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
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
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
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
Rome, but in Constantinople. Rome would be relegated to the status
provincial capital. Rome did however continue to maintain its hold
mind spirit of the Empire. The inhabitants of Constantinople would
to consider themselves Roman until almost the very end, in 1453
The city of Rome itself would remain a part of the Empire until
capitulation in 476 AD to Odovar and his Ostrogoths. In fact, from
until 476 AD, the Empire co-existed as an Eastern and a Western
Then 476 AD, the western part of the realm slipped beneath the waves
own undoing. The last Emperor of the West, Romulus Augustulus, sent
diadem and purple to Constantinople. Rome would rejoin the empire
in the future as conquest raged back and forth across the Mediterranean
world, but Rome itself was no longer of any importance except as
Rome herself would shrug off the Empire and Imperial trappings as
of the great Schism of 1054 AD. Rome would then become the defacto
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
world for over a thousand years.
This idea of Rome permeates the governments, architecture, laws
militaries of the entire western world. Rome even has its part to
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
luck. Rome was an empire built on the backs of her legionnaires.
legionnaire had tread and conquered, followed the civilization that
Rome. In the end these armies would not be enough to sustain her
defend her frontiers. When the end came the armies themselves would
their own role in the funeral of Rome.
These armies of Rome evolved as they did, because of geography
need. The topography in the area of her birth, and of Italy in general,
mountainous and devoid of great open spaces. This constriction determined
that the Roman armies would become infantry armies. These armies
under a militia type system. The prerequisites for service were
soldier must be a land owning man who is a citizen of Rome. The
warrior was responsible for providing his own gear and equipment.
The state would select the leadership and fund logistics, as well
determine the call up and military objectives of the campaign. Once
objectives had been met, the warrior returned to his home and continued
farming. These farmers would get together every so often and train,
that was the extent of the early Roman military system .
This militia system worked well enough for a while. Soon however,
campaigns became longer, and the farmers were not always able to
and tend to their fields. This caused many soldier/farmers to enter
bankruptcy, and thus depleted the eligible pool of available soldiery.
depletion coupled with the ever-larger area to defend was causing
shortage in the Roman military apparatus. To help counter this Rome
to increase the use of her auxiliary troops. These auxiliary troops
noncitizens. They tended to provide the cavalry and the light infantry
forces . Their job was to scout and help force the enemy into a
engagement with the heavy, Roman legionary, infantry.
It was the Roman Counsel, Gaius Marius, who in 107 BC, much to
of the Senate, opened the ranks of the legions to any citizen of
regardless of property qualifications. Marius also reorganized the
as well as issued new types of equipment and formulated new tactical
... The significance of these reforms must be viewed in two contexts.
first context was that Marius eliminated the militia system and
institute the professionalization of the Legions. No longer were
let go after each campaign, now they were full time professional
Fighting men who were now tied to a contract, which stipulated rights,
privileges and length of service. The other context is that the
from then on began to call themselves Marius' Mules. This is both
complement and a curse. Marius had eliminated most of the baggage
the soldiers had become more self-sufficient on the march
This new Roman army proved itself capable and deadly efficient
battles for both Republic and Empire alike. The basic organization
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
Roman establishment was near 150,000 legionnaires and about 100,000
auxiliaries . This force would march ever-onward building Roman
mark their path, and to tether their supply line. The average daily
of a legion in hostile territory was about 12 miles a day, after
would completely entrench itself for the night. A legion could expect
double this rate of march behind the frontier.
This system served Rome well for many score years, but eventually
distances became so great that Rome was unable to afford continued
and she passed over to the strategic defense. The army began to
walls and frontier forts. These forts would then be garrisoned by
sub-elements of the legions. Many legions would spend 200 or more
the same area. This force stabilization coincided with an increase
ranks of foreigners. These foreigners began to take the place of
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
more mobility and were better able to reach threatened areas. Even
this increase, the Legions remained supreme both in battle and in
imagination of the Roman mind. The garrison duty did take its toll
combat capability as soldiers put down roots and became more interested
civilian pursuits than in fighting wars. Discipline and training
lax, as some units would go years without action. Other units vented
inactivity by becoming involved in political intrigue and blackmail.
was the situation in 293 AD when the Roman emperor Diocletian decided
the Empire had gotten too big for one man to govern. His solution
split it into four parts. He kept the eastern section for himself
parceled the rest out to Galerius, Maximian and Constantinus Chlorus.
