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, March 21, 2019

Byzantine Hand Grenades

Photo credit: Amir Gorzalczany, Israel Antiquities Authority

(Vintage News)  -  In Israel, a Crusades-era hand grenade was found and retrieved from the sea. The family that found the old relic has handed it over to the Israeli Antiquities Authority. It was found in 2016 and is a unique find.

Nothing like the ones made today, this grenade was made from heavy clay and is beautifully embossed, it does not explode with shrapnel like the hand grenades of this generation, but it is more like a Molotov cocktail or incendiary grenade. It was filled with naphtha, a flammable sticky liquid known as Greek fire, then sealed and thrown at enemies.

Diego Barkan, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority said ‘These hand grenades were being used in the Byzantine and early Islamic period right up until the Ottomans and it is made of a heavy clay and would have been used much like a Molotov cocktail.  He went on to say:  ‘Inside they would have put alcohol and lit a fuse poked in a hole in the top before throwing it towards the enemy ships.’

It was mostly known to be used in naval battles where the fire would easily destroy enemies’ ships and was an effective weapon. The IAA stated that the grenades were very popular in Israel during the crusades, which took place between the 11th to 13th century, and they were used until the Mamluk era, between the 13th and 16th century.

The late Marcel Mazliah, a worker at the Hadera power plant in northern Israel, found the grenade. But this wasn’t the only item that was in Mazliah’s collection. Archaeologists were very surprised to find ancient artifacts that date back 3,500 years.

Marcel’s family told them that he found most of these treasures while working at the power plant that was near the sea, he collected them for many years.

Some of his other finds were the head of a knife which dated back to the Bronze Age, along with candlesticks, two mortars and two pestles dating back to the 11th century.

“The items were apparently manufactured in Syria and were brought to Israel,” Ayala Lester, a curator with the Israel Antiquities Authority, said in a statement.

Archaeologists believe that the metal objects fell overboard while on a metal merchant’s ship in the Islamic period (638-1099).

Byzantine Superweapons

In 717, Arab prince and general Maslamah ibn Abd al-Malik oversaw the Islamic Empire’s campaign to claim Constantinople and led his army straight for the capital. There, Maslamah tried to blockade the city with his navy, but this gave the prepared Byzantines an opportunity to unleash their secret weapon.
“Leo III Defends Constantinople with Greek Fire.” Milestone Events Throughout History, 2014, s.v. 
The fire that was spout out from this hose started to incinerate the entire Arabs’ fleet. The Muslim soldiers started to throw buckets of water to subdue the flames but quickly realized that this was not regular fire. This was a special kind of fire that could not be put out with water. Seeing as how stopping the fire was futile, the soldiers quickly took off their cumbersome armor and leaped out into the water while the ones that stayed got lit on fire. Some unlucky soldiers who impulsively jumped overboard were still wearing their full set of armor and as a result, immediately drowned to the bottom of the sea. 
The fire that had been burning the ship started to spread out onto the water as if it was gasoline. These flames stretched out and the surrounding ships were also caught on fire. Some of the soldiers tried to swim away frantically, for the fire floated across the sea and burned those that were closest. From a distance, the surviving Muslim soldiers were witnessing their own comrades burning, screaming in agony from the top of their scorched lungs. No matter what they did, there was nothing that could be done to put out the flames that were covering their melting bodies. Even some of the spectating Byzantine soldiers shivered at the thought of being burnt alive while being completely surrounded by water. Once the Arabs realized that a significant portion of their ships had been engulfed in flames, they signaled a retreat. As the Arabs fled the scene to lick their wounds, the Byzantine soldiers cheered with victory.

Arabs Start Using Greek Fire

Sometime in the mid-tenth century, the armies of the Islamic Caliphate also began using a similar pump/siphon device that was handheld, in the fashion of the Byzantine device. Whether this was a result of reverse engineering of the Byzantine invention or the outright acquisition is not known. Incendiaries were devastatingly effective against Crusader siege engines. 

Saladin's use of naffata troops is well documented. Saladin sent troops armed with Naphta grenades against houses and civilians during an uprising in Egypt led by African troops. The Christian defenders of Jerusalem noted his use of incendiaries in catapults used to attack the city walls. During the Third Crusade, Swimmers smuggled containers of the fuel into Acre during the Crusader's siege of that city. 

While the Greek Fire of the Byzantines was a closely guarded secrets, Arab alchemists were more ready to commit their recipe to paper. One of Saladin's chroniclers describers the burning substance as a mixture of tar, resin, sulphur, dolphin fat and goat fat.

