The early Byzantine Empire still regarded itself as part of the Roman Empire, and its legions were formed in the Roman way.
The early Byzantine Empire still regarded itself as part of the Roman
In addition to foreign wars, the Byzantines fought civil wars against pagan generals opposed to the new Christian order and against heretical
Justinian changed the nature of the Empire from that of a constitutional to that of an absolute monarchy. The emperor now bore the title “autocrat.” In the early seventh century, under
From the north the Byzantine Empire contended with the Slavic
Beginning in 711 the Byzantine Empire went through its most critical internal struggle until its downfall–a period of civil war over
In 867 Basil
However, within forty years the Macedonian Dynasty had ended for lack of a male heir, and a series of intrigues and bloody rivalries among the noble families ensued, which gave the term “Byzantine” its pejorative connotation. The conflicts of this period led to the losses of southern Italy to Norman adventurers at the Capture of Bari
The Roman emperor Constantine, who in 312
Alexius initially welcomed the
Byzantine Empire at Justinian’s Death, 656
The key to Byzantine endurance was its magnificent defense system, beginning with the walls of Constantinople and the boom at the entrance of the Golden Horn. Added to this was the best navy in the region, which was used primarily as a defensive force. The Greeks also effectively employed both peasant infantry and noble cavalry. However, throughout its history the empire alternated between periods of military victory and defeat. It reached its heights during the reigns of Justinian and Heraclius and later during the Macedonian Dynasty, but constant civil and religious wars, popular uprisings, and internal rivalries and intrigues revealed its weaknesses and flaws. The Greeks suffered at various times major defeats at the hands of the Slavs, Arabs, Turks, Normans, Crusaders, pagan Patzinaks, and other adversaries.
At the height of the Byzantine Empire, from the sixth to eleventh centuries, the
The first Byzantine army was Constantine’s Roman army, which followed the organization of the late third and early fourth centuries. These were divided into the border divisions, or
In principle the state subjected all Byzantine males to
Heraclius introduced the theme
Apart from the theme armies there were special corps assigned to the capital. They included four cavalry tagmata named scholarii, excubitores, hikanatai, and arithmos, sometimes called vigla. Domestici commanded the first three, and a drungarius led the latter, the imperial guard. However, the real protectors of the emperors were the hetairia, or retinue, which had a large number of mercenaries and was led by the hetairiarchos. There was also an infantry tagmata, the numeri commanded by a domesticus, and additional infantry troops. The Constantinople soldiers fought with the emperor except for a battalion under the domesticus of the walls that always remained to protect the city.
From the sixth century the highest army commander was the
Byzantine Empire, c. 1250
After the eleventh century the losses in Asia Minor and the Balkans brought about the decline and finally the end of the theme system. Citizens could purchase exemptions from the conscription, and the number of
Although the Byzantine army had evolved from that of the Romans, the Byzantine navy was created afresh. The Roman fleet was hardly more than a coast guard, and even up until the time of Justinian, the
Byzantine commanders paid detailed attention to military science. The Greeks, including emperors themselves, wrote manuals and commentary of military affairs, for example the
Special emphasis was laid on defense, and the Greeks used attack as their main strategy only in siege operations. Byzantine defense followed the frontier tactics of the late Roman Empire; the Greeks built fortified camps and small forts and posted troops at strategic passes and areas from which the enemy might invade. They fortified interior towns and cities and erected a chain of warning signals throughout the empire. If enemy forces succeeded in invading past the border defenses, the infantry would fall in behind them and block their retreat, while light infantry harassed their troops until the theme commander could assemble support from neighboring provinces in sufficient number to attack. In battle heavy cavalry, the main force of the army, attacked in mass formation. Light cavalry fought in quick sorties, made harassing raids, and carried out reconnaissance.
Byzantine military manuals carefully laid down the rules of field operations, but the commanders were also expected to show innovation and independence. The guiding principle in battle was to minimize casualties. Among the stratagems used to gain victory with the least loss were intelligence and espionage, negotiation, delaying tactics, ambushes, moving troops for their protection, and feigning retreat. Training, discipline, and experience enabled the Greeks to use these doctrines effectively. The Greeks knew the value of esprit de corps, rewarding special service and recognizing valor. The emperor and commanders appointed orators to emphasize the glory of courage, arousing the spirit and enthusiasm of the troops for God, Christianity, the emperor, and the Empire.