In 305 AD, after twenty years on the throne Diocletian did something
Roman had done since Cincinatus, he voluntarily vacated the throne.
Maximian with him and left the Empire to Constantine Chlorus and
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
purple toga and raised him up on their shields, thus proclaiming
him the new
emperor of the West. This situation proved volatile, but stable
April, 311 AD when Galerius died. There followed a struggle for
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
Daia, came to an agreement with Constantine who then began to march
as part of his agreement with Licinius.
The forces of Constantine and Maxentius met on 28 October, 312 AD
Rubra on the Via Flaminia, about seven miles Northeast of Rome.
happened next would change the world. Near late afternoon Constantine
said to have had a vision of a cross, and a voice telling him that
sign you shall conquer!" Constantine took this as an omen and
symbol, the Chi-Rho, chalked onto the shield of his soldiers before
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.
vision had been affirmed by victory. More importantly for world
Constantine took it to heart and became the first fully Christian
He immediately got busy constructing a Basilica with Baptistery.
Basilica would be called St. John Lateran, and is still today the
Church for the City of Rome. Constantine and Licinius then convened
Milan, in 313 AD. At this conference they agreed to rule jointly
allow the free practice of Christianity throughout the Empire. In
open civil war broke out as these two factions struggled to undo
Diocletian split. The civil war raged on until 323 AD when Licinius
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,
eventually it had to change. The costs of maintaining so large an
draining the treasury.
The distances traversed in order to counter threats, was far to
heavy infantry to manage. These distances were compounded by new
from the east. These eastern foes were mostly horse soldiers. These
soldiers were mobile and too difficult to bring to a decisive battle
Legions. These horse soldiers were able to use their superior tactical
operational mobility to bypass Roman forces and then force their
into the interior giving battle when they were either trapped or
fight. The horse soldiers of the Eastern Approaches also preferred
with the bow. This gave them both a mobility edge and the ability
the nature of the clash.
Typically, the horse soldiers would sally up to the Romans and unleash
salvo of arrows and then ride away, remaining outside the effective
Roman weaponry. They would do this over and over until they had
Romans down. Then the horse soldiers had the option of cutting the
supplies or going at them with a lance and finishing the job. The
though, would not prove a viable option until the 500's when the
appeared on the scene. This invention would give the cavalry soldier
seat from which to shoot or for using the lance without the jolt
knocking the charging rider off his horse.
The East Roman Empire, established by Constantine needed to reform
reorganize her military system in order to survive these new threats
problems. This she did and what was accomplished was a system of
that would be first codified in the Strategikon of Maurice and would
vary little until the death of the Empire in the Cannon blasts of
Turks in 1453.
It was an empire that lasted for over a thousand years. I was an
that fought in deserts, mountains, plains, snow, and cities. It
against a greater differing number of foes than the old empire ever
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
almost a thousand years the Byzantines would relegate the foot soldier
position of second in importance to the cavalry soldier. This did
that the footslogger was non-existent or poorly equipped. Infantry
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.
types of infantry were the light infantry and the more traditional
infantry. Both were similarly equipped and armed with only a few
The heavy infantryman, known as a Skutatoi, was quite well armored,
as well protected as the typical cavalryman. This would change over
until only the first two or three rows of heavy infantry would be
protected, while the remaining rows would often posses a helmet
bambakion, which was a padded cloth or leather armor. Unlike the
heavy armor, the bambakion possessed sleeves and hoods. The remainder
soldiers clothing consisted of linen tunic in the summer or a woolen
for winter, both reaching to mid-thigh, trousers and high heavy
provided the rest of the armor. Occasionally gauntlets or padded
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
most often sleeveless and terminated at the waist. In addition these
soldiers would also have had iron grieves, gauntlets and either
leather, neck guards attached to their helmets.