Pots filled with Greek fire were thrown like
hand grenades | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

(thevintagenews)      (stmuhistorymedia.org)      (seakingsaga.blogspot.com)


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Strategikon of Maurikios, Part I

Beautiful Late Roman-Byzantine creation.
(Sara Parkes - Facebook)

The Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire produced a large number of treatises on military science.

The Empire maintained its highly sophisticated military system from antiquity, which relied on discipline, training, knowledge of tactics and a well-organized support system. A crucial element in the maintenance and spreading of this military know-how, along with traditional histories, were the various treatises and practical manuals. These continued a tradition that stretched back to Xenophon and Aeneas the Tactician, and many Eastern Roman military manuals excerpt or adapt the works of ancient authors, especially Aelian and Onasander.

Byzantine manuals were first produced in the sixth century. They greatly proliferated in the tenth century, when the Byzantines embarked on their conquests in the East and the Balkans

The Strategikon attributed to the Emperor Maurice (r. 582–602) was compiled in the late sixth century. It is a large twelve-book compendium treating all aspects of contemporary land warfare. 

The author is especially concerned to clarify procedures for the deployment and tactics of cavalry, particularly in response to Avar victories in the 580s-590s. He favors indirect forms of combat - ambushes, ruses, nocturnal raids and skirmishing on difficult terrain - and he also exhibits a good understanding of military psychology and morale. 

Book XI offers an innovative analysis of the fighting methods, customs and habitat of the Empire's most significant enemies, as well as recommendations for campaigning north of the Danube against the Slavs, another strategic concern of the 590s. The Strategikon exercised a profound influence upon the subsequent Byzantine genre.

Emperor Maurice (r582 to 602 AD) by Emilian Stankev from "Rulers of the Byzantine Empire". The court of Maurice still used Latin as the official language.

A prominent general, Maurice fought with success against the Sasanian Empire. After he became Emperor, he brought the war with Sasanian Persia to a victorious conclusion. Under him the Empire's eastern border in the South Caucasus was vastly expanded and, for the first time in nearly two centuries, the Romans were no longer obliged to pay the Persians thousands of pounds of gold annually for peace.
Maurice campaigned extensively in the Balkans against the Avars – pushing them back across the Danube by 599. He also conducted campaigns across the Danube, the first Roman Emperor to do so in over two centuries. In the west, he established two large semi-autonomous provinces called exarchates, ruled by exarchs, or viceroys of the emperor. In Italy Maurice established the Exarchate of Italy in 584, the first real effort by the Empire to halt the advance of the Lombards. With the creation of the Exarchate of Africa in 590 he further solidified the power of Constantinople in the western Mediterranean.

The Strategikon of Maurikios
Excerpts from The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire by Edward Luttwak

The Strategikon attributed to the emperor Maurikios (ca. 582–602) remained largely unknown until recent times. This fundamental field manual and military handbook, much copied, paraphrased, emulated by subsequent Byzantine military writers, and much used by warring emperors and their commanders over the centuries, was simply not available when the classics of ancient warfare were rediscovered and mined for useful ideas by Europe’s military innovators from the fifteenth century onward.

The author modestly claimed only a limited combat experience, but he was evidently a highly competent military officer. In the preface, he promises to write succinctly and simply, “with an eye more to practical utility than to fine words,” and keeps his promise. The work was written at the end of the sixth century or very soon thereafter—the modern editor of the text has convincingly shown that it was completed after 592 and before 610.

The Strategikon depicts an army radically different in structure from the classic Roman model, most obviously because of a fundamental shift from infantry to cavalry as the primary combat arm. That was no mere tactical change; it was caused by a veritable strategic revolution in the very purpose of waging war, which compelled the adoption of new operational methods and new tactics

It is interesting to note that there was no such radical change in the language of the army, which had been partly Latinspeaking even in the eastern half of the Roman empire. From the time of Justinian, there was instead a very gradual transition from Latin to Greek, though many of the Greek terms in the Strategikon are still Latin words with Greek endings added and pronounced in a Greek way. 

Sassanid Persian Armored Cataphract
The late Roman and Eastern Empires copied their main enemy: the Persian armored horse archer. These units provided the Romans with the mobility and firepower to be able to react rapidly in battle.

The Strategikon of Maurikios is the most complete Byzantine field manual in spite of its brevity. To describe the training and tactics that could allow one man to defeat three . . .

. . . the aim in the Strategikon, whose primary type of soldier was neither an infantryman nor a cavalryman but rather both, and a bowman first of all. He therefore required training in both foot and mounted archery with powerful bows, in using the lance for thrusting and stabbing while mounted—with unit training for the charge—and in wielding the sword in close combat. The old term “mounted infantry” does not apply, because in most cases it was nothing more than infantry with cheap horses that could not fight on horseback, let alone with the bow; the even older term “dragoon” is suggestive insofar as the better class of dragoons were equipped with rifles for accuracy and range rather than muskets. Under the heading “The Training and Drilling of the Individual Soldier” we read: 

  • He should be trained to shoot [the bow] rapidly on foot, either in the Roman [thumb and forefinger] or the Persian [three middle finger] manner. Speed is important in shaking the arrow loose [from the quiver] and discharging it with force. This is essential and should also be practiced while mounted. In fact, even when the arrow is well aimed, firing slowly is useless. 

