Byzantine army

Byzantine army

Overview
The Byzantine army was the primary military body of the Byzantine
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

 armed forces, serving alongside the Byzantine navy
Byzantine navy
The Byzantine navy was the naval force of the East Roman or Byzantine Empire. Like the empire it served, it was a direct continuation from its imperial Roman predecessor, but played a far greater role in the defense and survival of the state then its earlier iterations...

. A direct descendant of the Roman army
Roman army
The Roman army is the generic term for the terrestrial armed forces deployed by the kingdom of Rome , the Roman Republic , the Roman Empire and its successor, the Byzantine empire...

, the Byzantine 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.The early Byzantine army received a mixed diet of victory and defeat - consequently the cavalry
Cavalry
Cavalry or horsemen were soldiers or warriors who fought mounted on horseback. Cavalry were historically the third oldest and the most mobile of the combat arms...

 arm became more prominent as the legion system
Roman legion
A Roman legion normally indicates the basic ancient Roman army unit recruited specifically from Roman citizens. The organization of legions varied greatly over time but they were typically composed of perhaps 5,000 soldiers, divided into maniples and later into "cohorts"...

 disappeared in the early 7th century.
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The Byzantine army was the primary military body of the Byzantine
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

 armed forces, serving alongside the Byzantine navy
Byzantine navy
The Byzantine navy was the naval force of the East Roman or Byzantine Empire. Like the empire it served, it was a direct continuation from its imperial Roman predecessor, but played a far greater role in the defense and survival of the state then its earlier iterations...

. A direct descendant of the Roman army
Roman army
The Roman army is the generic term for the terrestrial armed forces deployed by the kingdom of Rome , the Roman Republic , the Roman Empire and its successor, the Byzantine empire...

, the Byzantine 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.The early Byzantine army received a mixed diet of victory and defeat - consequently the cavalry
Cavalry
Cavalry or horsemen were soldiers or warriors who fought mounted on horseback. Cavalry were historically the third oldest and the most mobile of the combat arms...

 arm became more prominent as the legion system
Roman legion
A Roman legion normally indicates the basic ancient Roman army unit recruited specifically from Roman citizens. The organization of legions varied greatly over time but they were typically composed of perhaps 5,000 soldiers, divided into maniples and later into "cohorts"...

 disappeared in the early 7th century. Later reforms reflected some Germanic
Germanic peoples
The Germanic peoples are an Indo-European ethno-linguistic group of Northern European origin, identified by their use of the Indo-European Germanic languages which diversified out of Proto-Germanic during the Pre-Roman Iron Age.Originating about 1800 BCE from the Corded Ware Culture on the North...

 and Asian
Asian people
Asian people or Asiatic people is a term with multiple meanings that refers to people who descend from a portion of Asia's population.- Central Asia :...

 influences - with every encounter against a ferocious opponent the Byzantines would find a new source of excellent mercenaries with Huns
Huns
The Huns were a group of nomadic people who, appearing from east of the Volga River, migrated into Europe c. AD 370 and established the vast Hunnic Empire there. Since de Guignes linked them with the Xiongnu, who had been northern neighbours of China 300 years prior to the emergence of the Huns,...

, Cumans
Cumans
The Cumans were Turkic nomadic people comprising the western branch of the Cuman-Kipchak confederation. After Mongol invasion , they decided to seek asylum in Hungary, and subsequently to Bulgaria...

, Alans
Alans
The Alans, or the Alani, occasionally termed Alauni or Halani, were a group of Sarmatian tribes, nomadic pastoralists of the 1st millennium AD who spoke an Eastern Iranian language which derived from Scytho-Sarmatian and which in turn evolved into modern Ossetian.-Name:The various forms of Alan —...

 and (following the Battle of Manzikert
Battle of Manzikert
The Battle of Manzikert , was fought between the Byzantine Empire and Seljuq Turks led by Alp Arslan on August 26, 1071 near Manzikert...

) Turks
Turkic peoples
The Turkic peoples are peoples residing in northern, central and western Asia, southern Siberia and northwestern China and parts of eastern Europe. They speak languages belonging to the Turkic language family. They share, to varying degrees, certain cultural traits and historical backgrounds...

 meeting the Empire's appetite for light cavalry
Light cavalry
Light cavalry refers to lightly armed and lightly armored troops mounted on horses, as opposed to heavy cavalry, where the riders are heavily armored...

 mercenaries
Mercenary
A mercenary, is a person who takes part in an armed conflict based on the promise of material compensation rather than having a direct interest in, or a legal obligation to, the conflict itself. A non-conscript professional member of a regular army is not considered to be a mercenary although he...

. Since much of the Byzantine military focused on the strategy and skill of generals utilizing militia
Militia
The term militia is commonly used today to refer to a military force composed of ordinary citizens to provide defense, emergency law enforcement, or paramilitary service, in times of emergency without being paid a regular salary or committed to a fixed term of service. It is a polyseme with...

 troops, heavy infantry
Heavy infantry
Heavy infantry refers to heavily armed and armoured ground troops, as opposed to medium or light infantry, in which the warriors are relatively lightly armoured. As modern infantry troops usually define their subgroups differently , 'heavy infantry' almost always is used to describe pre-gunpowder...

 were recruited from Frankish
Franks
The Franks were a confederation of Germanic tribes first attested in the third century AD as living north and east of the Lower Rhine River. From the third to fifth centuries some Franks raided Roman territory while other Franks joined the Roman troops in Gaul. Only the Salian Franks formed a...

 and later Varangian
Varangians
The Varangians or Varyags , sometimes referred to as Variagians, were people from the Baltic region, most often associated with Vikings, who from the 9th to 11th centuries ventured eastwards and southwards along the rivers of Eastern Europe, through what is now Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.According...

 mercenaries.

From the seventh to the 12th centuries, the Byzantine army was among the most powerful and effective military forces - neither Dark Age Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 nor (following its early successes) the fracturing Caliphate
Caliphate
The term caliphate, "dominion of a caliph " , refers to the first system of government established in Islam and represented the political unity of the Muslim Ummah...

 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
Basil II
Basil II , known in his time as Basil the Porphyrogenitus and Basil the Young to distinguish him from his ancestor Basil I the Macedonian, was a Byzantine emperor from the Macedonian dynasty who reigned from 10 January 976 to 15 December 1025.The first part of his long reign was dominated...

. 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
Byzantine economy
The Byzantine economy was among the most advanced in Europe and the Mediterranean for many centuries. Constantinople was a prime hub in a trading network that at various times extended across nearly all of Eurasia and North Africa. Some scholars argue that, up until the arrival of the Arabs in the...

 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
Tagma (military)
The tagma is a term for a military unit of battalion or regiment size. The best-known and most technical use of the term however refers to the elite regiments formed by Byzantine emperor Constantine V and comprising the central army of the Byzantine Empire in the 8th–11th centuries.-History and...

 troops, including ever-increasing numbers of foreign mercenaries. The Komnenian
Komnenos
Komnenós or Comnenus was the name of a ruling family of the Eastern Roman Empire , who halted the political decline of the Empire from c.1081 to c.1185.-Origins:...

 emperors made great efforts to re-establish a native army, instituting the pronoia
Pronoia
Pronoia refers to a system of land grants in the Byzantine Empire.-The Early Pronoia System:...