The light infantryman was usually with out armor though when possible
helmet and corselet would have been provided, the corselet being
exception to the norm. The soldiers were also provided with a large
or felt cloak. The cloak served as a blanket, coat and camouflage
armor during night attacks and ambushes. The usual color for Byzantine
uniforms appear to have been shades of red, blue, green and mauve.
color, sun bleaching to an earthy brown and also showing up black
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
delineate the users unit affiliation . In the later 1000's and early
the oval shield was being replaced by a kite shaped shield. The
infantryman was equipped with a small round shield though these
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
close in hacking, a mace for bludgeoning through armor, a sling,
twelve to fourteen foot pike that was used to ward of enemy cavalry.
soldier was also equipped with one or two heavy javelins; often
was a substitute for the pike in the rear ranks. The light infantry
was equipped with a smallish composite bow and a quiver of 40-50
would also have a sling and a small battle or hand axe as a personal
Each group of 16 infantrymen was also provided with a cart of engineering
equipment. In this cart were the following tools: hand mill, bill
saw, two spades, a mallet, large wicker basket, a scythe, two pick
a collection of corded caltrops .
In the old Roman Empire the infantryman had reigned supreme and
cavalryman had been merely an auxiliary. This changed in the military
establishment of the East Roman Empire. The cavalryman because of
mobility and his shock effect would prove to reinforce the theory
over quantity. Though man for man it costed far more to equip, train
maintain a cavalry soldier than a grunt , it took far less men to
empire with cavalry than with lines of infantry forts.
The cavalry came in three types, heavy, medium and light. The heavy
were rarely seen after the 1071 defeat Manzikert and light infantry
more and more the province of Asian horse-archer mercenaries .
The medium cavalryman, the Kataphractos, was usually attired and
the following manner. He wore a linen tunic in summer and a woolen
winter. Over his tunic the soldier wore a corselet of mail and on
this a corselet of lamelle. Rounding out his protection were grieves,
vambraces, gauntlets and a mail hood attached to the helmet. The
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
unarmored. The medium cavalry soldier was equipped officially with
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
except that they wore additional protective equipment. This equipment
padded armor coat over the lamelle, a two or three layered mail
left a slit to view out of, splint-armor vambraces, grieves, gauntlets
iron overshoes. These cavalrymen were literally armored from head
to toe .
This level of armored protection was also prevalent with their mounts.
horses were covered in a lamelle blanket of hardened oxhide that
body to the knees, the head and neck . The heavy cavalryman appears
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
light cavalrymen were identical to their riders in that they were
The protection they did have being their speed and agility. The
cavalry often carried a small shield of wood or hardened hide for
As most light cavalrymen were recruited mercenary troops the above
generalization of the typical light cavalryman that would have been
the field. There were differences amongst some of the various ethnic
who by and large served under there own immediate leadership.
The weaponry of the various cavalry types was not as varied as
All cavalry types seem to have been equipped initially with a composite
and a quiver of 40 to 50 arrows. Later on lances would be added
arsenal of the medium and heavy cavalry. All cavalry seem to have
equipped with swords, javelins and a battle-axe. Th light cavalry
seems to have additionally carried lassos and slings . Typically
Klibanophoros there would be about 1 in 5 of the soldiers equipped
while the remaining 4/5 relied on the lance for a shock type of
Kataphractos seemed to be equally at home using which ever weapon
situation dictated .
The army contained in addition to the above type combats units
other specialized units that one would expect to find. There were
troops, marines, sailors and an extensive medical corps. Each basic
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
stretcher-bearers were paid a bounty for wounded soldier that was
to the medical area. A higher bounty was paid for recovering the
during a retreat .
The East Roman Army had its roots in the remains of the Imperial
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
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
more mobile field-force that could better react to border incursions.
Constantine himself had a profound effect on the composition of
military. He did two things that changed the Army. His act was to
the military and civilian powers in the provinces. Previously the
was military commander in chief of his province and chief civilian
The other move that Constantine did was more reflective of the
inherent in late Roman military strategies. He effectively divided
into two groupings of forces. The first grouping was the frontier
These soldiers were mostly the heavy Infantry of the legions that
garrisoning the frontiers for decades. The other military grouping
consisted mostly of cavalry and a few regional legions held back
frontier. These units would be the mobile field army . This split
dictated by the strategy of a crust type defense, wherein Rome would
to hold the foe at the border with the frontier troops until a mobile
army could reach the trespass and destroy the would be invaders.
