Contents Introduction 7 Chronology 19 Background to war The political world of Byzantium 23 Warring sides Neighbours and enemies 29 Outbreak Why and how did Byzantium fight wars? 36 The fighting Organising for war 47 Portrait of a soldier Recruitment, discipline, and life on campaign 61 The world around war War and peace 72 Portrait of a civilian Metrios - a farmer 80 How the wars ended Death of an empire 86 Conclusion and consequences War, peace, and survival 90 Further reading 92 Byzantine rulers AD 527-1453 93 Index 94
IntroductionThe Byzantine empire was not called by that 11th centuries and, in the later 11th andname in its own time, and indeed the term 12th centuries, the Hungarians, later theByzantine was used only to describe Serbs and finally, after their conquests ininhabitants of Constantinople, ancient Creece and the southern Balkans, theByzantion on the Bosphorus. The subjects of Ottoman Turks. Relations with the westernthe emperor at Constantinople referred to powers which arose from what remained ofthemselves as Rhomaioi, Romans, because as the western Roman empire during the 5thfar as they were concerned Constantinople, century were complicated and tense, not leastthe city of Constantine I, the first Christian because of the political competition betweenruler of the Roman empire, had become the the papacy and the Constantinopolitancapital of the Roman empire once Rome had patriarchate, the two major sees - Alexandria,lost its own pre-eminent position, and it was Antioch and Jerusalem were far less powerfulthe Christian Roman empire that carried on after the 7th century Islamic conquests - inthe traditions of Roman civilisation. In turn, the Christian world. Byzantium survived sothe latter was identified with civilised society long partly because internally it wasas such, and Orthodox Christianity was both well-organised, with an efficient fiscal andthe guiding religious and spiritual force which military system; and partly because thesedefended and protected that world, but was advantages, rooted in its late Roman past,also the guarantor of Cods continuing lasted well into the 11 th century. But as itssupport. Orthodoxy means, literally, correct western and northern neighbours grew inbelief, and this was what the Byzantines resources and political stability they were ablebelieved was essential to their own survival.Thus, from the modern historiansperspective, Byzantine might be paraphrasedby the more long-winded medieval easternRoman empire, for that is, in historical terms,what Byzantium really meant. In its long history, from the later5th century, when the last vestiges of thewestern half of the Roman empire wereabsorbed into barbarian successor kingdoms,until the fall in battle of the last easternRoman emperor, Constantine XI (1448-53),the empire was almost constantly at war. Itsstrategic situation in the southern Balkansand Asia Minor made this inevitable. It wasconstantly challenged by its more or its lesspowerful neighbours - at first, the Persianempire in the east, later the various Islamicpowers that arose in that region - and by itsnorthern neighbours, the Slavs, the Avars (a Gold nomisma of Constantine VI (780-797). Reverse: Leo III (717-741), Constantine V (741-775) and Leo IV Turkic people) in the 6th and 7th centuries, (775-780), seated. (Courtesy of Barber Institute of Finethe Bulgars from the end of the 7th to early Arts. University of Birmingham)
8 Essential Histories • Byzantium at Warto challenge the empire for pre-eminence, to ward off attack, all contributed to thereducing it by the early 13th century to a longevity of the state. And these measuressecond- or even third-rate rump of its former were essential to its survival, for althoughself, subordinated to the politics of the west Constantinople was itself well defended andand the commercial interests of Venice, Pisa strategically well placed to resist attack, theand Genoa, among others, the greatest of the empire was surrounded on all sides byItalian merchant republics. In this book, we enemies, real or potential, and was generallywill look at some of the ways in which the at war on two, if not three, fronts at oncemedieval east Roman empire secured its long throughout much of its long history, theexistence. 10th-century Italian diplomat Liutprand of Cremona expressed this situation well when he described the empire as being surroundedThe Byzantine lands by the fiercest of barbarians - Hungarians, Pechencgs, Khazars, Rus and so forth.The Byzantine, or medieval eastern Roman, Asia Minor was the focus of much of theempire was restricted for most of its empires military activity from the 7th untilexistence to the southern Balkans and Asia the 13th century. There are three separateMinor - very roughly modern Greece and climatic and geographical zones, consisting ofmodern Turkey. In the middle of the the coastal plains, the central plateau regions,6th century, after the success of the emperor and the mountains which separate them.Justinians reconquests in the west, the While hot, dry summers and extreme cold inempire had been much more extensive, winter characterise the central plateau, andincluding all of the north African coastal where, except for some sheltered river valleys,regions from the Atlantic to Egypt, along the economy was mainly pastoral - sheep,with south-eastern Spain, Italy and the cattle and horses - the coastlands, whereBalkans up to the Danube. But by the later most productive agricultural activity and the6th century the Italian lands were already highest density of settlement was located,contested by the Lombards, while theVisigoths of Spain soon expelled the imperialadministration from their lands. The neareastern provinces in Syria, Iraq and theTransjordan region along with Egypt were alllost to Islam by the early 640s, and northAfrica followed suit by the 690s. In a halfcentury of warfare, therefore, the empire lostsome of its wealthiest regions and much ofthe revenue to support the government, theruling elite and vital needs such as the army. Much of the territory that remained tothe empire was mountainous or arid, so thatthe exploitable zones were really quitelimited in extent. Nevertheless, an efficient(for medieval times) fiscal administrationand tax regime extracted the maximum inmanpower and agricultural resources, while aheavy reliance on well-planned diplomacy,an extensive network of ambassadors,emissaries and spies, a willingness to play offneighbours and enemies against one another,and to spend substantial sums on subsidies
Introduction 9offered a friendlier, Mediterranean type regions from central plateaux. The complexclimate, and were also the most important Roman and Hellenistic road system wassource of revenues for the government. The partly retained during the Byzantine period,pattern of settlement was similarly strongly but the empire after the 6th centurydifferentiated - most towns and cities were developed a range of military routes togetherconcentrated in the coastal regions, while the with a series of fortified posts and military-mountains and plateaux were much more bases - for these same routes also served assparsely settled. Similar considerations means of access and egress for Arab forces.applied to the Balkans, too, and in both cases Strategic needs changed, of course, and sothis geography affected road systems and did the road system, with routes falling incommunications. The empire needed to take and out of use.these factors into account in strategic The Balkans present a rugged andplanning and campaign organisation, of fragmented landscape falling broadly intocourse, for logistical considerations - the two zones: the coastal and riverine plains (ofsources of manpower, food and shelter, Thrace, of Thessaly and of the southlivestock and weapons, how to move these Danubian area), which are productive andaround, and how they were consumed - fairly densely occupied; and the mountainplayed a key role in the empires ability to ranges that dominate the whole region andsurvive in the difficult strategic situation in represent about two-thirds of its area - thewhich it found itself. Dinaric Alps in the west, stretching from Armies, whether large or small, and north-east to south-west; the southerlywhether Byzantine or hostile forces, faced Iindus range with which they merge, andmany problems when campaigning in or which together dominate western andacross Asia Minor, in particular the long central Greece; and the Balkan chain itself,stretches of road through relatively waterlessand exposed country, and the rough Aqueduct ofValens in Constantinople (4th century).mountainous terrain separating coastal (Authors collection)
10 Essential Histories • Byzantium at War The east Roman empire in the middle of the 6th century
Introduction 11The conquests of the emperor Justinian re-established and the middle of the 2nd century AD. Thethe eastern Roman empire as the dominant power in network also facilitated commerce, civilianthe Mediterranean. traffic and the movement of information. But in the later 4th and 5th centuries the roadsstretching from the Morava river as far as the went into decline - a reflection of economicBlack Sea coast, with the Rhodope range and social changes across the empire and theforming an arc to the south, through consequences of these for local governors andMacedonia towards the plain of Thrace. The town councils. One result was a decline in thefragmented terrain has given rise to a series use of wheeled vehicles, which could not useof distinct geopolitical units separated by roads that were not properly maintained, andridges of highlands, fanning out along river a corresponding increase in dependence onvalleys towards the coastal areas. beasts of burden. A number of major routes served from After the 6th century a limited numberancient times to give access to the interior of of key routes was kept up by means ofthe Balkan region or to pass through it from compulsory burdens imposed on localnorth to south or west to east. The Balkans communities. The fast post, consisting ofare characterised by relatively narrow and pack-animals, relay horses and light carts,often quite high, easily controlled passes, and the slow post, which provided ox-cartsand this terrain was ideally suited to guerrilla and heavy vehicles, were amalgamated intostrategy - tough campaigning conditions, a single system in the 6th or 7th century,and difficult access to some regions during and continued to operate until the last yearsthe winter. The structure of communications of the empire. The imperial road systems inand the effectiveness of Byzantine political both the Balkans and Anatolia were lessauthority demonstrate this, for there were no extensive than hitherto, but remainedobvious focal points in the ancient and nevertheless effective. But the costs ofmedieval period in the south Balkan region maintenance and the problem ofapart from Thcssaloniki and Constantinople, supervising upkeep meant that many routesboth on the edge of the peninsula and its were hardly more than tracks or pathsfragmented landscape. usable only by pack-animals, with paved or Geography affected land use in the Balkans hard surfaces only near towns and fortresses.as it did in Asia Minor. The uplands and Travel and transport by water was usuallymountains, dominated by forest and faster and much cheaper. This was especiallywoodland, and the lower foothills by so in the case of the long-distancewoodland, scrub and rough pasturage, were movement of bulk goods, such as grain, forsuited to pastoral activity only. Agriculture example. The expense of feedingwas limited to the plains, river valleys and draught-oxen, drovers and carters, payingcoastlands of Thessaly, Macedonia and the tolls, together with the slow rate ofDanube. The sea played an important role, movement of ox-carts, added verysince it surrounds the Balkan peninsula apart considerably to the price of the goods beingfrom along the northern boundary, and acted, transported, generally well beyond the priceas it still does today, as an efficient means of of ordinary subjects of the emperors. It wascommunication along the heavily indented really only the government and the army,coastline and with more distant regions. The and to a certain extent the Church and adisadvantage of relatively easy seaborne few wealthy individuals, who could pay foraccess, however, was that it opened up the this. In contrast, shipping was much moresouthern Balkan peninsula to invasion. cost effective, since large quantities of goods One of the factors that made the Roman could be transported in a single vessel,army so successful and efficient was the handled by a small crew, relativelymilitary road system, established for the most inexpensively, once the capital investmentpart between the end of the 2nd century BC in vessel and cargo had been made.