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
Asia Minor
Asia Minor is a geographical location at the westernmost protrusion of Asia, also called Anatolia, and corresponds to the western two thirds of the Asian part of Turkey...

 reduced the Empire's recruiting-ground, while the abuse of the pronoia grants led to a progressive feudalism
Feudalism
Feudalism was a set of legal and military customs in medieval Europe that flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries, which, broadly defined, was a system for ordering society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour.Although derived from the...

 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
Fourth Crusade
The Fourth Crusade was originally intended to conquer Muslim-controlled Jerusalem by means of an invasion through Egypt. Instead, in April 1204, the Crusaders of Western Europe invaded and conquered the Christian city of Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire...

 in 1204.

The Emperors of Nicaea
Empire of Nicaea
The Empire of Nicaea was the largest of the three Byzantine Greek successor states founded by the aristocracy of the Byzantine Empire that fled after Constantinople was occupied by Western European and Venetian forces during the Fourth Crusade...

 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
Andronikos II Palaiologos
Andronikos II Palaiologos , Latinized as Andronicus II Palaeologus, was Byzantine emperor from 1282 to 1328. He was the eldest surviving son of Michael VIII Palaiologos and Theodora Doukaina Vatatzina, grandniece of John III Doukas Vatatzes...

, 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.

History


Just as what we today label the Byzantine Empire
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

 was in reality and to contemporaries a continuation of the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

, so the Byzantine army was an outgrowth of the Late Roman structure
Late Roman army
The Late Roman army is the term used to denote the military forces of the Roman Empire from the accession of Emperor Diocletian in 284 until the Empire's definitive division into Eastern and Western halves in 395. A few decades afterwards, the Western army disintegrated as the Western empire...

, 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
Medieval Greek
Medieval Greek, also known as Byzantine Greek, is the stage of the Greek language between the beginning of the Middle Ages around 600 and the Ottoman conquest of the city of Constantinople in 1453. The latter date marked the end of the Middle Ages in Southeast Europe...

 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
Muslim conquests
Muslim conquests also referred to as the Islamic conquests or Arab conquests, began with the Islamic prophet Muhammad. He established a new unified polity in the Arabian Peninsula which under the subsequent Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphates saw a century of rapid expansion of Muslim power.They...

, which saw the loss of Syria and Egypt, the remainders of the provincial armies were withdrawn and settled in Asia Minor
Asia Minor
Asia Minor is a geographical location at the westernmost protrusion of Asia, also called Anatolia, and corresponds to the western two thirds of the Asian part of Turkey...

, 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
Battle of Manzikert
The Battle of Manzikert , was fought between the Byzantine Empire and Seljuq Turks led by Alp Arslan on August 26, 1071 near Manzikert...

 in 1071 and the subsequent Seljuk invasions, together with the arrival of the Crusades
Crusades
The Crusades were a series of religious wars, blessed by the Pope and the Catholic Church with the main goal of restoring Christian access to the holy places in and near Jerusalem...

 and the incursions of the Normans
Normans
The Normans were the people who gave their name to Normandy, a region in northern France. They were descended from Norse Viking conquerors of the territory and the native population of Frankish and Gallo-Roman stock...

, would severely weaken the Byzantine state and its military, which increasingly had to rely on foreign mercenaries.

The army under Diocletian and Constantine



The Eastern Empire dates from the creation of the Tetrarchy
Tetrarchy
The term Tetrarchy describes any system of government where power is divided among four individuals, but usually refers to the tetrarchy instituted by Roman Emperor Diocletian in 293, marking the end of the Crisis of the Third Century and the recovery of the Roman Empire...

 ("Quadrumvirate") by the Emperor Diocletian
Diocletian
Diocletian |latinized]] upon his accession to Diocletian . c. 22 December 244  – 3 December 311), was a Roman Emperor from 284 to 305....

 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
Cavalry
Cavalry or horsemen were soldiers or warriors who fought mounted on horseback. Cavalry were historically the third oldest and the most mobile of the combat arms...

, though the infantry
Infantry
Infantrymen are soldiers who are specifically trained for the role of fighting on foot to engage the enemy face to face and have historically borne the brunt of the casualties of combat in wars. As the oldest branch of combat arms, they are the backbone of armies...

 still remained the major component of the Roman armies, in contrast to common belief. For example, in 478, an Eastern field army consisted of 8,000 cavalry and 30,000 infantry and it can be calculated that in 357 Emperor Julian
Julian the Apostate
Julian "the Apostate" , commonly known as Julian, or also Julian the Philosopher, was Roman Emperor from 361 to 363 and a noted philosopher and Greek writer....

 had 10,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry at Strasbourg. But the importance of cavalry for the commanding officers, though not the numbers, did increase, and by the time of Justinian, the numbers had increased, too.

The limitanei and ripenses were to occupy the limes
Limes
A limes was a border defense or delimiting system of Ancient Rome. It marked the boundaries of the Roman Empire.The Latin noun limes had a number of different meanings: a path or balk delimiting fields, a boundary line or marker, any road or path, any channel, such as a stream channel, or any...

, 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 cataphract
Cataphract
A cataphract was a form of armored heavy cavalry utilised in ancient warfare by a number of peoples in Western Eurasia and the Eurasian Steppe....

arii or clibanarii
Clibanarii
The Clibanarii or Klibanophoroi were a Sassanid Persian, late Roman and Byzantine military unit of heavy armored horsemen. Similar to the cataphracti, the horsemen themselves and their horses were fully armoured...

, 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 archers and some 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
Zosimus
Zosimus was a Byzantine historian, who lived in Constantinople during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I . According to Photius, he was a comes, and held the office of "advocate" of the imperial treasury.- Historia Nova :...

) 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
Comes
Comes , plural comites , is the Latin word for companion, either individually or as a member of a collective known as comitatus, especially the suite of a magnate, in some cases large and/or formal enough to have a specific name, such as a cohors amicorum. The word comes derives from com- "with" +...

. 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, cohort
Cohort (military unit)
A cohort was the basic tactical unit of a Roman legion following the reforms of Gaius Marius in 107 BC.-Legionary cohort:...

s and cavalry ala
Ala (Roman military)
An Ala was the term used during the mid- Roman Republic to denote a military formation composed of conscripts from the socii, Rome's Italian military allies. A normal consular army during this period consisted of 2 legions, composed of Roman citizens only, and 2 allied alae...

e survived there, and newer units were created (the new legions, or auxilia and vexillatio
Vexillatio
A vexillatio was a detachment of a Roman legion formed as a temporary task force created by the Roman Army of the Principate. It was named from the standards carried by legionary detachments, vexillum , which bore the emblem and name of the parent legion...

nes
, amongst the cavalry. The limitanei infantry may have been lighter-equipped than the comitatenses
Comitatenses
Comitatenses is the Latin plural of comitatensis, originally the adjective derived from comitatus , itself rooting in Comes .However, historically it became the accepted name for...

 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 did have 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
Scholae Palatinae
The Scholae Palatinae , were an elite military guard unit, usually ascribed to the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great as a replacement for the equites singulares Augusti, the cavalry arm of the Praetorian Guard...

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
Praetorian Guard
The Praetorian Guard was a force of bodyguards used by Roman Emperors. The title was already used during the Roman Republic for the guards of Roman generals, at least since the rise to prominence of the Scipio family around 275 BC...

 disbanded by Constantine I
Constantine I
Constantine the Great , also known as Constantine I or Saint Constantine, was Roman Emperor from 306 to 337. Well known for being the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, Constantine and co-Emperor Licinius issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which proclaimed religious tolerance of all...

