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

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Battle of Tricamarum - The Roman Re-Conquest of North Africa

Artist conception of Vandal and Alan warriors in North Africa.

The Battle of Tricamarum took place on December 15, 533 between the armies of the North African Vandal Kingdom, commanded by King Gelimer, and his brother Tzazon, and those of the Eastern Roman Empire under the command of General Belisarius.

The battle was a total and complete Roman victory that brought North Africa, Sardinia, Corsica, Northern Morocco and the Balearic Islands back under Roman rule.  The battle also destroyed the Vandal nation and obliterated the Vandal peoples from recorded history.

The Roman Invasion of North Africa 

The Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian was determined to reestablish the Roman Empire no matter what the risks or cost.

A young general from Thrace named Belisarius had just made a name for himself on the Eastern Front by defeating a Persian army nearly twice his size. Justinian felt he had found his man.
Belisarius and Justinian gathered their forces for an invasion of the Vandal Kingdom.  At the harbor of Constantinople the navy brought together from Egypt, Cilicia and Ionia some 20,000 sailors and 500 transports ranging from 30 up to 500 tons.

Army regiments were withdrawn from the Eastern Front courtesy of the "Endless Peace" with Persia. About 10,000 infantry from Thrace and Isauria marched to Constantinople. Another 5,000 cavalry were assigned. There were two additional bodies of Allied Troops: 600 Huns and 400 Heruls, all mounted horse archers.

The Roman fleet landed below Carthage and soundly defeated a large force of Vandals at the Battle of Ad Decimum.

The Vandals abandoned Carthage without and fight and fled into the desert.

After being ejected from Carthage, King Gelimer of the Vandals set up at Bulla Regia in Numidia, about 100 miles to the west of Carthage. He knew that in his current state he would not be able to face Belisarius's forces, so he sent messengers to his brother Tzazon who was currently campaigning in Sardinia with 5,000 troops and 120 galleys. When he received the message, Tzazon set about returning to Africa to join Gelimer.

Meanwhile Gelimer also attempted to divide the forces helping Belisarius. He offered rewards to the local Punic and Berber tribes for every Roman head they could bring, and sent agents to Carthage to attempt to have Belisarius's Hun mercenaries — vital to his success at Ad Decimum — betray him.

Tzazon and his army joined Gelimer early in December, at which point Gelimer felt his forces were strong enough to take the offensive. With the two brothers at the head of the army, the Vandal force paused on the way to Carthage to destroy the great aqueduct which supplied the city with most of its water.

Belisarius had fortified the city in the twelve weeks since Ad Decimum, but knew about Gelimer's agents and could no longer trust the Huns in his forces. Instead of waiting for a possible treachery during a siege, he formed up his army and marched out with the cavalry at the front, and the Huns at the rear of the column.


History of the Wars:  Book III
The Vandalic War

By Procopius of Caesarea
(AD 500 – c. AD 565)
(The historian Procopius was with Belisarius at the Battle of Ad Decimum in the invasion of North Africa.  Here is his eyewitness account of the Battle of Tricamarum.  It is so rare to have a major historian standing right at the side of a famous general.  I have edited his account, but I would urge everyone to read his full version of the Vandal War.) 

Belisarius commanded those on the ships to disembark, and after marshalling the whole army and drawing it up in battle formation, he marched into Carthage . . . For all the Libyans had been Romans in earlier times and had come under the Vandals by no will of their own and had suffered many outrages at the hands of these barbarians.

Belisarius gave pledges to those Vandals who had fled into the sanctuaries, and began to take thought for the fortifications. For the circuit-wall of Carthage had been so neglected that in many places it had become accessible to anyone who wished and easy to attack. For no small part of it had fallen down, and it was for this reason, the Carthaginians said, that Gelimer had not made his stand in the city. For he thought that it would be impossible in a short time to restore such a circuit-wall to a safe condition.

Gelimer, by distributing much money to the farmers among the Libyans and shewing great friendliness toward them, succeeded in winning many to his side. These he commanded to kill the Romans who went out into the country, proclaiming a fixed sum of gold for each man killed, to be paid to him who did the deed. And they killed many from the Roman army, not soldiers, however, but slaves and servants, who because of a desire for money went up into the villages stealthily and were caught. And the farmers brought their heads before Gelimer and departed receiving their pay, while he supposed that they had slain soldiers of the enemy.

And Belisarius offered great sums of money to the artisans engaged in the building trade and to the general throng of workmen, and by this means he dug a trench deserving of great admiration about the circuit-wall, and setting stakes close together along it he made an excellent stockade about the fortifications. And not only this, but he built up in a short time the portions of the wall which had suffered . . .

At this same time another event also occurred as follows. A short time before the emperor's expedition reached Libya, Gelimer had sent envoys into Spain, among whom were Gothaeus and Fuscias, in order to persuade Theudis, the ruler of the Visigoths, to establish an alliance with the Vandals. And these envoys, upon disembarking on the mainland after crossing the strait at Gadira, found Theudis in a place situated far from the sea.

Re-enactor preparing to imitate Roman-Byzantine
infantryman from the age Justinian.  The Roman
infantry at the time could have looked
much like this soldier.

And when they had come up to the place where he was, Theudis received them with friendliness and entertained them heartily, and during the feast he pretended to enquire how matters stood with Gelimer and the Vandals. Now since these envoys had travelled to him rather slowly, it happened that he had heard from others everything which had befallen the Vandals. For one merchant ship sailing for trade had put out from Carthage on the very same day as the army marched into the city, and finding a favouring wind, had come to Spain. From those on this ship Theudis learned all that had happened in Libya . . . . they (the envoys) sailed for the city (Carthage). And upon coming to land close by it and happening upon Roman soldiers, they put themselves in their hands to do with them as they wished.

Tzazon, the brother of Gelimer, reached Sardinia with the expedition (of 5,000 troops and 120 gallys) which has been mentioned above and disembarked at the harbour of Caranalis ; and at the first onset he captured the city and killed the tyrant Godas and all the fighting men about him.

Gathering the Vandal Army

Gelimer, upon reaching the plain of Boulla, which is distant from Carthage a journey of four days for an unencumbered traveller, not far from the boundaries of Numidia, began to gather there all the Vandals and as many of the Moors as happened to be friendly to him. Few Moors, however, joined his alliance, and these were altogether insubordinate. For all those who ruled over the Moors in Mauretania and Numidia and Byzacium sent envoys to Belisarius saying that they were slaves of the emperor and promised to fight with him. There were some also who even furnished their children as hostages and requested that the symbols of office be sent them from him according to the ancient custom. For it was a law among the Moors that no one should be a ruler over them, even if he was hostile to the Romans, until the emperor of the Romans should give him the tokens of the office.

And Belisarius sent these things to them, and presented each one of them with much money. However, they did not come to fight along with him, nor, on the other hand, did they dare give their support to the Vandals, but standing out of the way of both contestants, they waited to see what would be the outcome of the war. Thus, then, matters stood with the Romans.

Gelimer sent one of the Vandals to Sardinia with a letter to his brother Tzazon. And he went quickly to the coast, and finding by chance a merchant-ship putting out to sea, he sailed into the harbour of Caranalis and put the letter into the hands of Tzazon.

