The Byzantine army or Eastern Roman army was the primary military body of the Byzantine armed forces, serving alongside the Byzantine navy. A direct continuation of the Roman army, the Eastern Roman army maintained a similar level of discipline, strategic prowess and organization. It was among the most effective armies of western Eurasia for much of the Middle Ages. Over time the cavalry arm became more prominent in the Byzantine army as the legion system disappeared in the early 7th century. Later reforms reflected some Germanic and Asian influences – rival forces frequently became sources of mercenary units e.g.; Huns, Cumans, Alans and (following the Battle of Manzikert) Turks, meeting the Empire's demand for light cavalry mercenaries. Since much of the Byzantine military focused on the strategy and skill of generals utilizing militia troops, heavy infantry were recruited from Frankish and later Varangian mercenaries.
From the seventh to the 12th centuries, the Byzantine army was among the most powerful and effective military forces in the world – neither Middle Ages Europe nor (following its early successes) the fracturing Caliphate could match the strategies and the efficiency of the Byzantine army. Restricted to a largely defensive role in the 7th to mid-9th centuries, the Byzantines developed the theme-system to counter the more powerful Caliphate. From the mid-9th century, however, they gradually went on the offensive, culminating in the great conquests of the 10th century under a series of soldier-emperors such as Nikephoros II Phokas, John Tzimiskes and Basil II. The army they led was less reliant on the militia of the themes; it was by now a largely professional force, with a strong and well-drilled infantry at its core and augmented by a revived heavy cavalry arm. With one of the most powerful economies in the world at the time, the Empire had the resources to put to the field a powerful host when needed, in order to reclaim its long-lost territories.
After the collapse of the theme-system in the 11th century, the Byzantines grew increasingly reliant on professional Tagmata troops, including ever-increasing numbers of foreign mercenaries. The Komnenian emperors made great efforts to re-establish a native army, instituting the pronoia system of land grants in exchange for military service. Nevertheless, mercenaries remained a staple feature of late Byzantine armies since the loss of Asia Minor reduced the Empire's recruiting-ground, while the abuse of the pronoia grants led to a progressive feudalism in the Empire. The Komnenian successes were undone by the subsequent Angeloi dynasty, leading to the dissolution of the Empire at the hands of the Fourth Crusade in 1204.
The Emperors of Nicaea managed to form a small but effective force using the same structure of light and heavily armed troops, both natives and foreigners. It proved effective in defending what remained of Byzantine Anatolia and reclaiming much of the Balkans and even Constantinople itself in 1261. Another period of neglect of the military followed in the reign of Andronikos II Palaiologos, which allowed Anatolia to fall prey to an emerging power, the Ottoman emirate. Successive civil wars in the 14th century further sapped the Empire's strength and destroyed any remaining chance of recovery, while the weakening of central authority and the devolution of power to provincial leaders meant that the Byzantine army was now composed of a collection of militias, personal entourages and mercenary detachments.
|Participant in wars of the Byzantine Empire|
|Leaders||Roman Emperor (commander-in-chief)|
|Area of operations||Balkans, Asia Minor, Levant, Mesopotamia, Italy, North Africa, Spania, Caucasus, Crimea|
|Part of||Byzantine Empire|
|Allies||Huns, Lombards, Georgians, Serbs, Crusader states, Anatolian beyliks, Khazars, Axum, Avars, Rus', Magyars, Heruli|
|Opponent(s)||Goths, Huns, Sassanid Persia, Vandals, Ostrogoths, Avars, Slavs, Muslim Caliphate, Bulgaria, Rus', Normans, Crusader states, Seljuks, Anatolian beyliks, Ottomans and others|
Just as what we today label the Byzantine Empire was in reality and to contemporaries a continuation of the Roman Empire, so the Byzantine army was an outgrowth of the Late Roman structure, which largely survived until the mid-7th century. The official language of the army for centuries continued to be Latin but this would eventually give way to Greek as in the rest of the Empire, though Latin military terminology would still be used throughout its history.
In the period after the Muslim conquests, which saw the loss of Syria and Egypt, the remainders of the provincial armies were withdrawn and settled in Asia Minor, initiating the thematic system. Despite this unprecedented disaster, the internal structures of the army remained much the same, and there is a remarkable continuity in tactics and doctrine between the 6th and 11th centuries. The Battle of Manzikert in 1071 and the subsequent Seljuk invasions, together with the arrival of the Crusades and the incursions of the Normans, would severely weaken the Byzantine state and its military, which increasingly had to rely on foreign mercenaries.
The Eastern Empire dates from the creation of the Tetrarchy ("Quadrumvirate") by the Emperor Diocletian in 293. His plans for succession did not outlive his lifetime, but his reorganization of the army did by centuries. Rather than maintain the traditional infantry-heavy legions, Diocletian reformed it into limitanei ("border") and comitatenses ("field") units.
There was an expansion of the importance of the cavalry, though the infantry still remained the major component of the Roman armies, in contrast to common belief. In preparation for Justinian's African campaign of 533-534 AD, the army assembled amounted to 10,000 foot soldiers and 5,000 mounted archers and federate lancers.
The limitanei and ripenses were to occupy the limes, the Roman border fortifications. The field units, by contrast, were to stay well behind the border and move quickly where they were needed, whether for offensive or defensive roles, as well as forming an army against usurpers. The field units were held to high standards and took precedence over Limitanei in pay and provisions.
Cavalry formed about one-third of the units, but as a result of smaller units, about one-quarter of the Roman armies consisted of cavalry. About half the cavalry consisted of heavy cavalry (including the stablesiani). They were armed with spear or lance and sword and armored in mail. Some had bows, but they were meant for supporting the charge instead of independent skirmishing.
In the field armies there was a component of some 15% of cataphractarii or clibanarii, heavily armoured cavalry who used shock tactics. The light cavalry (including the scutarii and promoti) featured high amongst the limitanei, being very useful troops on patrol. They included horse archers (Equites Sagittarii). The infantry of the comitatenses was organized in regiments (variously named legiones, auxilia or just numeri) of about 500–1,200 men. They were still the heavy infantry of old, with a spear or sword, shield, body armour and a helmet. But now each regiment was supported by a detachment of light infantry skirmishers.
If needed, the infantry could take off (some of) their armour to act in a more flexible way as Modares did (according to Zosimus) during the Gothic War of the 370s. The regiments were commanded by a tribunus ("tribune") and brigaded in pairs (cavalry units did, too) under a comes. These brigades probably were tactical and strategic units only, as no traces survive of brigade staff corps.
On the other hand, little is known of the limitanei. The old legions, cohorts and cavalry alae survived there, and newer units were created (the new legions, or auxilia and vexillationes, amongst the cavalry. The limitanei infantry may have been lighter-equipped than the comitatenses infantry, but there is no evidence whatsoever. They were paid less than the field troops and recruited locally. Consequently, they were of inferior quality. However, they were in the line of fire. They countered most incursions and raids. Thus, it can be assumed they had superior field experience (except in periods of long campaigning for the comitatenses), though that experience did not extend to large battles and sieges.
The Scholae Palatinae units, which were more properly known as the Schola Protectores Domestici and the "Protective Association of the Royal Escort" (also called the Obsequium), were the personal guard of the Emperor, and were created to replace the Praetorian Guard disbanded by Constantine I.