.

The legions in the third and fourth century were not the legions of the Republic or earlier Roman empire, that they consisted largely or solely of equites troops, and that they tended to be far short of the Augustinian legion component of 5,000 men.

The Army of Justinian I and his successors



The following is drawn mainly from J.B. Bury's History of the Later Roman Empire: From the Death of Theodosius I to the Death of Justinian I (London, 1923; Dover Publications reprint, 1958).

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 a tagma or numerus. A tagma had between 300 and 400 men and was commanded by a tribune. Two or more tagmata formed a brigade, or moira; two or more brigades a division, or meros.

There were six classifications of troops.
  1. The guard troops stationed in the capital.
  2. The comitatenses of the old Roman field armies. In Justinian's day these were more commonly called stratiotai. Regular soldiers of the Roman army, the stratiotai were chiefly recruited from subjects of the empire in the highlands of Thrace, Illyricum and Isauria.
  3. The limitanei. The least changed element of the Roman army, limitanei still performed their traditional duties of guarding frontiers and garrisoning border posts.
  4. The foederati. They were a relatively new element in the army, recruited from the fifth century onwards from barbarian volunteers. They were formed into cavalry units under Roman officers. A ban on enlistments by Roman subjects was lifted in the sixth century, and their composition became mixed.
  5. The Allies. These were bands of barbarians, Huns, Herules, Goths or others who were bound by treaty to provide the empire with military units commanded by their own chiefs, in return for land or yearly subsidy.
  6. The bucellarii. The private armed retainers of generals, Praetorian Prefects, officers of lesser rank and the rich, the bucellarii were often a significant portion of a field army's cavalry force. The size of a retinue of bucellarii depended on the wealth of the employer. Their rank and file were called hypaspistai, or shield-bearers, and their officers, doryphoroi or spear-bearers. Doryphoroi took solemn oaths of fidelity to their patron and of loyalty to the emperor. One of most noted generals of the period, Belisarius, had been a doryphoros in Justinian's retinue before his becoming emperor. The bucellarii were usually mounted troops, mostly Huns, Goths and mountaineers of Thrace or Asia Minor.


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 cataphractii, 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, called scutarii. These wore a steel helmet and a coat of mail, and carried a spear, axe and dagger. They generally held the center 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 Daras 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 536 to 540. 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.

The Themata



The themata (Gr. θέματα) were administrative divisions of the empire in which a general (Gr. στρατηγός, strategos
Strategos
Strategos, plural strategoi, is used in Greek to mean "general". In the Hellenistic and Byzantine Empires the term was also used to describe a military governor...

) 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 where stationed in Asia Minor.

The five original themata were all in Asia Minor
Asia Minor
Asia Minor is a geographical location at the westernmost protrusion of Asia, also called Anatolia, and corresponds to the western two thirds of the Asian part of Turkey...

 and originated from the earlier mobile field armies. They were:
  • the Armeniac Theme
    Armeniac Theme
    The Armeniac Theme , more properly the Theme of the Armeniacs was a Byzantine theme located in northeastern Asia Minor .-History:...

    , first mentioned in 667, was the successor of the Army of Armenia. It occupied the old areas of the Pontus
    Pontus
    Pontus or Pontos is a historical Greek designation for a region on the southern coast of the Black Sea, located in modern-day northeastern Turkey. The name was applied to the coastal region in antiquity by the Greeks who colonized the area, and derived from the Greek name of the Black Sea: Πόντος...

    , Armenia Minor and northern Cappadocia
    Cappadocia
    Cappadocia is a historical region in Central Anatolia, largely in Nevşehir Province.In the time of Herodotus, the Cappadocians were reported as occupying the whole region from Mount Taurus to the vicinity of the Euxine...

    , with its capital at Amasea
    Amasya
    - History :Its location in this steep valley makes the city a mountain stronghold, easy to defend, and thus Amasya has had a long and prominent history.-Antiquity:...

  • the Anatolic Theme
    Anatolic Theme
    The Anatolic Theme , more properly known as the Theme of the Anatolics was a Byzantine theme in central Asia Minor...

    , first mentioned in 669, was the successor of the Army of the East . It covered central Asia Minor, and its capital was Amorium
    Amorium
    Amorium was a city in Phrygia, Asia Minor which was founded in the Hellenistic period, flourished under the Byzantine Empire, and declined after the Arab sack of 838. Its ruins are located near the village of Hisarköy, Turkey....

    .
  • the Opsician Theme , first mentioned in 680, was where the imperial retinue (in Latin Obsequium), was established. It covered northwestern Asia Minor (Bithynia
    Bithynia
    Bithynia was an ancient region, kingdom and Roman province in the northwest of Asia Minor, adjoining the Propontis, the Thracian Bosporus and the Euxine .-Description:...

    , Paphlagonia
    Paphlagonia
    Paphlagonia was an ancient area on the Black Sea coast of north central Anatolia, situated between Bithynia to the west and Pontus to the east, and separated from Phrygia by a prolongation to the east of the Bithynian Olympus...

     and parts of Galatia
    Galatia
    Ancient Galatia was an area in the highlands of central Anatolia in modern Turkey. Galatia was named for the immigrant Gauls from Thrace , who settled here and became its ruling caste in the 3rd century BC, following the Gallic invasion of the Balkans in 279 BC. It has been called the "Gallia" of...

    ), and was based at Nicaea. Its commander bore the title of komēs ("count")
  • the Thracesian Theme
    Thracesian Theme
    The Thracesian Theme , more properly known as the Theme of the Thracesians , was a Byzantine theme in western Asia Minor , comprising the ancient regions of Ionia, Lydia and parts of Phrygia and Caria....

    (Θέμα Θρακησίων, Thema Thrakēsiōn), first mentioned in 680, was the successor of the Army of Thrace
    Diocese of Thrace
    The Diocese of Thrace was a diocese of the later Roman Empire, incorporating the provinces of the eastern Balkan Peninsula The Diocese of Thrace was a diocese of the later Roman Empire, incorporating the provinces of the eastern Balkan Peninsula The Diocese of Thrace was a diocese of the later...

    . It covered the central western coast of Asia Minor (Ionia
    Ionia
    Ionia is an ancient region of central coastal Anatolia in present-day Turkey, the region nearest İzmir, which was historically Smyrna. It consisted of the northernmost territories of the Ionian League of Greek settlements...

    , Lydia
    Lydia
    Lydia was an Iron Age kingdom of western Asia Minor located generally east of ancient Ionia in the modern Turkish provinces of Manisa and inland İzmir. Its population spoke an Anatolian language known as Lydian....

     and Caria
    Caria
    Caria was a region of western Anatolia extending along the coast from mid-Ionia south to Lycia and east to Phrygia. The Ionian and Dorian Greeks colonized the west of it and joined the Carian population in forming Greek-dominated states there...

    ), with capital at Ephesos.
  • the corps of the Carabisiani (Kαραβησιάνοι, Karabēsianōn), first mentioned in 680, probably formed from the remnants of the Army of the Illyricum or the old quaestura exercitus
    Quaestura exercitus
    The quaestura exercitus was a peculiar administrative district of the Eastern Roman Empire with a seat in Odessus established by Emperor Justinian I The quaestura exercitus was a peculiar administrative district of the Eastern Roman Empire with a seat in Odessus established by Emperor Justinian I...