This state of affairs would continue as the policy for a little
longer. The biggest change in the composition of the late Roman
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
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
with the setting of the Mediterranean sun on the pools of blood,
Another significant change would now occur under the emperor Zeno
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
have speculated that the Armies which sacked Rome in 476 were not
barbarian hordes of myth and legend but rather the Roman Armies
The sad truth is that for many years Romans had been unwilling to
their empire and had relied increasingly on the Germanic tribes
the manpower to protect her. Zeno began a purge of the Germanic
the eastern half of the Empire and instead began to recruit and
sons to fill her ranks . Far better to have soldiers defended their
land than have defenders who want to conquer that which they are
The Theme Armies
The structure then of the East Roman Empire was dependent on the
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.
first significant change to this force structure occurred in the
century with the establishment of the Theme system. This system
through many changes in doctrine and opponent until 1071 AD when
disaster at Manzikert the themes of the East would be lost, submerged
a victorious Turkish tide. The original concept of a theme was as
geographical area to which a military unit was assigned. This unit
major independent military command. The theme forces were to consist
cavalry and infantry, both first line troops and a second line troops.
the beginning there were merely four themes. These theme armies
constructed out of the old legions of the central army. Many of
could boast of military histories going back into the fourth century
was this link to the past that would prove to be a most valuable
the empire. For by maintaining these valuable links to the past
military kept with it a vast store of organizational knowledge as
to engineering, logistics, training and the like. More importantly
provided a rallying point for the individuals within the units.
therefore able to channel their pride into these units much as in
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
an individual a parcel of land significant enough to pay for the
of a medium cavalry soldier complete with arms, armor and horses.
soldier would then farm his plot of land until his term for service
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
also received a significant yearly salary. The soldier could expect
activated about once every three to five years. Of course if an
invaded or the empire was going on the warpath the soldier could
activated out side of that normal schedule. A key point is that
soldiers were paid in enough gold to make it a good source of income
contribution for a family, especially when the economy suffered
The other key point of the theme arrangement was that the equipment
obligation belonged not to the person or the family but rather to
estate. Should the family living on the estate fail to provide,
called, a properly equipped cavalry soldier then that estate would
the emperor for reassignment, and all military equipment and horses
remain with the estate. In the beginning the acceptance of an estate
exchange for service was voluntary it was not until the edict of
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
The first reason for the shift in policy was the decision in 778
the defensive strategy of the empire from one of a defensive crust
based on the concept of a mobile defense in depth.
This change in strategy put greater stress on the ability and numbers
theme system. No longer would invasions be kept at the border, instead
transgressors would be allowed into the empire and ran down by troops
interior. The other cause for this edict was the decline in numbers
small self-sufficient landholders capable of supporting a cavalry
The larger landholders and their families were buying up many of
holders. This progression would give rise in the eastern themes
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
cavalrymen. This policy required the poorer estates to pool together
resources in order to provide for one first class cavalry soldier.
policy also required the wealthier estates to support the raising,
smaller estates, of the required military forces . This is essentially
how cavalry forces were raised in the theme armies. The infantry
were raised by conscription on an as needed basis. Those that had
their cavalry status by having their estates reverted back to the
most often called up for infantry service in the first round and
The situation described above would continue despite many of the
attempts by the central authority to halt it. In 976 the total number
cavalrymen that the empire could expect from each theme had fallen
... 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
the light cavalry was that almost all of them had now become paid
horse archers. By 1050 fully 50% of the total Byzantine military
to include the theme armies, would consist of mercenaries . The
begun to allow theme soldiers to remit service in exchange for cash.
natives also began to suffer in terms of ability and desire to participate
in military service. This was partially a result of the defensive
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
drift into oblivion . They would however, be raised again in a new
This guise was the granting of land to mercenaries, tax-free in
service. This too for economic reasons would not last long.
Another military force available to the emperors was the Tagmata.
forces were stationed in and about the capital city of Constantinople.
Tagamata had its earliest origins in the fifth century when they
ceremonial guard units to the emperor . This would come to change
when the Tagmata would be reformed into the preeminent striking
arm of the
empires arsenal. The Tagmata would begin with two units and slowly
through the decades of imperial power and politics until in the
century there were four cavalry units and one infantry unit. In
ninth century the total number of men in the Tagmata would peak
4,000 full time soldiers .