The tactical effectiveness of bowmen is obviously a function of their rate of fire, accuracy, and lethality, but there is no homogeneous tradeoff between the three, because enemies will normally either withdraw beyond the useful range of accurate and lethal arrows, or else to the contrary seek to charge and overrun the bowmen, either way making the rate of fire the dominant variable. “He should also shoot rapidly mounted on his horse at a run [galloping], to the front, the rear, the right, the left.”

According to Prokopios, that was an established skill for the Byzantine horsemen he saw in action not long before the Strategikon was written: 

  • They are expert horsemen, and are able without difficulty to direct their bows to either side while riding at full speed, and to shoot an opponent whether in pursuit or in flight [the rearward “Parthian shot”]. They draw the bowstring along by the forehead about opposite the right ear, thereby charging the arrow with such impetus as to kill whoever stands in the way, shield and corselet alike having no power to check its force. 

Mounted and dismounted archery had its specific roles in every stage of battle, from initial sniping at long range to the rapid volleys of all-out engagements, to the pursuit of retreating enemies with forward bowshots, or defensively, to provide rearguard covering shots against advancing enemies.

6th Century Eastern Roman Cavalry

By the sixth century, Byzantine archers were armed with the composite reflex bow, the most powerful personal weapon of antiquity. Well before the Strategikon was written, when the Byzantines were fighting the Goths in Italy in the mid-sixth century they were already doing so with the tactical edge of mounted archery. The Strategikon provides the specifics of the required training:

  • On horseback at a run (gallop) he should fire one or two arrows rapidly and put the strung bow in its case, if it is wide enough, or in a half-case designed for the purpose, and then he should grab the [kontarion = lance] which he has been carrying on his back. With the strung bow in its case, he should hold the [lance] in his hand, then quickly replace it on his back, and grab the bow. It is a good idea for the soldiers to practice all this while mounted. 

Compound bows, held together by animal-bone glues and powered mostly by dried tendons, had to be protected from the rain by special cases, broad enough to hold the bow when already strung for battle and not just when unstrung.

In addition, the Strategikon recommends “an extra-large cloak or hooded mantle of felt... large enough to wear over... [body armor and] the bow” to protect it “in case it should rain or be damp from the dew.”

. . . when the Strategikon was written, the Byzantines believed in containing but not destroying their enemies—potentially tomorrow’s allies. Therefore for them the cavalry was the more important arm because its engagements did not have to be decisive, but could instead end with a quick withdrawal, or a cautious pursuit that would leave both sides not too badly damaged. Still, even at the height of the cavalry era there was a need for some infantry, both light and heavy. The Strategikon accordingly offers its advice for the training of both while admitting that the subject had long been neglected. 

Under the heading “Training of the Individual Heavy-Armed Infantryman” there are only a few words: 

  • They should be trained in single combat against each other, armed with shield and staff [a real shield and a simulated spear], also, in throwing the short javelin and the lead-pointed dart at a long distance. 

There was more on “Training of the Light-Armed Infantryman or Archer”: 

  • They should be trained in rapid shooting with a bow . . . in either the Roman or the Persian manner. They should be trained in shooting rapidly while carrying a shield, in throwing the small javelin a long distance, in using the sling, and in jumping and running. 

The equipment specified in the Strategikon for each type of infantry clarifies its character, with armored coats for at least the first two men in the file of heavy infantry, so that the front rank and the one behind it were both protected against enemy arrows, as well as cutting weapons, if not maces and such; helmets with cheek plates for all, greaves of iron or wood to protect the legs below the knees, and shields of unspecified type but of full size—elsewhere small shields or “targets” are mentioned. An exhaustive if not excessively insightful modern study contains a long list of different equipment types or perhaps of equipment names, and although there are illustrations, they are insecurely related to the names.

Byzantine Infantry

What is certain is that the function of the heavy infantry at the time and for centuries later, indeed until the introduction of firearms, was to seize and hold ground.

In the Strategikon, as in all other Byzantine texts, the light infantry is chiefly a missile force, equipped with quivers holding up to forty arrows for its composite reflex bows, though it is specified that for “men who might not have bows or are not experienced archers” small javelins, Slavic [light] spears, lead-pointed darts, and slings were to be provided.