    . It occupied the southern coast of Asia Minor and the Aegean Islands, with its capital at Attaleia. It was a naval corps (κάραβις means "ship"), and its commander bore the title of droungarios. It was replaced with the Cibyrrhaeot Theme
    Cibyrrhaeot Theme
    The Cibyrrhaeot Theme, more properly the Theme of the Cibyrrhaeots , was a Byzantine theme encompassing the southern coast of Asia Minor from the early 8th to the late 12th centuries...

     in the early 8th century.


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
Leo III the Isaurian
Leo III the Isaurian or the Syrian , was Byzantine emperor from 717 until his death in 741...

, Theophilus
Theophilos (emperor)
Theophilos was the Byzantine emperor from 829 until his death in 842. He was the second emperor of the Phrygian dynasty, and the last emperor supporting iconoclasm...

, and Leo VI the Wise
Leo VI the Wise
Leo VI, surnamed the Wise or the Philosopher , was Byzantine emperor from 886 to 912. The second ruler of the Macedonian dynasty , he was very well-read, leading to his surname...

 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
Taktikon Uspensky
The Taktikon Uspensky or Uspenskij is the conventional name of a mid-9th century Greek list of the civil, military and ecclesiastical offices of the Byzantine Empire and their precedence at the imperial court. Nicolas Oikonomides has dated it to 842/843, making it the first of a series of such...

lists 18 strategoi of themes, the De Thematibus of ca. 940 lists 28, and the Escorial Taktikon
Escorial Taktikon
The Escorial Taktikon , also known as the Taktikon Oikonomides after Nicolas Oikonomides who first edited it, is a list of Byzantine offices, dignities, and titles composed in Constantinople during the 970s...

, 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
Emirate of Sicily
The Emirate of Sicily was an Islamic state on the island of Sicily , which existed from 965 to 1072.-First Arab invasions of Sicily:...

 at the beginning of Constantine VII's reign in 905 and Cyprus was a condominium
Condominium (international law)
In international law, a condominium is a political territory in or over which two or more sovereign powers formally agree to share equally dominium and exercise their rights jointly, without dividing it up into 'national' zones.Although a condominium has always been...

 jointly administered with the Abbasid
Abbasid
The Abbasid Caliphate or, more simply, the Abbasids , was the third of the Islamic caliphates. It was ruled by the Abbasid dynasty of caliphs, who built their capital in Baghdad after overthrowing the Umayyad caliphate from all but the al-Andalus region....

 caliph
Caliph
The Caliph is the head of state in a Caliphate, and the title for the ruler of the Islamic Ummah, an Islamic community ruled by the Shari'ah. It is a transcribed version of the Arabic word   which means "successor" or "representative"...

ate until its reconquest by Nikephoros II Phokas in 965. Constantinople itself was under an Eparch and protected by the numerous tagmata and police forces.

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. On 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
Strategos
Strategos, plural strategoi, is used in Greek to mean "general". In the Hellenistic and Byzantine Empires the term was also used to describe a military governor...

Tourma 2 400 6 Droungoi Tourmarches
Droungos
Droungos
Droungos or drungus is a late Roman and Byzantine term for a battalion-sized military unit, and later for a local command guarding mountain districts. Its commander was a droungarios or drungarius.-History and functions:...

400 2 Banda Droungarios
Bandon
Bandon (Byzantine Empire)
The bandon was the basic military and territorial administrative unit of the middle Byzantine Empire. Its name derived from Latin bandum, "ensign, banner", which in turn had a Germanic origin. The term was used already in the 6th century as a term for a battle standard, and soon came to be applied...

200 2 Kentarchiai Count
Kentarchia
Centuria
Centuria is a Latin substantive from the stem centum , denoting units consisting of 100 men. It also denotes a Roman unit of land area: 1 centuria = 100 heredia...

100 10 Kontoubernia Kentarches/Hekatontarches
50 5 Kontoubernia Pentekontarches
Kontoubernion
Contubernium
The contubernium was the smallest organized unit of soldiers in the Roman Army and was composed of eight legionaries. The men within the contubernium were known as contubernales. Ten contubernia were grouped into a centuria...

10 1 "Vanguard" + 1 "Rear Guard" Dekarchos
"Vanguard" 5 n/a Pentarches
"Rear Guard" 4 n/a Tetrarches

The Imperial tagmata


The tagmata (τάγματα, "regiments") were the professional standing army of the Empire, formed by Emperor Constantine V
Constantine V
Constantine V was Byzantine emperor from 741 to 775; ); .-Early life:...

 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:
  • the Scholai (Gr. Σχολαί, "the Schools"), the most senior unit, the direct successor of the imperial guards established by Constantine the Great.
  • the Exkoubitoi
    Excubitors
    The Excubitors were founded in circa 460 AD as the imperial guards of the early Byzantine emperors. Their commanders soon acquired great influence and provided a series of emperors in the 6th century...

    or Exkoubitores (Lat. Excubiti, Gr. , "the Sentinels"), established by Leo I
    Leo I (emperor)
    Leo I was Byzantine Emperor from 457 to 474. A native of Dacia Aureliana near historic Thrace, he was known as Leo the Thracian ....

    .
  • the Arithmos (Gr. , "Number") or Vigla
    Vigla (tagma)
    The Vigla , also known as the Arithmos and in English as the Watch, was one of the elite tagmata of the Byzantine army. It was established in the latter half of the 8th century, and survived until the late 11th century...

    (Gr. Βίγλα, from the Latin word for "Watch"), promoted from thematic troops by the Empress Eirene
    Irene (empress)
    Irene Sarantapechaina , known as Irene of Athens or Irene the Athenian was a Byzantine empress regnant from 797 to 802, having previously been empress consort from 775 to 780, and empress dowager and regent from 780 to 797. It is often claimed she called herself "basileus" , 'emperor'...

     in the 780s, but of far older ancestry, as the archaic names of its ranks indicate. The regiment performed special duties on campaign, including guarding the imperial camp, relaying the Emperor's orders, and guarding prisoners of war.
  • the Hikanatoi
    Hikanatoi
    The Hikanatoi , sometimes Latinized as Hicanati, were one of the Byzantine tagmata, the elite guard units based near the imperial capital of Constantinople...

    (Gr. , "the Able Ones"), established by Emperor Nicephorus I in 810.


There were also auxiliary tagmata, such as the Noumeroi (Gr. Νούμεροι), a garrison unit for Constantinople, which probably included the Teichistai (Gr. Τειχισταί) or tōn Teicheōn regiment (Gr. τῶν Τειχέων, "of the Walls"), manning the Walls of Constantinople
Walls of Constantinople
The Walls of Constantinople are a series of defensive stone walls that have surrounded and protected the city of Constantinople since its founding as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire by Constantine the Great...

., and the Optimatoi
Optimatoi
The Optimatoi were initially formed as an elite Byzantine military unit. In the mid-8th century, however, they were downgraded to a supply and logistics corps and assigned a province in north-western Asia Minor, which was named after them...

(Gr. , "the Best"), a support unit responsible for the mules of the army's baggage train (the τοῦλδον, touldon).

There was also the Hetaireia
Hetaireia
The Hetaireia or Hetaeria was a term used to describe a corps of bodyguards of the Byzantine Empire. Its name means "the Company", echoing the ancient Macedonian Companion cavalry. The imperial Hetaireia, composed chiefly of foreigners, formed part of the Byzantine imperial guard alongside the...