Following a major reorganisation of the Roman army during the Emperor Diocletian's reign (284-305 AD) the legions in the third and fourth century bore little resemblance to those of the Republic or earlier Roman empire. Reduced in numbers to about 1,000 men per legion, these units became static garrison troops, sometimes serving on a part-time militia basis as hereditary limitanei. As such they were separate from the new mobile field army.
The army of Justinian I was the result of fifth-century reorganizations to meet growing threats to the empire, the most serious from the expanding Persian empire. Gone were the familiar legions, cohorts and alae of old Rome, and in their place were small infantry battalions or horse regiments called an arithmos, tagma or numerus. A numerus had between 300 and 400 men and was commanded by a tribune. Two or more numeri formed a brigade, or moira; two or more brigades a division, or meros.
There were six classifications of troops:
The size of Justinian's army is unclear. Bury, writing in the 1920s, accepted the estimate of 150,000 troops of all classes in 559 given by Agathia of Myrina in his History. Modern scholars estimate the total strength of the imperial army under Justinian to be between 300,000 and 350,000 soldiers. Field armies generally had 15,000 to 25,000 soldiers and were formed mainly of comitatenses and foederati, reinforced by the commanders' retinues and barbarian allies. The expeditionary force of Belisarius during his reconquest of Carthage from the Vandals in 533 is illustrative.
This army had 10,000 comitatenses and foederati infantry, with 3,000 similarly composed cavalry. There were 600 Huns and 400 Herules, all mounted archers, and 1,400 or 1,500 mounted bucellarii of Belisarius' retinue. The small force of less than 16,000 men voyaged from the Bospherus to North Africa on 500 ships protected by 92 dromons, or war-ships.
Tactics, organization and equipment had been largely modified to deal with the Persians. The Romans adopted elaborate defensive armor from Persia, coats of mail, cuirasses, casques and greaves of steel for tagma of elite heavy cavalrymen called cataphracts, who were armed with bow and arrows as well as sword and lance.
Large numbers of light infantry were equipped with the bow, to support the heavy infantry known as scutatii (Meaning ″shield men″) or skutatoi. These wore a steel helmet and a coat of mail, and carried a spear, axe and dagger. They generally held the centre of a Roman line of battle. Infantry armed with javelins were used for operations in mountain regions.
Notable military events during the reign of Justinian included the battle of Dara in 530, when Belisarius, with a force of 25,000, defeated the Persian emperor's army of 40,000. In addition to his reconquest of Carthage, noted above, Belisarius also recaptured Sicily, Naples, Rome and the rest of Italy from the Goths in a war lasting from 535 to 554. Another famous commander of the time was the imperial eunuch Narses, who defeated a Gothic army at Busta Gallorum on the eastern coast of Italy in 552.
Towards the end of the sixth century, the Emperor Maurice, or senior officers writing for him, described in great detail the Byzantine army of the period in The Strategikon, a manual for commanders. Maurice, who reigned from 582 to 602, certainly had extensive military experience. In 592, he forced the Persians to sign a treaty that regained extensive Armenian territory for the empire that had been lost in earlier wars. Maurice then turned to the western frontier in the Balkans. In a war that lasted the rest of his life, he defeated the Avars and Slavs in battle, but could not gain a decisive victory.
The Strategikon's author gives us a fair picture of the Byzantine army and its troops, including the equipment borrowed from the Herules, Goths, Slavs and especially the Avars, once barbarian enemies all. Cavalrymen should have "hooded coats of mail reaching to their ankles which may be drawn up by thongs and rings, along with carying cases." Helmets were to have small plumes on top and bows were to be suited to the strength of each man, their cases broad enough that strung bows can fit in them, and spare bow strings kept the men's saddle bags. The men's quivers should have covers and hold 30 or 40 arrows and they should carry small files and awls in their baldrics. The cavalry lances should be "of the Avar type with leather thongs in the middle of the shaft and with pennons." The men were also to have "swords and round neck pieces of the Avar type with linen fringes outside and wool inside." Young foreigners unskilled with the bow should have lances and shields and bucellary troops ought to have iron gauntlets and small tassles hanging from the back straps and neck straps of their horses, as well as small pennons hanging from their own shoulders over their coats of mail, "for the more handsome the soldier is, in his armament, the more confidence he gains in himself and the more fear he inspires in the enemy." Lances were apparently expected to be thrown, for the troops should have "two lances so as to have a spare in case the first one misses. Unskilled men should use lighter bows."
The manual then describes horse gear and the trooper's clothing. "The horses, especially those of the officers and the other special troops, in particular those in the front ranks of the battle line, should have protective pieces of iron armor about their heads and breast plates of iron or felt, or else breast and neck coverings such as the Avars use. The saddles should have large and thick cloths; the bridles should be of good quality; attached to the saddles should be two iron stirrups, a lasso with thong, hobble, a sadle bag large enough to hold three or four days' rations when needed. There should be four tassels on the back strap, one on top of the head, and one under the chin."
"The men's clothing," the Strategikon continues, "especially their tunics, whether made of linen, goat's hair or rough wool, should be broad and full, cut according to the Avar pattern, so they can be fastened to cover the knees while riding and give a neat appearance. They should also be provided with an extra-large cloak or hooded mantle of felt with broad sleeves to wear, large enough to wear over their armament, including the coat of mail and the bow." "Each squad should have a tent, as well as sickles and axes to meet any contingency. It is well to have tents of the Avar type, which combine practicality with good appearance."
"The men," according to The Strategikon, "should certainly be required to provide servants for themselves, slave or free ... Should they neglect this and find themselves without servants, then in time of battle it will be necessary to detail some of the soldiers themselves to the baggage train, and there will be fewer men fighting in the ranks. But if, as can easily happen, some of the men are unable to afford servants, then it will be necessary to require that three or four soldiers join in maintaining one servant. A similar arrangement should be made with the pack animals, which may be needed to carry the coats of mail and the tents."
The manual then describes a system of unit identification that sounds like a fore-runner of medieval heraldry. The flags of a meros or division, should be the same color. The streamers of its immediate sub-units, the several moiras or brigades, should also have their own color. Thus, the manual states, "each individual tagma, (battalion or squadron) may easily recognize its own standard. Other distinctive devices known to the soldiers should be imposed on the fields of the flags, so that they may easily be recognized according to meros, moira and tagma. The standards of the merarchs (meros commander) should be particularly distinctive and conspicuous, so they may be recognized by their troops at a great distance."
The Strategikon deals more briefly with the infantry. They are to wear Gothic tunics "coming down to their knees or short ones split up the sides and Gothic shoes with thick soles, broad toes and plain stitching, fastened with no more than two clasps the soles studded with a few nails for greater durability." Boots or greaves are discouraged, "for they are unsuitable for marching and, if worn, slow one down. Their mantles should be simple, not like Bulgarian cloaks. Their hair should be cut short, and it is better if it is not allowed to grow long."