There was also a more recondite and much misunderstood item of equipment, the solenarion, not a small crossbow with short arrows as was once believed, but rather “tubes” . . . wooden launch tubes for small arrows. . . short arrows that can fly farther than full-size arrows are inserted in a tube with a central slit; . . . these short arrows were useful for harassing volleys against the enemy when still out of range of full length arrows, which were of course more lethal because they could penetrate thick coverings and armor as the myas could not.

In the Strategikon the primary type of soldier is undoubtedly the mounted lancer-archer, and naturally there is more detail about its equipment. The author recommends hooded coats of sewn-on scale armor (lorica squamata), or interlinked lamellar armor, or chain mail (lorica hamata), down to the ankles . . .

There were also carrying cases for them covered in water-resistant leather, for armor was expensive and it would rust; it was further specified that light wicker cases for body armor should also be carried behind the saddle over the loins, because “in the case of a reversal, if the [servants] with the spare horses [and ancillary equipment] are missing for a day, the coats of armor will not be left unprotected and ruined.” 

Helmets, swords, iron breastplates, and head armor for horses are mentioned, but special attention is devoted to the primary weapon: “Bows suited to the strength of each man, and not above it, more in fact on the weaker side.”

The composite reflex bow was effective because it accumulated much energy but was equally resistant, so it was a good idea to choose a bow whose string could be pulled back quickly and confidently even on the thirtieth arrow, and not just the first. Cases wide enough for combatready strung bows are specified, as mentioned above, as are spare bowstrings in the soldier’s own saddlebag and not just in unit stores, quivers with rain covers for thirty or forty arrows—more were in unit stores— and small files and awls for field repairs.

The author specifies that cavalry lances with leather thongs and pennons, round neck pieces, breast and neck coverings, broad tunics, and tents (round leather yurts) are to be of the “Avar type.” The Byzantine mounted archers that featured so largely in Prokopios a half century before were patterned on the Huns, but by the time the Strategikon was written, the Byzantines had been repeatedly attacked by the Avars, the first of the Turkic mounted archers to reach the west, who had the same composite reflex bow as the Huns . . . 

. . . a most famous item of equipment first mentioned in the Strategikon: the skala. Literally “stair,” the term is used to mean “stirrup”—“attached to the saddles should be two iron [stirrups]”

When they first encountered them in the searing summer heat of Mesopotamia, the Romans mocked the Persian cavalry in plate armor as clibanarii, from cliba, “bread oven.” Yet they still imitated this heaviest form of armored cavalry, expensive and easily exhausted as it was (especially in hot weather), for the very good reason that in suitable terrain it could offer “escalation dominance” in short, sharp, charging actions.

Late Roman Empire Cavalry

There was also another category of heavy cavalry listed in the Notitia that was destined to endure much longer, the catafractarii (Greek kataphraktoi, from kataphrasso, “cover up”). They too were well protected to confront close combat, and they too were trained to charge with the lance, but originally at any rate they were not as heavily armored as the clibanarii. Instead of heavier plate or lamellar armor, they had sewn-on scale armor or chain mail coats as mentioned in the Strategikon, or body armor of boiled leather or thick, dense cloth— which, if tightly woven to begin with, could be sewn and knotted in multiple layers to function as a sort of proto-Kevlar.

Along with the light missile infantry and the ground-holding and ground-seizing heavy infantry, three other categories of soldiers are mentioned in the Strategikon. The first are the bucellarii, “biscuit-eaters,” named for the twice-baked dehydrated bread issued to ship crews and soldiers on campaign; originally they were raised and paid privately by field commanders as their personal guard and assault force, but evidently they evolved into a state-paid elite force, for we find that special attention is devoted to their appearance: 

  • It is not a bad idea for the [bucellarii] to make use of iron gauntlets and small tassels hanging from the back straps and the breast straps of their horses, as well as small pennons hanging from their own shoulders over coats of mail. For the more handsome the soldier is in his armament, the more confidence he gains in himself and the more fear he inspires in the enemy.

That would have been just as true of other categories of troops, but it is revealing of their status that the point is made about the bucellarii specifically. The latter, incidentally, would soon evolve further into a territorial army corps that was in turn given a fixed military district, or theme, to both govern and defend, when that emergency response to defeat and retreat became an administrative system in the later seventh century.

The second category of troops mentioned as such or simply as “foreigners” were the federati, originally “treaty” (foedus) troops supplied to the empire as complete units under their own chiefs by tribes too poor to pay taxes, or too strong to be taxed; later they could simply be units serving under contract. Unlike today’s mercenaries provided by security contractors, who often cost much more than even well-paid soldiers, units of federati were much cheaper than an equivalent number of legionary troops, because the citizen-soldiers of the legions received good salaries, well-built barracks, careful medical care, and substantia retirement allowances.