The Tagmata were not with out their intrigue during the iconoclasm
the Tagmata under Leo III (717-741) that served as his main arm
church . The Tagmata carried out the persecution against the icons.
much so that when Irene (797-802) was able to gain the throne she
Tagmata to Nicea on the pretext of a plot. She did this so that
could man the walls of Constantinople with Theme armies and restore
Icons. Eventually the Iconoclasm was settled in favor of the iconophiles
843 AD. But by then the Tagmata were no longer the guard units of
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
emperor. They were all foreign mercenaries. It was felt by the Emperor
the Tagmata had been too involved in past political and religious
What was needed were a group of soldiers whose loyalty would be
their paymaster, the emperor. Membership in the Hetaireia was open
including Greeks. Though the records indicate that it was almost
exclusively foreign. Membership in the Hetaireia was by purchase.
prospective recruit had to ante up a certain amount to be allowed
There were in the beginning three different units and the closer
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
the long run. The Hetaireia would do well in this role of imperial
elite fighting force. The Hetaireia were joined in 988 AD by the
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
that those, whose native language was the Old Danish, held primacy
in the unit .
Later emperors prized the Varangians because they felt that the
had become to Hellenized. This Hellenization involved the proclivity
luxury and political intrigue.
We have already discussed the distribution of manpower. Now we
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
We will provide the name of the unit, the title of its' commander
other applicable data to that echelon.
The supreme commander of the Armies was of course the Emperor.
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
of Emperor was a General. Typically a General controlled a force
20,000 soldiers. The second in command was called the Lieutenant
(LTG), a.k.a. Hypstratelate. The LTG was also the senior Merarch,
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
unit used in the Byzantine lexicon.
A Merarch, a.k.a. Stratelate, typically commanded the Meros. This
numbered 6,000 - 7,000 soldiers. The unit was composed of three
varying strength. The Meros, also had attached to it eight to 12
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
unit was composed of around eight to ten Tagmata .
The Tagma, a.k.a. Bandon, f.k.a. Arithmoi, was the primary tactical
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.
Ilarch was also the senior Hekatonarch. This unit varied in strength
300 - 400. It was a premise of Byzantine doctrine that the strengths
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
they were facing. Other positions within the unit consisted of the
responsible for commanding the guard force of the baggage train
and the rear
area. This individual was titled the Tetrach. The remaining members
staff consisted of; two heralds, two standard bearers, and a surgeon
eight stretcher-bearers, and whatever personal retinue the commander
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
Hektontarchia. The senior Hektontarch was also called the Ilarch
as the second in command of the Bandon. The Hektontarch was composed
Allaghia. A Pentekontarch commanded the Allaghia. These units were
of fifty soldiers each, organized into five Dekarchiai of ten soldiers
... A Dekarch commanded the Dekarchiai. A Pentarch, a Tetrarch and
supported the Dekarch in his command. Each of these NCOs was equipped
primarily as lancers along with two other squad members. The remaining
squad members were equipped with bows and positioned in the middle
The organization of the infantry was similar to the organization
cavalry. The infantry units had two different types of infantry,
heavy. These two infantry types were organized along similar lines
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
sources that the light infantry units may have had only eight men
instead of the 16 soldiers per squad in the heavy infantry units.
describe the organization of the Empire's infantry units from the
down to the smallest. We will include the title of the unit, the
the commander, unit strength and any other relevant information
to that echelon.
Infantry were not typically organized in units larger than Meros,
Turmai. A Merarch, a.k.a. Turmarch, commanded this echelon. A Meros
composed of three Moiriai. A Moirarch, a.k.a. Dhoungarokometes,
the Moira, a.k.a. Dhoungoi. The Moira was composed of two to five
The Bandon, a.k.a. Tagma, f.k.a. Arithmos was the basic tactical
unit used by the Byzantines. This unit would have been commanded
Count, a.k.a. Komes, and f.k.a. Tribune. The second in command of
was the Ilarch. The Ilarch was the senior Lochaghos.
Like cavalry units, infantry units varied in size as a matter of
Further positions of responsibility at the Bandon echelon were Heralds,
Drill Masters, Standard Bearers, Trumpeters, Armorers, Weapon Makers,
Makers and Fletchers. A Tetrach who commanded the rear guard and
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
A Lochaghos commanded the Lochaghiai. The Lochagos was assisted
mission by his second in command the Dekarchos. The remainder of
in the squad were the Pentarchos, Tetrarchos and an Ouraghos. These
NCOs led the remaining 11 soldiers from the front except for the
who served as the file closer .
Defense of the Realm
In discussing the defense of the realm we will focus on the three
military art. These three levels are Strategy, Operations and Tactics.
