Dedicated to the military history and civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire (330 to 1453)

"Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things and drowns them in the depths of obscurity."

- - - - Princess Anna Comnena (1083–1153) - Byzantine historian

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Byzantine Castello Baradello in Italy

Byzantine Castello Baradello near the Alps

Defending Byzantine Italy

  • With the Frankish Kingdom close by, the Castello Baradello was one of many border fortifications that protected the frontier of the Roman Empire.

The Gothic Wars

In an attempt to reconquer the Western Roman Empire the Emperor Justinian invaded the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy in 535 AD.

In a vicious war lasting 19 years much of Italy was largely destroyed.

Some historians claim Justinian's conquest was a Pyrrhic victory that drained national resources. To that I would disagree. Though the invading Germanic Lombard tribes took large sections of Italy, huge portions remained under the control of the Eastern Empire for another 500 years.

With the end of the war in 554 Justinian began projects to rebuild Italy and repair or begin new military fortifications to defend the frontiers.  Castello Baradello was one of those fortresses.

The Castello Baradello 

The castle is a military fortification located on a 430 m (1,410 ft) high hill next to the city of Como, northern Italy.  The castle has breathtaking views: from here, you can admire the city, the lake, the Po Valley, the peaks of the Alps and even the Apennines. The name itself, in its origin, means "high place".

The castle occupies the ancient site of Comum Oppidum, the original settlement of Como, dating from the 1st millennium BC.  Later it was one of the last Byzantine strongholds in the area, surrendering to the Lombards in 588.

Castello Baradello near Como, Italy.

The best-preserved structure in the whole complex is undoubtedly the Romanesque square tower, whose base measures approximately 8 meters on each side. Its overall height is about 28 meters. The lower part is about 19 and a half meters high, it rests its foundation on the rock and it was formerly adorned with Guelph battlements; the upper part, which is also the most recent one, it’s 8 meters high and it was formerly crenellated with Ghibelline battlements. The battlements is now gone.

The first order of walls surrounding the tower dates back to the Byzantine era, to the Sixth or Seventh century, thus representing the castle’s oldest structure. We find mention of them already in the early Seventh century, thanks to the historian George of Cyprus, who described a complex defensive system called “Byzantine Limes”. Another wall, a newer one, surrounds these walls; it is contemporary with the raising of the tower and the inner walls. It is accessible through a charming and fascinating pointed doorway.

Nothing is the left of the other structures being part of the castle, except for their foundations; however, it was possible to reconstruct the whole layout. There was the chapel of St. Nicholas, which according to studies and researches is contemporary with the primitive walls; therefore, it dates back to the Sixth century. According to tradition, Napo Torriani was buried here, but no bones were ever found.

According to historical records, this castle served as a place of refuge for the population during the wars between Como and Milan. Thanks to subsequent agreements, Emperor Frederick Barbarossa rebuilt the city walls and Castel Baradello in 1158, strengthening it with the new tower. The following year the castle was home to the emperor and his wife, Beatrice of Burgundy, and on that occasion, the victory over Milan was celebrated with a Palio, that is still relived annually.

Castel Baradello was demolished in 1527 by the Spanish captain Cesareo don Pedro Arias on the orders of the governor of Milan, Antonio de Leyva, to prevent it from being conquered by French troops. Only the tower remained standing.

The Western Roman Empire in 565 AD
In yellow are the lands re-conquered by the Emperor Justinian
and returned to the Roman Empire.
Up against the Alps, the Castle of Baradello was one of the
most northern posts of the Roman Empire.

The most preserved element is a square tower, measuring 8.20 m × 8.35 m (26.9 ft × 27.4 ft) at the base, and standing at 27.50 m (90.2 ft). It once had Guelph-type merlons. The walls are of Byzantine origin (6th-7th century); these were later heightened and provided with Guelph merlons, while another external line of walls was added.
Also from the 6th century are the Chapel of St. Nicholas and quadrangular tower (4.40 m × 4.15 m (14.4 ft × 13.6 ft) at the base), which was used as the 
castellan's residence. Napoleone della Torre was buried in the Chapel of St. Nicholas.

(wevillas.com)      (Gothic War)      (Baradello)

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Procopius: How Justinian Ruined His Subjects

Emperor Justinian

How To Bankrupt An Empire

  • In his The Wars of Justinian, the great historian Procopius gave us stunning first hand accounts of wars in Italy, North Africa and the Middle East.
  • But in Procopius' Secret History we get a true account of the massive corruption, insane spending, lawlessness, attacks on religious minorities and the savage dictatorship of the royal family.
  • The great weakness in the Empire was the decline of the different Roman assemblies so the people had no way of peacefully changing their government. By the time of Justinian the eastern Senate had become a rubber stamp institution with little power. The Emperor of the moment could trample on the rights of the people at will.