12 Essential Histories • Byzantium at WarByzantine fortress town of Koloneia (mod. and so forth. And geographical factors were,Sebinkarahisar) in eastern Anatolia. (Authors collection) of course, fundamental to warfare and the strategic organisation of the empire. This was the physical world of the laterRoman and medieval eastern Roman, orByzantine, empire, and this was the context A brief survey ofwithin which the politics, diplomacy, warfare Byzantine historyand social evolution of Byzantine culture areto be understood. Geography and physical By the later 5th century the western part ofcontext were not the only factors: cultural the Roman empire had been transformedassumptions - the thought world of into a patchwork of barbarian successorByzantium, also partly determined the states. Emperors at Constantinoplecomplex network of causes and effects, the continued to view all the lost territories asresults of which we call history. But means part of their realm, however, and in someof communication, speed of movement of cases to treat the kings of the successorpeople and information were key aspects on kingdoms as their legitimate representatives,which the effectiveness of armies or the governing Roman affairs in the provinces inavailability of resources to support a question until Constantinople couldcampaign might depend. Geography affected re-establish a full administrative and militaryhow the government worked, the amount of presence. This is most obviously the caseagricultural wealth that it could make with the Ostrogothic leader Theoderic who,available for specific purposes, the although he ruled nominally in the name ofdistribution and well-being of the the emperor, established a powerful state inpopulation, rates of production and Italy. The leader of the Salian Franks inconsumption, the availability of livestock, northern Gaul, Clovis, had quite deliberately
Introduction 13adopted Orthodox Christianity in the last centurion Phokas was raised to the throne.years of the 5th century in order to gain Phokas (602-10), popularly regarded in laterpapal and imperial recognition and support Byzantine sources as a tyrant, ruled until hefor his rule, where he also claimed, at least was overthrown in 610, when he was in turnnominally, to represent Roman rule. Roman replaced by Heraclius, the son of the militaryemperors considered the west not as lost, governor of Africa. Heraclius was crownedbut rather as temporarily outside direct emperor and ruled until 641.imperial authority. But the empire was unable to maintain its The emperor Justinian (527-65) used this defences against external pressure. Within aas the justification for a series of remarkable few years the Avars and Slavs had overrunreconquests, aimed at restoring Romes power much of the Balkans, while the Persiansas it had been at its height - north Africa occupied and set up their own provincialfrom the Vandals by 534, Italy from the governments in Syria and Egypt between 614Ostrogoths by 552. But the plan was too and 618, and continued to push into Asiaambitious to have had any chance of Minor. Italy was left to its own devices andpermanent success. And while the emperor became increasingly autonomous. In spite ofnevertheless came very close to achieving a a great siege of Constantinople by a Persianmajor part of his original aims, the problems and an Avaro-Slav army in 626, Heracliusthat arose after his death illustrated the proved an able strategist and by 628 hadproblems his policies brought with them. utterly destroyed the Persian armies in theWarfare with the Persian empire in the east east, restoring the situation at the end ofmeant that resources were always stretched to Maurices reign. The regional dominance ofthe limit and there were never enough the Roman empire seemed assured. But whilesoldiers for all fronts. Upon his death in 565 the Danube remained nominally the frontier,Justinian left a vastly expanded but perilously much of the Balkan region was no longeroverstretched empire, in both financial and under imperial authority, except when anmilitary terms. His successors were faced with army appeared. The financial situation of thethe reality of dealing with new enemies, a empire, whose resources were quitelack of ready cash, and internal discontent exhausted by the long wars, was desperate.over high taxation and constant demands for The origins of Islam lie in the northernsoldiers and the necessities to support them. Arabian peninsula, where different forms ofThe Persian war was renewed, while in 568 Christianity, Judaism and indigenous beliefsthe Germanic Lombards crossed from their coexisted, in particular in the much-travelledhomeland along the western Danube and trading and caravan communities of MeccaDrava region into Italy, in their efforts to flee and Medina. Mohammed was himself athe approaching Avars, a Turkic nomadic respected and established merchant who hadpower which was establishing a vast steppe several times accompanied the tradeempire. The Lombards soon overran Roman caravans north to Roman Syria. Syria anddefensive positions in the north of the Palestine already had substantial populationspeninsula, founding a number of of Arabs, both farmers and herdsmen, as wellindependent chiefdoms in the centre and as mercenary soldiers serving the empire as asouth, while the Avars established themselves buffer against the Persians. Althoughas a major challenge to imperial power in the Mohammeds preaching - a synthesis of hisnorthern Balkan region. Between the own beliefs with Judaic and Christian ideas -mid-570s and the end of the reign of the met initially with stiff resistance from hisemperor Maurice (582-602), the empire was own clan, by 628-29 he had established hisable to re-establish a precarious balance in authority over much of the peninsula andthe east and along the Danube. begun to consider the future direction of the Maurice was deposed in 602 following a new Islamic community. On his deathmutiny of the Danube forces, and the (traditionally placed in 632) there followed a
14 Essential Histories • Byzantium at Warbrief period of warfare during which his soldiers seems always to have beenimmediate successors had to fight hard to maintained by each regional militaryreassert Islamic authority. The raids mounted commander. A strategy of guerilla warfareagainst both Roman and Persian territories evolved in which enemy forces were allowedwere in part a response to the political to penetrate the borderlands before being cutdemands generated by this internal conflict. off from their bases and harried and worriedA combination of incompetence and apathy, until they broke up or were forced to returndisaffected soldiers and inadequate defensive to their own lands. Byzantine officersarrangements resulted in a series of conducted a scorched earth policy in manydisastrous Roman defeats and the loss of regions, and local populations in endangeredSyria, Palestine, Mesopotamia and Egypt regions were encouraged to keep lookoutswithin the short span of 10 years, so that by posted, so that they could gather their642 the empire was reduced to a rump of its livestock and other movable possessions andformer self. The Persian empire was take refuge in mountain fortresses, therebycompletely overrun and destroyed by the depriving enemy units of forage and booty.650s. The Arab Islamic empire was born. Although individual emperors did launch The defeats and territorial contraction offensive expeditions in the periodwhich resulted from the expansion of Islam c.660-730, these were generally designed tofrom the 640s in the east, on the one hand, forestall a major enemy attack into Romanand the arrival of the Bulgars and territory in Asia Minor, or had a punitiveestablishment of a permanent Bulgar nature, designed more as ideologicallyKhanate in the Balkans from the 680s, on motivated revenge attacks on importantthe other, radically altered the political enemy targets, and with no lasting strategicconditions of existence of the east Roman value (although they did have implicationsstate. The Balkans up to the Danube were for military morale). Although a few notableclaimed by the empire, and when