Strategy focuses on the Empire wide defense ideology that was used
East Roman Empire. The Operational level discussion will discuss
movements of troops with in a theatre of operations. Finally, the
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
on the concept of a frontier crust defense. The premise of a frontier
defense is that you stop the invader at the border and stall them
enough for the mobile field armies to arrive and destroy the enemy
border. To accomplish this concept the Imperial Roman Empire had
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
policy of defense. This is easily understood when one realizes that
Justinian was trying to do was to reconquer those areas that had
since the collapse of the Roman Empire in the west.
To Justinian these campaigns were merely the defense of the Empire,
understood it. The Empire was determined to keep itself inviolate.
been the military policy of the Imperial Roman Empire since the
Hadrian and would remain the strategy of the East Roman Empire until
In 778 AD the East Roman Empire shifted its defense strategy to
of mobile defense in depth. This new strategy was predicated on
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
previous crust defense mandated. The irony of the situation was
that it was
the wealth of the Empire, which attracted the foreign incursions,
fore due to money problems drove the Empire to adopt the mobile
depth. By shifting to a mobile defense in depth the Empire was able
on cash by reducing overall troops numbers. This defensive strategy
serve the Empire well and would be phased out in 860 in favor of
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
and was engaged and destroyed in the year 863. The action took place
of Ankara near the Halys River. The offensive would continue under
inspired leadership of several militarily gifted Emperors. This
however would end in the disastrous defeat at Manzikert in 1071,
Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes disregarded the sage advice that had
down as Byzantine doctrine in the military treatises of his forebears.
The Empire would then begin a slide into the history books that
the final capitulation and destruction of the Empire with the capture
Constantinople in 1453.
The operational methods of the Empire were driven by the overall
that the Empire had adopted. During the first phase of the East
this called for operations that supported a frontier crust defense
attempted to destroy the foe at the borders. This was achieved by
use of diplomacy and soldiering. The Byzantines preferred not to
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
go into a battle and risk defeat through too great a desire to vanquish.
seek a victory where the danger is obvious is an unpardonable temerity
even success cannot justify." The Byzantines therefore tailored
diplomacy to this end. They offered cash, titles and honorifics.
possible they would sign a treaty of non-aggression and then while
honoring it, attempt to covertly undermine their cosigner by funding
equipping that nations enemy. The Byzantines also attempted to play
tribes off against each other and thereby save their own troops
fighting by letting the infidels destroy each other.
When diplomacy failed and the time to fight came, the frontier
attempt to draw the foe into battle.
They would try and fight from behind prepared defensive positions
their opponent to conduct a siege. This would give time for the
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
frontier forces would have bought enough time for the mobile field
reach the enemy and destroy them before they had gotten to deep
Empires rear areas.
This system worked well enough but the cost of maintaining the
needed to man the frontier proved to be to great a train on the
coffers. This caused a shift in 778 AD to a mobile defense in depth.
mobile defense in depth would place greater stress on the Theme
eventually turn much of Anatolia into a barren wasteland . The concept
centered on frontier outposts manned by small local sentries. These
posts were positioned along the most likely avenues of approach
as warning stations instead of forts. Once an opponent was spotted
over the horizon the out post would notify the Theme headquarters,
central army headquarters in Constantinople and then with the local
troops begin to shadow the invading host.
The shadowing forces would continually harass the enemy column
reports to headquarters. The small-fortified towns, farmhouses and
that were positioned hither and yon through out the area assisted
forces. These small places served as points of supply and refuge
The other mission that the small forts and the shadowing forces
accomplish was to prevent the enemy from sending out foraging parties
conduct scorched earth tactics on the flanks and in front of the
The other theme armies would then mobilize and head for the border
they would set up blocking positions to prevent the enemy column
leaving the Empire.
Soon the tired, harassed, and booty-laden enemy would turn for
they neared the border they would find their way blocked by the
and hemmed in from the rear by a combination of Theme troops and
from Constantinople. Therein would begin the real battle. The net
of these operations was that the Empire was able to successfully
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
protect the vital areas near the coastlines and around Constantinople.
successful were these operations that in 860 the Byzantines were
switch to the offensive and actually expand the Empire.
The Empire found itself in the 860's on a strong enough footing
offensive operations in earnest. These offensive operations coincided
the reign of several militarily gifted Emperors. The Byzantines
used as the
base for the offensive operations the long distance raid, which
into the enemies rear areas. The Byzantines would most often not
directly the target of their campaign but instead attempt to get
behind it and cut it off.