(Gr. , "Companions
Companion cavalry
The Companions were the elite cavalry of the Macedonian army from the time of king Philip II of Macedon and reached the most prestige under Alexander the Great, and have been regarded as the best cavalry in the ancient world and the first shock cavalry...

"), 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
Michael II
Michael II , surnamed the Amorian or the Stammerer , reigned as Byzantine emperor from December 820 to his death on 2 October 829, and the first ruler of the Phrygian or Amorian dynasty....

 raised the Tessarakontarioi, a special marine unit, and John I Tzimisces created a corps called the Athanatoi (Gr. Ἀθάνατοι, the "Immortals") after the old Persian unit.

Establishment and successes


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
Alexios I Komnenos
Alexios I Komnenos, Latinized as Alexius I Comnenus , was Byzantine emperor from 1081 to 1118, and although he was not the founder of the Komnenian dynasty, it was during his reign that the Komnenos family came to full power. The title 'Nobilissimus' was given to senior army commanders,...

, John II Komnenos
John II Komnenos
John II Komnenos was Byzantine Emperor from 1118 to 1143. Also known as Kaloïōannēs , he was the eldest son of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos and Irene Doukaina...

 and Manuel I Komnenos
Manuel I Komnenos
Manuel I Komnenos was a Byzantine Emperor of the 12th century who reigned over a crucial turning point in the history of Byzantium and the Mediterranean....

 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 Kataphraktoi 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 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 Komneni, 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, as we shall see, 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.

Neglect under the Angeloi


In the year 1185, the emperor Andronikos I Komnenos
Andronikos I Komnenos
Andronikos I Komnenos was Byzantine Emperor from 1183 to 1185). He was the son of Isaac Komnenos and grandson of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos.-Early years:...

 was killed. With him died the Komnenos
Komnenos
Komnenós or Comnenus was the name of a ruling family of the Eastern Roman Empire , who halted the political decline of the Empire from c.1081 to c.1185.-Origins:...

 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 scatterred 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
Bulgaria
Bulgaria , officially the Republic of Bulgaria , is a parliamentary democracy within a unitary constitutional republic in Southeast Europe. The country borders Romania to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, as well as the Black Sea to the east...

 the oppressiveness of Angeloi taxation resulted in the Vlach-Bulgarian Rebellion
Vlach-Bulgarian Rebellion
The Uprising of Asen and Peter was a revolt of Bulgarians and Vlachs living in the theme of Paristrion of the Byzantine Empire, caused by a tax increase...

 late in 1185. The rebellion led to the establishment of the Second Bulgarian Empire
Second Bulgarian Empire
The Second Bulgarian Empire was a medieval Bulgarian state which existed between 1185 and 1396 . A successor of the First Bulgarian Empire, it reached the peak of its power under Kaloyan and Ivan Asen II before gradually being conquered by the Ottomans in the late 14th-early 15th century...

 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.

Structural weaknesses


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
Manuel I Komnenos
Manuel I Komnenos was a Byzantine Emperor of the 12th century who reigned over a crucial turning point in the history of Byzantium and the Mediterranean....

 (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
Fourth Crusade
The Fourth Crusade was originally intended to conquer Muslim-controlled Jerusalem by means of an invasion through Egypt. Instead, in April 1204, the Crusaders of Western Europe invaded and conquered the Christian city of Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire...

 sacked Constantinople and dismantled the Byzantine Empire. The old Byzantine empire was at an end.

Conclusion


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:
  • An increasing reliance on foreign mercenaries, which also contributed to the Byzantine Navy
    Byzantine navy
    The Byzantine navy was the naval force of the East Roman or Byzantine Empire. Like the empire it served, it was a direct continuation from its imperial Roman predecessor, but played a far greater role in the defense and survival of the state then its earlier iterations...

    's decline.
  • A long, slow decay in the quality and prestige of the ordinary, non-elite Byzantine infantry.
  • A creeping Feudalism
    Feudalism
    Feudalism was a set of legal and military customs in medieval Europe that flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries, which, broadly defined, was a system for ordering society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour.Although derived from the...

     that helped to erode centralized administration.
  • Increasing emulation of Western (or Latin) weapons, equipment and warfare methods, beginning especially during the reign of Manuel I Komnenos.

Armies of the successor states and of the Palaeologi


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
Michael VIII Palaiologos
Michael VIII Palaiologos or Palaeologus reigned as Byzantine Emperor 1259–1282. Michael VIII was the founder of the Palaiologan dynasty that would rule the Byzantine Empire until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453...

 in 1282, unreliable mercenaries such as the grand Catalan Company
Catalan Company
The Catalan Company of the East , officially the Magnas Societas Catalanorum, sometimes called the Grand Company and widely known as the Catalan Company, was a free company of mercenaries founded by Roger de Flor in the early 14th-century...

 came to form an ever larger proportion of the remaining forces.

At the fall of Constantinople
Fall of Constantinople
The Fall of Constantinople was the capture of the capital of the Byzantine Empire, which occurred after a siege by the Ottoman Empire, under the command of Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, against the defending army commanded by Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI...

 in 1453, the Byzantine army totaled about 7,000 men, 2,000 of whom were foreign mercenaries. Against the 80,000 Ottoman
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

 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 Genoa
Genoa
Genoa |Ligurian]] Zena ; Latin and, archaically, English Genua) is a city and an important seaport in northern Italy, the capital of the Province of Genoa and of the region of Liguria....

n general in charge of a section of the defense, Giovanni Giustiniani
Giovanni Giustiniani
Giovanni Giustiniani Longo was a young Genoese captain, a member of one of the greatest families of the Republic, a kinsman to the powerful house of Doria in Southern Italy., and protostrator of the Byzantine Empire...

, 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
Blachernae
Blachernae was a suburb in the northwestern section of Constantinople, the capital city of the Byzantine Empire. It was the site of a spring and a number of prominent churches were built there, most notably the great Church of St. Mary of Blachernae , built by Empress Pulcheria in circa 450,...

 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
Constantine XI
Constantine XI Palaiologos, latinized as Palaeologus , Kōnstantinos XI Dragasēs Palaiologos; February 8, 1404 – May 29, 1453) was the last reigning Byzantine Emperor from 1449 to his death as member of the Palaiologos dynasty...

 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 legion
Roman legion
A Roman legion normally indicates the basic ancient Roman army unit recruited specifically from Roman citizens. The organization of legions varied greatly over time but they were typically composed of perhaps 5,000 soldiers, divided into maniples and later into "cohorts"...

s, was finished.

Manpower


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
Byzantine navy
The Byzantine navy was the naval force of the East Roman or Byzantine Empire. Like the empire it served, it was a direct continuation from its imperial Roman predecessor, but played a far greater role in the defense and survival of the state then its earlier iterations...

.

Kataphraktoi


The word cataphract
Cataphract
A cataphract was a form of armored heavy cavalry utilised in ancient warfare by a number of peoples in Western Eurasia and the Eurasian Steppe....

 (from the Greek κατάφρακτος, kataphraktos, with a literal meaning of 'completely armored' in English) was what Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

- and later Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

-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
Classical antiquity
Classical antiquity is a broad term for a long period of cultural history centered on the Mediterranean Sea, comprising the interlocking civilizations of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, collectively known as the Greco-Roman world...

 up through the High Middle Ages
High Middle Ages
The High Middle Ages was the period of European history around the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries . The High Middle Ages were preceded by the Early Middle Ages and followed by the Late Middle Ages, which by convention end around 1500....