imperial successes were recorded, many of them failedarmies appeared, the local, predominantly and resulted in substantial defeats and lossSlav, chieftains and leaders acknowledged of men and materials. The differentiationRoman authority. But this lasted only as long between different arms at the tactical level -as the army was present. The Bulgars were a between light and heavy cavalry or infantry,new element whose nomadic military archers, lancers or spearmen - appears toorganisation and technology enabled them have lessened, surviving only in a fewquickly to establish a political hegemony contexts, associated with imperiallyover the region south of the Danube delta, maintained elite units. Byzantine armies andfrom which their Khans rapidly expanded Arab armies looked very much the same.their power, so that by the end of the Only from the 730s on, during the reign7th century they were a substantial threat to of Leo III (717-41), an emperor from aimperial claims in the region. military background who seized the throne The resulting transformation of state in 717, and more particularly that of his sonadministrative structures produced an army and successor Constantine V (741-75), athat was based almost entirely on defensive campaigning emperor who introduced aprinciples, for which offensive warfare number of administrative reforms in thebecame a rarity until the middle of the army and established an elite field army at8th century, and which was encouraged by Constantinople in the 760s, does thisthe imperial government to avoid pitched situation begin to change. Political stabilitybattles and open confrontation with enemy- internally, the beginnings of economicforces wherever possible. The field armies of recovery in the later 8th century andthe late Roman state were transformed in dissension among their enemies, enabled theeffect into provincial militias, although a Byzantines to re-establish a certaincentral core of full-time professional equilibrium by the year 800. In spite of
Introduction 15occasional major defeats (for example, the warlords (such as the emirs of Aleppo in theannihilation of a Byzantine force following a 940s and 950s), there followed a series ofBulgai surprise attack in 811, and the death brilliant reconquests of huge swathes ofin battle of the emperor Nikephoros I) and territory in north Syria and Iraq, thean often unfavourable international political annihilation of the second Bulgarian empire,situation, the Byzantines were able to begin a and the beginnings of the reconquest ofmore offensive policy with regard to the Sicily and southern Italy. By the death inIslamic power to the east and the Bulgars in 1025 of the soldier-emperor Basil II thethe north - in the latter case, combining Bulgar-slayer (976-1025) the empire wasdiplomacy and missionary activity with once again the paramount political andmilitary threats. By the early 10th century, military power in the eastern Mediterraneanand as the Caliphate was weakened by basin, rivalled only by the Fatimid Caliphateinternal strife, the Byzantines were in Egypt and Syria.beginning to establish a certain advantage;and in spite of the fierce and sometimes The walls of Constantinople (5th century).successful opposition of local Muslim (Authors collection)
16 Essential Histories • Byzantium at War But the offensive warfare that developed offer no organised counter-attack, with thefrom the middle of the 9th century had result that central Asia Minor was lostimportant effects upon the organisation of permanently to the empire. Major militarythe armies. The provincial militias became and fiscal reforms under the emperors of theless suited to the requirements of such Komnenos dynasty (a military aristocraticcampaigning, tied as they had become to clan) from 1081 re-established stability and,their localities and to the seasonal to a degree, the international position of thecampaigning dictated by Arab or Bulgar empire. While foreign mercenary unitsraiders. Instead, regular field armies with a continued to play a prominent role, themore complex tactical structure and more recruitment of indigenous Byzantine unitsoffensive elan developed, partly under the specialising in a variety of arms restored theauspices of a new social elite of military ability of the imperial armies to fightcommanders who were also great external enemies on their own terms. Thislandowners, partly encouraged and financed was partly based on a reformed fiscalby the state. Mercenary troops played an administration, on the one hand, and theincreasingly important role as the state raising and maintenance of troops on thebegan to commute military service in the basis of grants of revenue to certainprovincial armies for cash with which to pay individuals in return for the provision ofthem. By the middle of the 11th century, a trained soldiers, both infantry and cavalry.large portion of the imperial armies was Increasing western influence, in the form ofmade up of indigenously recruited the introduction of weapons such as themercenary units together with Norman, crossbow and the adoption of western heavyRussian, Turkic and Frankish mercenaries. cavalry tactics, differentiate this period fromThe successes achieved between c.900 and the preceding century. But the successes of1030 were thus based on effective the new dynasty were relatively short-lived:organisation and better resources than in the overexpansion, the loss of Bulgaria andpreceding period. Morale and ideology also much of the Balkans to what might be calledplayed a key role, while the increase in the nationalist rebellions, and the collapse oftactical complexity of Byzantine field armies the empire into renewed factional strife inplayed a significant part, with the various the 1180s and 1190s, laid it open to externaldifferent types of arms familiar from the late threat. This materialised in the form of theRoman period, which had all but vanished fourth crusade. The capture and sack ofin the period of crisis of the 7th and Constantinople in 1204 and the subsequent8th centuries, reappearing once more. Arab partition of the empire among the Venetiancommentators remark on the effectiveness and western victors ended the empires roleof the Byzantine heavy cavalry wedge, as a major political and military power,employed with, literally, crushing effect in although it survived after the recovery ofthe Byzantine wars with both Muslims and Constantinople in 1261 and re-establishmentnorthern foes such as the Bulgars and the of an imperial regime, on an ever smallerRus of Kiev. territorial scale, until only Constantinople This expansionism had its negative and a few Aegean islands remained. And inresults, however. Increasing state demands 1453 the Ottoman Sultan Mehmel IIclashed with greater aristocratic resistance to extinguished even this remnant.tax-paying; political factionalism at court led There are, very roughly, five phases ofto policy failures, the overestimation of military development in the history of theimperial military strength, and neglect of Byzantine empire: reconquest anddefensive structures. When Seljuk Turkish expansion under Justinian in the 6lhraiding parties were able to defeat piecemeal century; contraction, localisation and aa major imperial force in 1071 and capture primarily defensive character in the 7th andthe emperor Romanos IV, the empire could 8th centuries; consolidation, recovery and
Introduction 17a more offensive approach in the period crusade; second, the growth of the powerfrom the 9th to the early 11th century; the of Serbia in the 14th century; and third,breakdown and reform of the structures of that of the Ottomans in the 14th andinherited from the late ancient period 15th centuries.during the 11th and 12th centuries, with abrief expansion back into Asia Minor under BELOW The walls of Constantinople (5th century).the emperors Alexios I, John II and Manuel (Authors collection)until the 1170s; and a final, slow decline as FOLLOWING PAGE Although many routes followedthe empire shrank under the effects of, first, Roman roads, Byzantine armies often used older tracksthe partition which followed the fourth and paths which predated the Romans.