Roughly half the army of the Principate was cheaper because it consisted of lower-pay, noncitizen auxiliary troops serving under Roman officers—they provided almost all the cavalry of what was still an infantry-centered army; but because they did not have expensive Roman officers, the federati were even cheaper. That is the reason, no doubt, why they continued to serve in the Byzantine forces till the end in one form or another, most often as more expendable light troops, as in the “javeliners, whether Rhos (early Russians) or any other foreigners” of the Praecepta Militaria, a tenth-century work.

Finally, the Strategikon refers to some kind of citizen militia, or at least to a general preparedness to serve in that capacity: 

  • All the younger Romans up to the age of forty must definitely be required to possess bow and quiver, whether they be expert archers or just average. They should posses two [spears] so as to have a spare at hand in case the first one misses. Unskilled men should use lighter bows. Given enough time, even those who do not know how to shoot will learn, for it is essential that they do. 

Given all the incursions that penetrated right through imperial territory to reach Constantinople itself, one can understand why the author of the Strategikon would favor universal military training, so that all of the able-bodied could help defend their own localities, supplementing professional imperial forces.

We hear, for example, of the valiant role of the population of Edessa (ùanlÕurfa, Urfa) in fighting off the Sasanian Persians in 544:

  • Now those who were of military age together with the soldiers were repelling the enemy most vigorously, and many of the rustics [akgroikon polloi] made a remarkable show of valorous deeds against the barbarians.

But Roman and Byzantine law prohibited private weapons, while organized militias were rarely sanctioned by the Byzantine authorities. That is not surprising. Their potential and episodic military contribution, in the event of enemy incursions that reached their particular part of the empire, was outweighed by their actual and continuing political threat to the imperial authorities in place, and indeed the stability of the empire. 

Late Roman cohort reenactment group
The Eastern Roman military machine was highly complex with many moving parts.  See these stories for more detail.
Byzantine Heavy Artillery
The Byzantine Infantry Square
Byzantine Militia
Byzantine Testudo and Shield Wall
Roman and Byzantine Marching Camps
Roman and Byzantine Military & General Medicine

(Military manuals)      (Grand strategy)

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Siege of Trebizond (1461) - The End of Byzantium

Muslim Turkish soldiers dressed in Ottoman Janissary outfits take part in a ceremony to mark the 558th anniversary of the conquest of Constantinople (Istanbul) by Ottoman Turks, in Istanbul May 29, 2011.

Muslim Turks Destroy
the Last Byzantine Outpost

The Fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the invading Ottoman Turks was not the last of the Eastern Roman Empire.

The Despotate of the Morea in southern Greece was a province of the Eastern Empire and managed to survive the fall of the city. The failure of the despots to pay their annual tribute to the Ottoman Sultan, and finally their own revolt against Ottoman rule, caused Mehmed to come the Morea in May 1460 thus ending this last Byzantine province.

But there was one last shred of Byzantine rule left - - - The Empire of Trebizond.

With the fall of Constantinople to the Crusaders in 1204 the Empire of Trebizond was created out of Byzantine provinces in the Crimea and along the Black Sea coast. With political power divided among many small states the new Greek speaking Empire was able to survive for centuries.

The Greeks in Trebizond hung on to their ever shrinking coastal Empire by their fingernails. With the aggressive growth of the Muslim Ottoman state the position of Trebizond became more and more precarious.

The Empire of Trebizond

A Georgian army under the command of Alexios and David Komnenos attacked Byzantine from the east in late March or early April 1204. According to Georgian chronicles the expedition took eight days, reached Trebizond via Lazia and seized the town in April. The local commander doux Nikephoros Palaiologos, did not put up an effective defense against the more powerful Georgian force.

On April 13, 1204, Constantinople fell to the Crusaders, where they established the Latin Empire. According to Georgian sources, newly incorporated territories were given to Alexios and David Komnenos, where they established a pro-Georgian state that would be known as Empire of Trebizond. Alexios was proclaimed emperor, while David was appointed strategos

Some scholars believe that the new state was subject to Georgia, at least in the first years of its existence, at the beginning of the 13th century.

Emperor John II of Trebizond officially gave up his claim to the Roman imperial title and Constantinople itself 11 years after the Nicaeans recaptured the city, altering his imperial title from "Emperor and Autocrat of the Romans" to "Emperor and Autocrat of all the East, Iberia and Perateia"

The Empire of Nicaea had reestablished the Byzantine Empire through restoring control of the capital.  

With Constantinople as the main prize, the Empire of Trebizond basically continued to exist by staying under the radar in the hope that no one would notice them. That strategy basically worked until 1453, but with the city captured Ottoman eyes started looking for new conquests.

