News

April 3, 2008

Discovering the Origins of Ancient Armor

My research on Byzantine warrior saints. By Sarah Kolba ’10

Sarah Kolba ’10 (Chelmsford, Mass.) is creating her own major in medieval and renaissance studies. She is currently working on EXCEL research studying Byzantine warrior saints and researching the origins of their armor with Ida Sinkevic, associate professor of art.

When I came to Lafayette, I knew that I wanted to create an interdisciplinary major in medieval and renaissance studies. Because of this goal and my quickly discovered interest in art history, I was eager to get to know Professor Sinkevic, who teaches medieval and Byzantine art. In the spring of my freshman year, Professor Sinkevic taught an art history seminar about armor and art from 1450-1650 at the Allentown Art Museum, where she was curator for the exhibit “Knights in Shining Armor.”

This class sparked my interest in studying not only medieval history and knights but armor in particular. During the summer I built on my experiences in the seminar through an internship with Jeffrey Forgeng, the senior curator at the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, Mass. Therefore, when Professor Sinkevic asked me if I would be interested in researching Byzantine warrior saints and the origins of their armor this year, I jumped at the opportunity.

When I began my research, Professor Sinkevic gave me a series of warrior saint images from a Byzantine church. My job was to examine each piece of armor in the images, identify it, and compare it to other armor in an effort to establish its historical context. Professor Sinkevic introduced me to the ideas and approach I should use, and I then began to build upon my general historical knowledge of armor through further study in new books on Roman, Byzantine, and medieval armor. During this research I gained confidence in my ability to discover similarities as well as identify what appeared to be new trends in the armor of warrior saints.

This semester, I am continuing this aspect of the research with new sets of images, including the Kariye Djami in Istanbul. Professor Sinkevic is examining whether traditional views of the armor depicted in Byzantine icons accurately reflect the results of our analysis. The armor represented on the warrior saint icons is typically seen as being a derivative of Roman armor rather than a representation of what Byzantine soldiers might have actually been wearing in the 14th-century. However, several of the items of armor we have analyzed have no origins in Roman armor and may actually be contemporary Byzantine armor.

Working with Professor Sinkevic has added an exciting new dimension to my experience at Lafayette and my education in medieval studies. This research has provided me with an incredible opportunity to become directly involved in the field of armor, going beyond straightforward learning about images and artifacts to purposefully analyzing their content and context. I know that the experience that I have gained through this project will also prove to be invaluable in preparing me for future research opportunities at Lafayette and in graduate school, regardless of whether those opportunities are in a related field of armor or in a different aspect of medieval and renaissance studies.

Kolba serves as a Resident Advisor for the Cinema in Society interest group, the president of the History Club, and a member of the Arts Society. Her future plans include attending graduate school for a Ph.D. in medieval and renaissance studies or a related field and pursuing a career either in museums or academia.

Lafayette’s focus on close student-faculty interaction has made it a national leader in undergraduate research. Some of the College’s research programs include honors theses, independent study, and the distinctive EXCEL Scholars program. Many of the hundreds of students who participate in these programs each year publish their work in academic journals and present at regional and national conferences.

  • EXCEL/Undergraduate Research
  • Art

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