By Procopius of Caesarea
500 - 554 AD
The Secret History

As soon as Justinian came into power he turned everything upside down. Whatever had been before by law, he now introduced into the government, while he revoked all established customs: as if he had been given the robes of an Emperor on the condition he would turn everything topsy-turvy. Existing offices he abolished, and invented new ones for the management of public affairs. He did the same thing to the laws and to the regulations of the army; and his reason was not any improvement of justice or any advantage, but simply that everything might be new and named after himself. And whatever was beyond his power to abolish, he renamed after himself anyway.
Of the plundering of property or the murder of men, no weariness ever overtook him. As soon as he had looted all the houses of the wealthy, he looked around for others; meanwhile throwing away the spoils of his previous robberies in subsidies to barbarians or senseless building extravagances. And when he had ruined perhaps myriads in this mad looting, he immediately sat down to plan how he could do likewise to others in even greater number.
As the Romans were now at peace with all the world and he had no other means of satisfying his lust for slaughter, he set the barbarians all to fighting each other. And for no reason at all he sent for the Hun chieftains, and with idiotic magnanimity gave them large sums of money, alleging he did this to secure their friendship. This, as I have said, he had also done in Justin's time. These Huns, as soon as they had got this money, sent it together with their soldiers to others of their chieftains, with the word to make inroads into the land of the Emperor: so that they might collect further tribute from him, to buy them off in a second peace. Thus the Huns enslaved the Roman Empire, and were paid by the Emperor to keep on doing it.
This encouraged still others of them to rob the poor Romans; and after their pillaging, they too were further rewarded by the gracious Emperor. In this way all the Huns, for when it was not one tribe of them it was another, continuously overran and laid waste the Empire. For the barbarians were led by many different chieftains, and the war, thanks to Justinian's senseless generosity, was thus endlessly protracted. Consequently no place, mountain or cave, or any other spot in Roman territory, during this time remained uninjured; and many regions were pillaged more than five times.
These misfortunes, and those that were caused by the Medes, Saracens, Slavs, Antes, and the rest of the barbarians, I described in my previous works. But, as I said in the preface to this narrative, the real cause of these calamities remained to be told here.
To Chosroes also -he paid many centenaries in behalf of peace, and then with unreasonable arbitrariness caused the breaking of the truce by making every effort to secure the friendship of Alamandur and his Huns, who had been in alliance with the Persians: but this I freely discussed in my chapters on the subject.
Moreover, while he was encouraging civil strife and frontier warfare to confound the Romans, with only one thought in his mind, that the earth should run red with human blood and he might acquire more and more booty, he invented a new means of murdering his subjects. Now among the Christians in the entire Roman Empire, there are many with dissenting doctrines, which are called heresies by the established church: such as those of the Montanists and Sabbatians, and whatever others cause the minds of men to wander from the true path. All of these beliefs he ordered to be abolished, and their place taken by the orthodox dogma: threatening, among the punishments for disobedience, loss of the heretic's right to will property to his children or other relatives.
The 6th century Byzantine fortress of Kelibia in Tunisia
In his Secret History the historian Procopius relates the Emperor Justinian's endless thirst for money. Basically Justinian was taxing or stealing everything not nailed down to finance wars and building projects to recreate the "Glory of Rome."
The Fortress of Kelibia (above) was one of many Justinian had built 

throughout the empire.
Read More:

Byzantine North Africa under Justinian

Now the churches of these so-called heretics especially those belonging to the Arian dissenters, were almost incredibly wealthy. Neither all the Senate put together nor the greatest other unit of the Roman Empire, had anything in property comparable to that of these churches. For their gold and silver treasures, and stores of precious stones, were beyond telling or numbering: they owned mansions and whole villages, land all over the world, and everything else that is counted as wealth among men.
As none of the previous Emperors had molested these churches, many men, even those of the orthodox faith, got their livelihood by working on their estates. But the Emperor Justinian, in confiscating these properties, at the same time took away what for many people had been their only means of earning a living.
Agents were sent everywhere to force whomever they chanced upon to renounce the faith of their fathers. This, which seemed impious to rustic people, caused them to rebel against those who gave them such an order. Thus many perished at the hands of the persecuting faction, and others did away with themselves, foolishly thinking this the holier course of two evils; but most of them by far quitted the land of their fathers, and fled the country. The Montanists, who dwelt in Phrygia, shut themselves up in their churches, set them on fire, and ascended to glory in the flames. And thenceforth the whole Roman Empire was a scene of massacre and flight.
A similar law was then passed against the Samaritans, which threw Palestine into an indescribable turmoil.
Those, indeed, who lived in my own Caesarea and in the other cities, deciding it silly to suffer harsh treatment over a ridiculous trifle of dogma, took the name of Christians in exchange for the one they had borne before, by which precaution they were able to avoid the perils of the new law. The most reputable and better class of these citizens, once they had adopted this religion, decided to remain faithful to it; the majority, however, as if in spite for having not voluntarily, but by the compulsion of law, abandoned the belief of their fathers, soon slipped away into the Manichean sect and what is known as polytheism.
The country people, however, banded together and determined to take arms against the Emperor: choosing as their candidate for the throne a bandit named Julian, son of Sabarus. And for a time they held their own against the imperial troops; but finally, defeated in battle, were cut down, together with their leader. Ten myriads of men are said to have perished in this engagement, and the most fertile country on earth thus became destitute of farmers. To the Christian owners of these lands, the affair brought great hardship: for while their profits from these properties were annihilated, they had to pay heavy annual taxes on them to the Emperor for the rest of their lives, and secured no remission of this burden.
Empress Theodora
by Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (1887)

Daughter of a bear trainer in the Hippodrome, Theodora was perhaps born in Syria. She worked as an actress who may have preformed sexual favors for theater goers. By luck Justinian falls in love, raising her to Empress. In his Secret History Procopius tells us of an Empress consumed by vulgarity and insatiable lust. Procopius even claims that both the evil Emperor and Empress took on demon forms to roam the palace at night.

Next he turned his attention to those called Gentiles, torturing their persons and plundering their lands. of this group, those who decided to become nominal Christians saved themselves for the time being; but it was not long before these, too, were caught performing libations and sacrifices and other unholy rites. And how he treated the Christians shall be told hereafter.
After this he passed a law prohibiting pederasty: a law pointed not at offenses committed after this decree, but at those who could be convicted of having practised the vice in the past. The conduct of the prosecution was utterly illegal. Sentence was passed when there was no accuser: the word of one man or boy, and that perhaps a slave, compelled against his will to bear witness against his owner, was defined as sufficient evidence. 
Those who were convicted were castrated and then exhibited in a public parade. At the start, this persecution was directed only at those who were of the Green party, were reputed to be especially wealthy, or had otherwise aroused jealousy.
The Emperor's malice was also directed against the astrologer. Accordingly, magistrates appointed to punish thieves also abused the astrologers, for no other reason than that they belonged to this profession; whipping them on the back and parading them on camels throughout the city, though they were old men, and in every way respectable, with no reproach against them except that they studied the science of the stars while living in such a city.
Consequently there was a constant stream of emigration not only to the land of the barbarians but to places farthest remote from the Romans; and in every country and city one could see crowds of foreigners. For in order to escape persecution, each would lightly exchange his native land for another, as if his own country had been taken by an enemy.



Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Zoroastrians and Christians vs Islam - The Amorium Campaign

Israeli reenactors doing the later Battle of Hattin. But you get a
flavor of the brutality of warfare in the period.  (theatlantic.com)

The Amorium Campaign (837-838 AD)
A two year campaign of a Roman invasion of Arab held Mesopotamia and a counter invasion by Arab Muslims

For 500 years the Eastern Roman heartland of Anatolia was ground zero for endless invasions by Arab Muslim forces and counter attacks by Roman troops.

The ancient Roman city and fortress of Amorium was one of many strong points looking to slow down or delay invaders to allow time for Constantinople to gather an army to repel enemy forces.

Amorium was founded in the Hellenistic period. It was situated on the Byzantine military road from Constantinople to CiliciaThe city was fortified by the Emperor Zeno in the 5th century, but did not rise to prominence until the 7th century. Its strategic location in central Asia Minor made the city a vital stronghold against the armies of the Arab Caliphate following the Muslim conquest of the Levant.

The city was first attacked by Muʿāwiya in 646. It capitulated to ‘Abd ar-Rahman ibn Khalid in 666 and was occupied by Yazid I in 669, then retaken by Constans II's general Andreas. Over the next two centuries, it remained a frequent target of Muslim raids into Asia Minor, especially during the great sieges of 716 and 796. It became capital of the thema of Anatolikon soon after. 

In 742-743, it was the main base of Emperor Constantine V against the usurper Artabasdos, and in 820, an Amorian, Michael II, ascended the Byzantine throne, establishing the Amorian dynasty. This began the period of the city's greatest prosperity, when it became the largest city in Asia Minor. Its status however as the native city of the reigning dynasty also spelled its doom: in 838, the Caliph Al-Mu'tasim launched a campaign specifically against the city.

Roman Emperor Theophilos

Babak Khorramdin
Babak was the leader of the Zoroastrians revolting against oppressive 
Muslim rule. They became allies with Constantinople against Islam.
He was captured and tortured to death by the Muslims.

The Faravahar symbol of Zoroastrianism
and ancient Persia.

A Zoroastrian - Christian Alliance

The warfare between the Eastern Romans, Persian Zoroastrians and Islam had been non-stop for 200 years by this point.

In 827 AD, two years before Emperor Theophilos took power, the Muslims had landed in Roman Sicily looking to conquer Italy.  The Emperor was searching in any direction he could for allies to help take the pressure off front line Byzantine forces in Italy or on other fronts.

The Zoroastrian Khurramites in the Mesopotamia area had been in rebellion against their oppressive Muslim overlords since 816.  Under their leader Babak, the Khurramites broke up the great Muslim estates and redistributed the land back to the Zoroastrian people.

With Roman support the Khurramites had attacked Arab forces in Persia and Mesopotamia, and they defeated four different Muslim armies sent against them by the Caliph.

The Muslim attempts to suppress the rebellion sent 14,000 or more Khurramite refugees into Roman territory.  Their leader Nasr was baptized a Christian and took the new name of Theophobos.  Many of the Khurramites were enrolled in the Byzantine army under their leader.

Click to enlarge
Map of the Byzantine and Arab campaigns in the years 837–838,
showing Theophilos's raid into Upper Mesopotamia and Mu'tasim's
retaliatory invasion of Asia Minor (Anatolia), culminating in
the conquest of Amorium.

Roman Invasion of Mesopotamia

At the urging of a hard-pressed Babak, the Emperor gathered a large army to strike the lightly protected Muslim frontier emirates.

As usual sources from that period claim the Emperor assembled a massive army of 70,000 to 100,000 men for the invasion.  Pure fantasy as usual.  The historian Warren Treadgold places the entire strength of the Eastern Roman army on all fronts at between 80,000 and 100,000 men.

Follis minted in large quantities in
celebration of Theophilos's victories
against the Arabs. He is represented in
triumphal attire, wearing the 
and on the reverse the traditional
acclamation "Theophilos 
you conquer".
Still with the Emperor himself at the head of an army invading Muslim territory the force would have been above average.  Using troops from Constantinople as the core, and picking up theme troops along the way, the army might have grown to 20,000 to 25,000.

In any case, the Emperor's army invaded the upper Euphrates almost unopposed.  With the Arab forces busy attacking the Khurramites the Romans took the towns of Sozopetra and Arsamosata.  The Romans ravaged and plundered the countryside and extracted ransom from several cities in exchange for not attacking them.  Several small Arab forces were defeated.

Emperor Theophilos then returned to Constantinople, gave himself a triumph and acclaimed himself an "incomparable champion" at the Hippodrome.

A true victory it was not. This was pure ego and political theater for the people back home.

While the Emperor was having his "triumph" his allies the Khurramites were being crushed by the Muslims. In late 837 the Khurramites were forced from their mountain stronghold by General Afshin. Babak fled to Armenia, but he was betrayed to the Muslims and was tortured to death.

So much for the Emperor's "victory".