. 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 trooper himself. The cataphracts were both fearsome and disciplined. 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
Nikephoros II
Nikephoros II Phokas was a Byzantine Emperor whose brilliant military exploits contributed to the resurgence of Byzantine Empire in the tenth century.-Early exploits:...

, was devastating. More heavily armoured types of cataphract were called clibanarii (klibanaphoroi). These were eventually subsumed by the cataphract, and as such most Byzantine heavy cavalry became known as cataphracts.

Cavalry


The Byzantine cavalry were usually armed with bows, lances and swords, they were ideally suited to combat on the plains of Anatolia
Anatolia
Anatolia is a geographic and historical term denoting the westernmost protrusion of Asia, comprising the majority of the Republic of Turkey...

 and northern Syria
Syria
Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

, which, from the seventh century onwards, constituted the principal battleground in the struggle against the forces of Islam
Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

. While not as heavily armoured as western Knights , they were more 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
Turkic peoples
The Turkic peoples are peoples residing in northern, central and western Asia, southern Siberia and northwestern China and parts of eastern Europe. They speak languages belonging to the Turkic language family. They share, to varying degrees, certain cultural traits and historical backgrounds...

 in the east, and the Hungarians and Pechenegs in the west.

Infantry


The Byzantine Empire's military tradition originated in the late Roman period, and its armies always included professional infantry soldiers. Though they varied in relative importance during the Byzantine army's history, under Basil II
Basil II
Basil II , known in his time as Basil the Porphyrogenitus and Basil the Young to distinguish him from his ancestor Basil I the Macedonian, was a Byzantine emperor from the Macedonian dynasty who reigned from 10 January 976 to 15 December 1025.The first part of his long reign was dominated...

 in particular heavy infantry were an important component of the Byzantine army. These troops generally had mail armour
Chainmail
Mail is a type of armour consisting of small metal rings linked together in a pattern to form a mesh.-History:Mail was a highly successful type of armour and was used by nearly every metalworking culture....

, large shields, and were armed with swords and spears. Under militarily competent emperors such as Basil II, they were among the best heavy infantry in the world.

Pronoiars


Pronoiar troops began to appear during the twelfth century, particularly during the reign of the emperor Manuel I Komnenos
Manuel I Komnenos
Manuel I Komnenos was a Byzantine Emperor of the 12th century who reigned over a crucial turning point in the history of Byzantium and the Mediterranean....

 (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
Empire of Nicaea
The Empire of Nicaea was the largest of the three Byzantine Greek successor states founded by the aristocracy of the Byzantine Empire that fled after Constantinople was occupied by Western European and Venetian forces during the Fourth Crusade...

 in western Asia Minor
Asia Minor
Asia Minor is a geographical location at the westernmost protrusion of Asia, also called Anatolia, and corresponds to the western two thirds of the Asian part of Turkey...

.

Akritoi



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
Acritic songs
The Acritic songs are the heroic or epic poetry that emerged in the Byzantine Empire probably in the 9th century. The songs celebrated the exploits of the Akrites, the frontier guards defending the eastern borders of the Byzantine Empire. The historical background was the almost...

).

Foreign and mercenary soldiers


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
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

, 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
Foederati
Foederatus is a Latin term whose definition and usage drifted in the time between the early Roman Republic and the end of the Western Roman Empire...

("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
Praetorian Guard
The Praetorian Guard was a force of bodyguards used by Roman Emperors. The title was already used during the Roman Republic for the guards of Roman generals, at least since the rise to prominence of the Scipio family around 275 BC...

. 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.

Additionally, during the Komnenian
Komnenos
Komnenós or Comnenus was the name of a ruling family of the Eastern Roman Empire , who halted the political decline of the Empire from c.1081 to c.1185.-Origins:...

 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. Ethiopians even 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
Varangian Guard
The Varangian Guard was an elite unit of the Byzantine Army in 10th to the 14th centuries, whose members served as personal bodyguards of the Byzantine Emperors....

. This unit traced its roots to the 6,000 Rus sent to Emperor Basil II
Basil II
Basil II , known in his time as Basil the Porphyrogenitus and Basil the Young to distinguish him from his ancestor Basil I the Macedonian, was a Byzantine emperor from the Macedonian dynasty who reigned from 10 January 976 to 15 December 1025.The first part of his long reign was dominated...

 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
Akolouthos
Akolouthos , anglicized as Acolyte, was a Byzantine office with varying functions over time. Originally a subaltern officer of the imperial tagma of the Vigla, it was associated with the command over the famed Varangian Guard in the 11th-12th centuries.The title is first attested in the 9th...

(Ακόλουθος, "Acolyte/follower" to the Emperor). Initially the Varangians were mostly of Scandinavian origin, but later the guard came to include many Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxon is a term used by historians to designate the Germanic tribes who invaded and settled the south and east of Great Britain beginning in the early 5th century AD, and the period from their creation of the English nation to the Norman conquest. The Anglo-Saxon Era denotes the period of...

 (after the Norman Conquest) as well. The Varangian Guard fought at the Battle of Beroia
Battle of Beroia
The Battle of Beroia was fought between the Pechenegs and Emperor John II Komnenos of the Byzantine Empire in the year 1122 in what is now Bulgaria, and resulted in the disappearance of the Pecheneg people as an independent force....

 in 1122 with great distinction, and were present at the Battle of Sirmium
Battle of Sirmium
The Battle of Sirmium or Battle of Zemun was fought on July 8, 1167 between the Byzantine Empire , and the Kingdom of Hungary...

 in 1167, in which the Byzantine army smashed the forces of the Kingdom of Hungary
Kingdom of Hungary
The Kingdom of Hungary comprised present-day Hungary, Slovakia and Croatia , Transylvania , Carpatho Ruthenia , Vojvodina , Burgenland , and other smaller territories surrounding present-day Hungary's borders...

. The Varangian Guard is thought to have been disbanded after the sack of Constantinople
Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

 by the forces of the Fourth Crusade
Fourth Crusade
The Fourth Crusade was originally intended to conquer Muslim-controlled Jerusalem by means of an invasion through Egypt. Instead, in April 1204, the Crusaders of Western Europe invaded and conquered the Christian city of Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire...

 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.

Byzantine weapons




The Byzantines originally used weapons developed from their Roman origins, swords, spears, javelins, 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
Composite bow
A composite bow is a bow made from horn, wood, and sinew laminated together. The horn is on the belly, facing the archer, and sinew on the back of a wooden core. Sinew and horn will store more energy than wood for the same length of bow...

 and the cavalry mace

There were many sword
Sword
A sword is a bladed weapon used primarily for cutting or thrusting. The precise definition of the term varies with the historical epoch or the geographical region under consideration...

 (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 spear
Spear
A spear is a pole weapon consisting of a shaft, usually of wood, with a pointed head.The head may be simply the sharpened end of the shaft itself, as is the case with bamboo spears, or it may be made of a more durable material fastened to the shaft, such as flint, obsidian, iron, steel or...

s 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
Menaulion
The menaulion or menavlion , also menaulon or menavlon was a heavy spear with a length of 2.7 to 3.6 meters with a thick shaft, used by the Byzantine infantry as early as the 10th century AD, against enemy heavy cavalry. To give it increased strength, whole oak or cornel saplings were preferably...