18 Essential Histories • Byzantium at War Major Byzantium routes in Asia Minor
Chronology474-175 Zeno emperor in east 591-602 Gradual success in pushing Avars475-476 Basiliscus usurps power in east back across Danube476 Last western Roman emperor, 602 Maurice overthrown, Phokas Romulus Augustulus, dies proclaimed emperor476-491 Zeno (restored) 603 War with Persia; situation in491-518 Anastasios I emperor in east Balkans deteriorates493-526 Theoderic rules Ostrogothic 610 Phokas overthrown by Heraclius, son kingdom of Italy of exarch of Africa at Carthagec.503 Anastasios recognises authority, as 611-620s Central and northern Balkans lost representative of the Romans, of 614-619 Persians occupy Syria, Palestine Clovis, king of the Franks and Egypt507-711 Kingdom of Visigoths in Spain 622 Mohammed leaves Mecca for Medina518-527 Justin I (the Hijra)527 Justinian I becomes emperor 622-627 Heraclius campaigns in east against533-534 Belisarius reconquers Africa Persians (pacification completed in 540s) 626 Combined Avaro-Slav and Persian534 Belisarius begins reconquest of Italy siege of Constantinople fails (war lasts until 553) 626-628 Heraclius defeats Persian forces537 Dedication of the new Church of the in cast Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) in 629 Peace with Persia Constantinople 634+ Arabs begin raids into Palestine540 Persian king Chosroes I takes Antioch 634-646 Arab conquest and occupation of in Syria Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Egypt542+ Plague in the Byzantine world (636 - battle of Gabitha/Yarmuk)550+ Avars establish rule over Slavs north 644+ Beginning of long-term raids and of Black Sea ami Danube plundering expeditions against552 Narses defeats Totila and last Byzantine Asia Minor Ostrogothic resistance in Italy 655 Sea battle of Phoenix, Byzantines553+ Reconquest of south-east Spain defeated by Muslim fleet from Visigoths 662 Constans II leads expedition through558 Treaty with Avars and agreement to Balkans into Italy, takes up residence pay subsidies in Sicily562 Fifty-year peace signed with Persia 668 Constans assassinated; Mizizios564-591 Wars with Persia proclaimed emperor in Sicily, but566+ Slavs begin to infiltrate across Danube defeated by forces loyal to frontier; pressure on frontier fortresses Constantine IV from Avars 674-678 Arab blockade and yearly sieges of568+ Lombards driven westward from Constantinople. First recorded use of Danube, invade Italy. liquid fire (Greek fire), to destroy572 Lombards besiege Ravenna Arab fleet577 Major invasion of Balkans led 679-680 Arrival of Bulgars on Danube- by Avars defeat of Byzantine forces under584, 586 Avaro-Slav attacks on Thessaloniki Constantine IV
20 Essential Histories • Byzantium at War680-681 Third council of Constantinople council; empress regent Theodora and (sixth ecumenical council) chief courtiers restore images; end of685-692 Truce between caliphate and official iconoclasm Byzantium (Arab civil war) 850s Missionary activity in Bulgaria691-692 Quinisext or Trullan council 860 Rus (Viking) attack on Constantinople; at Constantinople mission to Chazars of St Cyril693 Byzantine defeat at Sebastoupolis 863 Major Byzantine victory over Arabs at698 Carthage falls to Arabs; final loss Poson in Anatolia of Africa 864 Conversion of Bulgar Khan and717-718 Siege of Constantinople; Leo, leaders. Council convoked by Basil I general of Anatolikon, seizes power at Constantinople to settle Photian and crowned as Leo III schism: Photios deposed, Ignatios, his726-730 Leo condones iconoclastic views of predecessor, reinstated. Bulgaria some bishops. Beginnings of placed under Constantinopolitan iconoclast controversy ecclesiastical jurisdiction (contrary to739-740 Leo and Constantine defeat Arab papal demands) column at Akroinon 900+ Final loss of Sicily; Bulgar739 Earthquake hits Constantinople expansionism under Tsar Symeon;741 Artabasdos, Leos son-in-law, rebels war with Byzantines against Constantine V and seizes 917 Bulgar victory at river Achelo Constantinople 922 Peace with Bulgars743-744 Artabasdos defeated 923-944 Byzantine conquests and eastward746+ Plague in Constantinople expansion led by general750 Abbasid revolution, removal of John Kourkouas Umayyads from power, capital of 960-961 Recovery of Crete under general Caliphate moved to Baghdad Nikephoros Phokas750s-770s Constantine launches major 963+ Major Byzantine offensives in east, expeditions against Bulgars and Arabs creation of new frontier regions792 Byzantines under Constantine VI 965 Nikephoros II captures Tarsus defeated by Bulgars at Markellai and Cyprus797 Constantine VI deposed by mother 969 Nikephoros II captures Aleppo Irene; blinded and dies and Antioch800 Coronation of Charlemagne by pope 969-976 Reign of John I Tzimiskes. in St Peters, Rome Continuation of eastern expansion;802 Irene deposed by chief finance defeat of Bulgars with help of Rus minister Nikephoros (Nikephoros I) allies under Svyatoslav; defeat of Rus811 Nikephoros defeated and killed by at Silistra (971) forces under Khan Krtim after initially 975 John I invades Palestine, takes several successful campaign in Bulgaria towns and fortresses, but withdraws813 Bulgar victories over Byzantine forces 985+ Bulgar resistance in western Balkans815 Leo V convenes synod at leads to growth of Bulgarian empire Constantinople; iconoclasm under Tsar Samuel reintroduced as official policy 989 Conversion of Vladimir of Kiev821-823 Rebellion of Thomas the Slav to Christianity824+ Beginning of Arab conquest of Sicily 990-1019 Basil II crushes Bulgar resistance; and of Crete Bulgaria reincorporated into empire,838 Arab invasion of Asia Minor; siege Danube new frontier in north and sack of Amorion 1022 Armenian territories annexed to empire843 Council held in Constantinople to 1034-1041 Michael IV takes first steps in reaffirm acts of seventh ecumenical debasement of gold currency
Chronology 211054 Schism with papacy 1180 Manuel dies; strong anti-western1055 Seljuks take Baghdad; Norman power sentiments in Constantinople in southern Italy expanding 1182 Massacre of westerners, especially1071 Romanos IV defeated and captured at Italian merchants and their Mantzikert by Seljuks; beginning of dependents, in Constantinople Turk occupation of central Anatolia; 1185 Normans sack Thessaloniki; Normans take Bari Andronikos Komnenos deposed1070+ Major Petcheneg advances into 1186+ Rebellion in Bulgaria, defeat of local Balkans; civil war within empire Byzantine troops, establishment of1081 Alexios Komnenos rebels and defeats second Bulgarian empire Nikephoros III and is crowned emperor 1187 Defeat of third crusade at battle of1082-1084 Norman invasion of western Horns of Hattin; Jerusalem retaken Balkan provinces by Saladin1091 Seljuk-Petcheneg siege of 1192 Treaties with Genoa and Pisa Constantinople; defeat of Petchenegs 1203-1204 Fourth crusade, with Venetian1097+ First crusade; Seljuks defeated financial and naval support, marches1098-1099 Jerusalem captured; Latin against Constantinople; after the principalities and Kingdom of Jerusalem capture and sack of the city in 1204, established in Palestine and Syria the Latin empire is established, along1108 Alexios defeats Normans with several principalities arid under Bohemund other territories under Latin or1111 Commercial privileges granted to Pisa Venetian rule1130s Alliance with German empire against 1204-1205 Successor states in Nicaea, Epirus Normans of southern Italy and Trebizond established1138-1142 Byzantine confrontation with 1205 Latin emperor Baldwin I defeated Crusader principality of Antioch by Bulgars1143-1180 Manuel I Komnenos: 1259 Michael VIII succeeds to throne in pro-western politics become major empire of Nicaea; Nicaean army factor in Byzantine foreign policy defeats combined Latin and Epirot1146-1148 Second crusade army at battle of Pelagonia; fortress1153 Treaty of Constanz between town of Mistra handed over to Frederick I (Barbarossa) and papacy Byzantines (Nicaea) against Byzantium 1261 During absence of main Latin army1155-1157 Successful imperial campaign in Nicaean forces enter and seize Italy; commercial and political Constantinople negotiations with Genoa 1265 Pope invites Charles of Anjou,1158-1159 Imperial forces march brother of Louis IX of France, to against Antioch support him militarily against1160+ Successful imperial political Manfred of Sicily and the involvement in Italy against German Hohenstaufen power in Italy imperial interests; Manuel defeats 1266 Manfred of Sicily defeated at battle of Hungarians and Serbs in Balkans and Benevento by Charles of Anjou; reaffirms imperial pre-eminence Angevin plans, supported by papacy,1169-1170 Commercial treaties with Pisa evolve to invade and conquer the and Genoa Byzantine empire1171+ Byzantine-Venetian hostilities increase 1274 Gregory X summons second council1175-1176 Manuel plans crusade in east of Lyons; representatives of Byzantine1176 Defeat of imperial forces under Church present; union of the Manuel by Seljuk Sultan Kilidj Asian Churches agreed, under threat of at Myriokephalon papally-approved invasion led by
