Back to articles page

Military Land Forces

By Justinian from the 1jma forum.


1. Introduction .......................1-1 Þ 1-8
2. Euipment ........................2-1 Þ 2-6
Infantry .........................2-1 Þ 2-3
Cavalry .........................2-3 Þ 2-6
3. Manpower .........................3-1 Þ 3-9
Theme ........................3-3 Þ 3-6
Tagmata ........................3-7
Hetaireia and Mercenaries .................3-8 Þ 3-9
4. Troop Organization ......................4-1 Þ 4-5
Cavalry .........................4-1 Þ 4-3
Infantry .........................4-4 Þ 4-5
5. Defense of the Realm ....................5-1 Þ 5-11
Strategy ........................5-1 Þ 5-3
Operations ......................5-3 Þ 5-6
Tactics .........................5-6 Þ 5-11
6. Appendixes .......................6-1 Þ 6-4
Infantry Forces .....................6-1
Cavalry Forces .....................6-2
Battle Formations ....................6-3 Þ 6-4

Infantry .....................6-3
Cavalry .......................6-4
7. Notes ..........................7-1 Þ 7-4
8. Bibliography .......................8-1 Þ 8-2



Monday, the eleventh of May, 330 AD . This was the day that Constantine
dedicated his new capital. What had been a sleepy Greek trading town named
Byzantium now became New Rome. Later it would become known as
Constantinople, after its re-founder, Flavius Valerius Constantinus
(Constantine the Great). This event signaled the end of the traditional
Roman Empire, from now on the Empire would have its capital no longer in
Rome, but in Constantinople. Rome would be relegated to the status of a
provincial capital. Rome did however continue to maintain its hold on the
mind spirit of the Empire. The inhabitants of Constantinople would continue
to consider themselves Roman until almost the very end, in 1453 AD.

The city of Rome itself would remain a part of the Empire until its
capitulation in 476 AD to Odovar and his Ostrogoths. In fact, from 330 AD
until 476 AD, the Empire co-existed as an Eastern and a Western Empire.
Then 476 AD, the western part of the realm slipped beneath the waves of its
own undoing. The last Emperor of the West, Romulus Augustulus, sent his
diadem and purple to Constantinople. Rome would rejoin the empire briefly
in the future as conquest raged back and forth across the Mediterranean
world, but Rome itself was no longer of any importance except as a symbol.
Rome herself would shrug off the Empire and Imperial trappings as a result
of the great Schism of 1054 AD. Rome would then become the defacto capital
of western Christianity.

Rome itself was more than just an Empire on a map; it was also an idea . It
was an idea that has continued to captivate the imaginations of the western
world for over a thousand years.

This idea of Rome permeates the governments, architecture, laws and
militaries of the entire western world. Rome even has its part to play in
that greatest of all western sagas, the Bible. What began as a small
hillside town has since evolved into a fond memory of glory and

What allowed Rome to grow and expand was a system of military might and
luck. Rome was an empire built on the backs of her legionnaires. Where the
legionnaire had tread and conquered, followed the civilization that was
Rome. In the end these armies would not be enough to sustain her culture or
defend her frontiers. When the end came the armies themselves would play
their own role in the funeral of Rome.

These armies of Rome evolved as they did, because of geography and military
need. The topography in the area of her birth, and of Italy in general, is
mountainous and devoid of great open spaces. This constriction determined
that the Roman armies would become infantry armies. These armies began
under a militia type system. The prerequisites for service were that a
soldier must be a land owning man who is a citizen of Rome. The individual
warrior was responsible for providing his own gear and equipment.
The state would select the leadership and fund logistics, as well as
determine the call up and military objectives of the campaign. Once the
objectives had been met, the warrior returned to his home and continued his
farming. These farmers would get together every so often and train, but
that was the extent of the early Roman military system .

This militia system worked well enough for a while. Soon however, the
campaigns became longer, and the farmers were not always able to come back
and tend to their fields. This caused many soldier/farmers to enter into
bankruptcy, and thus depleted the eligible pool of available soldiery. This
depletion coupled with the ever-larger area to defend was causing a manpower
shortage in the Roman military apparatus. To help counter this Rome began
to increase the use of her auxiliary troops. These auxiliary troops were
noncitizens. They tended to provide the cavalry and the light infantry
forces . Their job was to scout and help force the enemy into a decisive
engagement with the heavy, Roman legionary, infantry.

It was the Roman Counsel, Gaius Marius, who in 107 BC, much to the dismay
of the Senate, opened the ranks of the legions to any citizen of Rome
regardless of property qualifications. Marius also reorganized the Legions,
as well as issued new types of equipment and formulated new tactical methods
... The significance of these reforms must be viewed in two contexts. The
first context was that Marius eliminated the militia system and helped to
institute the professionalization of the Legions. No longer were soldiers
let go after each campaign, now they were full time professional fighting
Fighting men who were now tied to a contract, which stipulated rights,
privileges and length of service. The other context is that the soldiers
from then on began to call themselves Marius' Mules. This is both a
complement and a curse. Marius had eliminated most of the baggage train and
the soldiers had become more self-sufficient on the march

This new Roman army proved itself capable and deadly efficient in the
battles for both Republic and Empire alike. The basic organization after
the Marian reforms was an Infantry Legion of some 5,500 heavy infantry
supported by 3-4,000 auxiliary forces. The total number of troops in the
Roman establishment was near 150,000 legionnaires and about 100,000
auxiliaries . This force would march ever-onward building Roman roads to
mark their path, and to tether their supply line. The average daily march
of a legion in hostile territory was about 12 miles a day, after which it
would completely entrench itself for the night. A legion could expect to
double this rate of march behind the frontier.