When this letter had been brought to Tzazon, and he had disclosed its contents to the Vandals, they turned to wailing and lamentation, not openly, however, but concealing their feelings as much as possible and avoiding the notice of the islanders, silently among themselves they bewailed the fate which was upon them.

And straightway setting in order matters in hand just as chance directed, they manned the ships. And sailing from there with the whole fleet, on the third day they came to land at the point of Libya which marks the boundary between the Numidians and Mauretanians.

And they reached the plain of Boulla travelling on foot, and there joined with the rest of the army. And in that place there were many most pitiable scenes among the Vandals, which I, at least, could never relate as they deserve. For I think that even if one of the enemy themselves had happened to be a spectator at that time, he would probably have felt pity, in spite of himself, for the Vandals and for human fortune. For Gelimer and Tzazon threw their arms about each other's necks, and could not let go, but they spoke not a word to each other, but kept wringing their hands and weeping, and each one of the Vandals with Gelimer embraced one of those who had come from Sardinia, and did the same thing.

And they stood for a long time as if grown together and found such comfort as they could in this, and neither did the men of Gelimer think fit to ask about Godas (for their present fortune had prostrated them and caused them to reckon such things as had previously seemed to them most important with those which were now utterly negligible), nor could those who came from Sardinia bring themselves to ask about what had happened in Libya. For the place was sufficient to permit them to judge of what had come to pass. And indeed they did not make any mention even of their own wives and children, knowing well that whoever of theirs was not there had either died or fallen into the hands of the enemy. Thus, then, did these things happen.

The Roman aqueduct at Carthage
The Vandal army paused on the way to Carthage to destroy the
great aqueduct which supplied the city with most of its water
and drive the Roman forces out of the city.

The Battle of Tricamarum
(Belisarius brought to the field perhaps 5,000 cavalry and most of his 10,000 infantry.  We can assume that some portion of the Roman infantry would be left behind in Carthage and other towns to prevent a revolt.  King Gelimer would have most of his force from the Battle of Ad Decimum still available.  That might have been perhaps 8,000 plus.  His brother Tzazon brought his 5,000 troops from Sardinia.)

Gelimer, seeing all the Vandals gathered together, led his army against Carthage. And when they came close to it, they tore down a portion of the aqueduct,—a structure well worth seeing—which conducted water into the city, and after encamping for a time they withdrew, since no one of the enemy came out against them. And going about the country there they kept the roads under guard and thought that in this way they were besieging Carthage.

They kept hoping that there would be some treason on the part of the Carthaginians themselves and such of the Roman soldiers as followed the doctrine of Arius. They also sent to the leaders of the Huns, and promising that they would have many good things from the Vandals, entreated them to become their friends and allies. Now the Huns even before this had not been well-disposed toward the cause of the Romans, since they had not indeed come to them willingly as allies (for they asserted that the Roman general Peter had given an oath and then, disregarding what had been sworn, had thus brought them to Byzantium), and accordingly they received the words of the Vandals, and promised that when they should come to real fighting they would turn with them against the Roman army.

But Belisarius had a suspicion of all this (for he had heard it from the deserters), and also the circuit-wall had not as yet been completed entirely, and for these reasons he did not think it possible for his men to go out against the enemy for the present, but he was making his preparations within as well as possible. And one of the Carthaginians, Laurus by name, having been condemned on a charge of treason and proved guilty by his own secretary, was impaled by Belisarius on a hill before the city, and as a result of this the others came to feel a sort of irresistible fear and refrained from attempts at treason.

And when all things had been prepared by him (Belisarius) in the best way possible, and the circuit-wall had been already completed, he called together the whole army and spoke as follows: "As for exhortation, fellow Romans, I do not know that it is necessary to make any to you,—men who have recently conquered the enemy so completely that Carthage here and the whole of Libya is a possession of your valour, and for this reason you will have no need of admonition that prompts to daring. For the spirits of those who have conquered are by no means wont to be overcome. But I think it not untimely to remind you of this one thing, that, if you on the present occasion but prove equal to your own selves in valour, straightway there will be an end for the Vandals of their hopes . . . "

The Hun Cavalry
The 600 Huns and 400 Heruls, all mounted horse archers, proved invaluable to
the Romans during the Battle of Ad Decimum.  But at Tricamarum they sat out
much of the battle until they could see which side was going to win.  Only when
the Vandals were defeated did the Huns join the Roman attack.
Photo above is a horse archer presentation in Hungary.

After such words of exhortation, Belisarius sent out all the horsemen on the same day, except five hundred, and also the guardsmen and the standard, which the Romans call "bandum," entrusting them to John the Armenian, and directing him to skirmish only, if opportunity should arise. And he himself on the following day followed with the infantry forces and the five hundred horsemen.

And the Massagetae (Huns), deliberating among themselves, decided, in order to seem in friendly agreement with both Gelimer and Belisarius, neither to begin fighting for the Romans nor to go over to the Vandals before the encounter, but whenever the situation of one or the other army should be bad, then to join the victors in their pursuit of the vanquished. Thus, then, had this matter been decided upon by the barbarians.

And the Roman army came upon the Vandals encamped in Tricamarum, one hundred and fifty stades distant from Carthage. So they both bivouacked there at a considerable distance from one another. And when it was well on in the night, a prodigy came to pass in the Roman camp as follows. The tips of their spears were lighted with a bright fire and the points of them seemed to be burning most vigorously.

This was not seen by many, but it filled with consternation the few who did see it, not knowing how it would come out. And this happened to the Romans in Italy again at a much later time. And at that time, since they knew by experience, they believed it to be a sign of victory. But now, as I have said, since this was the first time it had happened, they were filled with consternation and passed the night in great fear.

And on the following day Gelimer commanded the Vandals to place the women and children and all their possessions in the middle of the stockade, although it had not the character of a fort, and calling all together, he spoke as follows: "It is not to gain glory, or to retrieve the loss of empire alone, O fellow Vandals, that we are about to fight, so that even if we wilfully played the coward and sacrificed these our belongings we might possibly live, sitting at home and keeping our own possessions; but you see, surely, that our fortunes have come round to such a pass that, if we do not gain the mastery over the enemy, we shall, if we perish, leave them as masters of these our children and our wives and our land and all our possessions, while if we survive, there will be added our own enslavement and to behold all these enslaved; but if, indeed, we overcome our foes in the war, we shall, if we live, pass our lives among all good things, or, after the glorious ending of our lives, there will be left to our wives and children the blessings of prosperity, while the name of the Vandals will survive and their empire be preserved."

After both Gelimer and Tzazon had spoken such exhortations, they led out the Vandals, and at about the time of lunch, when the Romans were not expecting them, but were preparing their meal, they were at hand and arrayed themselves for battle along the bank of the stream. Now the stream at that place is an ever-flowing one, to be sure, but its volume is so small that it is not even given a special name by the inhabitants of the place, but it is designated simply as a brook.