22 Essential Histories • Byzantium at War Charles of Anjou; union not accepted 1379 John V restored with Turkish and in the Byzantine empire Venetian support1280-1337 Ottomans take nearly all 1388 Bulgarians defeated by Ottomans remaining Byzantine possessions in 1389 Battle of Kosovo: Serbs forced to Asia Minor (Ephesus 1328, Brusa 1326) withdraw by Ottomans, Serb empire1282 Sicilian vespers; death of Charles ends; accession of Bayezit I of Anjou and end of his plans to 1393 Turks capture Thessaly; battle of invade Byzantium Trnovo, Bulgarian empire destroyed1285 Council of Constantinople (second 1396 Sigismund of Hungary organises synod of Blachernae): discussed and crusade against Ottoman threat, but is rejected pro-western interpretation of utterly defeated at Nicopolis the Trinity as enunciated by the 1397-1402 Bayezit I besieges patriarch John XI Bekkos. Also rejected Constantinople, but army withdrawn decisions of Council of Lyons (1274) when Turks defeated by Timur at1303 Andronikos II hires Catalan company battle of Ankara (1402) as mercenary troop 1399-1402 Manuel II tours Europe to elicit1321-1328 Civil war between Andronikos II military and financial support; in and Andronikos III December 1400 he stayed as a guest1329 lurks take Nicaea of Henry IV in London1331-1355 Stefan Dushan Krai (King) 1422 Murat II lays siege to Constantinople of Serbia 1423 Governor of Thessaloniki (a brother1337 Turks take Nicomedia of John VIII) hands the city over to1340+ Serbian empire under Stefan Dushan the Venetians at height of power 1430 Thessaloniki retaken by Ottomans;1341-1347 Civil war between John V populace and Venetian (supported by Serbs) and John VI garrison massacred Kantakouzenos (with Turkish help) 1439 Council of Ferrara moves to Florence-1346 Stefan Dushan crowned emperor of union of Churches formally agreed by the Serbs and Greeks emperor John VIII, present at council1347 Black death reaches Constantinople 1444 Hungarians and western crusaders, led1354-1355 Civil war between John VI and by Vladislav of Hungary and Poland, John V (backed by Genoa); Ottomans defeated at battle of Varna; Vladislav- employed as allies establish killed in battle themselves in Gallipoli and Thrace 1448 John VIII dies; his brother1355 John VI abdicates and enters a Constantine, Despot of the Morea, monastery; John V proposes union of succeeds as Constantine XI, with Churches to Pope coronation at Mistra in 14491365 Ottomans take Adrianople, which 1451 Mehmet II becomes Sultan becomes their capital 1452 Union of Churches proclaimed1366 John V visits Hungary seeking at Constantinople support against Ottoman threat 1453 Mehmet II lays siege to1371 Ottomans defeat Serbs in battle Constantinople; 29 May, Janissaries1373 John V forced to submit to Ottoman break through defences and permit Sultan Murat I; Johns son main Ottoman army to enter city; Andronikos IV rebels, but is defeated Constantine XI, the last emperor,1376-1379 Civil war in Byzantium: died in the fighting, and his body was Andronikos IV rebels against John V, never identified. who is supported by his younger 1460 Mistra falls to the Turks son Manuel 1461 Trebizond falls to the Turks
Background to warThe political world of ByzantiumThe Christian Roman state was structured as hinterland (which might be more or lessa hierarchy of administrative levels: at the extensive, according to geographical,top was the emperor, understood to be Gods demographic and other factors).representative, surrounded by a palace and Rural production dominated thehousehold apparatus, the centre of imperial economy, but the cities were the homes of agovernment and administration. Civil and literate elite of landowners. Social status wasfiscal government was delegated from the largely determined by ones relationship toemperor to the praetorian prelects, whose the system of imperial titles and precedence,prefectures were the largest territorial whether one had held an active post in thecircumscriptions in the state; each prefecture imperial bureaucracy, and at what level, andwas further divided into dioecesae or dioceses, so forth, although regional variations werewhich had a predominantly fiscal aspect; marked. The Church and the theologicaland each diocese was divided into provlnciae system it represented (from the late 4thor provinces, territorial units of fiscal and century the official religion of the Romanjudicial administration. These were further state) played a central role in the economydivided into self-governing polos or civitates, of the Roman world - it was a majorthe cities, each with its territorium or landowner - as well as in imperial politics, in influencing the moral and ethical system ofThe Byzantine fortress of Charpete (Harput), rebuilt in the Roman world, and in directing imperiallater medieval times. (Authors collection) religious policy. The prevailing view was that
24 Essential Histories • Byzantium at Warthe emperor was chosen by God, that he had There occurred a ruralisation of society, ato be Orthodox, and that his role was to result of the devastation, abandonment,defend the interests of Orthodoxy and the shrinkage or displacement of many cities inRoman i.e. Christian oikoumene (the Asia Minor as a result of invasions and raids.inhabited, civilised - Roman - world). The The defensive properties of urban sites,political implications were such that heresy their direct relevance to military,was construed as treason, and opposition to administrative or ecclesiastical needs, and sothe (Orthodox) emperor could effectively be on, played the key role in whether a citytreated as heresy. The late Roman state was survived or not. Constantinople became thethus a complex bureaucracy, rooted in and pre-eminent city of the empire.imposed upon a series of overlapping social The social elite was transformed as newformations structured by local variations on men selected by the emperors on a moreessentially the same social relations of obviously meritocratic basis increased inproduction across the whole central and east number, and who were initially heavilyMediterranean and Balkan world. Social and dependent on the emperor and on imperiallypolitical tensions were exacerbated by sponsored positions. Yet as a result of itsreligious divisions, local economic increasing grip on state positions and theconditions, imperial politics, and the burden lands it accrued through the rewardsplaced upon the tax-paying population as a attached to such service, this elite soonresult of the states needs in respect of its turned into an aristocracy, during theadministrative apparatus and, in particular, 8th and 9th centuries still very dependentits armies. on the state, during the 10th and especially These structures were radically the 11th increasingly independent. The statetransformed between the later 6th and early had to compete directly with a social group9th centuries, and as the result of a number whose enormous landed wealth andof factors, the single most important being entrenched position in the apparatuses ofthe Islamic conquests. By 642 all of Egypt the state meant that it posed a real threat toand the middle-eastern provinces had been central control of fiscal resources.lost, Arab forces had penetrated deep into The events of the 7th century alsoAsia Minor and Libya, and imperial forces produced a reassertion of central statehad been withdrawn into Asia Minor, to be power over late Roman tendencies tosettled across the provinces of the region as decentralisation. The state was both limited,the only available means of supporting and in its turn partly defined, by the naturethem. Within a period of some 12 years, of key economic relationships. This istherefore, the empire lost something over exemplified in the issue and circulation ofhalf its area and three-quarters of its coin, the basic mechanism through whichresources - a drastic loss for an imperial state the state converted agricultural produce intowhich still had to maintain and equip a transferable fiscal resources. Coin was issuedconsiderable army and an effective chiefly to oil the wheels of the stateadministrative bureaucracy if it was to machinery, and wealth was appropriatedsurvive at all. While many of the and consumed through a redistributive fiscaldevelopments which led to this mechanism: the state issued gold in thetransformation were in train long before the form of salaries and largesse to its7th-century crisis, it was this conjuncture bureaucracy and armies, who exchanged athat served to bring things to a head and substantial portion thereof for goods andpromote the structural responses that services in maintaining themselves. Thefollowed. state could thus collect much of the coin it The changes that accompanied the put into circulation through tax, the moredevelopments of the 7th century affected all so since fiscal policy generally demandedareas of social, cultural and economic life. tax in gold and offered change in bronze.