There exists a large body of primary sources for the Byzantine Empire, many of which have been translated into English and published. Among the best known are the sixth century Byzantine historian
There are a number of seventh and eighth century chronicles of the Byzantine Empire. Those of the monk Theophanes the Confessor (c. 752-c. 818) and the patriarch Nicephorus are valuable. The tenth century historian Joseph Genisius wrote about the end of the Iconoclast struggle and the first years of the Macedonian dynasty. Leo Diaconus (fl. tenth century) recounted in his history the military achievements of the emperors Nicephoras II Phocas (r. 963-969) and John I Tzimisces (r. 969-976). The chronicle of Byzantine historian John Scylitzes (fl. eleventh century) covers the years 811 to 1057. Some non-Byzantine sources important to this period include Provest’ Vremennykh Let (twelfth century; Russian Primary Chronicle, 1930), partly attributed to Nestor (c. 1056-1113), and the Latin Antapodosis (tenth century; Antapodosis, 1930) of Liutprand of Cremona (c. 922-c. 972). The emperor Constantine VII (905-959) wrote on a number of subjects, including the themes. Two military manuals of this period are the Taktika of Leo VI and the Sylloge Tacticorum (compiled tenth century; Sylloge Tacticorum, 1938). For the eleventh century, in addition to Psellus and Comnena, there is also the Strategicon of Cacaumenus, a Byzantine general. John Cinnamus and Nicetas Choniates wrote on the twelfth century. For the crusades there are many Western works with tangential reference to Byzantine military affairs. Important historians of the last years of the Byzantine Empire include George Pachymeres (1242-c. 1310), Nicephorus II Phocas, and the emperor John VI Cantacuzenus (1292-1354), all of whom wrote before the fall of the empire in 1453. Those who wrote after the fall include Laonicus Chalcocondyles (c. 1423-c. 1490), Ducas (fl. mid-fifteenth century), Critobulos of Imbros (fl. fifteenth century), and George Sphrantes (fl. fifteenth century), whose description of the fall of Constantinople is a standard account.
Bartusis, Mark C. The Late Byzantine Army: Arms and Society, 1204-1453. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997. Bradbury, Jim. “The Byzantine Empire and Eastern Europe, 400-1453.” In The Routledge Companion to Medieval Warfare. New York: Routledge, 2004. Dawson, Timothy. Byzantine Cavalryman, c. 900-1204. Illustrated by Giuseppe Rava. Botley, Oxford, England: Osprey, 2009. _______. Byzantine Infantryman: Eastern Roman Empire, c. 900-1204. Illustrated by Angus McBride. Botley, Oxford, England: Osprey, 2007. Haldon, John F. The Byzantine Wars: Battles and Campaigns of the Byzantine Era. Charleston, S.C.: Tempus, 2001. _______. Byzantium at War: A.D. 600-1453. Botley, Oxford, England: Osprey, 2002. _______. Warfare, State, and Society in the Byzantine World, 565-1204. London: UCL Press, 1999. _______, ed. Byzantine Warfare. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2007. Heath, Ian. Byzantine Armies, 1118-1461. Illustrated by Angus McBride. Botley, Oxford, England: Osprey, 1995. Hyland, Ann. The Medieval Warhorse from Byzantium to the Crusades. Conshohocken, Pa.: Combined Book, 1996. McGeer, Eric. “Byzantine Siege Warfare in Theory and Practice.” In The Medieval City Under Siege, edited by Ivy A. Corfis and Michael Wolfe. Rochester, N.Y.: Boydell Press, 1995. _______. Sowing the Dragon’s Teeth: Byzantine Warfare in the Tenth Century. 1995. Reprint. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2008. Nicolle, David. Romano-Byzantine Armies, Fourth-Ninth Centuries. Illustrated by Angus McBride. Botley, Oxford, England: Osprey, 1992. Regan, Geoffrey. First Crusader: Byzantium’s Holy Wars. Stroud, Gloucestershire, England: Sutton, 2001. Treadgold, Warren T. Byzantium and Its Army, 284-1081. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1995. Byzantium. Documentary. Discovery Channel, 1997. Byzantium: The Lost Empire. Documentary. The Learning Channel, 1997. Civilizations in Conflict: Byzantium, Islam, and the Crusades. Documentary. United Learning, 1998. Fall of Byzantium: May 29, 1453. Docudrama. Zenger Video, 1989. The Fall of Constantinople. Documentary. Time-Life, 1970. Justinian: The Last of the Romans. Documentary. A&E Home Video, 1997. The Siege of Constantinople. Documentary. Ambrose Video, 1995.
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Crusading Armies of the West