So the Romans came to the other bank of this river, after preparing themselves as well as they could under the circumstances, and arrayed themselves as follows. The left wing was held by Martinus and Valerian, John, Cyprian, Althias, and Marcellus, and as many others as were commanders of the foederati; and the right was held by Pappas, Barbatus, and Aïgan, and the others who commanded the forces of cavalry. And in the centre John took his position, leading the guards and spearmen of Belisarius and carrying the general's standard. And Belisarius also came there at the opportune moment with his five hundred horsemen, leaving the infantry behind advancing at a walk.

For all the Huns had been arrayed in another place, it being customary for them even before this not to mingle with the Roman army if they could avoid so doing, and at that time especially, since they had in mind the purpose which has previously been explained, it was not their wish to be arrayed with the rest of the army. Such, then, was the formation of the Romans. And on the side of the Vandals, either wing was held by the chiliarchs, and each one led the division under him, while in the centre was Tzazon, the brother of Gelimer, and behind him were arrayed the Moors. But Gelimer himself was going about everywhere exhorting them and urging them on to daring. And the command had been previously given to all the Vandals to use neither spear nor any other weapon in this engagement except their swords.

After a considerable time had passed and no one began the battle, John chose out a few of those under him by the advice of Belisarius and crossing the river made an attack on the centre, where Tzazon crowded them back and gave chase. And the Romans in flight came into their own camp, while the Vandals in pursuit came as far as the stream, but did not cross it. And once more John, leading out more of the guardsmen of Belisarius, made a dash against the forces of Tzazon, and again being repulsed from there, withdrew to the Roman camp. And a third time with almost all the guards and spearmen of Belisarius he took the general's standard and made his attack with much shouting and a great noise.

But since the barbarians manfully withstood them and used only their swords, the battle became fierce, and many of the noblest of the Vandals fell, and among them Tzazon himself, the brother of Gelimer.

6th Century Eastern Roman Cavalry

Then at last the whole Roman army was set in motion, and crossing the river they advanced upon the enemy, and the rout, beginning at the centre, became complete; for each of the Roman divisions turned to flight those before them with no trouble.

And the Massagetae (Huns), seeing this, according to their agreement among themselves joined the Roman army in making the pursuit, but this pursuit was not continued for a great distance. For the Vandals entered their own camp quickly and remained quiet, while the Romans, thinking that they would not be able to fight it out with them inside the stockade, stripped such of the corpses as had gold upon them and retired to their own camp. And there perished in this battle, of the Romans less than fifty, but of the Vandals about eight hundred.

But Belisarius, when the infantry came up in the late afternoon, moved as quickly as he could with the whole army and went against the camp of the Vandals. And Gelimer, realising that Belisarius with his infantry and the rest of his army was coming against him straightway, without saying a word or giving a command leaped upon his horse and was off in flight on the road leading to Numidia. And his kinsmen and some few of his domestics followed him in utter consternation and guarding with silence what was taking place.

And for some time it escaped the notice of the Vandals that Gelimer had run away, but when they all perceived that he had fled, and the enemy were already plainly seen, then indeed the men began to shout and the children cried out and the women wailed. And they neither took with them the money they had nor did they heed the laments of those dearest to them, but every man fled in complete disorder just as he could.

And the Romans, coming up, captured the camp, money and all, with not a man in it; and they pursued the fugitives throughout the whole night, killing all the men upon whom they happened, and making slaves of the women and children. And they found in this camp a quantity of wealth such as has never before been found, at least in one place. For the Vandals had plundered the Roman domain for a long time and had transferred great amounts of money to Libya, and since their land was an especially good one, nourishing abundantly with the most useful crops, it came about that the revenue collected from the commodities produced there was not paid out to any other country in the purchase of a food supply, but those who possessed the land always kept for themselves the income from it for the ninety-five years during which the Vandals ruled Libya. And from this it resulted that their wealth, amounting to an extraordinary sum, returned once more on that day into the hands of the Romans. 

So this battle and the pursuit and the capture of the Vandals' camp happened three months after the Roman army came to Carthage, at about the middle of the last month, which the Romans call "December."

Anarchy - Looting the Vandal Camp
(The Roman army dissolved in an orgy of looting throughout the night.  If the Vandals had counter attacked it would have been a slaughter.  The previous Roman victory could have turned into Vandal win.)

Then Belisarius, seeing the Roman army rushing about in confusion and great disorder, was disturbed, being fearful throughout the whole night lest the enemy, uniting by mutual agreement against him, should do him irreparable harm. And if this thing had happened at that time in any way at all, I believe that, not one of the Romans would have escaped and enjoyed this booty.

For the soldiers, being extremely poor men, upon becoming all of a sudden masters of very great wealth and of women both young and extremely comely, were no longer able to restrain their minds or to find any satiety in the things they had, but were so intoxicated, drenched as they were by their present good fortunes, that each one wished to take everything with him back to Carthage. And they were going about, not in companies but alone or by twos, wherever hope led them, searching out everything roundabout among the valleys and the rough country and wherever there chanced to be a cave or anything such as might bring them into danger or ambush. For neither did fear of the enemy nor their respect for Belisarius occur to them, nor indeed anything else at all except the desire for spoils, and being overmastered by this they came to think lightly of everything else.
Moor Warrior
The scattered Vandals took refuge
with the Moors

And Belisarius, taking note of all this, was at a loss as to how he should handle the situation. But at daybreak he took his stand upon a certain hill near the road, appealing to the discipline which no longer existed and heaping reproaches upon all, soldiers and officers alike. Then indeed, those who chanced to be near, and especially those who were of the household of Belisarius, sent the money and slaves which they had to Carthage with their tentmates and messmates, and themselves came up beside the general and gave heed to the orders given them.

Tracking Down King Gelimer

(Belisarius) commanded John, the Armenian, with two hundred men to follow Gelimer, and without slackening their speed either night or day to pursue him, until they should take him living or dead.

John, after continuing the pursuit five days and nights, had already come not far from Gelimer, and in fact he was about to engage with him on the following day. But since it was not fated that Gelimer should be captured by John, the following obstacle was contrived by fortune.

Among those pursuing with John it happened that there was Uliaris, the aide of Belisarius. Now this man was a passionate fellow and well favoured in strength of heart and body, but not a very serious man, but one who generally took delight in wine and buffoonery. This Uliaris on the sixth day of the pursuit, being drunk, saw a bird sitting in a tree at about sunrise, and he quickly stretched his bow and despatched a missile at the bird. And he missed the bird, but John, who was behind it, he hit in the neck by no will of his own. And since the wound was mortal, John passed away a short time afterwards, leaving great sorrow at his loss to the Emperor Justinian and Belisarius, the general, and to all the Romans and Carthaginians. For in manliness and every sort of virtue he was well endowed, and he shewed himself, to those who associated with him, gentle and equitable to a degree quite unsurpassed. Thus, then, John fulfilled his destiny.