, 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 axe
Axe
The axe, or ax, is an implement that has been used for millennia to shape, split and cut wood; to harvest timber; as a weapon; and as a ceremonial or heraldic symbol...

s (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
Varangian Guard
The Varangian Guard was an elite unit of the Byzantine Army in 10th to the 14th centuries, whose members served as personal bodyguards of the Byzantine Emperors....

 of the tenth and eleventh centuries. Byzantine axes were single-bladed (rounded or straight edged), sometimes with a spike opposite the blade.

The sling
Sling (weapon)
A sling is a projectile weapon typically used to throw a blunt projectile such as a stone or lead "sling-bullet". It is also known as the shepherd's sling....

 (sphendone) and the bow
Bow (weapon)
The bow and arrow is a projectile weapon system that predates recorded history and is common to most cultures.-Description:A bow is a flexible arc that shoots aerodynamic projectiles by means of elastic energy. Essentially, the bow is a form of spring powered by a string or cord...

 (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 130–35 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.

Evidence for Weapons


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.

Representational evidence and recovered laths, as well as arrowheads and bracers, show Roman use of composite bows.

Evidence for Shields


Representational evidence, recovered bosses, and some complete shields from Dara, show that most Roman infantry and some Roman cavalry carried shields.

Evidence for Armor


Although the representational evidence, including gravestones and tombs, often shows soldiers without armor, the archaeological evidence includes remains of lamellar, mail, and helmets.

Byzantine military philosophy



It is worth noting that the Empire never developed or understood the concept of a "holy war
Religious war
A religious war; Latin: bellum sacrum; is a war caused by, or justified by, religious differences. It can involve one state with an established religion against another state with a different religion or a different sect within the same religion, or a religiously motivated group attempting to...

". Its neighbours' concepts of Jihad
Jihad
Jihad , an Islamic term, is a religious duty of Muslims. In Arabic, the word jihād translates as a noun meaning "struggle". Jihad appears 41 times in the Quran and frequently in the idiomatic expression "striving in the way of God ". A person engaged in jihad is called a mujahid; the plural is...

 and Crusade seemed to it gross perversions of scripture or simple excuses for looting and destruction. Emperors, generals and military theorists alike found war to be a failing of governance and political relations, to be avoided whenever possible. Only wars waged defensively or to avenge a wrong could in any sense be considered just, and in such cases the Byzantines felt that God would protect them.

Major battles of the Byzantine Empire



Early Byzantine period

  • Battle of Callinicum
    Battle of Callinicum
    The Battle of Callinicum took place Easter day, 19 April 531, between the armies of the Eastern Roman Empire under Belisarius and the Sassanid Persians under Azarethes. After a defeat at the Battle of Dara, the Sassanids moved to invade Syria in an attempt to turn the tide of the war...

     (531)
  • Battle of Tricamarum (533)
  • Battle of Taginae
    Battle of Taginae
    At the Battle of Taginae in June/July 552, the forces of the Byzantine Empire under Narses broke the power of the Ostrogoths in Italy, and paved the way for the temporary Byzantine reconquest of the Italian Peninsula.From as early as 549 the Emperor Justinian I had planned to dispatch a major army...

     (552)
  • Battle of Nineveh
    Battle of Nineveh (627)
    The Battle of Nineveh was the climactic battle of the Byzantine-Sassanid War of 602–628. The Byzantine victory broke the power of the Sassanid dynasty and for a period of time restored the empire to its ancient boundaries in the Middle East...

     (627)
  • Battle of Mu'tah
    Battle of Mu'tah
    The Battle of Mu'tah was fought in 629 , near the village of Mu'tah, east of the Jordan River and Karak in Karak Governorate, between an army sent by the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, and an army of the Byzantine Empire- The Eastern Romans.In Muslim histories, the battle is usually described as the...

     (629)
  • Battle of Firaz
    Battle of Firaz
    The Battle of Firaz was the last battle of the Muslim Arab commander Khalid ibn al-Walid in Mesopotamia against the combined forces of the Byzantine Roman Empire, Sassanid Persian Empire, and Christian Arabs...

     (634)
  • Battle of Ajnadayn
    Battle of Ajnadayn
    The Battle of Ajnadayn, fought on July 30, 634, south of Beit Shemesh in present day Israel, was the first major pitched battle between the Eastern Roman Empire and the army of the Arabic Rashidun Caliphate. The result of the battle was a decisive Muslim victory...

     (634)
  • Battle of Fahl
    Battle of Fahl
    The Battle of Fahl or Battle of Pella was a Byzantine-Arab battle fought between the Rashidun army under Khalid ibn al-Walid Saifullah and the Roman Empire under Theodore the Sacellarius , in Fahl in January 635 AD...

     (635)
  • Battle of Yarmouk
    Battle of Yarmouk
    The Battle of Yarmouk was a major battle between the Muslim Arab forces of the Rashidun Caliphate and the armies of the East Roman-Byzantine Empire. The battle consisted of a series of engagements that lasted for six days in August 636, near the Yarmouk River, along what is today the border...

     (636)
  • Battle of Iron Bridge
    Battle of Iron bridge
    The Battle of Iron Bridge was fought between the Muslim Rashidun army and the Byzantine army in 637 AD. The battle was fought near a nine-arch stone bridge spanning the River Orontes, from which the battle took its name. The campaigns in Anatolia were undertaken after the decisive Rashidun...

     (637)
  • Battle of Ongala (680)
  • Battle of Carthage (698)
    Battle of Carthage (698)
    The Battle of Carthage was fought in 698 AD between a Byzantine expeditionary force and the armies of the Umayyad Caliphate. Having lost Carthage to the Muslims, Emperor Leontius sent the navy under the command of John the Patrician and the droungarios Tiberius Apsimarus. They entered the harbor...

  • Siege of Constantinople (718)
    Siege of Constantinople (718)
    The Second Arab Siege of Constantinople was a combined land and sea effort by the Arabs to take the capital city of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople. The Arab ground forces, led by Maslamah ibn Abd al-Malik, were held off by the massive city walls, decimated by an outbreak of plague and...


Middle Byzantine period

  • Battle of Pliska
    Battle of Pliska
    The Battle of Pliska or Battle of Vărbitsa Pass was a series of battles between troops, gathered from all parts of the Byzantine Empire, led by the Emperor Nicephorus I Genik, and Bulgaria, governed by Khan Krum...

     (811)
  • Battle of Bulgarophygon
    Battle of Bulgarophygon
    The Battle of Boulgarophygon or Battle of Bulgarophygon was fought in the summer of 896 near the town of Bulgarophygon, modern Babaeski in Turkey, between the Byzantine Empire and the First Bulgarian Empire...

     (896)
  • Battle of Acheloos (917)
  • Battle of Kleidion
    Battle of Kleidion
    The Battle of Kleidion took place on July 29, 1014 between the Bulgarian Empire and the Byzantine Empire...

     (1014)
  • Battle of Manzikert
    Battle of Manzikert
    The Battle of Manzikert , was fought between the Byzantine Empire and Seljuq Turks led by Alp Arslan on August 26, 1071 near Manzikert...

     (1071)
  • Battle of Dyrrhachium
    Battle of Dyrrhachium (1081)
    The Battle of Dyrrhachium took place on October 18, 1081 between the Byzantine Empire, led by the Emperor Alexius I Comnenus, and the Normans of southern Italy under Robert Guiscard, Duke of Apulia and Calabria...