Background to war 25There were periods when this system was Church of the monastery at Daphni. Greececonstrained by circumstances, resulting in (11th century).The crucifixion. (AKG, Berlin)the ad hoc arrangements for supplyingsoldiers and raising tax in kind, for example The growth in the power of the elite was(as in the 7th century), and it also varied by stimulated by two developments. In the firstregion. But in a society in which social place, there took place an increasingstatus and advancement (including the subordination of the peasantry to bothself-identity of the aristocracy) were private landlords and to holders of grants ofconnected with the state, these state revenue. In the second place the statearrangements considerably hindered conceded from the later 11th century theeconomic activity not directly connected right to receive the revenues from certainwith the states activities. For the continued public (i.e. fiscal, or taxed) districts or ofpower and attraction of the imperial certain imperial estates with then tenants,establishment at Constantinople, with its encouraging a process of very gradualcourt and hierarchical system of precedence, alienation of the states fiscal and juridicalas well as the highly centralised fiscal rights. By exploiting the award by theadministrative structure, consumed the emperors of fiscal exemptions of varyingwhole attention of the Byzantine elite, sorts, landlords - both secular and monastichindering the evolution of a more localised - were able to keep a larger proportion of thearistocracy which might otherwise have revenues extracted from their peasantinvested in the economy and society of its producers for themselves, as rent, while theown localities and towns, rather than in governments hold on the remaining fiscalthe imperial system. land of the empire was constantly
26 Essential Histories • Byzantium at WarIlluminated manuscript of the History of John Skylitzes communities from the burdens which they(11th century), fol. I0v. Proclamation of Emperor Leo V owed in rents and services.in 813. (Biblioteca National, Madrid) The split between the interests of the landed and office-holding elite on the onechallenged by the provincial elite. This had hand and the government which is evidentimportant consequences, for it meant that during the later 10th and 11th centuriesthe overall burden placed on the peasant was papered over from the time of Alexios Iproducers grew considerably. Tenants of and until the end of the 12th century bylandlords with access to imperial patronage virtue of the transformation of the empireattempted to free themselves from many of under the Komnenos dynasty into what was,these impositions through obtaining grants in effect, a gigantic family estate, ruledof exemption of one sort or another, through a network of magnates, relativesalthough the needs and demands of the local and patronage that expanded rapidly duringmilitary meant that privileges were often the 12th century and that, in uniting theentirely ignored. The amount of resources vested interests of the dominantlost to the state through grants of exemption social-economic elite with those of a rulingIrom additional taxes cannot nave been family, reunited also the interests of thenegligible, while the burden of landlords former with those of a centralised empire.demands on peasant tenants is hinted at by The factional politics that resulted froman 11th-century writer who notes that these developments, in particular over whocancelling fiscal privileges freed the rural would control Constantinople and sit on
Background to war 27ABOVE The walls of Constantinople (5th century).(Authors collection)RIGHT Gold nomisma ofTheophilos (829-842).Reverse: busts of Michael II (820-829) and Constantine,Theophilos son. (Barber Institute of Fine Arts. Universityof Birmingham)the throne, become apparent in thesquabbles and civil wars which followedthe defeat of Romanos IV by the Seljuks in1071, a situation resolved only by theseizure of power by Alexios I in 1081. Bythe end of the 12th century, if not alreadya century earlier, the vast majority ofpeasant producers in the empire hadbecome tenants, in one form or another,
28 Essential Histories • Byzantium at WarThe walls of Constantinople (5th century). monopolised military and higher civil(Authors collection) offices, while the older families who had been its former rivals dominated theof a landlord. The elite had meanwhile bureaucratic machinery of the state. In thecrystallised into a multifactional aristocracy, provinces local elites tended to dominate.led by a few very powerful families, with a It was these social relations that facilitatednumber of dependent subordinate and the internecine strife and factionalismcollateral clans. Under the Komnenoi, the that marks the 14th and 15th centuriesimperial family and its immediate associates in particular.
Warring sidesNeighbours and enemiesWe have already referred to the strategically the fourth crusade in 1203-1204. The Latinvery awkward situation of the Byzantine division of the empire after 1204 resulted instate, with enemies or potential enemies on the rapid growth of local Balkan culturalvirtually every front and with a constant independence and the evolution of newneed to fight wars on more than one front at states - the Serbian empire of Stefan Dushana time. In the north and west the situation being perhaps the most remarkable. Only thewas especially complex as a result of the arrival of the Ottomans in the 14th centuryvariety of neighbouring states and political put an end to this development.powers. From its establishment in the 680s, Relations with Italy and the west werethe Bulgar Khanate rapidly grew in power, similarly complicated. As we have notedand until its extinction at the hands of the already, Italy, north Africa and theemperor Basil II, known as the Bulgar-slayer south-eastern corner of the Iberian peninsula(976-1025), represented a constant threat had been reconquered under Justinian, atto the security of imperial territory in the enormous cost, from the Ostrogoths, VandalsBalkans. Throughout the 8th and and Visigoths respectively. But the appearance9th centuries and into the early of the Lombards in Italy (pursued by the10th century, Bulgar power and influence Avars, at Byzantine request) soon resulted ingrew, in spite of successful counter-attacks the fragmentation of imperial possessions intounder the emperor Constantine V in the a number of distinct regions under military760s and 770s. The nadir of Byzantine commanders or duces. Imperial territory in thefortunes was probably the year 811, when north-east and central regions was representedthe Khan Krum defeated and destroyed an by the exarch, an officer with military andimperial army, killing the emperor civil authority. But distance fromNikephoros I. Conversion to Christianity Constantinople, local cultural differentiationof elements of the ruling elite in the 860s and political conditions, together with thewas intended to stabilise the situation in spiritual and political power of the Popes infavour of Byzantium; but the gradual Rome soon led to the gradual but inevitableByzantinisation of this elite only contributed diminution of imperial power. The extinctionto the growth of an imperialistic Bulgar of the exarchate with the capture of Ravenna,politics which hoped to bring the two states its capital, at the hands of the Lombards intogether under a Bulgar dynasty. But Bulgar 751; increased papal dependence on thesuccesses under the Christian Tsar Symeon in Franks for support against the Lombards, andthe first 15 years of the 10th century were as increasingly autonomous and mutuallydangerous; while the reassertion of Bulgar competing local polities in the Italianimperial ideology under Tsar Samuel peninsula had led to the reduction ofinaugurated a conflict - after a relatively imperial power to the regions of Calabria,peaceful period in the middle of the Bruttium and Sicily by the early 9th century. 10th century - and led finally to the Other political centres such as Napleseradication of Bulgar independence and the remained technically Byzantine, but wererecovery of much of the Balkans up to the in practice quite independent. Venice,Danube in the early 11th century. In spite of which grew in importance from the earlyoccasional rebellions, the region remained 9th century, likewise remained nominallyfirmly in Byzantine hands until just before an imperial territory.
30 Essential Histories • Byzantium at WarMonastery of Hosios Loukas, Greece (11th century). during the 9th century. The weakening ofChrist Pantokrator. (AKG, Berlin) the empire in the civil wars of the middle and later 11th century and the growth of the The coronation by the pope of Charles Crusading movement further complicatedthe Great - Charlemagne - as (western) matters: caricatures of western arrogance andRoman emperor in Rome in 800 set the seal ignorance on one side were matched byon the political and cultural separation ol equally inaccurate caricatures of Byzantineeast Rome and the west. Cultural treachery and effeteness on the other.differences, expressed in particular through Although the imperial revival under theecclesiastical politics and the struggle Komnenos dynasty during the late 1 lth andbetween Franks, Byzantines and the papacy 12th centuries made a rapprochementfor dominance in the central and western possible, including the development of aBalkans, became increasingly apparent, strong pro-westem faction at Constantinoplecomplicated by rivalry within the eastern (promoted by the emperor Manuel IChurch. Despite various attempts at (1143-80)), the conflict between imperialmarriage alliances between the Byzantine interests in controlling trade and commerceand various western courts, the growing and Italian merchant expansionism, coupledpolitical, cultural and military strength of with cultural suspicion and Venetianthe western world precluded any serious political intrigue and opportunism, resultedreassertion of east Roman imperial power in the launching of the fourth crusade, thein the central Mediterranean basin. sack of Constantinople, and the partition of Byzantine influence was struck a further the eastern empire into a number of latinblow by the loss of Sicily to Islamic forces kingdoms and principalities.