This system served Rome well for many score years, but eventually the
distances became so great that Rome was unable to afford continued expansion
and she passed over to the strategic defense. The army began to construct
walls and frontier forts. These forts would then be garrisoned by
sub-elements of the legions. Many legions would spend 200 or more years in
the same area. This force stabilization coincided with an increase in Roman
ranks of foreigners. These foreigners began to take the place of the Romans
because the Romans were less and less willing to stand in the gap or walk a
There was also an increase in the amount of cavalry forces because they had
more mobility and were better able to reach threatened areas. Even with
this increase, the Legions remained supreme both in battle and in the
imagination of the Roman mind. The garrison duty did take its toll on
combat capability as soldiers put down roots and became more interested in
civilian pursuits than in fighting wars. Discipline and training became
lax, as some units would go years without action. Other units vented their
inactivity by becoming involved in political intrigue and blackmail. This
was the situation in 293 AD when the Roman emperor Diocletian decided that
the Empire had gotten too big for one man to govern. His solution was to
split it into four parts. He kept the eastern section for himself and
parceled the rest out to Galerius, Maximian and Constantinus Chlorus.

In 305 AD, after twenty years on the throne Diocletian did something that no
Roman had done since Cincinatus, he voluntarily vacated the throne. He took
Maximian with him and left the Empire to Constantine Chlorus and Galerius.
Thus, the die was cast. On 25 July, 306 AD in York, Britain, Constantinus
Chlorus died. The legions then took his son, Constantine, clad him in a
purple toga and raised him up on their shields, thus proclaiming him the new
emperor of the West. This situation proved volatile, but stable until
April, 311 AD when Galerius died. There followed a struggle for power
between Constantine, Licinius, who had been appointed emperor of the area of
Illyria, Thrace and the Danube regions, Maximin Daia, the new Eastern
Emperor, and Maxentius in Rome. Licinius, who was quarreling with Maximin
Daia, came to an agreement with Constantine who then began to march on Rome
as part of his agreement with Licinius.
The forces of Constantine and Maxentius met on 28 October, 312 AD at Saxa
Rubra on the Via Flaminia, about seven miles Northeast of Rome. What
happened next would change the world. Near late afternoon Constantine is
said to have had a vision of a cross, and a voice telling him that "by this
sign you shall conquer!" Constantine took this as an omen and had the
symbol, the Chi-Rho, chalked onto the shield of his soldiers before they
began their attack. Battle was then joined, and the forces of Maxentius
were driven and routed at the site of the old Milivan Bridge.

This victory helped to make Constantine the master of half of Europe. His
vision had been affirmed by victory. More importantly for world history,
Constantine took it to heart and became the first fully Christian Emperor.
He immediately got busy constructing a Basilica with Baptistery. This
Basilica would be called St. John Lateran, and is still today the Cathedral
Church for the City of Rome. Constantine and Licinius then convened in
Milan, in 313 AD. At this conference they agreed to rule jointly and to
allow the free practice of Christianity throughout the Empire. In 314 AD,
open civil war broke out as these two factions struggled to undo the
Diocletian split. The civil war raged on until 323 AD when Licinius was
captured, his forces destroyed, and then he himself was executed.
Constantine was now supreme. Now he had to defend his hard won Empire.
The defensive system of the Romans remained in vogue for a while, but
eventually it had to change. The costs of maintaining so large an army were
draining the treasury.
The distances traversed in order to counter threats, was far to great for
heavy infantry to manage. These distances were compounded by new threats
from the east. These eastern foes were mostly horse soldiers. These horse
soldiers were mobile and too difficult to bring to a decisive battle for the
Legions. These horse soldiers were able to use their superior tactical and
operational mobility to bypass Roman forces and then force their way further
into the interior giving battle when they were either trapped or chose to
fight. The horse soldiers of the Eastern Approaches also preferred to fight
with the bow. This gave them both a mobility edge and the ability to decide
the nature of the clash.
Typically, the horse soldiers would sally up to the Romans and unleash a
salvo of arrows and then ride away, remaining outside the effective range of
Roman weaponry. They would do this over and over until they had worn the
Romans down. Then the horse soldiers had the option of cutting the Legions
supplies or going at them with a lance and finishing the job. The lance
though, would not prove a viable option until the 500's when the stirrup
appeared on the scene. This invention would give the cavalry soldier a firm
seat from which to shoot or for using the lance without the jolt of contact
knocking the charging rider off his horse.

The East Roman Empire, established by Constantine needed to reform and
reorganize her military system in order to survive these new threats and
problems. This she did and what was accomplished was a system of doctrine
that would be first codified in the Strategikon of Maurice and would then
vary little until the death of the Empire in the Cannon blasts of the Osmani
Turks in 1453.
It was an empire that lasted for over a thousand years. I was an Empire
that fought in deserts, mountains, plains, snow, and cities. It fought
against a greater differing number of foes than the old empire ever did. It
faced warriors bent on looting the riches of Byzantium, gaining new land and
eventually the ideological force of Islam.


While the infantryman had been the mainstay of Greek and Roman warfare for
almost a thousand years the Byzantines would relegate the foot soldier to a
position of second in importance to the cavalry soldier. This did not mean
that the footslogger was non-existent or poorly equipped. Infantry did
exist and were used to great effect when the need for it was warranted.

Infantry in the East Roman Empire were divided into two types. The two
types of infantry were the light infantry and the more traditional heavy
infantry. Both were similarly equipped and armed with only a few variants
between them.