As for Uliaris, when he came to himself, he fled to a certain village which was near by and sat as a suppliant in the sanctuary there. And the soldiers no longer pressed the pursuit of Gelimer, but they cared for John as long as he survived, and when he had died they carried out all the customary rites in his burial, and reporting the whole matter to Belisarius they remained where they were. And as soon as he heard of it, he came to John's burial, and bewailed his fate. And after weeping over him and grieving bitterly at the whole occurrence, he honoured the tomb of John with many gifts and especially by providing for it a regular income. However, he did nothing severe to Uliaris, since the soldiers said that John had enjoined upon them by the most dread oaths that no vengeance should come to him, since he had not performed the unholy deed with deliberate intent.

Thus, then, Gelimer escaped falling into the hands of the enemy on that day.

And from that time on Belisarius pursued him, but upon reaching a strong city of Numidia situated on the sea, ten days distant from Carthage, which they call Hippo Regius, he learned that Gelimer had ascended the mountain Papua and could no longer be captured by the Romans. Now this mountain is situated at the extremity of Numidia and is exceedingly precipitous and climbed only with the greatest difficulty (for lofty cliffs rise up toward it from every side), and on it dwell barbarian Moors, who were friends and allies to Gelimer, and an ancient city named Medeus lies on the outskirts of the mountain. There Gelimer rested with his followers.

But as for Belisarius, he was not able to make any attempt at all on the mountain, much less in the winter season, and since his affairs were still in an uncertain state, he did not think it advisable to be away from Carthage; and so he chose out soldiers, with Pharas as their leader, and set them to maintain the siege of the mountain. Now this Pharas was energetic and thoroughly serious and upright in every way, although he was an Erulian by birth. And for an Erulian not to give himself over to treachery and drunkenness, but to strive after uprightness, is no easy matter and merits abundant praise. But not only was it Pharas who maintained orderly conduct, but also all the Erulians who followed him. This Pharas, then, Belisarius commanded to establish himself at the foot of the mountain during the winter season and to keep close guard, so that it would neither be possible for Gelimer to leave the mountain nor for any supplies to be brought in to him. And Pharas acted accordingly.

Then Belisarius turned to the Vandals who were sitting as suppliants in the sanctuaries in Hippo Regius,—and there were many of them and of the nobility—and he caused them all to accept pledges and arise, and then he sent them to Carthage with a guard.

Capturing the Royal Vandal Treasure

In the house of Gelimer there was a certain scribe named Boniface, a Libyan, and a native of Byzacium, a man exceedingly faithful to Gelimer. At the beginning of this war Gelimer had put this Boniface on a very swift-sailing ship, and placing all the royal treasure in it commanded him to anchor in the harbour of Hippo Regius, and if he should see that the situation was not favourable to their side, he was to sail with all speed to Spain with the money, and go to Theudis, the leader of the Visigoths, where he was expecting to find safety for himself also, should the fortune of war prove adverse for the Vandals.

So Boniface, as long as he felt hope for the cause of the Vandals, remained there; but as soon as the battle in Tricamarum took place, with all the other events which have been related, he spread his canvas and sailed away just as Gelimer had directed him. But an opposing wind brought him back, much against his will, into the harbour of Hippo Regius. And since he had already heard that the enemy were somewhere near, he entreated the sailors with many promises to row with all their might for some other continent or for an island. But they were unable to do so, since a very severe storm had fallen upon them and the waves of the sea were rising to a great height, seeing that it was the Tuscan sea, and then it occurred to them and to Boniface that, after all, God wished to give the money to the Romans and so was not allowing the ship to put out.

When Belisarius arrived at Hippo Regius, Boniface sent some men to him.  Belisarius was pleased at the good news . . . And sending some of his associates he took the treasure of Gelimer and released Boniface in possession of his own money and also with an enormous sum which he plundered from Gelimer's treasure.

Establishing Roman Control Over the Vandal Kingdom

(When Belisarius) returned to Carthage, he put all the Vandals in readiness, so that at the opening of spring he might send them to Byzantium; and he sent out an army to recover for the Romans everything which the Vandals ruled.

And first he sent Cyril to Sardinia with a great force, having the head of Tzazon, since these islanders were not at all willing to yield to the Romans, fearing the Vandals and thinking that what had been told them as having happened in Tricamarum could not be true. And he ordered this Cyril to send a portion of the army to Corsica, and to recover for the Roman empire the island, which had been previously subject to the Vandals; this island was called Cyrnus in early times, and is not far from Sardinia. So he came to Sardinia and displayed the head of Tzazon to the inhabitants of the place, and he won back both the islands and made them tributary to the Roman domain.
Ceuta, Morocco
Called Septum by the Romans, this fort 
stood near the Pillars of Hercules.  Belisarius
sent troops to take control of the fort after
the defeat of the Vandals.

And to Caesarea in Mauretania Belisarius sent John with an infantry company which he usually commanded himself; this place is distant from Carthage a journey of thirty days for an unencumbered traveller, as one goes towards Gadira and the west; and it is situated upon the sea, having been a great and populous city from ancient times.

Another John, one of his own guardsmen, he sent to Gadira on the strait and by one of the Pillars of Heracles, to take possession of the fort there which they call "Septem." And to the islands which are near the strait where the ocean flows in, called Ebusa and Majorica and Minorica by the natives, he sent Apollinarius, who was a native of Italy, but had come while still a lad to Libya. And he had been rewarded with great sums of money by Ilderic, who was then leader of the Vandals, and after Ilderic had been removed from the office and was in confinement, as has been told in the previous narrative, he came to the Emperor Justinian with the other Libyans who were working in the interest of Ilderic, in order to entreat his favour as a suppliant. And he joined the Roman expedition against Gelimer and the Vandals, and proved himself a brave man in this war and most of all at Tricamarum. And as a result of his deeds there Belisarius entrusted to him these islands.

And later Belisarius sent an army also into Tripolis to Pudentius and Tattimuth, who were being pressed by the Moors there, and thus strengthened the Roman power in that quarter.

He also sent some men to Sicily in order to take the fortress in Lilybaeum, as belonging to the Vandals' kingdom, but he was repulsed from there, since the Goths by no means saw fit to yield any part of Sicily, on the ground that this fortress did not belong to the Vandals at all.

The Surrender of the King

Pharas, having by this time become weary of the siege for many reasons, and especially because of the winter season, and at the same time thinking that the Moors there would not be able to stand in his way, undertook the ascent of Papua with great zeal. Accordingly he armed all his followers very carefully and began the ascent.

But the Moors rushed to the defence, and since they were on ground which was steep and very hard to traverse, their efforts to hinder those making the ascent were easily accomplished. But Pharas fought hard to force the ascent, and one hundred and ten of his men perished in this struggle, and he himself with the remainder was beaten back and retired; and as a result of this he did not dare to attempt the ascent again, since the situation was against him, but he established as careful a guard as possible, in order that those on Papua, being pressed by hunger, might surrender themselves; and he neither permitted them to run away nor anything to be brought in to them from outside.