Israeli reenactors as Arabs doing a later battle but it
gives you the flavor of the time period.  (theatlantic.com)

The Muslim Counter Invasion

The Caliph al-Mu'tasim claimed to be outraged by the brutality of the Roman invasion (as if Arab invasions were polite affairs). It appears during the sack of Sozopetra, the possible birthplace of the Caliph, all male prisoners were killed or sold into slavery and many women were raped by Khurramites.

With the Khurramites eliminated the Caliph targeted the Roman city of Amorium, the capital of the powerful Anatolic Theme deep in Anatolia. Another reason for targeting the city is it was the birthplace of Michael II, the Emperor's father and founder of the dynasty.

This was a very, very serious objective for the Arabs. Far from the frontier, the Anatolic Theme was the largest and most powerful of the themes. Later Arab historians say the theme contained 34 fortresses and could field 15,000 troops at need.

Byzantine historian Michael the Syrian says the Arabs gathered an army of 80,000 men and 30,000 camp followers and servants. As usual the numbers are fantasy. But this was a major campaign of revenge. An invading army of 40,000 Arabs might not be far off.

Marking his target, the Caliph had the city of Amorium placed on the shields and banners of his troops.

The Caliph divided his force into two parts.

First Corps - A detachment of 10,000 Turks under General Afshin were sent to the northeast to join forces with Muslim and Armenian troops. Together this force would invade the neighboring Charsianon and Armeniac Themes through the Pass of Hadath. It was claimed that once the forces were joined this army reached 30,000 men.  Too high a number? Perhaps.

Second Corps - The Caliph with the main army of perhaps 30,000 men would invade Cappadocia through the Cilician Gates and on into central Anatolia.
Byzantine reenactor

Upon hearing of the Arab invasion the Emperor gathered the Tagmata from Constantinople and in June marched to the frontier. His army included Khurramite troops and perhaps some soldiers from European themes.

Michael the Syrian claimed the Byzantine army marching east was 40,000 men. Too many in my view. Even if the Emperor added units to his army from Anatolia I doubt if his army was more than the 20,000 to 25,000 based on his previous invasion of Mesopotamia.

The Emperor's generals advised the evacuation of the city of Amorium in order to deprive the Caliph of his prime target. But the Emperor did not want to give up on a major city and military strong point. So he ordered Aetios, the Strategos of the Anatolics theme, to reinforce the city. In addition the Emperor added to that force with men from his army: men from the Tagmata of the Excubitors and the Vigla.

The Emperor then marched with the remainder of his force to the river Halys and positioned himself between the Cilician Gates and the fortress of Ancyra.

On June 19 the first corps of the Arab army under Ashinas passed through the Cilician Gates with the Caliph's second corps following two days later.

In mid-July Emperor Theophilos learned of the arrival of Arab army at Dazimon far to the northeast.

The Emperor divided his army a second time. He left part of his army at the river with a family member and took the rest on a march to Dazimon.

The Emperor moved fast and attacked the Arabs in the Battle of Anzen on July 22. He outnumbered his Arab enemy. That in itself shows the true size of the armies involved on both sides. If after twice detaching troops from his own army the Emperor still outnumbered the Arabs then the historians of the period overstated the size of the invading army.

The Roman attack was successful at first, but the Emperor decided to lead an attack in person. His absence from his usual position with the army created panic among the troops who feared his had been killed. After a fierce attack by Turkish horse-archers the Byzantine army broke and fled. Some men as far as Constantinople bring "news" that the Emperor was dead.

Meanwhile the Emperor was surrounded and trapped on a hill with his Tagmata troops and some Kurdish allies. Nearly avoiding disaster the Emperor's force broke through the Arab lines suffering many casualties. Theophilos and his men reached the safety of the town of Chilokomon where he gradually reassembled what was left of his army.

Emperor Theophilos flees after the Battle of Anzen, miniature from the Madrid Skylitzes manuscript.

Click to enlarge
Artist's impression of the Byzantine Lower City at Amorium in ca. A.D. 800, showing the bathhouse and wine-making installations (by Tatiana Meltsem). © The Amorium Excavations Project.  (metmuseum.org)
Amorium was one of Byzantium’s most important cities between the 8th and 10th centuries. The fact that Amorium remained uninhabited following the 12th century guarantees a good level of monument preservation, allows the smooth conducting of excavations, as well as the execution of large-scale surface and geophysics research.  (snf.org)

The Siege and Sack of Amorium

The political situation of the Empire was often unsettled in the best of times.

After the defeat at Anzen the Emperor had to immediately leave the battle against the Muslims in order to secure his throne. Rumors of the Emperor's death created a whirlwind of plots to declare a new Emperor.

With the Emperor in Constantinople the Khurramite troops gathered in the coastal town of Sinop declared their commander Theophobos the new Emperor. But Theophobos was reluctant to take on the Emperor and appears to have been pardoned by Theophilos.

While this game of thrones was being played out, advanced units of the Arab second corp reached the Roman city of Ancyra on July 26th. The Arabs found the city deserted, but the inhabitants were discovered hiding in local mines and taken captive. The city was plundered and the Arabs continued their march to Amorium.

Looting the countryside on the way the Arab army advanced on Amorium in three different corps. The Muslim Turkish General Ashinas was in the front, the Caliph was in the middle and the Persian Muslim general Afshin in the rear. They began the siege of the city on August 1st.

The Arab siege of Jerusalem in Kingdom of Heaven gives you
an idea of the Muslim attack on Amorium.

A "Battle Shy" Emperor

To my mind the actions of the Emperor are very questionable.

All sides agreed that Amorium was vital, but the Emperor appears to have avoided combat to save the city. Was he frightened after his near capture at Anzen? We do not know. What we do know is he made no attempt of any kind to threaten the rear of the Arab forces besieging Amorium.