     (1081)
  • Battle of Levounion
    Battle of Levounion
    The Battle of Levounion was the first decisive Byzantine victory of the Komnenian restoration. On April 29, 1091, an invading force of Pechenegs was heavily defeated by the combined forces of the Byzantine Empire under Alexios I Komnenos and his Cuman allies....

     (1091)
  • Siege of Nicaea
    Siege of Nicaea
    The Siege of Nicaea took place from May 14 to June 19, 1097, during the First Crusade.-Background:Nicaea , located on the eastern shore of Lake İznik, had been captured from the Byzantine Empire by the Seljuk Turks in 1081, and formed the capital of the Sultanate of Rüm...

     (1097)
  • Battle of Sirmium
    Battle of Sirmium
    The Battle of Sirmium or Battle of Zemun was fought on July 8, 1167 between the Byzantine Empire , and the Kingdom of Hungary...

     (1167)
  • Battle of Myriokephalon
    Battle of Myriokephalon
    The Battle of Myriokephalon, also known as the ', or in Turkish, was a battle between the Byzantine Empire and the Seljuk Turks in Phrygia on September 17, 1176. The battle was a strategic reverse for the Byzantine forces, who were ambushed when moving through a mountain pass...

     (1176)

Late Byzantine period

  • Battle of Antioch on the Meander (1211)

  • Battle of Pelagonia
    Battle of Pelagonia
    The Battle of Pelagonia took place in September of 1259, between the Empire of Nicaea and the Despotate of Epirus, Sicily and the Principality of Achaea...

     (1259)
  • Fall of Constantinople
    Fall of Constantinople
    The Fall of Constantinople was the capture of the capital of the Byzantine Empire, which occurred after a siege by the Ottoman Empire, under the command of Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, against the defending army commanded by Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI...

     (1453)

See also

  • Byzantine Empire
    Byzantine Empire
    The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

  • Byzantine battle tactics
    Byzantine battle tactics
    The Byzantine army evolved from that of the late Roman Empire. The language of the army was still Latin but it became considerably more sophisticated in terms of strategy, tactics and organization...

  • Byzantine navy
    Byzantine navy
    The Byzantine navy was the naval force of the East Roman or Byzantine Empire. Like the empire it served, it was a direct continuation from its imperial Roman predecessor, but played a far greater role in the defense and survival of the state then its earlier iterations...

  • Byzantine aristocracy and bureaucracy
    Byzantine aristocracy and bureaucracy
    The Byzantine Empire had a complex system of aristocracy and bureaucracy, which was inherited from the Roman Empire. At the apex of the pyramid stood the Emperor, sole ruler and divinely ordained, but beneath him a multitude of officials and court functionaries operated the administrative...

  • Byzantine military manuals
    Byzantine military manuals
    This article lists and briefly discusses the most important of a large number of treatises on military science produced in the Byzantine Empire.- Background :...

  • East Roman army
    East Roman army
    The East Roman army refers to the army of the Eastern section of the Roman Empire, from the empire's definitive split in 395 AD to the army's reorganization by themes after the permanent loss of Syria, Palestine and Egypt to the Arabs in the 7th century...

  • Immortals (Byzantine)
    Immortals (Byzantine)
    The Immortals were one of the elite tagmata military units of the Byzantine Empire, first raised during the late 10th century. The name derives from a- + thanatos .-History:...

  • Late Roman army
    Late Roman army
    The Late Roman army is the term used to denote the military forces of the Roman Empire from the accession of Emperor Diocletian in 284 until the Empire's definitive division into Eastern and Western halves in 395. A few decades afterwards, the Western army disintegrated as the Western empire...

  • Roman Empire
    Roman Empire
    The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

  • Roman army
    Roman army
    The Roman army is the generic term for the terrestrial armed forces deployed by the kingdom of Rome , the Roman Republic , the Roman Empire and its successor, the Byzantine empire...

  • Roman navy
    Roman Navy
    The Roman Navy comprised the naval forces of the Ancient Roman state. Although the navy was instrumental in the Roman conquest of the Mediterranean basin, it never enjoyed the prestige of the Roman legions...

  • Varangian guard
    Varangian Guard
    The Varangian Guard was an elite unit of the Byzantine Army in 10th to the 14th centuries, whose members served as personal bodyguards of the Byzantine Emperors....


Primary sources


  • Notitia Dignitatum
    Notitia Dignitatum
    The Notitia Dignitatum is a unique document of the Roman imperial chanceries. One of the very few surviving documents of Roman government, it details the administrative organisation of the eastern and western empires, listing several thousand offices from the imperial court down to the provincial...

    , an early 5th century document, describing the disposition of the legions in both Western and Eastern Roman Empire
  • The Strategikon, a military handbook of the late 6th century, attributed to the Emperor Maurice
    Maurice (emperor)
    Maurice was Byzantine Emperor from 582 to 602.A prominent general in his youth, Maurice fought with success against the Sassanid Persians...

  • De Administrando Imperio
    De Administrando Imperio
    De Administrando Imperio is the Latin title of a Greek work written by the 10th-century Eastern Roman Emperor Constantine VII. The Greek title of the work is...

    , a government handbook of the 10th century, attributed to the Emperor Constantine VII
    Constantine VII
    Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos or Porphyrogenitus, "the Purple-born" was the fourth Emperor of the Macedonian dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, reigning from 913 to 959...

     Porphyrogenitus
  • Three Treatises on Imperial Military Expeditions, also attributed to Emperor Constantine VII
    Constantine VII
    Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos or Porphyrogenitus, "the Purple-born" was the fourth Emperor of the Macedonian dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, reigning from 913 to 959...

     Porphyrogenitus and ed. by John Haldon and others

Secondary sources

  • Dawson, Timothy, ‘Kremasmata, Kabbadion, Klibanion: Some aspects of middle Byzantine military equipment reconsidered’, in Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 22, (1998) pp. 38 – 50. Web text: http://www.levantia.com.au/military/KKK.html
  • Dawson, Timothy, ‘Klivanion revisited: an evolutionary typology and catalogue of middle Byzantine lamellar’, Journal of Roman Military Equipment Studies, 12/13 (2001/2) pp. 11–24.
  • Dawson, Timothy, ‘Suntagma Hoplôn: the equipment of regular Byzantine troops, c. 950 – c. 1204’, in David Nicolle (ed), Companion to Medieval Arms and Armour, Boydell & Brewer, London, 2002, pp. 81–90.
  • Dawson, Timothy, 'Fit for the Task: Equipment Sizes and the Transmission of Military Lore, sixth to tenth centuries', in Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 31 (2007) pp. 1–12. Pdf at http://www.levantia.com.au/military/Fit_for_the_Task.pdf
  • Elton, Hugh, Warfare in Roman Europe
  • Haldon, John, Byzantium at War
  • Haldon, John, Byzantine Praetorians
  • Moroz, Irina, "The Idea of Holy War in the Orthodox World", Quaestiones medii aevi novae v. 4
  • Rance, Philip, 'The Fulcum, the Late Roman and Byzantine Testudo: the Germanization of Roman Infantry Tactics?' in Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 44.3 (2004) pp. 265–326, at: http://www.duke.edu/web/classics/grbs/FTexts/44/Rance2.pdf.
  • Simkins, Michael, The Roman Army from Hadrian to Constantine
  • Wise, Terence, Armies of the Crusades

External links


  • De re militari.org - The Society for Medieval Military History
  • http://www.servinghistory.com/topics/Byzantine_army