The heavy infantryman, known as a Skutatoi, was quite well armored, often
as well protected as the typical cavalryman. This would change over time,
until only the first two or three rows of heavy infantry would be well
protected, while the remaining rows would often posses a helmet and
bambakion, which was a padded cloth or leather armor. Unlike the typical
heavy armor, the bambakion possessed sleeves and hoods. The remainder of a
soldiers clothing consisted of linen tunic in the summer or a woolen tunic
for winter, both reaching to mid-thigh, trousers and high heavy boots
provided the rest of the armor. Occasionally gauntlets or padded gloves are
also seen .

The front rank heavy infantryman would have worn the same armor as the back
ranks with the addition of a mail or lamellar (scale) corselet which was
most often sleeveless and terminated at the waist. In addition these
soldiers would also have had iron grieves, gauntlets and either metal or
leather, neck guards attached to their helmets.

The light infantryman was usually with out armor though when possible a
helmet and corselet would have been provided, the corselet being the
exception to the norm. The soldiers were also provided with a large woolen
or felt cloak. The cloak served as a blanket, coat and camouflage cover for
armor during night attacks and ambushes. The usual color for Byzantine
uniforms appear to have been shades of red, blue, green and mauve. The red
color, sun bleaching to an earthy brown and also showing up black at a
distance or in low light.

The heavy infantry also typically carried a shield. The shield was a large
oval shield, curved but not convex. The shield would have been painted to
delineate the users unit affiliation . In the later 1000's and early 1100's
the oval shield was being replaced by a kite shaped shield. The light
infantryman was equipped with a small round shield though these were often
thrown away as an encumbrance or in latter days omitted altogether.

Typical weaponry for a Byzantine infantryman depended on whether he was a
heavy infantryman or a light infantryman.
The heavy infantry fighter was often equipped with a short broad sword for
close in hacking, a mace for bludgeoning through armor, a sling, and a
twelve to fourteen foot pike that was used to ward of enemy cavalry. The
soldier was also equipped with one or two heavy javelins; often the javelin
was a substitute for the pike in the rear ranks. The light infantry soldier
was equipped with a smallish composite bow and a quiver of 40-50 arrows. He
would also have a sling and a small battle or hand axe as a personal close
in weapon.

Each group of 16 infantrymen was also provided with a cart of engineering
equipment. In this cart were the following tools: hand mill, bill hook,
saw, two spades, a mallet, large wicker basket, a scythe, two pick axes and
a collection of corded caltrops .

In the old Roman Empire the infantryman had reigned supreme and the
cavalryman had been merely an auxiliary. This changed in the military
establishment of the East Roman Empire. The cavalryman because of his
mobility and his shock effect would prove to reinforce the theory of quality
over quantity. Though man for man it costed far more to equip, train and
maintain a cavalry soldier than a grunt , it took far less men to defend the
empire with cavalry than with lines of infantry forts.

The cavalry came in three types, heavy, medium and light. The heavy cavalry
were rarely seen after the 1071 defeat Manzikert and light infantry became
more and more the province of Asian horse-archer mercenaries .
The medium cavalryman, the Kataphractos, was usually attired and armored in
the following manner. He wore a linen tunic in summer and a woolen one in
winter. Over his tunic the soldier wore a corselet of mail and on top of
this a corselet of lamelle. Rounding out his protection were grieves,
vambraces, gauntlets and a mail hood attached to the helmet. The helmet was
typically the same model as the infantry soldier wore. On top of this was a
waterproof, brownish felt cloak. The horse of the medium cavalry soldier was
unarmored. The medium cavalry soldier was equipped officially with a small
12" shield though most drawings depict a 24" shield for those using the
lance and the 12" shield for the archers .

The heavy cavalry soldier, Klibanophoros, was equipped like the Kataphractos
except that they wore additional protective equipment. This equipment was a
padded armor coat over the lamelle, a two or three layered mail hood that
left a slit to view out of, splint-armor vambraces, grieves, gauntlets and
iron overshoes. These cavalrymen were literally armored from head to toe .
This level of armored protection was also prevalent with their mounts. The
horses were covered in a lamelle blanket of hardened oxhide that covered the
body to the knees, the head and neck . The heavy cavalryman appears to have
used the same shield types as were common with the Kataphractos.

The light cavalry soldier was most often unarmored except for a hood of horn
scales and a helmet of either iron or reinforced felt. The horses of the
light cavalrymen were identical to their riders in that they were with out
The protection they did have being their speed and agility. The light
cavalry often carried a small shield of wood or hardened hide for additional
protection .

As most light cavalrymen were recruited mercenary troops the above is a
generalization of the typical light cavalryman that would have been found in
the field. There were differences amongst some of the various ethnic groups
who by and large served under there own immediate leadership.

The weaponry of the various cavalry types was not as varied as their armor.
All cavalry types seem to have been equipped initially with a composite bow
and a quiver of 40 to 50 arrows. Later on lances would be added to the
arsenal of the medium and heavy cavalry. All cavalry seem to have been
equipped with swords, javelins and a battle-axe. Th light cavalry also
seems to have additionally carried lassos and slings . Typically among the
Klibanophoros there would be about 1 in 5 of the soldiers equipped with bows
while the remaining 4/5 relied on the lance for a shock type of attack. The
Kataphractos seemed to be equally at home using which ever weapon the
situation dictated .

The army contained in addition to the above type combats units various
other specialized units that one would expect to find. There were logistics
troops, marines, sailors and an extensive medical corps. Each basic unit or
banda had attached to it a surgical doctor and a party of eight

So important to the Byzantines was the care of its wounded that the
stretcher-bearers were paid a bounty for wounded soldier that was brought in
to the medical area. A higher bounty was paid for recovering the wounded
during a retreat .


