Peers in the active, working Orders. But how does that affect those of us with eastern, mostly Slavic personas? There is a very good historical argument that with a few exceptions, it doesn't. But that ignores the reality that human groups have societies and societies are organized on hierarchical structures. Those structures have titles, whether they are descriptive of specific duties or leadership performed for the sovereign. Those titles also tend to become inherited over time, in addition to being granted on a merit basis, for continued stability and vitality.

    Confused yet? I am too.

    A unique title that evolved in early eastern cultures was the boyar, which denoted a social position just below a prince. Synonymous to the titles of duke or earl in the west, during consolidations of empire it was a useful title for a rival or neighbor who accepted your suzantry without granting them a clear legal position in the succession to your throne. During the political and social consolidations of the Rus, Bulgars and Romanians from the 10 th to the 17 th centuries, the boyars were those high nobles closest in power and influence to the Sovereign, and could be granted or inherited within a strict set of circumstances.

    The origin of this title probably comes to us from the Old Turkic word “bai” (meaning noble and/or rich) and “ar” (meaning man). In combination, the word “bai-ar” is connected phonetically with the old Volga Bulgar word “boila”, meaning noble. Until the coming of the Mongols in the 1230s, the Volga Bulgar kingdom between the Volga and Kama Rivers just south of the Ural Mountains was the most vibrant trading nation in the East. Silver flowed up the Volga from Persian mines and trade goods flowed out of this highly developed artistic and cultural Moslem nation west to the Rus Principalities, south to the Kwarazam and Persian empires and south west to the Byzantine Empire. After the Mongol destruction in the 1230s, the remnants of this empire migrated south to the southern Balkans to re-form as the Second Bulgar Empire and convert en mass to the Orthodox Christianity of the Byzantine Empire.

    In the Volga Bulgar society, boila meant a high noble and the title was hereditary. A very important city in Volga Bulgaria was named “Bilyar” and quite possibly influenced the synonymous use of the title “bilyar” with “boila” to mean “noble” in this society. These synonymous titles later became bolyar or bolyarin in the Second Bulgar Empire and were divided into “veliki” meaning great or “mali” meaning small or minor. The significance of the Volga Bulgar society on the developing Rus society and language is seen today in modern Russian, which still uses these terms with these same meanings.

    For example, in the Russian language, the high noble title is “boyarin” for a man and “boyarynya” for a woman, with the plural being “boyare.” During the Kievian times these titles were acknowledgements of hereditary regional military leaders who led forces on behalf of the various Rus Princes. They advised these Princes on councils called Dumas and received extensive grants of land in exchange for these services. The problem was that there were always many Rus Princes competing for power. Until the 15 th and 16 th centuries, the boyare were free to change allegiances at will. When Grand Prince Ivan III and Tsar Ivan IV consolidated power their direct suzantry in Moscow, the Boyarin were curtailed and tied directly to service to the State, but not without a struggle.

    The boyars in the areas comprising modern Romania carried their autonomy much further. They were called “boier” and descended from the chiefs, called “cneaz” or “jude,” whom were initially elected in rural communities but gradually changed into a hereditary judicial and administrative title that also expanded to cover other communities. Initially when consolidation of power created centralized noble courts, the title of boyar also was conveyed on administrators and military leaders for merit. Much like the Rus domains further east, the Wallachian and Moldavian princedoms gradually differentiated the boyars into great and small designations, based primarily on landholdings and offices held.

    In the 15 th and 16 th centuries as Romania fragmented further, the boyars assumed more localized power, eventually holding almost absolute control in the lands they controlled. They also fragmented into competing factions: each of which intent on installing their own handpicked “Prince.” In the 15 th century, these “princes” primarily came from the Basarab family in Moldavia and the Musat family in Wallachia. Princes changed frequently, encouraging periodic atrocities by the boyars and Princes during the course of these dynastic struggles, each attempting to enforce stability where none could exist. This was the role attempted by one prince in Wallachia, named Vlad Dracula, but more appropriately known as Vald Tepes, the “Impaler.” Even so, eventually both the Basarab and Musat family lines either died out or were forced into exile by the Ottoman Turks. The Turks were only too happy to play the struggles of the nobles to keep the tribute and bribes to curry favor coming into Istanbul and resistance turned inward.


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    The publisher and editor is Paul Wickenden of Thanet (Paul Goldschmidt), 5625 Highland Way, Middleton WI 53562, 608-827-6891, e-mail: goldschp@tds.net. There is no subscription fee and copies of this quarterly newsletter are available free of charge from the editor. Slovo is also available on-line at the Interest Group web site (http://slavic.freeservers.com).