The descriptions of the armament of the "heavy-armed infantrymen" are equally terse. "The men of each arithmos or tagma," the Strategikon tells us, "should have shields of the same color, Herulian swords, lances, helmets with small plumes and tassels on top and on the cheek plates - at least the first men in the file should have these - slings, and lead-pointed darts. The picked men of the files should have mail coats, all of them if it can be done, but in any case the first two in the file. They should also have iron or wooden greaves, at least the first and second in each file."
The light-armed infantryman, still quoting the Strategikon, "should carry bows on their shoulders with large quivers holding about 30 or 40 arrows. They should have small shields, as well as crossbows with short arrows in small quivers. These can be fired a great distance with the bows and cause harm to the enemy. For men who might not have bows or are not experienced archers, small javelins or Slavic spears should be provided. They should also carry lead-pointed darts in leather cases, and slings."
The strength of the Byzantine army and navy in 565 is estimated by Teadgold to have been 379,300 men, with a field army and part of the guards totaling 150,300, and the frontier troops, part of the guards and the oarsmen totaling 229,000. These numbers probably held through the reign of Maurice. However, the largest field army mentioned in the Strategikon is a force of 34,384 (16,384 heavy infantry, 8,000 light-armed troops and 10,000 cavalry) which is given as an example of "the past, when the legions were composed of large numbers of men." Writing of his own time, Maurice stipulates that an army of more than 24,000 men should be divided into four components and an army of less than 24,000 into three. In another section, Maurice describes the formation of cavalry tagmas of 300 to 400 men into morias of 2,000 to 3,000 and the morias into meros of 6,000 to 7,000.
The themata (Gr. θέματα) were administrative divisions of the empire in which a general (Gr. στρατηγός, strategos) exercised both civilian and military jurisdiction and a Judge (Κριτής του Θέματος, Krites tou thematos) held the judicial power. The name is peculiar; Treadgold's closest guess is that thema was being used to denote "emplacements". Modern historians agree that the designations of the first themes came from the field armies that were stationed in Asia Minor.
The themata were organized as a response to the enormous military and territorial losses suffered during the conquests of the Muslim Rashidun Caliphate - Syria in 637, Armenia and Egypt in 639, North Africa in 652 and Cyprus in 654. Treadgold cites estimates that indicate the empire's population dropped from 19.5 million in 560 to 10.5 million in 641. At the same time the size of armed forces plunged from 379,300 men to 129,000.
By 662, the empire had lost more than half its territory in 30 years, and the first mentions occur in surviving records of themata under the command of generals, or strategi, that are the remnants of the former mobile armies now stationed in set districts. At some later time, when payment in cash had become difficult, the soldiers were given land grants within their districts for their support.
The dates of this process are uncertain, but Treadgold points to 659-662 as the most likely time-frame, as this is the period when the Emperor Constans II made a truce with the Arabs that gave the army time to regroup, the government ran out of money to pay the troops, and the empire's enormous losses of territory stopped. The themata so formed provided a bulwark against Arab invasions and raids that lasted until the late 11th century. Themata were also formed in the west, as a response to the Serb and Bulgar incursions that drove the empire's frontier from the Danube River south to Thrace and the Peloponnese.
The five original themata were all in Asia Minor and originated from the earlier mobile field armies. They were:
Within each theme, eligible men were given grants of land to support their families and to equip themselves. Following revolts strengthened by the large size of these divisions, Leo III the Isaurian, Theophilus, and Leo VI the Wise all responded by breaking the themes up into smaller areas and dividing control over the armies within each theme into various tourmai. The large early themes were progressively split up in the 8th–9th centuries to reduce their governors' power, while in the 10th century, new and much smaller themes, called "Armenian themes" because many were settled by Armenians, were created in the East in conquered territories. While in ca. 842 the Taktikon Uspensky lists 18 strategoi of themes, the De Thematibus of ca. 940 lists 28, and the Escorial Taktikon, written ca. 971–975, lists almost 90 strategoi of themes and other military commands.
Sicily had been completely lost to the expanding Emirate of Sicily at the beginning of Constantine VII's reign in 905 and Cyprus was a condominium jointly administered with the Abbasid Caliphate until its reconquest by Nikephoros II Phokas in 965. Constantinople itself was under an Eparch and protected by the numerous tagmata and police forces.
The empire is estimated by Treadgold to have had a population of 7 million in 774, with an army and navy that totaled 118,400. This included 62,000 thematic troops in 10 themes (including 4,000 marines in the naval themes of Hellas and Cibyrrhaeot), 18,000 in six tagmas, and 38,400 oarsmen divided between the Imperial fleet and the naval themes. By 840, the population had grown by a million, while the army had expanded to a total strength of 154,600. There were 96,000 soldiers and marines in 20 themes and 24,000 in the tagmas, while the number of Imperial and thematic oarsmen declined to 34,200.
Under the direction of the thematic strategoi, tourmarchai commanded from two up to four divisions of soldiers and territory, called tourmai. Under them, the droungarioi headed subdivisions called droungoi, each with a thousand soldiers. In the field, these units would be further divided into banda with a nominal strength of 300 men, although at times reduced to little more than 50. Again, the fear of empowering effective revolts was largely behind these subdivisions.
The following table illustrates the thematic structure as found in the Thracesian Theme, circa 902–936.
|Name||No. of personnel||No. of subordinate units||Officer in command|
|Thema||9 600||4 Tourmai||Strategos|
|Tourma||2 400||6 Droungoi||Tourmarches|
|Kontoubernion||10||1 "Vanguard" + 1 "Rear Guard"||Dekarchos|
The tagmata (τάγματα, "regiments") were the professional standing army of the Empire, formed by Emperor Constantine V after the suppression of a major revolt in the Opsician Theme in 741–743. Anxious to safeguard his throne from the frequent revolts of the thematic armies, Constantine reformed the old guard units of Constantinople into the new tagmata regiments, which were meant to provide the emperor with a core of professional and loyal troops. They were typically headquartered in or around Constantinople, although in later ages they sent detachments to the provinces. The tagmata were exclusively heavy cavalry units and formed the core of the imperial army on campaign, augmented by the provincial levies of thematic troops who were more concerned with local defense.
The four main tagmata were:
There were also auxiliary tagmata, such as the Noumeroi (Gr. Νούμεροι), a garrison unit for Constantinople, which probably included the regiment "of the Walls" (Gr. τῶν Τειχέων, tōn Teicheōn), manning the Walls of Constantinople., and the Optimatoi (Gr. Ὀπτιμάτοι, "the Best"), a support unit responsible for the mules of the army's baggage train (the τοῦλδον, touldon).
Treadgold estimates that between 773 and 899, the strength of the Schools, Excubitors, Watch and Hicanati was 16,000 cavalrymen, that of the Numera and Walls 4,000 infantry. The Optimates had 2,000 support troops until sometime after 840, when their strength was raised to 4,000. In circa 870, the Imperial Fleet Marines were founded, adding another 4,000, for a total active force of 28,000.
There was also the Hetaireia (Gr. Ἑταιρεία, "Companions"), which comprised the various mercenary corps in Imperial service, subdivided in Greater, Middle and Lesser, each commanded by a Hetaireiarchēs
In addition to these more or less stable units, any number of shorter-lived tagmata were formed as favoured units of various emperors. Michael II raised the Tessarakontarioi, a special marine unit, and John I Tzimiskes created a corps called the Athanatoi (Gr. Ἀθάνατοι, the "Immortals") after the old Persian unit.