The East Roman Army had its roots in the remains of the Imperial Roman Army.
For about 146 years the two were synonymous. The Imperial Roman Army at the
time of Constantine the Great was not the same army in structure or make-up
that the Imperial Roman Army had been under Marius or Augustus. As early as
the 260's AD the Roman Emperor Gallienus had begun to change the form of the
Roman military by strengthening the Cavalry . This was done to provide a
more mobile field-force that could better react to border incursions.
Constantine himself had a profound effect on the composition of the
military. He did two things that changed the Army. His act was to separate
the military and civilian powers in the provinces. Previously the Governor
was military commander in chief of his province and chief civilian authority
as well.

The other move that Constantine did was more reflective of the realities
inherent in late Roman military strategies. He effectively divided the army
into two groupings of forces. The first grouping was the frontier troops.
These soldiers were mostly the heavy Infantry of the legions that had been
garrisoning the frontiers for decades. The other military grouping
consisted mostly of cavalry and a few regional legions held back from the
frontier. These units would be the mobile field army . This split was
dictated by the strategy of a crust type defense, wherein Rome would attempt
to hold the foe at the border with the frontier troops until a mobile field
army could reach the trespass and destroy the would be invaders.
This state of affairs would continue as the policy for a little while
longer. The biggest change in the composition of the late Roman Army
happened because of a disastrous defeat. On the ninth of August in the year
378 AD the bulk of the Roman Infantry Legions were ridden down and
annihilated by a lance-armed heavy-cavalry force of Goths at the battle of
Adrianople. In many ways this sounded the death knell of the traditional
Roman Legion. On the field that night lay 26,000 dead Roman legionnaires.
The growing reliance of heavy cavalry for the mobile field army was waxing,
with the setting of the Mediterranean sun on the pools of blood, at
Adrianople .

Another significant change would now occur under the emperor Zeno (474-491).
Zeno recognized that the Roman Army was not Roman in its composition
anymore. The army was a German army doing the will of Rome. In fact many
have speculated that the Armies which sacked Rome in 476 were not the
barbarian hordes of myth and legend but rather the Roman Armies themselves.
The sad truth is that for many years Romans had been unwilling to serve
their empire and had relied increasingly on the Germanic tribes to provide
the manpower to protect her. Zeno began a purge of the Germanic elements in
the eastern half of the Empire and instead began to recruit and draft native
sons to fill her ranks . Far better to have soldiers defended their own
land than have defenders who want to conquer that which they are supposed to

The Theme Armies

The structure then of the East Roman Empire was dependent on the strategic
vision of a crust defense. This called for a cavalry heavy mobile
field-force to rush to the aid of a frontier force that was threatened. The
first significant change to this force structure occurred in the seventh
century with the establishment of the Theme system. This system would exist
through many changes in doctrine and opponent until 1071 AD when after the
disaster at Manzikert the themes of the East would be lost, submerged under
a victorious Turkish tide. The original concept of a theme was as
geographical area to which a military unit was assigned. This unit was a
major independent military command. The theme forces were to consist of
cavalry and infantry, both first line troops and a second line troops. In
the beginning there were merely four themes. These theme armies were
constructed out of the old legions of the central army. Many of these units
could boast of military histories going back into the fourth century . It
was this link to the past that would prove to be a most valuable asset to
the empire. For by maintaining these valuable links to the past the
military kept with it a vast store of organizational knowledge as it applied
to engineering, logistics, training and the like. More importantly it
provided a rallying point for the individuals within the units. They were
therefore able to channel their pride into these units much as in the
British Regimental tradition. Anyone who has marched with the colors
understands the vital importance that esprit de corps makes.

The theme system was based upon ownership of land. The emperor granted to
an individual a parcel of land significant enough to pay for the equipping
of a medium cavalry soldier complete with arms, armor and horses. The
soldier would then farm his plot of land until his term for service came.
Then the soldier would serve for a year before going back to his farm . Whi
le he was serving he would be provided with rations and a salary as well as
numerous other financial payments. The soldiers who were at home farming
also received a significant yearly salary. The soldier could expect to be
activated about once every three to five years. Of course if an enemy
invaded or the empire was going on the warpath the soldier could be
activated out side of that normal schedule. A key point is that the
soldiers were paid in enough gold to make it a good source of income
contribution for a family, especially when the economy suffered meltdowns.
The other key point of the theme arrangement was that the equipment and
obligation belonged not to the person or the family but rather to the
estate. Should the family living on the estate fail to provide, when
called, a properly equipped cavalry soldier then that estate would revert to
the emperor for reassignment, and all military equipment and horses would
remain with the estate. In the beginning the acceptance of an estate in
exchange for service was voluntary it was not until the edict of Nicephorus
I (802-811) in 809-810 that military service would become both hereditary
and compulsory .

This change in the theme obligation was a method to deal with several
problems that were beginning to plague the military and financial sinews of
the empire.
The first reason for the shift in policy was the decision in 778 to change
the defensive strategy of the empire from one of a defensive crust to one
based on the concept of a mobile defense in depth.

This change in strategy put greater stress on the ability and numbers of the
theme system. No longer would invasions be kept at the border, instead the
transgressors would be allowed into the empire and ran down by troops in the
interior. The other cause for this edict was the decline in numbers of
small self-sufficient landholders capable of supporting a cavalry soldier.
The larger landholders and their families were buying up many of the small
holders. This progression would give rise in the eastern themes to powerful
military families that would topple the crown on at least one occasion.

Their growth would be some what abated in the period from 944 to 959 AD by
the forced pooling of land and estates to provide for the required number of
cavalrymen. This policy required the poorer estates to pool together their
resources in order to provide for one first class cavalry soldier. This
policy also required the wealthier estates to support the raising, among the
smaller estates, of the required military forces . This is essentially only
how cavalry forces were raised in the theme armies. The infantry forces
were raised by conscription on an as needed basis. Those that had lost
their cavalry status by having their estates reverted back to the crown were
most often called up for infantry service in the first round and on a
continual basis.