Spineless Groveling - In a total display of weakness the one thing the Emperor did do was send envoys to grovel in front of the Caliph. His envoys told the Caliph that the atrocities the Romans committed at Sozopetra were not on the Emperor's orders, offered to rebuild the city for the Caliph at Roman expense, release all Muslim prisoners and pay tribute.

The Caliph saw this as a massive display of military weakness. That the Emperor was too frightened or the Empire too weak to do anything about the invading Arab armies. So the Caliph refused to even discuss terms, detained the envoys and forced them to view the siege.

The city itself was a powerful strong point with 44 towers, thick walls and a moat. The Emperor should have been able reduce pressure on the city by threatening besieging forces at different points or trying to cut their lines of communication, but nothing was done.

Click to enlarge

The Caliph assigned each of his generals a section of the walls. Both sides used siege engines against each other and exchanged missile fire for a number of days. The Arabs also used sappers to try and undermine the walls.

A serious problem appeared almost at once. A section of the wall had been badly damaged by heavy rainfall and the Roman commander had only done the most superficial of repairs. Arab accounts say an Arab Christian convert defected from the Romans back to the Caliph and informed them of the weaken section of the wall.

The Arabs immediately concentrated their attacks on this section. The defenders tried to cushion the walls by hanging wooden beams to absorb the shock of the siege engines. Their efforts failed and after two days a breach was made.

After neglecting the city defenses the Byzantine commander Aetios appears to have panicked. He made plans to break out in the middle of the night and link up with the Emperor. But two messengers he sent out were captured, converted to Islam and paraded around the city walls. To make sure no break out would happen Arab cavalry patrols were increased even at night.

The Arabs now stepped up the attacks on the breach. Wheeled four man catapults were brought forward closer to the wall. Ten man mobile towers were brought to the edge of the moat where the men began to fill in the moat with sheep skins full of earth.

To speed the attack the Caliph ordered that dirt be thrown over the sheep skins right up to the wall itself. To help with this a tower was pushed to the mid point of the moat but became stuck. It and other siege engines had to be abandoned and burned.

Over the next two weeks the Caliph continued with multiple attacks against the breach gradually wearing down the Byzantine defenders. The strategos Aetios sent an embassy headed by the city's bishop to the Caliph offering to surrender Amorium in exchange for safe passage for the troops and the residents. The Caliph refused.

Now panic set in among some of the troops. The Byzantine commander of the breach, Boiditzes, entered into secret negotiations with the Caliph. He ordered his men to stand down and went Arab camp to discuss the possible surrender of the breach.

The Arabs betrayed Boiditzes. While the Roman was speaking with the Caliph the Arab troops moved closer to the breach, charged and broke into the city. Taken by surprise resistance was minor. Some soldiers barricaded themselves in a monastery but were burned to death to death by the Arabs. Aetios took refuge in a tower with some of his officers before being forced to surrender.

For five full days the city was plundered. Byzantines said 70,000 people died. A vastly inflated number. But even the Arabs say 30,000 died. The surviving civilian population was sold into slavery. The civic and military elites were held captive by the Caliph.

The Caliph now sent the Emperor's envoys home with news of the defeat and then burned the city to the ground. The massive iron doors of the city were installed at the entrance the Caliph's palace.

Sold into Muslim Slavery
Thousands of Roman Christians from the sacked city of Amorium
were divided among Arab army leaders and sold into slavery.

What Came After

Fresh from his victory the Caliph marched toward Constantinople to take on the forces of the Emperor. Naturally the Emperor and anything resembling a Roman army could not be found. The only thing that stopped the Caliph was news of a conspiracy against him back home. So he left the other Byzantine fortresses intact and returned to his own country.

Both the Caliph's army and Roman prisoners suffered in the dry Anatolian countryside. To put down unrest the Caliph executed 6,000 prisoners.

The Emperor continued to grovel. He sent an embassy to the Caliph offering a ransom 20,000 Byzantine pounds of gold for the Roman captives and the release of all Muslim prisoners. It was rejected.

The border wars between Byzantium and the Arabs continued for years to come without real changes to the frontier borders.

Some 42 high ranking prisoners were held by the Arabs until 845 when the new Caliph ordered that they be killed even though the Emperor continued to offer ransom.

Damage to the Empire was limited. Amorium was rebuilt though it never returned to its former glory. It was also for a time replaced at the capital of the Anatolic Theme.

The Emperor, trying to look relevant, "reorganized" the army, created new commands and dispersed the revolting Khurramite troops among different themes. This was more window dressing than anything else. So the wars went on much as before.

Amorium - click to enlarge

(Anzen)      (archive.org)      (Amorium)      (Sack of Amorium)

(amorium)      (Amorium)

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Byzantine Fortress of Monemvasia - The "Gibraltar of the East"

The Gibraltar of the East
The Eastern Roman Fortress of Monemvasia held out against the Turks even after the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

Monemvasia is a town and a municipality in Laconia, Greece. The town is located on a small island off the east coast of the Peloponnese. The island is linked to the mainland by a short causeway 200m in length. Its area consists mostly of a large plateau some 100 metres above sea level, up to 300 m wide and 1 km long, the site of a powerful medieval fortress. The town walls and many Byzantine churches remain from the medieval period. The seat of the municipality is the town Molaoi.
The town's name derives from two Greek words, mone and emvasia, meaning "single entrance". Its Italian form, Malvasia, gave its name to Malmsey wine. Monemvasia's nickname is the Gibraltar of the East or The Rock.
Emperor Maurice by Emilian Stankev
from "Rulers of the Byzantine Empire".
The Fortress of Monemvasia was founded
during the Emperor's reign.