At the beginning of the Komnenian period in 1081, the Byzantine Empire had been reduced to the smallest territorial extent in its history. Surrounded by enemies, and financially ruined by a long period of civil war, the empire's prospects had looked grim. Yet, through a combination of skill, determination and years of campaigning, Alexios I Komnenos, John II Komnenos and Manuel I Komnenos managed to restore the power of the Byzantine Empire by constructing a new army from the ground up.
The new force is known as the Komnenian army. It was both professional and disciplined. It contained formidable guards units such as the Varangian Guard and the Immortals (a unit of heavy cavalry) stationed in Constantinople, and also levies from the provinces. These levies included cataphract cavalry from Macedonia, Thessaly and Thrace, and various other provincial forces from regions such as the Black Sea coast of Asia Minor.
Under John II, a Macedonian division was maintained, and new native Byzantine troops were recruited from the provinces. As Byzantine Asia Minor began to prosper under John and Manuel, more soldiers were raised from the Asiatic provinces of Neokastra, Paphlagonia and even Seleucia (in the south east). Soldiers were also drawn from defeated peoples, such as the Pechenegs (cavalry archers), and the Serbs, who were used as settlers stationed at Nicomedia.
Native troops were organised into regular units and stationed in both the Asian and European provinces. Komnenian armies were also often reinforced by allied contingents from the Principality of Antioch, Serbia and Hungary, yet even so they generally consisted of about two-thirds Byzantine troops to one-third foreigners. Units of archers, infantry and cavalry were grouped together so as to provide combined arms support to each other.
This Komnenian army was a highly effective, well-trained and well-equipped force, capable of campaigning in Egypt, Hungary, Italy and Palestine. However, like many aspects of the Byzantine state under the Komnenoi, its biggest weakness was that it relied on a powerful and competent ruler to direct and maintain its operations. While Alexios, John and Manuel ruled (c. 1081–c. 1180), the Komnenian army provided the empire with a period of security that enabled Byzantine civilization to flourish. Yet, at the end of the twelfth century the competent leadership upon which the effectiveness of the Komnenian army depended largely disappeared. The consequences of this breakdown in command were to prove disastrous for the Byzantine Empire.
In the year 1185, the emperor Andronikos I Komnenos was killed. With him died the Komnenos dynasty, which had provided a series of militarily competent emperors for over a century. They were replaced by the Angeloi, who have the reputation of being the most unsuccessful dynasty ever to occupy the Byzantine throne.
The army of the Byzantine empire at this point was highly centralised. It was dominated by a system in which the emperor gathered together his forces and personally led them against hostile armies and strongholds. Generals were closely controlled, and all arms of the state looked to Constantinople for instruction and reward.
However, the inaction and ineptitude of the Angeloi quickly lead to a collapse in Byzantine military power, both at sea and on land. Surrounded by a crowd of slaves, mistresses and flatterers, they permitted the empire to be administered by unworthy favourites, while they squandered the money wrung from the provinces on costly buildings and expensive gifts to the churches of the metropolis. They scattered money so lavishly as to empty the treasury, and allowed such licence to the officers of the army as to leave the Empire practically defenceless. Together, they consummated the financial ruin of the state.
The empire's enemies lost no time in taking advantage of this new situation. In the east the Turks invaded the empire, gradually eroding Byzantine control in Asia Minor. Meanwhile, in the west, the Serbs and Hungarians broke away from the empire for good, and in Bulgaria the oppressiveness of Angeloi taxation resulted in the Vlach-Bulgarian Rebellion late in 1185. The rebellion led to the establishment of the Second Bulgarian Empire on territory which had been vital to the empire's security in the Balkans.
Kaloyan of Bulgaria annexed several important cities, while the Angeloi squandered the public treasure on palaces and gardens and attempted to deal with the crisis through diplomatic means. Byzantine authority was severely weakened, and the growing power vacuum at the centre of the empire encouraged fragmentation, as the provinces began to look to local strongmen rather than the government in Constantinople for protection. This further reduced the resources available to the empire and its military system, as large regions passed outside central control.
It was in this situation that the disintegration of the military 'theme' system, which had been the foundation of the empire's remarkable success from the eighth to eleventh centuries, revealed itself as a real catastrophe for the Byzantine state.
The first advantage of the theme system had been its numerical strength. It is thought that the Byzantine field army under Manuel I Komnenos (r. 1143–1180) had numbered some 40,000 men. However, there is evidence that the thematic armies of earlier centuries had provided the empire with a numerically superior force. The army of the theme of Thrakesion alone had provided about 9,600 men in the period 902–936, for example. Furthermore, the thematic armies had been stationed in the provinces, and their greater independence from central command meant that they were able to deal with threats quickly at a local level. This, combined with their greater numbers, allowed them to provide greater defense in depth.
The other key advantage of the theme system was that it had offered the Byzantine state good value for money. It provided a means of cheaply mobilising large numbers of men. The demise of the system meant that armies became more expensive in the long run, which reduced the numbers of troops that the emperors could afford to employ. The considerable wealth and diplomatic skill of the Komnenian emperors, their constant attention to military matters, and their frequent energetic campaigning, had largely countered this change. But the luck of the empire in having the talented Komneni to provide capable leadership was not a long-term solution to a structural problem in the Byzantine state itself.
After the death of Manuel I Komnenos in 1180, the Angeloi had not lavished the same care on the military as the Komneni had done, and the result was that these structural weakness began to manifest themselves in military decline. From 1185 on, Byzantine emperors found it increasingly difficult to muster and pay for sufficient military forces, while their incompetence exposed the limitations of the entire Byzantine military system, dependent as it was on competent personal direction from the emperor. The culmination of the empire's military disintegration under the Angeloi was reached on 13 April 1204, when the armies of the Fourth Crusade sacked Constantinople.
Thus, the problem was not so much that the Komnenian army was any less effective in battle (the thematic army's success rate was just as varied as that of its Komnenian counterpart); it is more the case that, because it was a smaller, more centralised force, the twelfth century army required a greater degree of competent direction from the emperor in order to be effective. Although formidable under an energetic leader, the Komnenian army did not work so well under incompetent or uninterested emperors. The greater independence and resilience of the thematic army had provided the early empire with a structural advantage that was now lost.
For all of the reasons above, it is possible to argue that the demise of the theme system was a great loss to the Byzantine empire. Although it took centuries to become fully apparent, one of the main institutional strengths of the Byzantine state was now gone. Thus it was not the army itself that was to blame for the decline of the empire, but rather the system that supported it. Without strong underlying institutions that could endure beyond the reign of each emperor, the state was extremely vulnerable in times of crisis. Byzantium had come to rely too much on individual emperors, and its continued survival was now no longer certain. While the theme system's demise did play a major role in the empire's military decline, other factors were important as well. These include:
After 1204 the emperors of Nicaea continued some aspects of the system established by the Komneni. However, despite the restoration of the empire in 1261, the Byzantines never again possessed the same levels of wealth, territory and manpower that had been available to the Komnenian emperors and their predecessors. As a result, the military was constantly short of funds. After the death of Michael VIII Palaiologos in 1282, unreliable mercenaries such as the grand Catalan Company came to form an ever larger proportion of the remaining forces.