Gelimer and those about him, who were nephews and cousins of his and other persons of high birth, experienced a misery which no one could describe, however eloquent he might be, in a way which would equal the facts. For of all the nations which we know that of the Vandals is the most luxurious, and that of the Moors the most hardy. For the Vandals, since the time when they gained possession of Libya, used to indulge in baths, all of them, every day, and enjoyed a table abounding in all things, the sweetest and best that the earth and sea produce. And they wore gold very generally, and clothed themselves in the Medic garments, which now they call "seric," and passed their time, thus dressed, in theatres and hippodromes and in other pleasureable pursuits, and above all else in hunting. And they had dancers and mimes and all other things to hear and see which are of a musical nature or otherwise merit attention among men. And the most of them dwelt in parks, which were well supplied with water and trees; and they had great numbers of banquets, and all manner of sexual pleasures were in great vogue among them.

Flavius Belisarius.
Belisarius was granted a Roman triumph
(the last ever given) when he returned to
 He was also made consul of
the Roman Empire in 535,  
one of the last
individuals ever to hold this office

But the Moors live in stuffy huts both in winter and in summer and at every other time, never removing from them either because of snow or the heat of the sun or any other discomfort whatever due to nature. And they sleep on the ground . . . they have neither bread nor wine nor any other good thing, but they take grain, either wheat or barley, and, without boiling it or grinding it to flour or barley-meal, they eat it in a manner not a whit different from that of animals. . . . the followers of Gelimer, after living with them for a long time and changing their accustomed manner of life to such a miserable existence . . .

When this was learned by Pharas, he wrote to Gelimer as follows: "I too am a barbarian and not accustomed to writing and speaking, nor am I skilful in these matters. . . . Are not we, who also are born of noble families, proud that we are now in the service of an emperor? And indeed they say that it is the wish of the Emperor Justinian to have you enrolled in the senate, thus sharing in the highest honour and being a patrician, as we term that rank, and to present you with lands both spacious and good and with great sums of money, and that Belisarius is willing to make himself responsible for your having all these things, and to give you pledges. . . . it will be possible at this very moment for you to choose that which will be wholly to your advantage, and to escape from the evils which hang over you."

When Gelimer had read this letter and wept bitterly over it, he wrote in reply as follows: "I am both deeply grateful to you for the advice which you have given me and I also think it unbearable to be a slave to an enemy who wrongs me, from whom I should pray God to exact justice, if He should be propitious to me,—an enemy who, though he had never experienced any harm from me either in deeds which he suffered or in words which he heard, provided a pretext for a war which was unprovoked, and reduced me to this state of misfortune, bringing Belisarius against me from I know not where."  (But no action was taken.)

And already a space of three months had been spent in this siege and the winter was coming to an end. And Gelimer was afraid, suspecting that his besiegers would come up against him after no great time; and the bodies of most of the children who were related to him were discharging worms in this time of misery.

Gelimer could not endure, and his spirit was weakened and he wrote as quickly as possible to Pharas as follows: "If it has ever happened to any man, after manfully enduring terrible misfortunes, to take a course contrary to that which he had previously determined upon, consider me to be such a one, O most excellent Pharas. For there has come to my mind your advice, which I am far from wishing to disregard. For I cannot resist fortune further nor rebel against fate, but I shall follow straightway wherever it seems to her best to lead; but let me receive the pledges, that Belisarius guarantees that the emperor will do everything which you recently promised me. For I, indeed, as soon as you give the pledges, shall put both myself into your hands and these kinsmen of mine and the Vandals, as many as are here with us."

Such were the words written by Gelimer in this letter. And Pharas, having signified this to Belisarius, as well as what they had previously written to each other, begged him to declare as quickly as possible what his wish was. And Belisarius (since he was greatly desirous of leading Gelimer alive to the emperor), as soon as he had read the letter, became overjoyed and commanded Cyprian, a leader of foederati, to go to Papua with certain others, and directed them to give an oath concerning the safety of Gelimer and of those with him, and to swear that he would be honoured before the emperor and would lack nothing.

When these men had come to Pharas, they went with him to a certain place by the foot of the mountain, where Gelimer came at their summons, and after receiving the pledges just as he wished he came with them to Carthage.

Belisarius, reporting to the emperor that Gelimer was a captive in Carthage, asked permission to bring him to Byzantium with him.

So the Vandalic war ended thus.

Triumph From HBO's Rome

A Triumph in Constantinople
January 1, 535 A.D.

Belisarius, upon reaching Byzantium with Gelimer and the Vandals, was counted worthy to receive such honours, as in former times were assigned to those generals of the Romans who had won the greatest and most noteworthy victories. And a period of about six hundred years had now passed since anyone had attained these honours, except, indeed, Titus and Trajan, and such other emperors as had led armies against some barbarian nation and had been victorious.

For he displayed the spoils and slaves from the war in the midst of the city and led a procession which the Romans call a "triumph," not, however, in the ancient manner, but going on foot from his own house to the hippodrome and then again from the barriers until he reached the place where the imperial throne is.

And there was booty,—first of all, whatever articles are wont to be set apart for the royal service,—thrones of gold and carriages in which it is customary for a king's consort to ride, and much jewelry made of precious stones, and golden drinking cups, and all the other things which are useful for the royal table.

And there was also silver weighing many thousands of talents and all the royal treasure amounting to an exceedingly great sum (for Gizeric had despoiled the Palatium in Rome, as has been said in the preceding narrative), and among these were the treasures of the Jews, which Titus, the son of Vespasian, together with certain others, had brought to Rome after the capture of Jerusalem.

And one of the Jews, seeing these things, approached one of those known to the emperor and said: "These treasures I think it inexpedient to carry into the palace in Byzantium. Indeed, it is not possible for them to be elsewhere than in the place where Solomon, the king of the Jews, formerly placed them. For it is because of these that Gizeric captured the palace of the Romans, and that now the Roman army has captured that the Vandals." When this had been brought to the ears of the Emperor, he became afraid and quickly sent everything to the sanctuaries of the Christians in Jerusalem.

A Triumph for Belisarius
The Hippodrome in Constantinople could seat 30,000 or more people for
the triumph held to celebrate the Roman victory over the Vandals.

And there were slaves in the triumph, among whom was Gelimer himself, wearing some sort of a purple garment upon his shoulders, and all his family, and as many of the Vandals as were very tall and fair of body.

And when Gelimer reached the hippodrome and saw the emperor sitting upon a lofty seat and the people standing on either side and realized as he looked about in what an evil plight he was, he neither wept nor cried out, but ceased not saying over in the words of the Hebrew scripture: "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." And when he came before the emperor's seat, they stripped off the purple garment, and compelled him to fall prone on the ground and do obeisance to the Emperor Justinian.

This also Belisarius did, as being a suppliant of the emperor along with him. And the Emperor Justinian and the Empress Theodora presented the children of Ilderic and his offspring and all those of the family of the Emperor Valentinian with sufficient sums of money, and to Gelimer they gave lands not to be despised in Galatia and permitted him to live there together with his family. However, Gelimer was by no means enrolled among the patricians, since he was unwilling to change from the faith of Arius.

A little later the triumph was celebrated by, Belisarius in the ancient manner also. For he had the fortune to be advanced to the office of consul, and therefore was borne aloft by the captives, and as he was thus carried in his curule chair, he threw to the populace those very spoils of the Vandalic war. For the people carried off the silver plate and golden girdles and a vast amount of the Vandals' wealth of other sorts as a result of Belisarius' consulship, and it seemed that after a long interval of disuse an old custom was being revived.