The town and fortress were founded in 583 by inhabitants of the mainland seeking refuge from the Slavic and the Avaric invasion of Greece. A history of the invasion and occupation of the Peloponnese was recorded in the medieval Chronicle of Monemvasia.
From the 10th century AD, the town developed into an important trade and maritime centre. The fortress withstood the Arab and Norman invasions in 1147; farm fields that fed up to 30 men were tilled inside the fortress. William II of Villehardouin took it in 1248, on honourable terms, after three years of siege; in 1259 William was captured by the Greeks after the battle of Pelagonia and in 1262 it was retroceded to Michael VIII Palaiologos as part of William's ransom.
It remained part of the Byzantine Empire until 1460, becoming the seat of an imperial governor, a landing place for Byzantine operations against the Franks, the main port of shipment (if not always production) for Malmsey wine, and one of the most dangerous lairs of corsairs in the Levant. 

The Emperors gave it valuable privileges, attracting Roger de Lluria who sacked the lower town in 1292. The town welcomed the Catalan Company on its way eastward in 1302. In 1397 the Despot of the Morea,Theodore I Palaiologos, deposed the local dynast of Monemvasia, who appealed to Sultan Bayezid I and was reinstated by Turkish troops. In 1419 the rock appears to have come into the possession of Venice, though it soon returned to the Despot. 

About 1401, the historian George Sphrantzes was born in the town. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453 Monemvasia held out against the threats of Sultan Mehmed II in 1458 and 1460, when it became the only remaining domain of the Despot of the Morea, Thomas Palaiologos, claimant of the Imperial throne. He had no forces to defend it; he offered it to the Sultan, and finally sold it to the Pope.

By 1464 the inhabitants found the Pope's representative feeble and the Pope unable to protect them; they admitted a Venetian garrison. The town was fairly prosperous under Venetian rule until the peace of 1502-3, in which it lost its farm lands, source of its food supply and of Malmsey wine. The food had to come by sea or from Turkish-held lands, and the cultivation of wine languished under Turkish rule. 

The rock was governed by the Venetians until the treaty of 1540, which cost the Republic Nauplia and Monemvasia, her last two possessions on mainland Greece. Those inhabitants who did not wish to live under Turkish rule were given lands elsewhere. The Ottomans then ruled the town until the brief Venetian recovery in 1690, then again from 1715 to 1821. It was known as "Menekşe" ("Violet" in Turkish) during Ottoman rule and was a sanjak (province) centre in the Morea Eyalet.
The commercial importance of the town continued until the Orlov Revolt (1770) in the Russo-Turkish War, which saw its importance decline severely.
The town was liberated from Ottoman rule on July 23, 1821 by Tzannetakis Grigorakis who entered the town with his private army during the Greek War of Independence.

 The "Gibraltar of the East"
Often referred to as the "Gibraltar of Greece," Monemvasia is a virtual showcase of Byzantine, Turkish, and Venetian history dating back to the 13th century. Worth climbing: the steep zigzag path that leads up and up, out of the lower town, to ruins of the fortified upper town, and sweeping views of the Mediterranean Sea. 

Thomas Palaiologos
Palaiologos was the last Byzantine ruler of the Fortress of Monemvasia.
After the conquest of Morea, Thomas lived in Rome, recognized throughout 
Christian Europe as the rightful Emperor of the East. To create greater support for his situation Thomas changed his religion to Roman Catholicism during his last years of life. After his death in 1465, the position of rightful Byzantine emperor was inherited by his older son Andreas Palaiologos, born in Mistra around 1453.

Church of Agia Sophia on top of the plateau

(monemvasia.com)      (Monemvasia)

Monday, February 15, 2016

A Byzantine campaign in the Balkans (594 AD)

Late Roman Empire troops

Defending the Roman Balkans
The Balkan campaigns were the main focus of Emperor Maurice's foreign policies. A favorable peace treaty with Persia in 591 enabled him to shift his experienced troops from the Persian front to the region. The refocusing of Roman efforts soon paid off: the frequent Roman failures before 591 were succeeded by a string of successes afterwards.

Theophylact Simocatta, who wrote in the early seventh century during the reign of Heraclius (Herakleios) (610-41), was the last in the succession of secular classicizing historians devoted mainly to the military, diplomatic, and political history of the Roman empire.

Theophylact’s History is an account of the reign of the emperor Maurice (582-602), within which two major topics dominate the historical narrative: warfare in the Balkans against the Slavs and Avars and on the eastern frontier against the Persians.

In the following section, the emperor has promoted his brother Peter as the commander of the Byzantine (referred to as Roman) forces as they begin a campaign in the Balkans in the year 594. Theophylact is biased against Peter, and his account of his actions shows him to be less skillful and energetic then he was during this campaign.

For more information on this historian, please see The Emperor Maurice and his Historian - Theophylact Simocatta on Persian and Balkan Warfare, by Michael Whitby (Oxford University Press, 1988)


And so Priscus was thus demoted while Peter, who was in fact Maurice’s own brother, was proclaimed as commander by the emperor. Then Maurice inscribed royal letters, delivered these to the general, prepared for him to depart from the city, and ordered him to go to the camp. Now, one clause of the royal letters dealt with military pay; the clause proposed that payment would be organized in three parts, by clothing, equipment, and gold coin.

Then the general departed from Perinthus and came to Drizipera, and leaving Drizipera he reached Odessus. And so the camp gave the commander a most distinguished welcome on his arrival at Odessus, but on the fourth day the commander attempted to publicize to the troops the royal dispatches. And so the troops contemplated agitation, for they had previously heard the royal command.

Then, after the general had hurriedly arranged a united assembly of the forces and had made the congregation listen to the emperor’s utterances, the army shied away and, abandoning the general in disgrace, they pitched camp in uproar four miles away. But Peter, being faced by revolt, concealed the more irksome parts of the royal commands; he also had to hand one of the royal ordinances which would be beneficial to the warring masses, and demanded that this be publicly proclaimed to the Roman troops.
Late Roman Cavalry (Pinterest)
Information on the true look of Eastern Roman troops is often thin at best.  For this article I
selected photos of Late Roman Empire reenactors. Live photos are better than paintings, and
these reenactors may be pretty close to the actual look of the troops. When in doubt I say
listen to the fanatical reenactors. From my experience they often know far more
than many so-called "historians".