Fortification plan of Trebizond

The Citadel of Trebizond

The Walls of Trebizond

The Walls of Trabzon are a series of defensive walls surrounding the old town of the city of Trabzon.

Constructed on foundations dating back to the Roman era with cut stones from former structures at site, the walls stretch from the hill on the backside of the old town to the Black Sea shore. The walls further divided the city into three parts; the Upper Town or "fortress", the Middle Town and the Lower Town. The upper and middle towns are flanked by steep ravines cut by the Zagnos and Tabakhane streams to the west and east respectively, while the lower town extends to the west of Zagnos.

The Upper Town functioned as the citadel and as the acropolis of the city. It is believed that the citadel was built as the first construction in 2000 BC. Some early sources mention the existence of ruins of structures such as hippodrome, tower, bath and palace. The citadel underwent various modifications in the history. 

The walls of the Upper Fortress are higher than of the other parts. It is fortified in the south with higher and thicker walls and towers. During the Roman Empire period an aqueduct was built to supply the Upper Town with a freshwater source. The Upper Town was accessible through a double gate with the Middle Town. The Imperial Palace of the Empire of Trebizond was located in the Upper Town.

The Lower Town stretches in the west from Zağanos Tower down to the sea. Also this part of the fortifications were built by Alexios II of Trebizond. 

The most of the city walls are still standing and are among the city's oldest buildings. In fact, their oldest part can be dated back to 1st century AD during the Roman Empire era. Historical sources provide information about older stages of their construction. Xenophon, who visited the city in 5th century BC also mentioned the existence of city walls.

Possible Look for a Trebizond Soldier
Modern reconstruction of 15th century Byzantine archer based on contemporary icons of the Crucifixion. The helmet shows western (Italian) influence and it is based on findings from ”Chalcis Armory”. The double head eagle though is again unlikely as it was strictly an imperial family emblem and chroniclers talk about a double lion emblem. Armor courtesy of hellenicarmors.gr and boots courtesy living history association Koryvantes.
Byzantine Militia

The Siege of Trebizond (1461)

The Palaiologan dynasty fled the conquered Despotate of the Morea in 1460 for Italy.  That left Trebizond as the last free Greek state with ties to the ancient Roman traditions.

With the Turks controlling Constantinople help would not come from the West. Always short on manpower the Trabizond Emperor John IV spent years building alliances in the East with the Georgian princes to the east and with Uzun Hassan of the Ak Koyunlu. The Muslim rulers of Sinope and Karaman appear to have been enlisted as allies by John or Uzun Hassan.

The new Emperor David saw that support from the West against the Ottomans was not coming together. David prematurely asked the Sultan for a remission of the tribute paid by his predecessor. Even worse, he made these demands through the envoys of Uzun Hassan, who made even more arrogant demands on behalf of their master. Sultan Mehmed's response was, "Go in peace, and next year I will bring these things with me, and I will clear up the debt."

That answer came the summer of the next year: a fleet under his admiral Kasim Pasha sailed along the Black Sea coast of Anatolia towards Trebizond while the Sultan led an army from Bursa eastward towards the city.

In the spring of 1461, Mehmed fitted out a fleet comprising 200 galleys, and ten warships. At the same time, Mehmed crossed the Dardanelles to Bursa with the Army of Europe and assembled the Army of Asia; one authority estimates the combined force consisted of 80,000 infantry and 60,000 cavalry.

The number of Ottoman troops was no doubt inflated by historians and maybe by the Sultan himself for propaganda purposes to intimidate neighboring nations.

The Ottoman land campaign, which was the more challenging part, involved intimidating the Emir of Sinope into surrendering his realm, a march lasting more than a month through uninhabited mountainous wilderness, several minor battles with different opponents, and ended with the siege of Trebizond.

The Emirate of Sinope, ally to Trebizond, falls to the Ottomans

Trebizond Ally Sinope Surrenders

Commanding the army, Mehmed led his land troops towards Ankara, stopping on the way to visit the tombs of his father and ancestors. He had written the ruler of Sinope, Kemâleddin Ismâil Bey to send his son Hasan to Ankara, and the young man was already there when Mehmed reached the city, and received his overlord graciously. 

Mehmed made his interests quickly known: according to Doukas, he informed Hasan, "Tell your father that I want Sinope, and if he surrenders the city freely, I will gladly reward him with the province of Philippopolis. But if he refuses, then I will come quickly." Despite the extensive fortifications of the city and its 400 cannon manned by 2,000 artillerymen, Ismail Bey caved in to Mehmed's demands; he settled on the lands Mehmed gave him in Thrace.