These things, then, took place in Byzantium in the manner described.

(Battle of Tricamarum)        (Procopius - History of the Wars)

(Battle of Ad Decimum - Ten Mile Post)

The Battle of Tricamarum 
Nothing great on this video, but something is better than nothing.  Don't hold
your breath waiting for a major movie from Hollywood.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Byzantine Sardinia - Imperial Province

Cabras, the church of San Giovanni di Sinis 
Early Christian church (6th century AD) of San Giovanni The building is the result of the transformation longitudinal trinavata of a Byzantine church with cross plan inscribed, dated to the sixth-seventh century, of which only the body and domed wishbones, with mullioned windows open in early Romanesque

Imperial Roman Sardinia
For over 1,000 years the island of Sardinia was an imperial province of both the Western and Eastern Roman Empires.

Circa 1000 BC the Phoenicians began visiting Sardinia with increasing frequency, presumably initially needing safe over-night and/or all-weather anchorages along their trade routes from the coast of modern-day Lebanon as far afield as the African and European Atlantic coasts and beyond. The most common ports of call were Caralis, Nora, Bithia, Sulcis, Tharros, Bosa and Olbia. .

While the Phoenicians stuck to the coastline, their relationship with the Sardinians was peaceful. However, after a few hundred years of habitation, they began expanding inward. They took over valuable natural resources such as silver and lead mines, and established a military presence in the form of a fortress on Monte Sira in 650 BC.

The Sardinians resented these intrusions, and in 509 BC they mounted a series of attacks against Phoenician settlements. The Phoenician settlers called upon Carthage for help, and when it arrived they successfully took control of part of the southern part of the island.

Conquest by the Roman Republic

In 238 BC the Carthaginians, as a result of their defeat by the Romans in the First Punic War, surrendered Corsica and Sardinia to Rome, and together they became a Roman province.

The existing coastal cities were enlarged and embellished, while Coloniae such as Turris Lybissonis and Feronia were founded. These were populated by Roman immigrants.

The Roman military occupation brought the Nuragic civilization to an end. Roman domination of Sardinia lasted 694 years, during which it was an important source of grain for the capital.

Latin came to be the dominant spoken language of Sardinia during this period, though Roman culture was slower to take hold, and Roman rule was often contested by the inhabitants of Sardinia's mountainous central regions.

A variety of revolts and uprisings occurred: however, since the interior areas were densely forested, the Romans avoided them and set them aside as the “land of the barbarians”.

Overall, Corsica and Sardinia became trivial gains compared to the Roman Empire’s Eastern gains. From Corsica, the Romans did not receive much spoil nor were the prisoners willing to bow to foreign rule, and to learn anything Roman. It was said that “whoever has bought one [Corsican] regrets the waste of his money”. The Romans regarded the islands and their people as backward and unhealthy.
Even though the Romans considered them trivial, Corsica and Sardinia ended up playing an important role in the happenings of the Empire. Sardinia provided much of the grain supply during the time of the Roman Republic. Corsica provided wax to the empire, as that was all that could be found on the island.

Vandal Warrior
The islands also indirectly contributed to the demise of the Roman Republic. Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix settled their veterans on Corsica and used the islands' grain supply to support their war efforts.

Julius Caesar had Sardinia occupied by his delegates and gained control of the grain supply. This supply of grain fed his army and ensured their victory in the civil war of 49 BC. Within the second triumvirate, Octavian received the islands as part of his share and used its grain supply to feed his armies against Brutus and Cassius.

Corsica and Sardinia also came to be recognized as a place of exile. C. Cassius Longinus, the lawyer accused of conspiracy by Nero was sent to the province as was Anicentus, murderer of the first Agrippina. Many Jews and Christians were also sent to the islands under Tiberius.

Vandal Conquest

The east Germanic tribe of the Vandals conquered Sardinia in 456. Their rule lasted for 78 years up to 534, when eastern Roman troops under Cyrillus retook the island. It is known that the Vandal government continued the forms of the existing Roman Imperial structure.

The governor of Sardinia continued to be called the praeses and apparently continued to manage military, judicial, and civil governmental functions via imperial procedures. (This continuity was not novel to Sardinia; like the Visigoths, the Vandals generally maintained the pretense of the empire, nominally acknowledging Constantinople and declaring themselves its deputies.)

The only Vandal governor of Sardinia about whom there is substantial record is the last, Godas, a Visigoth noble. In AD 530 a coup d'état in Carthage removed King Hilderic, a convert to Nicene Christianity, in favor of his cousin Gelimer, an Arian Christian like most of his kingdom. Godas was sent to take charge and ensure the loyalty of Sardinia. He did the exact opposite, declaring the island's independence from Carthage and opening negotiations with Emperor Justinian I, who had declared war on Hilderic's behalf.

In AD 533 Gelimer sent the bulk of his army to Sardinia to subdue Godas, with the catastrophic result that the Vandal Kingdom was overwhelmed when Justinian's own army under Belisarius arrived in their absence. The Vandal Kingdom ended and Sardinia was returned to Byzantine rule.

Church of Santa Sabina, Silanus, Sardinia
The church of Santa Sabina located in the plane of Silanus. The church has circular plan, with room central apse flanked by two cells. The church was built between X and XI century, in Byzantine period.
(Silanus, Sardinia)

The Byzantine Re-Conquest

In AD 533 Sardinia returned under the rule of the Eastern Roman Empire when the Vandals were defeated by the armies of Justinian I under the General Belisarius in the Battle of Tricamarum, in their African kingdom; Belisarius sent his general Cyrillus to Sardinia to retake the island.

Sardinia remained in Byzantine hands for the next 300 years, aside from a short period in which it was invaded by the Ostrogoths in 551.

Under Byzantine rule, the island was divided into districts called merèie, which were governed by a judge residing in Caralis (Cagliari) and garrisoned by an army stationed in Forum Traiani (today Fordongianus) under the command of a dux.

The praeses stood at the head of the civil bureaucracy and the judicial system as a supreme judge, the iudex provinciae, and was seated at Cagliari. The dux was the supreme commander of the military and was responsible for the defense of the island. His base was at Forum Traianus (Fordongianus). As the jurisdiction and mandate of both functions overlapped in many areas the function of praeses soon disappeared and both civil and military power concentrated in the hands of the dux which subsequently moved to Cagliari. The dux was at that time also referred to as ipatos and in letters of the pope as iudex (judge).

Walls of the Byzantine castrum at Tharros

The Byzantine Castra

Under Byzantine rule the towns changed as Christianity played a more central role in town life and in town planning. Because of continuous military threats there was a need to build new fortifications, the Byzantine castra (sing. castrum), to defend the troops stationed on the island.

The Byzantine castra can be found near the old towns on the coast and in strategical locations inland to protect urban centres and the fertile lowlands. The reason the dux was initially stationed at Forum Traianus would have been to contain the barbaric tribes of the interior. This may have concerned a tribe of Maurs, deported by the Vandals from north-Africa to Sardinia.