And so the Romans assembled and reviled Maurice, but the commander intelligently and persuasively soothed the wrath of the camp and publicized to the men-at-arms the more pleasing of the emperor’s letters. They contained the following generous provisions: that Romans who had acted heroically and encountered some misfortune as a result of courage in danger should thereafter receive a respite, that these demobilized soldiers in the cities should be fed at imperial expense, and that servicemen’s children who had lost their fathers in war should be enrolled for war in place of their parents.

Accordingly, when he had put these proposals to the army from a lofty rostrum, he converted them, and persuasively reduced them to submission; hence their folly was also altered, and each reverted to goodwill towards the emperor Maurice. Accordingly the Caesar was praised, being released from their recent slanders: for the masses are unstable and have never adopted a fixed position, but are transformed randomly and fortuitously by incidental pronouncements.

And so the general was thus reconciled with the camp regarding their grievances. On the fourth day, after he had acquainted the emperor with the mutiny of the forces, he set out from Odessus and moved towards the regions on his left; on reaching Marcianopolis he ordered one thousand men to advance beyond the camp.

These, therefore, encountered six hundred Sclavenes who were escorting a great haul of Romans, for they had ravaged Zaldapa, Aquis, and Scopi, and were herding back these unfortunates as plunder; a large number of wagons held the possessions they had looted. When the barbarians observed the Romans approaching, and were then likewise observed, they turned to the slaughter of the captives. Then the adult male captives from youth upwards were killed.

Archers - Auxiliaries in the Roman Army

Since the barbarians could not avoid an encounter, they collected the wagons and placed them round as a barricade, depositing the women and youth in the middle of the defence. The Romans drew near to the Getae (for this is the older name for the barbarians), but did not dare to come to grips, since they were afraid of the javelins which the barbarians were sending from the barricade against their horses. Then their captain, whose name was Alexander, commanded the Romans in the ancestral Roman language to dismount from their horses and grasp the enemy danger at, close quarters.

Now the Romans dismounted from their horses, approached the barricade, and gave and received in turn discharges of missiles. Accordingly, while the battle persisted on either side, a certain Roman burst in, went up and climbed on to one of the wagons that formed part of the barricade protecting the barbarians; then, standing on it he struck those nearby with his sword. Then an indivertible peril came upon the barbarians, for thereafter the Romans broke the barbarians’ barricade.

Emperor Maurice by Emilian Stankev
from "Rulers of the Byzantine Empire".
An able general, the court of Maurice
still used Latin as the official language.
The barbarians renounced salvation and slaughtered the remaining portion of the captives, but the Romans resolutely attacked and with difficulty, at long last, slaughtered the barbarians by the barricade. On the second day the victors recounted these occurrences to the general. On the fifth day the general came to this place; when indeed he had seen the accomplishments of the advance guard, he rewarded the heroes with gifts.

On the following day Peter came to a thick grove in search of hunting; now there was an enormous boar lurking deep in this vale and, as the barking of the dogs grew loud, the beast raised himself from his lair and made for Peter.

The general wheeled his horse in flight, but crushed his left foot by dashing it against a lofty tree. Accordingly, Peter was convulsed by unendurable pains and remained in the place, most grievously stricken by his accident.

But the Caesar was angered by the general’s delay, and in astonishment at his military inactivity he addressed written insults to the general. Then Peter did not tolerate the emperor’s epistolary denigration, and moved camp although he was still sorely oppressed by his affliction; after four changes of camp, he reached the habitations of the Sclavenes.

On the tenth day the emperor Maurice dispatched to his brother a royal letter to remain in Thrace, for Maurice had heard that the Sclavene hordes were directing their thrusts towards Byzantium. Consequently the general came to the fort of Pistus, and subsequently arrived at Zaldapa. On the second day he reached the city of Iatrus, and next, after marching past the fort of Latarkium, encamped at Novae.

Then, when the inhabitants heard of the general’s imminent arrival, they came out of the city, provided him with a most distinguished reception, and begged Peter to join the celebration for the festival of the martyr Lupus: for that day was the festal eve feast for the martyr Lupus. And so the general said that he was unable to spend the day in the place because of the urgency of his march, but the citizens amplified their request with superabundant pleas, and compelled the general to take part in the festival. And so Peter, after being two days in the city, set out from there and pitched camp at Theodoropolis; at the first hour he reached the place called Curisca.

Click to enlarge
The Roman Balkans in the 6th Century

On the third day he established his quarters at the city of Asemus. But when the inhabitants of the city had learned that the general was expected, they came out of the city to meet Peter, and made his arrival at the city splendid. From bygone times a garrison had been organized in this city for the protection of the citizens, since the barbarians swooped down like lightning around this city quite frequently.

Accordingly, when the garrison stationed in this city learned that the general was about to arrive, they took up the standards, which Romans call bands, and went out of the city; then, arrayed in armour, they welcomed the general most gloriously. And so Peter, on seeing the magnificence of the city’s soldiers, attempted to remove them from the city and include them amongst his own forces. And so the citizens and the city’s garrison produced a decree of the emperor Justin which granted the city this successive armed protection.

On the morrow the commander made objection and hastened to remove from the township those posted for its protection. For this reason the soldiers in the city took refuge in the city’s church. On hearing this, the general ordered the bishop to bring them out of the sanctuary; when the priest angrily refused, the general dispatched the brigadier Gentzon with a body of soldiers to expel by force those who had taken refuge in the church.