Leaving Sinope to his admiral Kasim Pasha to arrange its government, Mehmed led his armies inland. The march was difficult for the men. Konstantin Mihailović, who served in the Ottoman army in this campaign, writing his memoirs decades later recalled no landmarks between Sinope and Trebizond, yet the travails of the journey were still vivid in his memory:
And we marched in great force and with great effort to Trebizond—not just the army but the Emperor [i.e. Sultan Mehmed] himself: first, because of the distance; second, because of harassment of the people; third, hunger; fourth, because of the high and great mountains, and, besides, wet and swampy places. And also rains fell every day so that the road was churned up as high as the horses' belly everywhere.
The path the Ottoman army took is not known. Kritoboulos states that Mehmed crossed the Taurus Mountains.
After marching for 35 days the Sultan encountered Sara Khatun, mother of Uzun Hasan; she had come to negotiate a treaty of peace between the Sultan and her son. While Mehmed agreed to a peace treaty with Uzun Hasan, he refused to include Trebizond as a party to it.
Meanwhile, the fleet under Admiral Kasim Pasha and assisted by a veteran seaman named Yakub, had left Sinope and came into sight of Trebizond. As was the common practice of the time, the crews of the ships consisted of armed men, and once the ships had landed these armed sailors disembarked and began to encircle the city.
The sailors set fire to the suburbs and set about besieging the city. One historian said despite daily assaults, "no headway was made" to breaching the walls. The men of Kasim Pasha's fleet had besieged the walls of Trebizond for 32 days when the first units of the Sultan's army under his Grand Vizier Mahmud Pasha Angelovic crossed over the Zigana Pass and took up positions at Skylolimne.

Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror

Emperor David was given an opportunity before the Ottoman assault began in earnest, to capitulate. He could either surrender his city and not only save his life and wealth, as well as those of his courtiers, but also receive new estates that would provide him the same income; otherwise, further fighting could only end with the fall of Trebizond and David not only would lose his life and wealth, but any survivors would suffer the fate of a captured city.

The walls of Trebizond were massive and elaborate; David expected his relative Hassan Uzun to arrive at any moment to relieve the siege, or perhaps his ally the King of Georgia, or perhaps even both. 

No allies appeared with an army to assist Trebizond. In the end, the Emperor David Megas Komnenos chose to surrender his city and empire, and trust that that Sultan Mehmed would be merciful. 

The Emperor said he would surrender if given estates of equal value, and if Mehmed married his daughter. When Mehmed arrived the next day with the rest of his army, Mahmud reported the developments. The news that David's wife had escaped to Georgia angered the Sultan, and at first declared he wanted to storm the city and enslave all of its inhabitants. But after further deliberations Mehmed accepted the offered terms.

On the day Sultan Mehmed arrived, Thomas, son of Katabolenos, was sent before the gates of Trebizond to repeat the terms of surrender offered the day before. The people of Trebizond prepared "many splendid gifts" and a select group of "the very best men" emerged from the city and "made obeisance to the sultan, came to terms, exchanged oaths, and surrendered both the town and themselves to the Sultan." 

After these exchanges, Emperor David left the city with his children and courtiers and did homage to the Sultan; the latter "received him mildly and kindly, shook hands, and showed him appropriate honors", then "gave both him [David] and his children many kinds of gifts, as well as to his suite."

On 15 August 1461, Sultan Mehmed II entered Trebizond, and the last capital of the Romaioi had fallen. This date was the 200th anniversary of Michael VIII Palaiologos' recapture of Constantinople from the Latin Empire. 

Mehmed made a detailed inspection of the city, its defenses and its inhabitants, according to Miller, who then quotes Kritoboulos, "He [Mehmed] ascended to the citadel and the palace, and saw and admired the security of the one and the buildings and splendoor of the other, and in every way he judged the city worthy of note." 

Mehmed converted the Panagia Chrysokephalos cathedral in the center of the city into Fatih Mosque, and in the church of Saint Eugenios he said his first prayer, thus giving the building its later name, Yeni Cuma ("New Friday").

Ottoman Janissaries


After taking possession of the city, Sultan Mehmed garrisoned 400 of his Janissaries in Trebizond’s Imperial castle.

The Sultan's fleet returned to Constantinople by October 1461, their weapons and materiel almost unused.   Mehmed proceeded overland back to Constantinople.

He placed Emperor David, his family and his relatives, his officials and their families with all of their wealth on the Sultan's triremes which took them to Constantinople.

The rest of the inhabitants of Trebizond, however, were treated harshly. They were divided into three groups: 

  • One group was forced to leave Trebizond and resettle in Constantinople; 
  • The next group became slaves either of the Sultan or of his dignitaries; 
  • And the last group were left to live in the countryside surrounding Trebizond, but not within its walls.