A Byzantine castrum has been found near the Roman bridge that connected Sant'Antioco to the mainland and the fortifications on the hill of the tower of San Giovanni at Tharros are ascribed to a Byzantine castrum where older, punic, sandstone blocks have been reused. It is known that at Santa Vittoria di Serri soldiers of the exercitus Sardiniae were stationed there, and in other places like the Castello di Medusa near Samugheo, the Castello di Barumele near Ales and the castrum at Oschiri, all sites where the military presence has been found as a result of archaeological excavations.

During this time, Christianity took deeper root on the island, supplanting the Paganism which had survived into the early Medieval era in the culturally conservative hinterlands. Along with lay Christianity, the followers of monastic figures such as St. Basil became established in Sardinia. While Christianity penetrated the majority of the population, the inland region of Barbagia remained largely pagan.

Arab Warrior
The Arab conquest of Sicily cut
Sardinia off from Byzantium.

In Barbagia towards the end of the 6th century, a short-lived independent principality established itself, returning to the local traditional religions. One of its princes, Ospitone, conducted raids upon the neighbouring Christian communities controlled by the Byzantine dux Zabarda. He was later reprimanded by Pope Gregory I within a letter for "Living, all like irrational animals, ignorant of the true God and worshiping wood and stone" In 594.

Ospitone was then convinced by Gregory the Great, to convert to Christianity after receiving the papal letter. His followers, however, were not immediately convinced and ostracised their prince for a short time before they themselves converted.

The dates and circumstances of the end of Byzantine rule in Sardinia are not known. Direct central control was maintained at least through c. 650, after which local legates were empowered in the face of the rebellion of Gregory the Patrician, Exarch of Africa and the first invasion of the Umayyads in North Africa.

The Incursions of the Arabs

There is some evidence that senior Byzantine administration in the Exarchate of Africa retreated to Cagliari following the final fall of Carthage to the Arabs in 697.

The loss of imperial control in Africa led to escalating Muslim Moorish and Berber raids on the island, the first of which is document in 705, forcing increased military self-reliance in the province. 

Raiding on Sardinia, Sicily and Southern Italy continued in the eighth century and increased in intensity in the ninth century. The incursions lead to devastation in coastal towns like Sant'Antioco, Nora and Tharros and many Sards would have been enslaved or killed. But apart from some short periods in time and on small parts of Sardinia there has never been an Arab domination of the island in this whole period of time.

Communication with the central government became daunting if not impossible during and after the Muslim conquest of Sicily between 827 and 902.

The Sardinians had to ask often for help from outside. There was even a Sardinian delegation at the court of the Frankish king Louis the Pious asking for his support against the Arabs. Eventually in the tenth century when the Arabs conquered Sicily and cut off the Byzantine empire from its possessions in the west Sardinia became really isolated.

At the beginning of the eleventh century the island turned to the upcoming naval powers Genua and Pisa for support and protection at sea. In Arab and Pisan chronicles an Arab prince is mentioned, called Mugiahid (Museto), who attacked the island in 1015 and managed to conquer parts of the south of Sardinia. The next year he could be defeated with the help of Genua and Pisa ending this brief experience of occupation. It marked one of the ugliest moments for Sardinia in this period.

Ending Byzantine Rule

A letter by Pope Nicholas I as early as 864 mentions the "Sardinian judges", without reference to the empire and a letter by Pope John VIII (reigned 872-882) refers to them as principes ("princes").

By the time of De Administrando Imperio, completed in 952, the Byzantine authorities no longer listed Sardinia as an imperial province, suggesting they considered it lost.

The final transformation from imperial province to independent sovereign resulted from imperial abandonment or local assertion, by the 10th century, the giudici had emerged as the autonomous rulers of Sardinia.

The Giudicati of Sardinia.
The Giudicati (Sardinian: Judicados, literally: judgeships or judicatures) were the indigenous kingdoms of Sardinia from about 900 until 1420, when the last was sold to the Crown of Aragon. The rulers of the Giudicati were the giudici.
The title of iudex was that of a Byzantine governor (praeses or judex provinciae) dating from the creation of the Exarchate of Africa in 582. The Byzantines were totally cut off from the Tyrrhenian Sea by the Muslim conquest of Sicily in 827. A letter of Pope Nicholas I in 864 mentions for the first time the "Sardinian judges," and their autonomy was clear in a later letter of Pope John VIII in which he referred to them as principes ("princes"). The local authority was exercised initially by curatores - who each ruled over a curatoria - who were subject to the judges, whose responsibilities included the administration of justice and command of the army.
Originally the giudicati' were Byzantine districts that became independent due to the Arab expansion in the Mediterranean, that obstructed connections between Sardinia and Byzantium.

The Eastern Roman Empire
The Empire at the accession of Leo III, c. 717.  Striped area indicates land raided by the Arabs.  The imperial islands of Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica were subjected to endless raids and invasion by armies of Jihadi Arabs bent on conquest.
Flag of Sardinia
The flag shows the heads of Muslim Moors from North Africa blindfolded and facing to the left.  The Moors represent the era of the Muslim invasions of Italy starting about 827 AD.
Before the Kingdom of Sardinia was founded, the rulers of the island were known as archons (ἄρχοντες in Greek) or judges (iudices in Latin and Sardinian, giudici in Italian). The island was organized into one "judicatus" from the 9th century on. After the Muslim conquest of Sicily, in the 9th century, the Byzantines, who ruled Sardinia before, couldn't manage to defend their far west province.
Probably, a local noble family acceded to the power, still identifying themselves as vassal of the Byzantines, but independent "de facto" as communications with Constantinople were very difficult. This family adopted as its own coat of arms, the Byzantine one, that can be seen in several Sardinian sculpture of the period. It was a silver cross patonce on a blue field similar to the contemporaneous flag of the Duchy of Amalfi.
At the beginnings of the 11th century an attempt to conquer the island was made by Spanish Muslims. We have very little information on that war, but the Christians won and retained control of the island.

(TomySardinia.com)      (Giudicati)      (Flag of Sardinia)      (History of Sardinia)

(murighingius)      (Exarchate of Africa)      (Exarchate of Ravenna)

(historyfiles.co.uk-Sardinia)      (Tharros.info)      (Sardinia Byzantine Era)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Akritai - Byzantine Border Troops

Imperial Tagmata cavalryman (left), light infantry archer and Akritai cavalryman.

The Akritai is a term used in the Byzantine Empire in the 9th-11th centuries to denote the army units guarding the Empire's eastern border, facing the Muslim states of the Middle East. Their exploits, embellished, inspired the Byzantine "national epic" of Digenes Akritas and the cycle of the Acritic songs.

Border Security
Late Legionary - 5th century AD

The term Akritai is derived from the Greek word akron/akra, meaning border; similar border guards, the limitanei, were employed in the late Roman and early Byzantine armies to guard the frontiers (limes).

The limitanei or ripenses meaning respectively "the soldiers in frontier districts" (from the Latin phrase limes, meaning a military district of a frontier province) or "the soldiers on the riverbank" (from the Rhine and Danube), were an important part of the late Roman and early Byzantine army after the reorganizations of the late 3rd and early 4th centuries. The limitanei garrisoned fortifications along the borders of the Roman Empire and were not normally expected to fight far from their fortifications.