The situation described above would continue despite many of the best
attempts by the central authority to halt it. In 976 the total number of
cavalrymen that the empire could expect from each theme had fallen to 3,000
... This was not the only problem in the theme armies. Starting in 963 AD we
see a greater number of mercenaries replacing natives. The situation among
the light cavalry was that almost all of them had now become paid Asian
horse archers. By 1050 fully 50% of the total Byzantine military strength,
to include the theme armies, would consist of mercenaries . The empire had
begun to allow theme soldiers to remit service in exchange for cash. The
natives also began to suffer in terms of ability and desire to participate
in military service. This was partially a result of the defensive policy
change of 778 and partially a result of a region wide economic downturn.

The mercenary units provided the empire with dedicated warriors but at a
price. After the battle of Manzikert in 1071 the themes would be allowed to
drift into oblivion . They would however, be raised again in a new guise.
This guise was the granting of land to mercenaries, tax-free in exchange for
service. This too for economic reasons would not last long.

The Tagmata

Another military force available to the emperors was the Tagmata. These
forces were stationed in and about the capital city of Constantinople. The
Tagamata had its earliest origins in the fifth century when they served as
ceremonial guard units to the emperor . This would come to change in 743
when the Tagmata would be reformed into the preeminent striking arm of the
empires arsenal. The Tagmata would begin with two units and slowly expand
through the decades of imperial power and politics until in the ninth
century there were four cavalry units and one infantry unit. In the early
ninth century the total number of men in the Tagmata would peak at about
4,000 full time soldiers .

The Tagmata were not with out their intrigue during the iconoclasm it was
the Tagmata under Leo III (717-741) that served as his main arm against the
church . The Tagmata carried out the persecution against the icons. So
much so that when Irene (797-802) was able to gain the throne she lured the
Tagmata to Nicea on the pretext of a plot. She did this so that that she
could man the walls of Constantinople with Theme armies and restore the
Icons. Eventually the Iconoclasm was settled in favor of the iconophiles in
843 AD. But by then the Tagmata were no longer the guard units of the
Emperor. Theophilus (829-842) had replaced them by the Hetaireia .

The Hetaireia and Mercenaries

The Hetaireia were formed to serve as the new imperial guard troops for the
emperor. They were all foreign mercenaries. It was felt by the Emperor that
the Tagmata had been too involved in past political and religious intrigue.
What was needed were a group of soldiers whose loyalty would be only to
their paymaster, the emperor. Membership in the Hetaireia was open to all
including Greeks. Though the records indicate that it was almost
exclusively foreign. Membership in the Hetaireia was by purchase. The
prospective recruit had to ante up a certain amount to be allowed into the
retinue .

There were in the beginning three different units and the closer you worked
to the emperor the more you paid to get in. Of course your salary,
donations and pick of the booty made your initial expenditure worth it in
the long run. The Hetaireia would do well in this role of imperial guard and
elite fighting force. The Hetaireia were joined in 988 AD by the Varangians.

The Varangians began as a promissory levy from Prince Vladimer of Kiev .
They initially were comprised of Nordic Vikings, but later on their
composition would show Englishmen serving as well . It is noted however
that those, whose native language was the Old Danish, held primacy of place
in the unit .

Later emperors prized the Varangians because they felt that the Hetaireia
had become to Hellenized. This Hellenization involved the proclivity toward
luxury and political intrigue.

Troop Organization

We have already discussed the distribution of manpower. Now we will lay
out how the units were organized.


The organization of the cavalry was the same whether the troops served in a
Theme Army or a Tagma. We will describe the organization from the top down.
We will provide the name of the unit, the title of its' commander and any
other applicable data to that echelon.

The supreme commander of the Armies was of course the Emperor. Often
times in the history of the East Roman Empire the Emperor would take to the
field and command the army personally. The next level of command below that
of Emperor was a General. Typically a General controlled a force of around
20,000 soldiers. The second in command was called the Lieutenant General
(LTG), a.k.a. Hypstratelate. The LTG was also the senior Merarch, a.k.a.
Stratelate and as such commanded the center Meros on the battlefield .

A Meros, a.k.a. division, f.k.a. Droungoi, was the largest named tactical
unit used in the Byzantine lexicon.
A Merarch, a.k.a. Stratelate, typically commanded the Meros. This unit
numbered 6,000 - 7,000 soldiers. The unit was composed of three Morias of
varying strength. The Meros, also had attached to it eight to 12 dedicated
scouts who served the reconnaissance needs of the commander .

A Moirarch, a.k.a. Chiliarch, and f.k.a commanded the Morias, a.k.a.
Chiliarch. Duke. This unit had strength of around 2,000 - 3,000 troops. The
unit was composed of around eight to ten Tagmata .

The Tagma, a.k.a. Bandon, f.k.a. Arithmoi, was the primary tactical unit
used by the Byzantines. A Count, a.k.a. Tribune, f.k.a. Komes, commanded
this unit. The second in command of the unit was known as the Ilarch. The
Ilarch was also the senior Hekatonarch. This unit varied in strength from
300 - 400. It was a premise of Byzantine doctrine that the strengths of the
units should not be uniform, but rather vary. This was intended as a method
of operational security (OpSec). This way the enemy would be unsure of what
they were facing. Other positions within the unit consisted of the man
responsible for commanding the guard force of the baggage train and the rear
area. This individual was titled the Tetrach. The remaining members of the
staff consisted of; two heralds, two standard bearers, and a surgeon with
eight stretcher-bearers, and whatever personal retinue the commander kept.
This tactical unit was typically broken down into three or four groups of a
hundred each commanded by a Hekatonarch .