On hearing this, those. who had fled to the holy seats arrayed themselves in arms and blockaded the church doors from all sides. And so Gentzon, observing the opposition inside the sacred precinct, recognizing the outrageousness of his task, and at the same time respecting the sanctity of the church, departed without success. But the general was infuriated at this, and demoted Gentzon from his command (Gentzon was leader of the infantry force).

From Durolitum

On the following day he summoned to his own tent one of the emperor’s bodyguards, whom Romans call scribo, and prescribed for him a shameful undertaking: his demand was for the city’s bishop to be dragged in dishonour to the camp.

When the citizens had witnessed this, they all assembled together and forcibly thrust out of the city the man dispatched by the general against the priest; after closing the gates in the wall, they hymned the emperor with acclamations and covered the general with insults. Peter was encamped in a fortified enclosure about a mile from the city. But since his enterprise was disgraceful, he left the city and proceeded to march forwards, escorted by great curses from the city.

On the sixth day, he marshalled one thousand men to recon noitre the enemy, and these encountered ten hundred Bulgars. Now the barbarians were marching off guard, since there was peace between the Romans and the Chagan. But the Romans, on the general’s decision, used their javelins against the barbarians. 

The Bulgars dispatched ambassadors to negotiate an end to the fight and to advise the Romans not to destroy the peace. The officer of the contingent dispatched the ambassadors to the general, who was eight miles from the spot. Peter, therefore, spurned their peaceful words and instructed the advance guard to put the barbarians to death by the sword forthwith.

And so the Bulgars formed up for battle as best they could, came to grips, and after joining combat most heroically, compelled the Romans to turn away in flight. After these events, the barbarians also retreated a short distance, oft turning back as one small step replaced another, to blend a touch of the Homeric poem with our account, since they feared that a supplementary force might perhaps join the vanquished and rally for battle again.

And so Peter, since his plan had failed, stripped the clothing from the brigadier of the advance guard and scourged him like a slave.

Bulgarian Warrior Reenactor
The Eastern Roman Empire faced an endless series of invasions in the
Balkans from Huns, Slavic tribes and Bulgars.
Also See:
The Sack of Pliska and the Massacre at Vărbitsa Pass

Then the barbarians came to the Chagan and disclosed to him the sequence of events; and so the barbarian dispatched ambassadors to Peter, and reproached him for the apparent breach of the truce. But Peter beguiled the ambassadors with plausible arguments, and alleged ignorance of the misdeed; then, with splendid gifts and a forfeit of booty, he converted the barbarian to good humour.

On the fourth day he came near to the neighbouring river, assembled twenty men, and sent them to cross the river and observe the enemies’ movements. And so these crossed the river and were all captured. The manner of their capture was this: it is customary that those detailed for reconnaissance always make their way by night but consort with sleep during the light of day. These men had completed a long journey on the previous day; then at daybreak, being physically exhausted, they turned to rest in a certain nearby copse. At about the third hour, when they were all asleep with no one keeping watch, the barbarians approached the copse.

Then the Sclavenes dismounted from their horses, and proceeded to refresh themselves and give their horses some respite. Accordingly, the Romans were detected by accident. The poor wretches were taken captive and interrogated to reveal what the Romans had planned; and so, despairing of safety, they recounted everything.

But Peiragastus, who was the tribal leader of that barbarian horde, took his forces, encamped at the river-crossings, and concealed himself in the woods like an overlooked bunch of grapes on the vine. But the general, the emperor’s brother, consequently rejected the idea that enemy were present and ordered the army to cross the river. Then, after one thousand men had traversed the river, the barbarians slaughtered all of them. 

When the general realized this, he pressed the troops not to make the crossing piecemeal, lest by crossing the river gradually they should fall victim to the foe. Then, after the Roman formation had been organized in this way, the barbarians drew up on the river bank. And so the Romans let fly at the barbarians from the rafts, while the barbarians, unable to endure the mass of discharged missiles, left the banks deserted.

Then their brigadier, whom the story has already declared to be Peiragastus, was killed; for he was struck in the flank by a missile and death took him in hand, since the blow had reached a vital part. Therefore, after Peiragastus had fallen, the enemy turned to flight. Then the Romans became masters of the riverbank; next, encircling the barbarian hordes, they forced them into flight with great slaughter, but they were unable to press their pursuit very far because of their lack of horse, and they returned to camp.

Click to enlarge
The Roman Empire in 600 AD at the time of Emperor Maurice

Then on the following day, the army’s guides made a great error, with the result that a water shortage beset the camp and the misfortunes increased. Then the soldiers, intolerant of the dearth of water, assuaged their thirst with wine. On the third day the trouble intensified, and the whole army would have perished if a certain barbarian prisoner had not pointed out to them the Helibacia river, which was four parasangs distant.

And so, thus, in the morning the Romans encountered water: then some inclined their knees forwards, as it were, and gulped down the water with their lips, others stooped down and drew up water in their hands, while others decanted the stream in pitchers.

On the opposite side of the river there was a leafy vale; barbarians were lurking therein, and greatest outrage came upon the Romans: for with javelins the barbarians struck the men drawing water. Therefore great slaughter ensued from concealment. Then a choice between two alternatives was necessary, either to refuse the water and relinquish life through thirst, or to draw up death too along with the water.

But the Romans assembled rafts and traversed the river so that the enemy might be detected. When the soldiers reached the other side, the barbarians suddenly attacked and overcame the Romans; and so the defeated Romans turned in flight. Then, since Peter had been outfought by the barbarians, Priscus became general; and so, after being demoted from command, Peter came to Byzantium.

This translation is from The History of Theophylact Simocatta, trans. by Michael and Mary Whitby (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986).

(Maurice)      (The History of Theophylact Simocatta)      (Balkan campaigns)