Warring sides 31 Major Byzantine routes in the BalkansThe Byzantines faced particular difficulties in penetrating latter and Basil II inaugurated a long periodinto the Balkans with their many narrow, easily-blocked of Byzantine cultural and spiritual influencepasses and defiles. on the Rus, fundamentally inflecting the evolution of Russian culture, the Church and A somewhat different tone existed in tsarist ideology. The enduring influence ofrelations between Byzantium and the Rus, Byzantine methods of cultural penetration inNorse settlers from the central Russian river the Balkans was expressed most clearly in thebelt who entered the Black Sea to trade and structure, organisation and ideology of theraid for booty, but who had soon become Orthodox Church of the region.close trading partners with the empire (by The empires main neighbours in thethe 920s certainly), and provided mercenary north and west until the 10th century werehousehold troops for the emperors - from thus the Bulgars - with the various Serb andthe 980s, the famous Varangian guard. other Slav chiefdoms and principalities inAcceptance of Christianity under Vladimir in the western Balkans supporting or beingthe 980s and a marriage alliance between the directly controlled by now one side, now the
32 Essential Histories • Byzantium at WarThe monastery church at Daphni, Greece Hungary were particularly strained during(11 th century). (Authors collection) the 1150s and 1160s, for Hungary played an important role on the international politicalother; the Rus beyond them, along with the stage, in particular in relation to Byzantinevarious steppe peoples - Chazars from the policy with regard to the German empire.8th century, then during the 9th the Hungarian interest in the north-westernMagyars (who go on to establish the Balkans was perceived by Constantinople asChristianised kingdom of Hungary), the a destabilising element and a threat toPechencgs in the 10th and 11th centuries, imperial interests. The emperor Manuel triedand thereafter the Cumans, relations of the to address the issue by both military andSeljuks in the east. In Italy and western and diplomatic pressure, sending frequentcentral Europe foreign relations were expeditions to threaten dissident rulers indominated by the papacy and the the region to follow the imperial line, andneighbouring Lombard Kingdom and interfering in the dynastic politics of theduchies in the former region until the later Hungarian court, the rise of the Italian8th century, and thereafter by the Prankish maritime cities, especially Venice, Pisa andempire in its various forms. In particular the Genoa with their powerful fleets andGerman empire of the Ottoman dynasty mercantile interests, was to play a key role indominated central Europe and Italy from the both the political and economic life of the10th century, and its rulers had a keen empire from this time onward.interest in eastern Europe and the Balkans. Perhaps the most dangerous foe theDuring the 11th century the rising power of Byzantines had to face in the west were thethe young kingdom of Hungary introduced a Normans of southern Italy, who had servednew element into this equation. Eastern originally as mercenaries in the ByzantineRoman relations with the kingdom of armies, but who by the last decades of the
Warring sides 33century had established an independent state constant threat to the empire. But thisof their own, and who invaded the Balkans complex history falls into several phases:from Italy during the reign of Alexios I in 650s-720s, when Arab-Islamic invasionsthe 1090s and early 12th century. Eventually were a regular phenomenon aimed at thedefeated on this front, they nevertheless destruction of the east Roman state;went on to establish one of the most 720s-750s, when a modus Vivendi had beenpowerful states in the central Mediterranean, established, but in which Muslim attacksthe Norman kingdom of Sicily, and remained a constant source of economic andpresented a major threat to Byzantine political dislocation; and thereafter until theinterests throughout the century. Yet it was middle of the 11th century, when thenot the Normans who played the key role in collapse and fragmentation of Abbasiddiverting the fourth crusade in 1203-1204 authority made it possible tor the empire tofrom its original targets in the Muslim east re-establish a military and politicalto Byzantium, but rather the republic of pre-eminence in the region. The increasinglyVenice, and it was Venetian interests that important role of Turkic slave and mercenarydictated the form taken by the political soldiers in the Caliphate from the 840s, andfragmentation of the empire in the the eventual arrival of the Seljuk Turks in theperiod immediately thereafter. 1050s, was to alter this picture drastically. A Until the extinction of the Sassanid combination of internal political dissensionempire by the Islamic armies in the 630s and and a relatively minor military defeat at theearly 640s, the Persian state had been the hands of the Seljuk Sultan Alp Aslan inmain opponent of the Roman empire in theeast. Thereafter, the Umayyad (661-750) and General view of the monastery at Daphni, Greecethen Abbasid (751-1258) Caliphates posed a (I Ith century). (Authors collection)
34 Essential Histories • Byzantium at WarPsalter of Basil II (10th century).The emperor victorious. growth of a series of Turkic emirates in the(Biblioteca Marciana, Venice) region thereafter made recovery of the region impossible; and the rise of the dynasty ofeastern Anatolia in 1071 (battle of Osman - the Ottomans - from the laterMantzikert, mod. Malazgirt) resulted in the 13th century was eventually to prove fatal toimperial loss of central Asia Minor, which the east Roman empire.henceforth became dominated by groups of The political world of Byzantium was thusTurkic nomadic pastoralists (known as complex and multifaceted. The governmentTurkmen) who presented a constant threat at Constantinople needed to run an efficient,to all forms of sedentary occupation. The intelligent and above all watchful diplomatic
Warring sides 35 The empire c. AD 600ABOVE The Lombard invasion of Italy in 568 and theSlav immigration into the Balkans dramatically reducedRoman power in the west,RIGHT Gold hiitamenon nomisma of Constantine VIII(1025 1028), Reverse: bust of the emperor.(Barber Institute of Fine Arts. University of Birmingham)system, for it was on diplomacy, alliances,gifts and the careful use of intelligence thatthe empire depended. But when these failed,as they often did, it needed an army, and itis the imperial armies, the way they weremaintained and how they fought, that is themain theme of this volume.
OutbreakWhy and how did Byzantiumfight wars?Byzantine generals and rulers were generally about Byzantine intentions, these are allfully aware of the relationship between the methods which the military treatisesallocation and redistribution of resources - recommend. Avoiding battle, which was asoldiers, supplies, equipment, livestock and keystone of Byzantine strategy, would alsoso forth - and the ability of the empire to increase the possibility that the enemy hostward off hostile military action or to strike might be struck by illness, run out of waterback at its enemies. Military handbooks and supplies, and so on.and treatises dating from the 6th to the Defence thus had to be the primary11th centuries make it apparent that the concern of Byzantine rulers and generals.imbalance in resources between Byzantium Byzantine military dispositions wereand its enemies was recognised. Generals administered upon a consistent andwere exhorted not to give battle in logistically well-considered basis, and theirunfavourable conditions, because this might main purpose was to secure the survival oflead to waste of life and resources; indeed the empire by deploying the limitedthe dominant motif in these works is that it resources available to the best effect. Theywas the Byzantines who were compelled to were, necessarily, defensive in orientation, amanoeuvre, to use delaying tactics, to point noted quite clearly by theemploy ambushes and other strategems to mid-10th-century visitor from Italy, theeven the odds stacked against them; but that ambassador Liutprand of Cremona, withit was quite clearly a main war aim to win regard to the precautions taken to securewithout having to fight a decisive battle. Constantinople at night, in case of anVictory could be achieved through a unexpected enemy attack. The emphasiscombination of delaying tactics, intelligent placed by Byzantine writers andexploitation ol enemy weaknesses, the governments on effective and intelligentlandscape, seasonal factors, and diplomacy. diplomacy is not just a question of culturalWars were costly, and for a state whose basic preference informed by a Christian distasteincome derived from agricultural production, tor lhe shedding of blood: to the contrary,and which remained relatively stable as well the continued existence of the stateas being vulnerable to both natural and depended upon the deployment of aman-made disasters, they were to be avoided sophisticated diplomatic arsenal. The wholeif at all possible. history of Byzantine foreign relations and Another, closely related, factor in imperial both the theory and practice of Byzantinestrategic thinking was manpower: from a diplomacy reflect this. Diplomacy had itsByzantine perspective, they were always military edge, of course: good relations withoutnumbered, and strategy as well as the various peoples of the steppe werediplomacy needed lo take this factor into essential to Byzantine interests in theaccount in dealing with enemies. One way of Balkans ami Caucasus, because a weaponevening the balance was to reduce enemy might thereby be created that could benumbers: delay the enemy forces until they turned on the enemies of the empire. Suchcould no longer stay in the field, destroying contacts were also an essential source olor removing any possible sources of information, of course, and much effort wasprovisions and supplies, for example, expended in gathering information thatmisleading them with false information might be relevant to the empires defence.