These units were known as the Hekatontarchia. A Hektontarch commanded the
Hektontarchia. The senior Hektontarch was also called the Ilarch and served
as the second in command of the Bandon. The Hektontarch was composed of two
Allaghia. A Pentekontarch commanded the Allaghia. These units were composed
of fifty soldiers each, organized into five Dekarchiai of ten soldiers each
... A Dekarch commanded the Dekarchiai. A Pentarch, a Tetrarch and an Ouragh
supported the Dekarch in his command. Each of these NCOs was equipped
primarily as lancers along with two other squad members. The remaining four
squad members were equipped with bows and positioned in the middle of the
squad .


The organization of the infantry was similar to the organization of the

cavalry. The infantry units had two different types of infantry, light and
heavy. These two infantry types were organized along similar lines except
for manning at the squad level. Heavy Infantry units being 75% heavy
infantry and 25% light infantry. The light infantry units were light
infantry pure, being 100% light infantry . It is also speculated in some
sources that the light infantry units may have had only eight men per squad
instead of the 16 soldiers per squad in the heavy infantry units. We will
describe the organization of the Empire's infantry units from the largest
down to the smallest. We will include the title of the unit, the title of
the commander, unit strength and any other relevant information applicable
to that echelon.

Infantry were not typically organized in units larger than Meros, a.k.a.
Turmai. A Merarch, a.k.a. Turmarch, commanded this echelon. A Meros was
composed of three Moiriai. A Moirarch, a.k.a. Dhoungarokometes, commanded
the Moira, a.k.a. Dhoungoi. The Moira was composed of two to five Bandon .

The Bandon, a.k.a. Tagma, f.k.a. Arithmos was the basic tactical infantry
unit used by the Byzantines. This unit would have been commanded by a
Count, a.k.a. Komes, and f.k.a. Tribune. The second in command of a Bandon
was the Ilarch. The Ilarch was the senior Lochaghos.
Like cavalry units, infantry units varied in size as a matter of OpSec.
Further positions of responsibility at the Bandon echelon were Heralds,
Drill Masters, Standard Bearers, Trumpeters, Armorers, Weapon Makers, Bow
Makers and Fletchers. A Tetrach who commanded the rear guard and the
baggage train also assisted the commander. The unit had attached to it a
surgeon and eight stretcher-bearers. The Bandon was broken down into four Al
laghion. The Allaghion were known on the field as Left, Left-Center,
Right -Center and Right. Each Allaghion was composed of four Lochaghiai
each .

A Lochaghos commanded the Lochaghiai. The Lochagos was assisted in his
mission by his second in command the Dekarchos. The remainder of the NCOs
in the squad were the Pentarchos, Tetrarchos and an Ouraghos. These five
NCOs led the remaining 11 soldiers from the front except for the Ouraghhos
who served as the file closer .

Defense of the Realm
In discussing the defense of the realm we will focus on the three levels of
military art. These three levels are Strategy, Operations and Tactics.
Strategy focuses on the Empire wide defense ideology that was used by the
East Roman Empire. The Operational level discussion will discuss the
movements of troops with in a theatre of operations. Finally, the Tactical
level will focus on the unit level operations on the battlefield .


The initial strategy of the East Roman Empire was the strategy that it had
inherited from the Imperial Roman Empire. This defensive strategy was based
on the concept of a frontier crust defense. The premise of a frontier crust
defense is that you stop the invader at the border and stall them long
enough for the mobile field armies to arrive and destroy the enemy at the
border. To accomplish this concept the Imperial Roman Empire had begun a
defensive building program. This program was responsible for the
construction of the various long Roman walls, frontier forts and
improvements in the Roman military road networks. In this time Justinian
conducted operations which at the outset seem contradictory to the overall
policy of defense. This is easily understood when one realizes that what
Justinian was trying to do was to reconquer those areas that had been lost
since the collapse of the Roman Empire in the west.

To Justinian these campaigns were merely the defense of the Empire, as he
understood it. The Empire was determined to keep itself inviolate. This had
been the military policy of the Imperial Roman Empire since the reign of
Hadrian and would remain the strategy of the East Roman Empire until 778 AD.

In 778 AD the East Roman Empire shifted its defense strategy to a strategy
of mobile defense in depth. This new strategy was predicated on a finical
decline in the fortunes of the Empire. The Empire was unable to pay for the
large amounts of troops needed to maintain the frontier forces that the
previous crust defense mandated. The irony of the situation was that it was
the wealth of the Empire, which attracted the foreign incursions, and there
fore due to money problems drove the Empire to adopt the mobile defense in
depth. By shifting to a mobile defense in depth the Empire was able to save
on cash by reducing overall troops numbers. This defensive strategy would
serve the Empire well and would be phased out in 860 in favor of an
offensive strategy.

The offensive strategy stemmed from the first decisive victory over a major
enemy raiding force. This force was led by the Emir Umar of the Melitenes
and was engaged and destroyed in the year 863. The action took place North
of Ankara near the Halys River. The offensive would continue under the
inspired leadership of several militarily gifted Emperors. This phase
however would end in the disastrous defeat at Manzikert in 1071, when the
Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes disregarded the sage advice that had been laid
down as Byzantine doctrine in the military treatises of his forebears.
The Empire would then begin a slide into the history books that resulted in
the final capitulation and destruction of the Empire with the capture of
Constantinople in 1453.


