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THE UNIFORM AND WEAPONRY OF THE COPTIC LEGION

July 17, 2012

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The Coptic Legion was equipped with the same weapons the French light infantry carried, and were dressed in the same way but with different colours.

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I have posted several pictures of Coptic troops in the Coptic Legion(Légion Copte/LégionCophte).[1] I would like to describe here the Coptic Legion’s military uniform and weaponry as we see them in these pictures, and as supported by French literature of the 19th century and modern books.[2] For the reader to understand in full this post, he is advised to read it while often referring himself to the previous articles in which I have included pictures of Coptic Legion troops.

 Uniform:

The Coptic Legion was part of the French infantry,[3] and their uniform was not distinguishable from the uniform of French infantry except in colour.

The Coptic troops wore a bicornate hat (or a bicorne) made from sheep’s hide leather, and dyed black. A bicorne is a cocked hat with the brim turned up and caught together to form two points. The hat had plumes of red horse-hair falling from it; and most probably had also the tricolour French cockade[4] fixed to its left side, as all troops in the French armee d’orient were required to wear (although I could not find a pictorial evidence for it being used by the troops of the Coptic Legion).

They wore yellow (more like gold metallic yellow) trousers made of unbleached linen, and short (calf-length) gaiters[5] of either black or white colour. Their boots were black.

Over their torso, they wore white waistcoat, and over this green (more like Dartmouth green) coat that was to button straight down the front to cover half or all of the abdomen. The coat’s collar was either red (like that of the hat’s plumes) or yellow; while its cuffs were yellow. The epaulets[6] over the coat’s shoulders were red, same colour as that of the hat’s plumes (and collar).

They each had a cow-hide knapsack – a bag carried on the back and supported by shoulder straps that criss-crossed at the front and over the chest in the shape of ‘X’. The straps were black, and so contrasted with the habit-veste.

 Weaponry:

Each Coptic fighter was equipped with 1777 model Gribeauval[7] musket that had 380mm triangular socket bayonet with it. The musket, which was designed for use by infantry, was a shoulder gun with a long barrel – it was long, heavy, large-calibred and muzzle-loaded,[8] and was fired from the shoulder. The Coptic troops were, therefore, musketmen or musketeers since they all carried the Gribeauval muskets, as almost all pictures of the Coptic Legion show. They carried their ammunition in a special pouch attached to a shoulder belt.

Muskets were the main firearm of the Coptic Legion, but each soldier also carried a short sword (sabre-briquet) of the 1790 model, in a belt supported over the right shoulder. In that belt the bayonet was also carried.

 

 

 

 


[1] The reader can review the following five post:

-          http://copticliterature.wordpress.com/2012/07/15/legion-cophte-1799-a-cacao-bensdorp-cie-rare-postcard-depicting-the-soldiers-of-the-coptic-legion-during-the-french-expedition-in-egypt/

-          http://copticliterature.wordpress.com/2012/07/15/a-smart-good-looking-soldier-from-the-coptic-legion-of-general-yaqub-the-copt-as-he-appears-in-a-french-painting/

-          http://copticliterature.wordpress.com/2012/07/15/a-coptic-soldier-from-the-coptic-legion-a-chromolithographic-cut/

-          http://copticliterature.wordpress.com/2012/07/16/more-of-the-coptic-legion/

-          http://copticliterature.wordpress.com/2012/07/16/uniforms-of-the-african-and-asiatic-troops-including-the-coptic-legion-in-the-service-of-france-by-the-french-artist-charles-vernier/

[2] One of the helpful books which is available readily to most readers is Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaigns 1798-1801 by Michael Barthorp (China, Osprey Publishing, 2002).

[3] I am not sure if they were line or light infantry. The light battalions had the task of providing advanced guards and skirmishing screens, but would also be expected to fight in the main line of battle with the line battalions. The Coptic troops were most probably light infantry.

[4] The symbol of the French Revolution, and was formed of a blue centre, white middle ring, and a red outer rim. The blue and red were the colours of Paris, while the white was that of the royalty. The three colours constitute the colours of the French flag.

[5] A heavy cloth or leather garment that covers and protects the leg, and extending from the instep to the ankle and up to the knee.

[6] Ornamental shoulder piece on an item of clothing, typically on the coat or jacket of a military uniform.

[7] Jean-Baptiste Vaquette de Gribeauval (1715 – 1789) was a French artillery officer and engineer who revolutionized French cannon, creating a new production system that allowed lighter, more uniform guns without sacrificing range.

[8] In the muzzle-loading gun the projectile and propelling charge is loaded through the muzzle (the front-end of the gun). A muzzle-loading firearm is a smoothbore weapon (i. e. it has a barrel without rifling, which is helical grooves in the barrel). This contrasts with the breech-loading gun in which the cartridge or shell is inserted or loaded into a chamber integral to the rear portion of a barrel, and, because of its rifling, the projectile, as it spins rapidly in flight along the gun’s long axis, is given greater stability and hence range and accuracy than smoothbore guns.

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