The Sultan also took 1,500 children to become his personal slaves.  Some 800 male children were forced to become Muslims and conscripted into the Janissaries, while the Ottoman admiral was left to garrison the city.

Emperor David was settled in Adrianople together with his family, and received the profits of estates in the Struma River valley, comprising an annual income of some 300,000 pieces of silver. However, David Megas Komnenos, descendant on the male side of Byzantine Emperors, was too prominent a symbol of the fallen regime and too inviting of a potential rallying-point for any potential Greek resistance.

In time the royal family was taken to Constantinople and imprisoned in the Beyoğlu jail, where with five others the last of the Komnenoi were executed with the sword on 1 November 1463 at the fourth hour of the night. 

Other members of the family fared little better. His daughter Anna, whom he had offered in marriage to Mehmed, was taken to the Imperial harem, later she was married to Zaganos Pasha but not long afterwards they divorced and she was handed to a son of Elvan Bey. Maria Gattilusio, the widow of David's older brother Alexander, joined the harem.

Trebizond was the last outpost of Byzantine civilization; with its fall, that civilization came to an end. 

"It was the end of the free Greek world," wrote Steven Runciman, who then noted that those Greeks still not under Ottoman rule still lived "under lords of an alien race and an alien form of Christianity. Only among the wild villages of Mani, in the southeastern Peloponnese, into whose rugged mountains no Turk ventured to penetrate, was there left any semblance of liberty."

Ottoman Empire Reenactors

(Morea)      (Chaldia)      (Walls of Trabzon)      (Trebizond)      (Trebizond)

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

536 A.D. - The Worst Time in History to Be Alive

(History)  -  The ninth plague of Egypt was complete darkness that lasted for three days. But in 536 A.D., much of the world went dark for a full 18 months, as a mysterious fog rolled over Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia. The fog blocked the sun during the day, causing temperatures to drop, crops to fail and people to die. It was, you might say, the literal Dark Age.
Now, researchers have discovered one of the main sources of that fog. The team reported in Antiquity that a volcanic eruption in Iceland in early 536 helped spread ash across the Northern Hemisphere, creating the fog. Like the 1815 Mount Tambora eruption—the deadliest volcanic eruption on record—this eruption was big enough to alter global climate patterns, causing years of famine.
What exactly did the first 18 months of darkness look like? The Byzantine historian Procopius wrote that “the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during this whole year.” He also wrote that it seemed like the sun was constantly in eclipse; and that during this time, “men were free neither from war nor pestilence nor any other thing leading to death.”
The fog blocked the sun during the day, causing temperatures
to drop, crops to fail and people to die.

Accounts like these weren’t taken very seriously until the 1990s, says Michael McCormick, a history professor at Harvard University and co-author of the Antiquity paper. That decade, researchers examined tree rings in Ireland and found that something weird did happen around 536. Summers in Europe and Asia became 35°F to 37°F colder, with China even reporting summer snow. This Late Antique Little Ice Age, as it’s known, came about when volcanic ash blocked out the sun.
“It was a pretty drastic change; it happened overnight,” McCormick says. “The ancient witnesses really were onto something. They were not being hysterical or imagining the end of the world.”
With this realization, accounts of 536 become newly horrifying. “We marvel to see no shadows of our bodies at noon,” wrote Cassiodorus, a Roman politician. He also wrote that the sun had a “bluish” color, the moon had lost its luster and the “seasons seem to be all jumbled up together.”
The effects of the 536 eruption were compounded by eruptions in 540 and 547, and it took a long time for the Northern Hemisphere to recover. “The Late Antique Little Ice Age that began in the spring of 536 lasted in western Europe until about 660, and it lasted until about 680 in Central Asia,” McCormick says.
"It was the beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year," McCormick told Science
This period of cold and starvation caused economic stagnation in Europe that intensified in 541 when the first bubonic plague broke out. The plague killed between one-third and one-half of the population in the Byzantine Empire, or Eastern Roman Empire.
There might still be other, undiscovered volcanic eruptions that contributed to the 536 fog, says Andrei Kurbatov, an Earth and climate sciences professor at the University of Maine and another co-author of the Antiquity paper. However, we now know at least one of the reasons people in 536 couldn’t see their own shadows—even at noon

The Black Death
of the Roman Empire

"The infection first attacked Pelusium, on the borders of Egypt, with deadly effect, and spread thence to Alexandria and throughout Egypt, and northward to Palestine and Syria. In the following year it reached Constantinople, in the middle of spring, and spread over Asia Minor and through Mesopotamia into the kingdom of Persia. Travelling by sea, whether from Africa or across the Adriatic, it invaded Italy and Sicily."
Read the full article