Outbreak 37 Going to war was thus rarely the result of a real terms, the potential for the reconquestplanned choice made by emperors or their and restoration of lost territories was severelyadvisers, for the empire was perpetually limited. Strategy was determined by thethreatened from one quarter or another, and interplay between resources and politicalwas thus in a constant state of military beliefs, tempered by ideological pragmatism:preparedness. The difference between war and most Byzantine warfare was fought not on thepeace in the frontier areas became a matter, basis of delivering a knock-out blow to thenot of the state of the empire as a whole in enemy, but on that of attempting to reach orrelation to a particular neighbouring power, maintain a state of parity or equilibrium,but rather of the part of the empire in which though attrition, raid and counter-raid, andone found oneself. While recovery of former destruction of the enemys short-termterritories was permanently on the ideological potential. Members of the government andagenda, efforts to implement it reflected an ad imperial court may have shared commonhoc reaction to an unforeseen advantagegained through victories in battle and the Street in Istanbul/Constantinople with traditional houses.exploitation of favourable circumstances. In (Authors collection)
Essential Histories • Byzantium at Warideals in respect of their relations with the urban installations, devastation of theoutside world; but the strategic dispositions of countryside. Equally, measures to protect onesthe armies of the later Roman and Byzantine own side had to be taken, and by the middle ofempire were not necessarily arranged with the 10th century the Byzantines had developedthese concerns as a priority. both aspects of such warfare to a fine art. Both Resources were a key element in strategic in the war against the Arabs in the east fromthinking, lor obvious reasons - armies cannot the 7th to 10th centuries, and against Slavs andtight without adequate supplies, equipment, Bulgars in the west, Byzantine warfare wastraining and shelter. But warfare was not conducted effectively on the basis of a strugglenecessarily conducted with a purely material of attrition. This is not to suggest that thereadvantage in mind, since ideological was never a longer-term strategic aim orsuperiority played an important role in ulterior motive at issue - in the case of theByzantine notions of their own identity and accelerated eastward expansion in therole in the order of things; nor was it 10th century and in the slightly later, butconducted with any longer-term strategic closely related, conquest of Bulgaria under Basilobjective in mind. Any damage to the enemy- II, it is possible to suggest that this was thewas a good thing, but some ways ol hitting case, for example. In the first case, throughthe enemy also carried an ideological value - an aggressive imperialism towards the minorstrategically wasteful attacks against Muslim powers in Syria and Jazira, thesymbolically important enemy fortresses or extension and consolidation of the empirestowns were carried out by all medieval rulers territorial strength in the area was clearly anat one time or another, since the short-term important consideration; in the second case,propaganda value, associated perhaps also and partly stimulated by the first development,with a raising of morale, was often considered the creation of a new resource-base for theas valuable as any real material gains. By the emperors and Constantinopolitan government,same token, some theatres were ideologically independent of the power and influence of themore important than others, righting the eastern magnates, was a significantbarbarians in the Balkans and north of the consideration; but it was also in the context ofDanube was regarded as much less prestigious an equally practical decision to eradicate theand glorious than combating the religious foe, threat from an independent Bulgaria andthe Muslims in the east: an 11th-century reassert imperial dominance throughout thewriter remarks: There Seemed nothing grand Balkan regions. Both facets of these processes(in fighting) the barbarians in the West ..., mirror very particular structural tensionsbut were he (the emperor Romanos III) toturn to those living in the east, he thoughtthat he could perform nobly ... There is little evidence that warfare wasconducted to gain resources that could then bedeployed in a coherent way to further a givenstrategy, except in the sense thai more territoryand the wealth that usually accompanied itwere desirable in themselves. Warfare wasconducted on the basis of inflicting maximumdamage to the enemys economy and materialinfrastructure - enslavement or killing ofpopulations, destruction of fortifications andGold hyperpyron of Michael VIII (1258-1282).Obverse: the Virgin Mary within the walls of the city.(Barber Institute of hne Aits. University of Birmingham)
Outbreak 39within Byzantine state and society, and at the outset that pre-emptive attacks could countsame time they also demonstrate particularly as both, and were frequently so justified.clearly the extent to which the foreign policies Defensive fighting took several forms:and military strategy of a state can reflect guerrilla tactics against enemy invaders; majorpower relations within the society as a whole. confrontations between field armies, often Warfare for ideological reasons alone was following a protracted period of manoeuvringvery rare. Clearly, all defensive warfare could in which each side tried to outwit the other;be justified on a range of such grounds - the or a combination of the two. The defensivethreat to the empires territory and campaigns fought against the first Islamicpopulation, the challenge to Orthodox rule armies took this form, with the imperialand Gods appointed ruler, the emperor at forces struggling to match the mobility andConstantinople, challenges to Roman speed of the Arab raiders, who were able tosovereignty, and so forth. Offensive or deprive the Roman commanders of theaggressive warfare was, in the Christian initiative not simply by virtue of theirRoman empire, a little more difficult to fast-moving, hard-hitting tactics, but alsojustify, but it was readily accomplished. But because the type of warfare they practisedthere is no doubt that the dominant element made any notion of a regular front untenable.in Byzantine military thinking throughout The Arab Islamic conquests radicallythe long history of the empire was defensive, altered the strategic and political geographyand necessarily so in view of its strategic of the whole east Mediterranean region. Thesituation. Byzantium survived as long as it complete failure of attempts to meet anddid because it was able to defend itself, drive back the invaders in open battleintelligently exploit natural frontiers or induced a major shift in strategy wherebyboundaries in the crisis years of the 7th and open confrontations with the Muslim armies8th centuries, and diplomatic and political were avoided. The field armies wererelationships thereafter. And whatever the withdrawn first to north Syria andspecific details of the process of its Mesopotamia, and shortly thereafter back topolitical-historical withering away after the line of the Taurus and Anti-Taurus 1204, the gradual demise of the Byzantine ranges. By the mid-640s the armies whichempire went hand-in-hand with its declining had operated in Syria, Palestine andability to muster the resources necessary to Mesopotamia had been withdrawn intodefend itself. Strategy was, in practical terms, Anatolia. The regions across which they werea matter of pragmatic reaction to events in based were determined by the ability of thesethe world around the empire, only loosely districts to provide for the soldiers in termsinformed by the political-ideological of supplies and other requirements. The fieldimperatives of the Christian Roman empire. forces thus came to be quartered across AsiaIn this respect, the political and strategic Minor and Thrace, where they were nowconditions of existence of the east Roman or referred to by the Greek term for theseByzantine state rendered a grand strategy in districts, themata or themes.the narrower sense irrelevant - the strategy This distribution was intended both toof the empire was based on maintaining the meet logistical demands by providing eachconditions appropriate to political, cultural army with an adequate hinterland fromand ideological survival. which it could be supported and to meet the strategic needs ol defence. But it was a very defensive strategy, and it meant that theDefensive warfare economic hinterland of the frontier incurred substantial damage, subject as it was toWars can, crudely speaking, thus be divided regular devastation. There resulted theinto two broad categories, defensive and appearance by the 700s of a no-mans landoffensive, although it must be said at the between the settled and economically safer
40 Essential Histories • Byzantium at WarThe ancient aid medieval fortress at Acroconnth. Greece, militia-like elements in each theme region.controlling entry to the Peloponnese. (Authors collection) In the 760s a small elite force, known as the tagmata (the regiments) was establishedregions on both sides. The new arrangements under Constantino V (741-75), whichdid prevent the establishment by the Arabs quickly evolved into the elite field divisionof permanent bases in Asia Minor itself. tor campaign purposes. It had better pay and The themata or themes were at first merely discipline than both the regular and thegroupings of provinces across which part-time provincial units, and this was thedifferent armies were based. By 730 or first step in a tendency to recruit mercenarythereabouts they had acquired a clear forces, both foreign and indigenous, to formgeographical identity; and by the later special units and to serve for the duration of8th century some elements of fiscal as well a particular campaign or group of campaigns.as military administration were set up on a As imperial power recovered in the 9th andthematic basis, although the late Roman 10th centuries, the empire reasserted itsprovinces continued to subsist. The number military strength in the east, and the roleof themata expanded as the empires and the proportion of such full-time unitseconomic and political situation Improved, became ever more important.partly through the original large military Defensive strategy was determined bydivisions being split up into different several elements. To begin with, raidingprovincial armies, and partly through the forces were to be held and turned back at therecovery in the last years of the 8th century Taurus and Anti-Taurus passes, whereverand the reimposition of imperial authority possible. Where this policy of meeting anilover lands once held in the southern repulsing hostile attacks at the frontier didBalkans. not work, local forces would harass the The localisation of recruitment and invaders, keeping track of every movementmilitary identities which resulted from these and the location of each party or group.arrangements led to a distinction between Numerous small forts and fortresses along thethe regular elements - full-time soldiers - major routes, located at crossroads orand the less competent or well-supplied locations where supplies might be stored as