At the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Byzantine army totaled about 7,000 men, 2,000 of whom were foreign mercenaries. Against the 80,000 Ottoman troops besieging the city, the odds were hopeless. The Byzantines resisted the third attack by the Sultan's elite Janissaries and according to some accounts on both sides were on the brink of repelling them, but a Genoan general in charge of a section of the defense, Giovanni Giustiniani, was grievously wounded during the attack, and his evacuation from the ramparts caused a panic in the ranks of the defenders. Many of the Italians, who were paid by Giustiniani himself, fled the battle.
Some historians suggest that the Kerkoporta gate in the Blachernae section had been left unlocked, and the Ottomans soon discovered this mistake – although accounts indicate that this gain for the Ottomans was in fact contained by defenders and pushed back. The Ottomans rushed in. Emperor Constantine XI himself led the last defense of the city by himself. Throwing aside his purple regalia, he stood in front of the oncoming Ottoman Turks with sword and shield in hand.
The emperor was struck twice by the Turk troops, the mortal blow being a knife to his back. There, on the walls of Constantinople, alone and abandoned by his remaining troops, the emperor died. The fall of the Byzantine capital meant the end of the Roman empire. The Byzantine army, the last surviving direct descendant of the Roman legions, was finished.
The exact size and composition of the Byzantine army and its units is a matter of considerable debate, due to the scantness and ambiguous nature of the primary sources. The following table contains approximate estimates. All estimates excludes the number of oarsmen, for those estimates see Byzantine navy.
According to Mark Whittow the military resources of the Byzantine Empire were broadly comparable to those of other early medieval European states. As such Byzantium may not have been wealthier or more powerful than other European states, but it was more centralized and more united, and this was a vital factor in its survival. By using various Byzantine sources he guesses the entire cavalry forces of the empire, between the 8th and 10th centuries, were somewhere just over 10,000 and the number of infantry 20,000, and argues that the Byzantine armies should be numbered in hundreds or thousands and not tens of thousands.
Madgearu cites and estimate of an army of 250 000 in 1025.
In response to the Persians fielding heavy cavalry that proved unmatched in head-to-head combat, the Byzantines attempted to replicate these elite units, calling them "cataphracts". The word cataphract (from the Greek κατάφρακτος, kataphraktos, with a literal meaning of 'completely armored' in English) was what Greek- and later Latin-speaking peoples used to describe heavy cavalry. Historically, the cataphract was a heavily armed and armoured cavalryman who saw action from the earliest days of Antiquity up through the High Middle Ages. Originally, the term cataphract referred to a type of armour worn to cover the whole body and that of the horse. Eventually the term described the cavalryman himself. The cataphracts were both fearsome and disciplined. Similar to the Persian units on which they were based, both man and horse were heavily armoured, the riders equipped with lances, bows and maces. These troops were slow compared to other cavalry, but their effect on the battlefield, particularly under the Emperor Nikephoros II, was devastating. More heavily armoured types of cataphract were called clibanarii (klibanaphoroi). Over time these stopped being a distinctive unit and were subsumed by the cataphracts.
The Byzantine cavalry were ideally suited to combat on the plains of Anatolia and northern Syria, which, from the seventh century onwards, constituted the principal battleground in the struggle against the forces of Islam. They were heavily armed using lance, mace and sword as well as strong composite bows which allowed them to achieve success against lighter, faster enemies, being particularly effective against both the Arabs and Turks in the east, and the Hungarians and Pechenegs in the west.
By the mid-Byzantine period (c900-1200) the regular mounted arm was broadly divided into katafraktoi (heavily armored and intended for shock action), koursorses (medium weight equipped with mail or scale armor) and lightly armed horse archers.
The Byzantine Empire's military tradition originated in the late Roman period, and its armies always included professional infantry soldiers. That being said, in the middle period especially infantry took a backseat to the cavalry, now the main offensive arm of the army. Equipment varied significantly, among the theme infantry most especially, but an average infantryman of the middle period would be equipped with a spear, sword or axe, plumbata (lead-weighted darts), large oval or triangular shield, metal helmet or thick felt cap, and quilted or leather armour. Wealthier soldiers might be able to afford iron lamellar or even chain mail, but these were generally the preserve of the cavalry and officers; many military manuals of the 10th and 11th centuries don't even mention infantry wearing these being a possibility. Byzantine infantry were lightly armored compared to their earlier Roman predecessors, their strength coming from their exceptional organization and discipline, not being clad in iron.
Pronoiar troops began to appear during the twelfth century, particularly during the reign of the emperor Manuel I Komnenos (1143–1180). These were soldiers paid in land instead of money, but they did not operate under the old theme system of the middle Byzantine period. Pronoiai developed into essentially a license to tax the citizens who lived within the boundaries of the grant (the paroikoi). Pronoiars (those who had been granted a pronoia) became something like tax collectors, who were allowed to keep some of the revenue they collected.
These men are therefore generally considered to have been the Byzantine equivalent of western knights: part soldiers, part local rulers. However, it is important to note that the emperor was still the legal owner of the Pronoiars' land. Usually cavalry, pronoiars would have been equipped with mail armour, lances, and horse barding. Manuel re-equipped his heavy cavalry in western style at some point during his reign; it is likely that many of these troops would have been pronoiars. These troops became particularly common after 1204, in the service of the Empire of Nicaea in western Asia Minor.
Akrites (plural Akritoi or Akritai) were defenders of the Anatolian borders of the Empire. They appeared after either the Arab conquests, or much later when Turkish tribes raided Anatolia from the east. The Akritoi units were formed from native Greeks living near the eastern borders. Whether such men were really soldier-farmers or lived on rents from smallholdings while concentrating on their military duties is still a matter of debate. The Akritoi were probably mostly light troops, armed with bows and javelins.
They were most adept at defensive warfare, often against raiding Turkish light horsemen in the Anatolian mountains, but could also cover the advance of the regular Byzantine army. Their tactics probably consisted of skirmishing and ambushes in order to catch the fast-moving Turkish horse-archers. Greek folklore and traditional songs of the Byzantine era to the 19th century heavily feature Akrites and their (always exaggerated) deeds (see acritic songs).
The Byzantine army frequently employed foreign mercenary troops from many different regions. These troops often supplemented or assisted the empire's regular forces; at times, they even formed the bulk of the Byzantine army. But for most of the Byzantine army's long history, foreign and military soldiers reflected the wealth and might of the Byzantine empire, for the emperor who was able to gather together armies from all corners of the known world was formidable.
Foreign troops during the late Roman period were known as the foederati ("allies") in Latin, and during the Byzantine period were known as the Phoideratoi (Gr. Φοιδεράτοι) in Greek. From this point, foreign troops (mainly mercenaries) were known as the Hetairoi (Gr. Ἑταιρείαι, "Companionships") and most frequently employed in the Imperial Guard. This force was in turn divided into the Great Companionships (Μεγάλη Εταιρεία), the Middle Companionships (Μέση Εταιρεία), and the Minor Companionships (Μικρά Εταιρεία), commanded by their respective Hetaireiarches – "Companionship lords". These may have been divided upon a religious basis separating the Christian subjects, Christian foreigners, and non-Christians, respectively.