Once they had isolated the objective they would begin to devastate
surrounding area as well in order to prevent any relief attempt
gathering provisions or support. The Byzantines would then settle
what typically turned out to be a short siege. Most often the Byzantine
raiding force would consist of predominantly Tagmata. It was not
for the Byzantines to use Theme troops to launch cross border local
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.
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
committed to a long defensive campaign that would result in 1453,
end of the empire.
The tactics that the East Roman Empire inherited were the tactics
late Imperial Roman Army. These tactics had been involved in a slow
evolution since the defeat at Adrianople in 378 AD. This defeat
first time that the Roman Legions had not showed the discipline,
or the ability to stand and fight against cavalry. The result was
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
worked from the foes you had fought . The apogee of Byzantine tactics
to force the enemy into position where they would surrender with
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.
annuls of Byzantium the infantry had been forced into a secondary
supporting role for most military operations. The Byzantines were
students of their opponents and adopted and codified their tactics
them to easily defeat their opponents . The Byzantines took in to
consideration who they were fighting and that peoples strengths
weaknesses as well as that nations performance and methods in past
encounters. The Empire was aided in this by two methods. The first
was the Office of Barbarians. The Office of Barbarians was a type
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
method used by the East Romans was by hiring as mercenaries various
and nomadic peoples. These people would then share what they knew
tribes and nations beyond the borders of the Empire. The other consideration
for imperial planners was the type of terrain that the battle would
The Byzantines always tried to use terrain as an ally in their battles.
This meant tying a flank into an impassable or difficult segment
or such using maneuver methods as masking your approach by the terrain.
The infantry would be used as a primary force in difficult terrain.
infantry archers would often serve as the main support for heavy
when the Byzantines fought against the Persians. The Persians were
considered by the Byzantines to be their most skilled and dangerous
that no commander should fight them with out a combined arms approach.
Infantry would be arrayed on the battlefield in files sixteen deep
with pikes and other equipment. The primary purpose of infantry
Byzantine battles was to serve as the anchor and pivot point for
... The infantry also served as a shield, which the cavalry could
behind, in comparative safety. If the situation dictated the Byzantines
were known to dismount some of their cavalry soldiers to augment
of the ground pounders . The infantry then would usually be drawn
the center of the line with cavalry to the flanks. The infantry
up into four units abreast. The units were noted as Left, Center
Center Right and Right . The Byzantines, though regulating infantry
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
having them where their full armor on approach marches of over two
Cavalry was the primary arm of decision for the Byzantine forces.
Cavalry would typically be formed up on the field of battle as follows.
first Byzantine troops out are the scouts. There were eight -12
Meros. The scouts would position themselves about three hundred
front of the Byzantine position. They were to occupy a position
allowed them to view both their own forces and the forces of the
The next line of troops would consist of the Promachos, or first
battle. The first line of battle equaled 2/3 of the total strength
field army. The unit would consist of three bodies of troops on
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
follow the assault troops in good order and serve to beat back counter
attacks. Behind the defenders traveled the medical corpsmen. The
troops would usually have been bow-armed troops who would rush after
retreating enemy. The assault troops were positioned on the flanks
defenders. The Byzantines would often place a bandon in the gap
units until the battle started so as to confuse enemy scouts and
believe that they faced a solid wall of imperial troops. Remember
Byzantines preferred to fight from the defensive and force their
to attack them.
About three hundred meters to the left of the line were positioned
three bandon whose job was to serve as a flank guard to the main
Three hundred meters to the right of the line were two or three
who were called outflankers. Their job was to conduct an envelopment
enemy forces. There were also another two or three bandon composed
archers who were known as ambushers. Their job was to go deep and
turn the enemy's flank and pummel them with arrows.
Behind this formation at a distance of about 1,200 meters sat the
line of troops. These troops constituted ½ of the total commitment.
were drawn up into four units abreast with three hundred-meter intervals.
The gaps corresponded to the position of the troops in the first
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
corner of the left and right limit of the formation .
Additional march related duties and units consisted of some that
very familiar to a modern military. These were a quartering party
mission was to scout out the routes and location of the next encampment
remain over night position. Once the quartering party had located
secured the are the surveying party would come and establish the
positions with in the site. The main body would then follow them.
When the Byzantines elected to launch a full-blown cavalry charge
were drawn up into a type of wedge formation. Up until Manzikert
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
up in to files of five side by side. The first two ranks and the
would typically be using lances and the middle four soldiers would
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