[based on an 11th or 12th century Egyptian manuscript &
reliefs of shields on the Bab al-Nasr (the Gate of Victory) in Cairo, executed in 1087]
An extract from Armies and Enemies of the Crusades 1096-1291
by Ian Heath

30.      FATIMID INFANTRYMAN c. 1100

Moslem infantry were generally unarmoured. This figure, from an 11th or 12th century Egyptian ms., is armed with sword and thrusting spear, the latter either a Tirad or a Mitrad, apparently the standard terms for infantry spears. Others might substitute javelins, called Harbah in Arabic, while in his memoirs Usamah mentions infantry several times as carrying only shield, sword and dagger (the latter called by various names such as Dashan, Sikh, Nimga and Sikhina). Other infantry, of course, would have been archers, though under the Fatimids these were chiefly Armenian and Sudanese slave-soldiers (see 33).

The shield is taken from reliefs on the Bab al-Nasr (the Gate of Victory) in Cairo, executed in 1087. It is of a type called Turs by the Arabs, described by Murda al-Tartusi in his 12th century Tabsirah (a military manual written for Saladin) as ‘a round shield which covers most of the holder’, capable of protecting him from most sides and therefore clearly convex in shape. It could apparently be of ‘considerable circumference’ and is usually depicted with a reinforced rim and a boss or several bosses (see 33 - where the shield is taken from the gate of Qal’at al-Gindi in Syria of 1187 - 44 and 54). Al-Tartusi describes shield surfaces of untanned, varnished or painted hide, polished or bare wood, and horse, ass, camel or giraffe skins (one wonders whether zebra was used too?). He records in addition shields of cane sewn together with cotton and says also that ‘some choose shields of iron’. The Daraqa, a circular shield smaller than the Turs, was always of hide.

His short, tight-sleeved coat and tunic are the standard costume of a Moslem warrior, allowing far more freedom of movement than the wide-sleeved, flowing dress worn by civilians. Round the upper arm are the usual Tiraz hands worn by Moslems, usually strips of brocade or cloth of a contrasting colour richly embroidered in gold and coloured thread, often with quotations from the Koran, but sometimes plain. Ibn Khaldun later records that they might have the Sultan’s or an amir’s name embroidered on them. L. A. Mayer, in his ‘Mamluk Costume’, explains that real Tiraz ‘in the sense of an honorific formula’ were granted only to iqta’dars, either by the Sultan or an amir; all other Tiraz were ‘technically decorative fakes’.

Next: 31. FATIMID INFANTRYMAN c. 1150 in Armies and Enemies of the Crusades 1096-1291 by Ian Heath