During the beginning of the 6th century, several barbarian tribes who eventually destroyed the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century eventually were recruited in the armies of the Eastern Roman Empire. Among them were the Heruli, who had deposed the last Western Roman Emperor Romulus Augustulus under their leader Odoacer in 476. Other barbarians included the Huns, who had invaded the divided Roman Empire during the second quarter of the 5th century under Attila, and the Gepids, who had settled in the Romanian territories north of the Danube River.
It was these same barbarian mercenaries that Emperor Justinian had used to help his legions reclaim the lost Roman territories of the West, which including Italy, North Africa, Sicily, and Gaul. The Byzantine general Belisarius used Hunnic archers and Heruli mercenaries in his army to reclaim North Africa and the Balearic Islands from the Vandals, and in 535-537, he recruited Heruli infantry and Hunnic horsemen to help him secure Sicily and all of southern Italy, as well as defend the city of Rome from the Ostrogoths.
In 552, the Armenian general Narses defeated the Ostrogoths with an army that contained a large number of Germanic soldiers, including 3,000 Heruli and 400 Gepids. Two years later, Narses crushed a combined army of invading Franks and Alemanni with a Roman army that including a contingent of Heruli mercenary troops.
Additionally, during the Komnenian period, the mercenary units would simply be divided by ethnicity and called after their native lands: the Inglinoi (Englishmen), the Phragkoi (Franks), the Skythikoi (Scythians), the Latinikoi (Latins), and so on. Even Ethiopians served during the reign of Theophilos. These mercenary units, especially the Skythikoi, were also often used as a police force in Constantinople.
The most famous of all Byzantine regiments was the legendary Varangian Guard. This unit traced its roots to the 6,000 Rus sent to Emperor Basil II by Vladimir of Kiev in 988. The tremendous fighting abilities of these axe-wielding, barbarian Northerners and their intense loyalty (bought with much gold) established them as an elite body, which soon rose to become the Emperors' personal bodyguard. This is further exemplified by the title of their commander, Akolouthos (Ακόλουθος, "Acolyte/follower" to the Emperor).
Initially the Varangians were mostly of Scandinavian origin, but later the guard came to include many Anglo-Saxons (after the Norman Conquest) as well. The Varangian Guard fought at the Battle of Beroia in 1122 with great distinction, and were present at the Battle of Sirmium in 1167, in which the Byzantine army smashed the forces of the Kingdom of Hungary. The Varangian Guard is thought to have been disbanded after the sack of Constantinople by the forces of the Fourth Crusade in 1204; nearly all contemporary accounts agreed that they were the most important Byzantine unit present and were instrumental in driving off the first Crusader assaults.
The Byzantines originally used weapons developed from their Roman origins, short swords, spears, javelins, darts, slings and bows etc. However they were gradually influenced by the weapons of their Turkish and Arab neighbors, adopting the use of the composite bow and the cavalry mace
There were many sword (xiphos) types; straight, curved, one- and two-handed, which are depicted in illustrations. According to the Strategika, by the sixth century the short Roman gladius had been abandoned in favor of a long two-edged sword, the spathion, used by both the infantry and cavalry. The tenth century Sylloge Tacticorum gives the length of this kind of sword as the equivalent of 94 cm and mentions a new saber-like sword of the same length, the paramerion, a curved one-edged slashing weapon for cavalrymen. Both weapons could be carried from a belt or by a shoulder strap.
Infantrymen and cavalrymen carried spears for thrusting and javelins for throwing. Cavalrymen of the sixth and seventh century wielded lances with a thong in the middle of the shaft (Avar style) and a pennant. Infantrymen's spears (kontaria) in the tenth century were 4-4.5 meters long (cavalry lances were slightly shorter) with an iron point (xipharion, aichme).
One type of spear, the menaulion, is described in detail; it was very thick, taken whole from young oak or cornel saplings and capped by a long blade (45–50 cm), for use by especially strong infantrymen (called menaulatoi after their weapon) against enemy kataphraktoi - an excellent example of a weapon and a type of specialized soldier developed for a specific tactical role. Both light infantry and cavalry carried javelins (akontia, riptaria) no longer than three meters.
Maces (rabdia) and axes (pelekia, tzikouria) served as shock weapons. The tenth century kataphraktoi carried heavy all-iron maces (siderorabdia) – six-, four- or three-cornered – to smash their way through enemy infantry. Infantrymen used maces and battle-axes in hand-to-hand combat; the two handed axe was the preferred weapon of the mercenaries from Rus' and Varangian Guard of the tenth and eleventh centuries. Byzantine axes were single-bladed (rounded or straight edged), sometimes with a spike opposite the blade.
The sling (sphendone) and the bow (toxon) were the weapons used by light soldiers. Slings were the ordinary hand-held type; the Roman staff sling (fustibalis) was apparently little used. The Byzantine bow, like the late Roman bow, was the composite, reflex type featuring an unbendable horn grip with the reinforced wooden bowstave slung in reverse of the bow's natural flex when unstrung.
A bowshot (flight, not target, range) is over three hundred meters for an infantry bow, but cavalry bows, standing 1.2 meters high, were smaller and less tightly strung for greater accuracy and ease of handling, they had a flight range of 130–135 meters. The solenarion is a hollow tube through which an archer could launch several small arrows (mues, i.e., "mice") at a time; Anna Komnene remarked that the Crusader's Western-type crossbow, which she called a tzangra, was unknown to Byzantium before the 12th century.
Representational evidence, including propaganda monuments, gravestones, tombs, and the Exodus fresco, often shows Roman soldiers with one or two spears; one tombstone shows a soldier with five shorter javelins. Archaeological evidence, from Roman burials and Scandinavian bog-deposits, shows similar spearheads, though the shafts are rarely preserved.
Representational evidence sometimes still shows Roman swords. Archaeological evidence shows that the gladius has disappeared; various short semispathae supplement the older pugiones while medium-long spathae replace the medium-short gladii. These have the same straight double-edged blades as older Roman swords.
Unlike the Roman legions, the Byzantine army’s strength was in its armoured cavalry Cataphracts, which evolved from the Clibanarii of the late empire. Infantry were still used but mainly in support roles and as a base of maneuver for the cavalry.
Akolouthos (Greek: ἀκόλουθος, "follower, attendant") was a Byzantine office with varying functions over time. Originally a subaltern officer of the imperial guard regiment (tagma) of the Vigla, it was associated with the command over the famed Varangian Guard in the 11th–12th centuries.Battle of Achelous (917)
The Battle of Achelous or Acheloos (Bulgarian: Битката при Ахелой, Greek: Μάχη του Αχελώου), also known as the Battle of Anchialus, took place on 20 August 917, on the Achelous River near the Bulgarian Black Sea coast, close to the fortress Tuthom (modern Pomorie) between Bulgarian and Byzantine forces. The Bulgarians obtained a decisive victory which not only secured the previous successes of Simeon I but made him de facto ruler of the whole Balkan Peninsula, excluding the well-protected Byzantine capital Constantinople and the Peloponnese.