The operational methods of the Empire were driven by the overall strategy
that the Empire had adopted. During the first phase of the East Roman Empire
this called for operations that supported a frontier crust defense that
attempted to destroy the foe at the borders. This was achieved by a deft
use of diplomacy and soldiering. The Byzantines preferred not to fight if
this was an option. This is brilliantly laid out by the Emperor Leo VI, the
Wise, in his 903 AD book Tactica " One must not without a pressing reason,
go into a battle and risk defeat through too great a desire to vanquish. To
seek a victory where the danger is obvious is an unpardonable temerity which
even success cannot justify." The Byzantines therefore tailored their
diplomacy to this end. They offered cash, titles and honorifics. If
possible they would sign a treaty of non-aggression and then while publicly
honoring it, attempt to covertly undermine their cosigner by funding and
equipping that nations enemy. The Byzantines also attempted to play the
tribes off against each other and thereby save their own troops from the
fighting by letting the infidels destroy each other.

When diplomacy failed and the time to fight came, the frontier forces would
attempt to draw the foe into battle.
They would try and fight from behind prepared defensive positions and force
their opponent to conduct a siege. This would give time for the mobile
field armies to muster and ride into the area and then destroy the
besiegers. If this failed or the enemy was successful it was hoped that the
frontier forces would have bought enough time for the mobile field armies to
reach the enemy and destroy them before they had gotten to deep into the
Empires rear areas.

This system worked well enough but the cost of maintaining the huge numbers
needed to man the frontier proved to be to great a train on the imperial
coffers. This caused a shift in 778 AD to a mobile defense in depth. The
mobile defense in depth would place greater stress on the Theme armies and
eventually turn much of Anatolia into a barren wasteland . The concept was
centered on frontier outposts manned by small local sentries. These out
posts were positioned along the most likely avenues of approach and served
as warning stations instead of forts. Once an opponent was spotted coming
over the horizon the out post would notify the Theme headquarters, the
central army headquarters in Constantinople and then with the local theme
troops begin to shadow the invading host.

The shadowing forces would continually harass the enemy column and send
reports to headquarters. The small-fortified towns, farmhouses and forts
that were positioned hither and yon through out the area assisted the shadow
forces. These small places served as points of supply and refuge for the
shadowing forces.
The other mission that the small forts and the shadowing forces had to
accomplish was to prevent the enemy from sending out foraging parties and to
conduct scorched earth tactics on the flanks and in front of the interloper.
The other theme armies would then mobilize and head for the border where
they would set up blocking positions to prevent the enemy column from
leaving the Empire.

Soon the tired, harassed, and booty-laden enemy would turn for home. Once
they neared the border they would find their way blocked by the Theme armies
and hemmed in from the rear by a combination of Theme troops and Tagmata
from Constantinople. Therein would begin the real battle. The net result
of these operations was that the Empire was able to successfully weather
almost every foreign invasion but at the price of a devastated interior.
This did not bother the Empire much, as they were able in this way to
protect the vital areas near the coastlines and around Constantinople. So
successful were these operations that in 860 the Byzantines were able to
switch to the offensive and actually expand the Empire.

The Empire found itself in the 860's on a strong enough footing to begin
offensive operations in earnest. These offensive operations coincided with
the reign of several militarily gifted Emperors. The Byzantines used as the
base for the offensive operations the long distance raid, which struck deep
into the enemies rear areas. The Byzantines would most often not attack
directly the target of their campaign but instead attempt to get around
behind it and cut it off.
Once they had isolated the objective they would begin to devastate the
surrounding area as well in order to prevent any relief attempt from
gathering provisions or support. The Byzantines would then settle in to
what typically turned out to be a short siege. Most often the Byzantine
raiding force would consist of predominantly Tagmata. It was not uncommon
for the Byzantines to use Theme troops to launch cross border local attacks
as part of a deception to cover the raiding forces as they left the line of
departure elsewhere. These forces would often travel on a wide turning
movement through difficult terrain in order to maximize their surprise. It
was not unheard of for the raiding forces to strike at objectives up to 500
km from the nearest imperial frontier. Manzikert in 1071 spelled the end of
imperial conquest and the armies of the Empire would be reformed and
committed to a long defensive campaign that would result in 1453, with the
end of the empire.


The tactics that the East Roman Empire inherited were the tactics of the
late Imperial Roman Army. These tactics had been involved in a slow
evolution since the defeat at Adrianople in 378 AD. This defeat was the
first time that the Roman Legions had not showed the discipline, inclination
or the ability to stand and fight against cavalry. The result was their
destruction. The tactics of the East Roman Empire would evolve to
accommodate this and focus on the actions of the cavalry. The Byzantines
were very precise in their application of lessons learned on the

They continued the Roman tradition of learning and adopting what which
worked from the foes you had fought . The apogee of Byzantine tactics was
to force the enemy into position where they would surrender with out a
fight. Often this could be done by surprise and maneuver. Many times
thought the troops had to go in and fight the close in fight.


Traditional the infantry had bee the masters of the close in fight. In the
annuls of Byzantium the infantry had been forced into a secondary and
supporting role for most military operations. The Byzantines were avid
students of their opponents and adopted and codified their tactics to allow
them to easily defeat their opponents . The Byzantines took in to
consideration who they were fighting and that peoples strengths and
weaknesses as well as that nations performance and methods in past
encounters. The Empire was aided in this by two methods. The first method
was the Office of Barbarians. The Office of Barbarians was a type of
foreign intelligence service . They would go out and provide constant
reports on potential foes. Many of the agents traveled with Orthodox
missionaries and others were recruited from frontier tribes. The other
method used by the East Romans was by hiring as mercenaries various frontier
and nomadic peoples. These people would then share what they knew of other
tribes and nations beyond the borders of the Empire. The other consideration
for imperial planners was the type of terrain that the battle would be
contested on.
The Byzantines always tried to use terrain as an ally in their battles.
This meant tying a flank into an impassable or difficult segment of terrain,
or such using maneuver methods as masking your approach by the terrain.