The limitanei were lower-status and lower-paid than the comitatenses and palatini, and the status distinction between scolae, palatini, comitatenses, and limitanei had largely replaced the older distinction between praetorians, legionaries, and auxiliaries. The limitanei and palatini both included legionary units alongside auxiliary units.

The nature of the limitanei changed considerably. In the 4th century, the limitanei were professional soldiers, and included both infantry and cavalry as well as river flotillas, but after the 5th century they were part-time soldiers, and after the 6th century they were unpaid militia.

The role of the limitanei remains somewhat uncertain.  Some historians suggest that, besides garrisoning fortifications along the frontier, they operated as border guards and customs police and to prevent small-scale raids. They may have driven off medium-scale attacks without the support of the field armies.  Others see their role as a key part in a strategy of defence-in-depth in combination with the provincial field armies.

The Akritai is a term used in the Byzantine Empire in the 9th-11th centuries to denote the army units guarding the Empire's eastern border, facing the Muslim states of the Middle East.
QUOTE - "...from all the great towns within the borders of Persia and Mesopotamia, and Arabia, Syria, Egypt, and Morocco, there is no city but has in Tarsus a hostelry for its townsmen, where the warriors for the Faith from each particular country live. And, when they have once reached Tarsus, they settle there and remain to serve in the garrison; among them prayer and worship are most diligently performed; from all hands, funds are sent to them, and they receive alms rich and plentiful; also there is hardly a sultan who does not send hither some auxiliary troops."

Ibn Hawqal - - - His description of Tarsus as a centre for jihad against Byzantium

Who were the Akritai?

In official Byzantine use, the term is non-technical, and used in a descriptive manner, being generally applied to the defenders as well as the inhabitants of the eastern frontier zone, including their Muslim counterparts.

The popular image of the Akritoi has been heavily influenced by their portrayal in the Acritic songs, and refers to the military troops stationed along the Empire's border. In reality, the Byzantine troops stationed along the edges of the Empire were a mixture of professional troops and local thematic militia, as well as irregular units that constituted the Akritai or Apelatai proper.

These were light infantry recruited from Armenians, Bulgarians and the native Byzantine population. By the late 10th century, the reconquest of much territory in the East meant that the latter were often ethnically and religiously mixed, a fact epitomized by the legendary Digenes Akritas: "digenes" means "of two races", i.e. "Roman" (Byzantine/Greek) and "Saracen".

Their role in the East

The Apelatai, whose role and tactics are described in Nikephoros II Phokas' De velitatione bellica, acted as raiders, scouts and border guards in the perennial border warfare between Byzantium and its eastern neighbors, characterized by skirmishes and raids. Aside from light infantry, the border forces were complemented by the light cavalry called trapezitai or tasinarioi. In case of a major Arab raid, they were supposed to raise the alarm, assist in the evacuation of the local population to the various strongholds, and shadow and harass the enemy force until reinforcements could arrive.
Eastern Roman Infantry
For the front line infantry the Composition
on Warfare (965 AD) describes a set of
minimal equipment consisting of a turban
over a thick felt cap and a coat (kavadion)
made of coarse silk quilted with cotton
wadding “as thick as can be stitched”. Leo's
Taktika implied that such troops might have
mail or lamellar, helmets and other armor.

Many of the Akritai were members of the separated Armenian church and most of them gave protection to heretics. Often, they were active as brigands as well - they were known as chonsarioi, from the Bulgarian for "thieves", in the Balkans, and in the epic of Digenes, the apelatai are brigands.

Whether these men were also given military estates like the other thematic soldiers to cultivate or lived on rents from smallholdings while concentrating on their military duties is still a matter of debate. Their officers however were drawn from the local aristocracy.

The Akritai declined in importance by the late 10th century, as the Byzantine conquests pushed the border eastwards, and its defense radically restructured, with smaller themata grouped in five large regional commands headed by a doux and a heavy presence of professional Tagmata troops.

At this time, a new class of themes, the so-called "minor" or "Armenian" themes appear, which Byzantine sources clearly differentiate from the traditional "great" or "Roman" themes. Most consisted merely of a fortress and its surrounding territory, with a junior stratēgos as a commander and about 1,000 men, chiefly infantry as their garrison.

As their name reveals, they were mostly populated by Armenians, either indigenous or settled there by the Byzantine authorities. One of their peculiarities was the extremely large number of officers (the theme of Charpezikion alone counted 22 senior and 47 junior tourmarchai).

During the first half of the 11th century, the Byzantines faced little danger in the East, and allowed their military strength to weaken. As a result, they were unable to halt the quick advance of the Seljuk Turks in Asia Minor.

The institution, in the form of a force raised by local inhabitants in exchange for land and tax exemptions, was re-established under Manuel I Komnenos (r. 1143-1180), when he reorganized the themes in the reconquered western portion of Asia Minor. It is also attested during the Empire of Nicaea, guarding the Anatolian frontier, especially around the Meander valley, against the incursions of Turkish nomads. Their attachment to the Laskarid dynasty however led them to revolt against the usurper Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos in 1262.

After the revolt was suppressed, the akritai were then enrolled into the regular army, and their exemptions were annulled. As a result, within a generation, they had effectively ceased to exist, opening the way to the complete loss of the Byzantine possessions in Asia Minor during the first half of the 14th century.

Roman Limes Fortifications
The limitanei or ripenses meaning respectively "the soldiers in frontier districts" were an important part of the late Roman and early Byzantine army after the reorganizations of the late 3rd and early 4th centuries.  The limitanei were garrisoned fortifications along the borders of the Roman Empire and were not normally expected to fight far from their fortifications.
With the collapse of the western portion of the Empire the limitanei may have developed differently in the east.
In the east, the Emperor Justinian cancelled their pay. After this, the eastern limitanei were no longer professional soldiers, but continued to exist as militia.  The Limes Tripolitanus and Arabicus continued to exist through the Persian Wars to the Arab Conquest.

Eastern Roman Fortifications
The Roman Limes system evolved into military themes. Above is a map of the Byzantine-Arab frontier zone in southeastern Asia Minor, with the major fortresses.  The Akritai troops would be stationed around these strongpoints.
The frontier zone was fiercely contested between the Arabs and the Byzantines. Raids and counter-raids were a permanent fixture of this type of warfare. Forts on either side of the national frontier were captured and razed, or sometimes occupied, but never for long. As a result, the region was often depopulated, necessitating repeated resettlement.
There is nevertheless evidence of some prosperity, based on agriculture and commerce, especially during the second half of the 9th century, when the borderlands became a node in a commercial route linking Basra with northern Syria and even Constantinople.
Amasya Castle
The Akritai troops would have often clustered around Roman strongpoints like Amasya Castle in eastern Anatolia.  Using the castle as a base, the troops would patrol the frontier and drive off raids by Muslim Arabs or Turks.
(Al-'Awasim Frontier Zone)      (Roman Empire.net - Army)      (Limitanei Troops)