The battle, which was one of the biggest and bloodiest battles of the European Middle Ages, was one of the worst disasters ever to befall a Byzantine army, and conversely one of the greatest military successes of Bulgaria. Among the most significant consequences was the official recognition of the Imperial title of the Bulgarian monarchs, and the consequent affirmation of Bulgarian equality vis-à-vis Byzantium.Battle of Anzen
The Battle of Anzen or Dazimon was fought on 22 July 838 at Anzen or Dazimon (now Dazmana (Akçatarla), Turkey) between the Byzantine Empire and the forces of the Abbasid Caliphate. The Abbasids had launched a huge expedition with two separate armies in retaliation for the Byzantine emperor Theophilos's successes the previous year, and aimed to sack Amorion, one of Byzantium's largest cities. Theophilos with his army confronted the smaller Muslim army, under the Iranian vassal prince Afshin, at Dazimon.
The numerically superior Byzantine army was initially successful, but when Theophilos resolved to lead an attack in person, his absence from his usual post caused panic among the Byzantine troops, who feared that he had been killed. Coupled with a fierce counterattack by Afshin's Turkish horse-archers, the Byzantine army broke and fled. Theophilos and his guard were besieged for a while on a hill, before making good their escape. The defeat opened the way for the brutal sack of Amorion a few weeks later, one of the most serious blows Byzantium suffered in the centuries-long Arab–Byzantine Wars.Battle of Azaz (1030)
The Battle of Azaz was an engagement fought in August 1030 near the Syrian town of Azaz between the Byzantine army, led by Emperor Romanos III Argyros (r. 1028–1034) in person, and the forces of the Mirdasid Emirate of Aleppo, likewise under the personal command of Emir Shibl al-Dawla Nasr (r. 1029–1038). The Mirdasids defeated the much larger Byzantine army and took great booty, even though they were eventually unable to capitalise on their victory.
Aleppo had long been a flashpoint between Byzantium and its Arab neighbours, with the Byzantines claiming a protectorate over the city since 969. In the aftermath of a defeat inflicted on the Byzantine governor of Antioch by the Mirdasids, Romanos launched a campaign against Aleppo. Despite his own inexperience in military matters, Romanos decided to lead the army in person, leading contemporary Byzantine chroniclers to point to a quest for military glory as his primary motivation, rather than the preservation of the status quo. At the head of his army, estimated some 20,000 strong by modern historians, Romanos arrived in Antioch on 20 July 1030. The Mirdasids sent envoys with peace overtures including the payment of tribute, but Romanos, confident of success, rejected them and detained the ambassador. Although his generals urged him to avoid action in the hot and dry Syrian summer, Romanos led his forces forward. The Mirdasid army was considerably smaller, 700–2,000 men according to the sources, but comprised mostly Bedouin light cavalry, which enjoyed superior mobility against their heavily-armoured opponents.
The two armies clashed at Azaz, northwest of Aleppo, where the Byzantines set up camp. The Mirdasids ambushed and destroyed a Byzantine reconnaissance force, and started harassing the imperial camp. Unable to forage, the Byzantines began suffering from thirst and hunger, while an attack on the Mirdasid forces was defeated. Finally, on 10 August, the Byzantine army commenced its withdrawal to Antioch, but it soon collapsed into a chaotic affair. The Arabs used the opportunity to attack the disordered Byzantines, routing them; Emperor Romanos himself only escaped thanks to the intervention of his bodyguard. The scattered remnants of the imperial army gathered at Antioch. Romanos returned to Constantinople, but his generals managed to recover the situation afterwards, putting down Arab rebellions and forcing Aleppo to resume tributary status in 1031.Battle of Bapheus
The Battle of Bapheus occurred on 27 July 1302, between an Ottoman army under Osman I and a Byzantine army under George Mouzalon. The battle ended in a crucial Ottoman victory, cementing the Ottoman state and heralding the final capture of Byzantine Bithynia by the Turks.Battle of Manzikert
The Battle of Manzikert was fought between the Byzantine Empire and the Seljuk Empire on 26 August 1071 near Manzikert, theme of Iberia (modern Malazgirt in Muş Province, Turkey). The decisive defeat of the Byzantine army and the capture of the Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes played an important role in undermining Byzantine authority in Anatolia and Armenia, and allowed for the gradual Turkification of Anatolia. Many of the Turks, who had been travelling westward during the 11th century, saw the victory at Manzikert as an entrance to Asia Minor.The brunt of the battle was borne by the professional soldiers from the eastern and western tagmata, as large numbers of mercenaries and Anatolian levies fled early and survived the battle. The fallout from Manzikert was disastrous for the Byzantines, resulting in civil conflicts and an economic crisis that severely weakened the Byzantine Empire's ability to adequately defend its borders. This led to the mass movement of Turks into central Anatolia—by 1080, an area of 78,000 square kilometres (30,000 sq mi) had been gained by the Seljuk Turks. It took three decades of internal strife before Alexius I (1081 to 1118) restored stability to Byzantium. Historian Thomas Asbridge says: "In 1071, the Seljuqs crushed an imperial army at the Battle of Manzikert (in eastern Asia Minor), and though historians no longer consider this to have been an utterly cataclysmic reversal for the Greeks, it still was a stinging setback." It was the first time in history a Byzantine Emperor had become the prisoner of a Muslim commander.Battle of Neopatras
The Battle of Neopatras was fought in the early 1270s between a Byzantine army besieging the city of Neopatras and the forces of John I Doukas, ruler of Thessaly. The battle was a rout for the Byzantine army, which was caught by surprise and defeated by a much smaller but more disciplined force.Battle of Pelekanon
The Battle of Pelekanon, also known by its Latinised form Battle of Pelecanum, occurred on June 10–11, 1329 between an expeditionary force by the Byzantines led by Andronicus III and an Ottoman army led by Orhan I. The Byzantine army was defeated, with no further attempt made at relieving the cities in Anatolia under Ottoman siege.Battle of Yarmouk
The Battle of Yarmouk was a major battle between the army of the Byzantine Empire and the Muslim forces of the Rashidun Caliphate. The battle consisted of a series of engagements that lasted for six days in August 636, near the Yarmouk River, along what are now the borders of Syria–Jordan and Syria–Israel, east of the Sea of Galilee. The result of the battle was a complete Muslim victory that ended Byzantine rule in Syria. The Battle of Yarmouk is regarded as one of the most decisive battles in military history, and it marked the first great wave of early Muslim conquests after the death of Muhammad, heralding the rapid advance of Islam into the then Christian Levant.
To check the Arab advance and to recover lost territory, Emperor Heraclius had sent a massive expedition to the Levant in May 636. As the Byzantine army approached, the Arabs tactically withdrew from Syria and regrouped all their forces at the Yarmouk plains close to the Arabian Peninsula, where, they were reinforced and defeated the numerically superior Byzantine army. The battle is considered to be one of Khalid ibn al-Walid's greatest military victories and cemented his reputation as one of the greatest tacticians and cavalry commanders in history.Byzantine Armenia
Byzantine Armenia, sometimes Western Armenia, is the name given to the parts of Kingdom of Armenia that became part of the Byzantine Empire. The size of the territory varied over time, depending on the degree of control the Byzantines had over Armenia.