The infantry would be used as a primary force in difficult terrain. Light
infantry archers would often serve as the main support for heavy cavalry
when the Byzantines fought against the Persians. The Persians were in fact
considered by the Byzantines to be their most skilled and dangerous foe and
that no commander should fight them with out a combined arms approach.
Infantry would be arrayed on the battlefield in files sixteen deep and armed
with pikes and other equipment. The primary purpose of infantry in most
Byzantine battles was to serve as the anchor and pivot point for the cavalry
... The infantry also served as a shield, which the cavalry could regroup
behind, in comparative safety. If the situation dictated the Byzantines
were known to dismount some of their cavalry soldiers to augment the ranks
of the ground pounders . The infantry then would usually be drawn up in
the center of the line with cavalry to the flanks. The infantry would form
up into four units abreast. The units were noted as Left, Center Left,
Center Right and Right . The Byzantines, though regulating infantry to a
secondary role, were protective and considerate of the problems faced by the
common foot soldier. The Emperor Maurice, in his sixth century military
manual, Strategikon, warned commanders about fatiguing their infantry by
having them where their full armor on approach marches of over two miles .


Cavalry was the primary arm of decision for the Byzantine forces. The
Cavalry would typically be formed up on the field of battle as follows. The
first Byzantine troops out are the scouts. There were eight -12 scouts per
Meros. The scouts would position themselves about three hundred meters in
front of the Byzantine position. They were to occupy a position that
allowed them to view both their own forces and the forces of the opponent.
The next line of troops would consist of the Promachos, or first line of
battle. The first line of battle equaled 2/3 of the total strength of the
field army. The unit would consist of three bodies of troops on line and
about three hundred meters apart. Each of these units would have 2/3 of its
troops designated as defenders and 1/3 designated as assault troops .

The defenders would be in the middle of that unit's formation and would
follow the assault troops in good order and serve to beat back counter
attacks. Behind the defenders traveled the medical corpsmen. The assault
troops would usually have been bow-armed troops who would rush after a
retreating enemy. The assault troops were positioned on the flanks of their
defenders. The Byzantines would often place a bandon in the gap between
units until the battle started so as to confuse enemy scouts and make them
believe that they faced a solid wall of imperial troops. Remember the
Byzantines preferred to fight from the defensive and force their opponents
to attack them.

About three hundred meters to the left of the line were positioned two to
three bandon whose job was to serve as a flank guard to the main force.
Three hundred meters to the right of the line were two or three more bandon
who were called outflankers. Their job was to conduct an envelopment of the
enemy forces. There were also another two or three bandon composed mostly of
archers who were known as ambushers. Their job was to go deep and then
turn the enemy's flank and pummel them with arrows.

Behind this formation at a distance of about 1,200 meters sat the second
line of troops. These troops constituted ½ of the total commitment. They
were drawn up into four units abreast with three hundred-meter intervals.
The gaps corresponded to the position of the troops in the first line.
These troops were oriented for 360° defense. They were assisted in this by
the positioning of a bandon about three hundred meters to the rear outside
corner of the left and right limit of the formation .

Additional march related duties and units consisted of some that would seem
very familiar to a modern military. These were a quartering party whose
mission was to scout out the routes and location of the next encampment or
remain over night position. Once the quartering party had located and
secured the are the surveying party would come and establish the limits and
positions with in the site. The main body would then follow them.

When the Byzantines elected to launch a full-blown cavalry charge the troops
were drawn up into a type of wedge formation. Up until Manzikert the first
wave of the three-wave attack would be made up of the heavy cavalry,
Klibanphoroi. The second and third waves would be made up of Kataphractoi
and their mixture of bows and lances . The ten men Dekarchiai was formed
up in to files of five side by side. The first two ranks and the last rank
would typically be using lances and the middle four soldiers would use their

Evans, Robert F.. Legions of Imperial Rome, An Informal Order of Battle
Study. New
York City: Vantage Press, 1980.
Grant, Michael. From Rome to Byzantium, The Fifth Century AD. New York City:
Routledge, 1998.
Heath, Ian. Byzantine Armies 886 - 1118. London: Osprey Publishing Ltd.,
Holmes, Richard and Keegan, John. Soldiers: A History of Men in Battle. New
City: Viking, 1985.
Hook, Richard and Windrow, Martin. The Horse Soldier. New York City: Oxford
University Press, 1986.
Jones, Archer. The Art of War in the Western World. New York City: Oxford
Press, 1987.
Keegan, John. A Short History of Warfare. New York City: Vintage Books,
Keppie, Lawrence. The Making of the Roman Army. New York City: Barnes and
Laffont, Robert. The Art of Ancient Warfare. Greenwich, CT: Time-Life Books,
Liddel Hart, B.H.., Strategy, New York City: Meridian, 1991.
Maurice. Trans. George T. Dennis. Strategikon. Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania Press, 1984.
Nickerson, Hoffman and Spaulding, Oliver Lyman. Ancient and Medieval
Warfare. New
York City: Barnes and Noble, 1993.
Norwich, John Julius. A Short History of Byzantium. New York City: Alfred A.
Parker, H.M.D.. The Roman Legions. New York City: Dorset Press, 1992
Sherrard, Philip. Byzantium. New York City: Time-Life Books, 1966.
United States Department of the Army, FM 100-2-1 The Soviet Army: Operations
Tactics. Washington D.C.: Department of the Army, 1984.
Watson, G.R.. The Roman Soldier. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press,
Webster, Graham. The Imperial Roman Army. Totowa, NJ: Barnes and Noble,
Whittow, Mark. The Making of Byzantium, 600 - 1025. Los Angeles: University
California Press, 1996.
Wilkes, John. The Roman Army. New York City: Cambridge University Press,

If you have any comments, please mail me