The Byzantine and Sassanid Empires divided Armenia in 387 and in 428. Western Armenia fell under Byzantine rule, and Eastern Armenia fell under Sassanid control. Even after the establishment of the Bagratid Armenian Kingdom, parts of historic Armenia and Armenian-inhabited areas were still under Byzantine rule.
The Armenians had no representation in the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451, due to their struggle against the Sassanids in an armed rebellion. For that reason, there appeared a theological drift between Armenian and Byzantine Christianity.Regardless, many Armenians became successful in the Byzantine Empire. Numerous Byzantine emperors were either ethnically Armenian, half-Armenian, part-Armenian or possibly Armenian; although culturally Greek. The best example of this is Emperor Heraclius, whose father was Armenian and mother Cappadocian. Emperor Heraclius began the Heraclean Dynasty (610–717). Basil I is another example of an Armenian beginning a dynasty; the Macedonian dynasty. Other great emperors were Romanos I, John I Tzimiskes, and Nikephoros II.Byzantine army (Komnenian era)
The Byzantine army of the Komnenian era or Komnenian army was the force established by Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos during the late 11th/early 12th century, and perfected by his successors John II Komnenos and Manuel I Komnenos during the 12th century. From necessity, following extensive territorial loss and a near disastrous defeat by the Normans of southern Italy at Dyrrachion in 1081, Alexios constructed a new army from the ground up. This new army was significantly different from previous forms of the Byzantine army, especially in the methods used for the recruitment and maintenance of soldiers. The army was characterised by an increased reliance on the military capabilities of the immediate imperial household, the relatives of the ruling dynasty and the provincial Byzantine aristocracy. Another distinctive element of the new army was an expansion of the employment of foreign mercenary troops and their organisation into more permanent units. However, continuity in equipment, unit organisation, tactics and strategy from earlier times is evident. The Komnenian army was instrumental in creating the territorial integrity and stability that allowed the Komnenian restoration of the Byzantine Empire. It was deployed in the Balkans, Italy, Hungary, Russia, Anatolia, Syria, the Holy Land and Egypt.Byzantine army (Palaiologan era)
The Palaiologan army refers to the military forces of the Byzantine Empire under the rule of the Palaiologos dynasty, from the late 13th century to its final collapse in the mid-15th century. The army was a direct continuation of the forces of the Empire of Nicaea, which itself was a fractured component of the formidable Komnenian army of the 12th century. Under the first Palaiologan emperor, Michael VIII, the army's role took an increasingly offensive role whilst the naval forces of the empire, weakened since the days of Andronikos I Komnenos, were boosted to include thousands of skilled sailors and some 80 ships. Due to the lack of land to support the army, the empire required the use of large numbers of mercenaries.
After Andronikos II took to the throne in 1282, the army fell apart and the Byzantines suffered regular defeats at the hands of their eastern opponents, although they would continue to enjoy success against the Latin territories in Greece. By c. 1350 the Empire's inefficient fiscal organization and incompetent central government made raising troops and the supplies to maintain them a near-impossible task, and the Empire came to rely upon troops provided by Serbs, Bulgarians, Venetians, Latins, Genoese and Turks to fight the civil wars that lasted for the greater part of the 14th century, with the latter foe being the most successful in establishing a foothold in Thrace. By the time the civil war had ended, the Turks had cut off Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, from the surrounding land and in 1453 the last decisive battle was fought by the Palaiologan army when the capital was stormed and sacked, falling on 29 May.Droungarios
A droungarios, also spelled drungarios (Greek: δρουγγάριος, Latin: drungarius) and sometimes anglicized as Drungary, was a military rank of the late Roman and Byzantine empires, signifying the commander of a formation known as droungos.Epi tou stratou
The title of epi tou stratou (Greek: ἐπὶ τοῦ στρατοῦ; "the one in charge of the army") was a Byzantine military position attested during the 14th century.Expedition to Tabuk
The Expedition to Tabuk, also known as the Expedition of Usra, was a military expedition that was initiated by Muhammad in October 630 AD (AH 9). Muhammad led a force of as many as 30,000 north to Tabuk, near the Gulf of Aqaba, in present-day northwestern Saudi Arabia.Jalin
Jalin (Arabic: جلين, also spelled Jileen or Jillin) is a village in southern Syria, administratively part of the Daraa Governorate, located northwest of Daraa. Nearby localities include Muzayrib to the southeast, Tafas to the east, al-Shaykh Saad to the northeast, Adwan to the north, Tasil to the northwest and Saham al-Jawlan and Heet to the west. According to the Syria Central Bureau of Statistics, Tasil had a population of 4,337 in the 2004 census.In sources relating to the Arab conquest of Syria, it is mentioned that the last Byzantine army the empire was able to set up in the region, took up position near "Jillin" before the crucial Battle of the Yarmuk in 635. The battle took place west of Jillin and led to the catastrophic defeat of the Byzantine army.Jalin was described in the late 19th century as an impoverished village of 20 hut-like houses built either of mudbrick or stone. Its population consisted of 100 black Africans hailing from the Sudan. They were settled in two villages, Jalin and al-Shaykh Saad to the north, by Sheikh Saad ibn Abd al-Qadir, himself from the Sudan. The Africans initially came as slaves of the sheikh, but were later freed. They gradually settled in other parts of the Hauran region of southern Syria. At Jalin, the inhabitants cultivated grapes and vegetables in nearby vineyards and gardens.Pronoia
The pronoia (plural pronoiai; Greek: πρόνοια, meaning "care" or "forethought") was a system of granting dedicated streams of state income to individuals and institutions in the late Eastern Roman Empire. Beginning in the 11th century and continuing until the empire's conquest in the 15th century, the system differed in significant ways from European feudalism of the same period.Roman army
The Roman army (Latin: exercitus Romanus) was the terrestrial armed forces deployed by the Romans throughout the duration of Ancient Rome, from the Roman Kingdom (to c. 500 BC) to the Roman Republic (500–31 BC) and the Roman Empire (31 BC – 395), and its medieval continuation the Eastern Roman Empire. It is thus a term that may span approximately 2,206 years (753 BC to 1453 AD), during which the Roman armed forces underwent numerous permutations in composition, organisation, equipment and tactics, while conserving a core of lasting traditions..Varbitsa (town)
Varbitsa (Bulgarian: Върбица [vərbit͡sə]; "little willow", from varba, "willow"; also transliterated Vǎrbica) is a town in eastern Bulgaria, part of Shumen Province. It is the administrative centre of Varbitsa Municipality, which lies in the southwestern part of Shumen Province. As of December 2009, the town has a population of 3,585 inhabitants.Varbitsa is located in the southeastern Danubian Plain, at the foot of the eastern Balkan Mountains, on both banks of the Gerila river. The area was populated in Antiquity by the Thracians and Romans, while the Slavs and Bulgars arrived in the Early Middle Ages. It is thought that the first ruler of the First Bulgarian Empire, Asparuh, settled the Severians in the region of the Varbitsa Pass in order to guard it in the 7th century. The pass was the site of the Battle of Pliska on 26 July 811, during which Krum of Bulgaria's forces routed the Byzantine army, killing and beheading Byzantine Emperor Nikephoros I.