.

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

Friday, March 20, 2020

The Empire Strikes Back - Battle for the Middle East Part VIII


Late Empire Roman Cavalry Horse-Archer
(pinterest)

The Roman Army Marches South
Battle for the Middle East Part VIII



Here we are at Part VIII of the titanic Battle for the Middle East.

Where Eastern Roman military history is addressed at all there are casual references to the Battle of Yarmouk in 636 AD. "Historians" effectively say the Arabs just magically showed up one day at Yarmouk and defeated a weak Roman Empire.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  This series details a Roman-Muslim slug fest taking place over many years and many battles over a huge geographical area.

In 629 AD the Roman Empire was enjoying a much deserved period of peace after a brutal 26 year long war of all wars with the Persian Empire.  Finally there was peace.  No one in Constantinople had any idea that a fresh invasion from the southern deserts would happen in a matter of months.

Part I  -  In Part I of this series we saw the first military contact between Romans and Muslim Arabs at the Battle of Mota (Mu'tah) in the Roman province of Palaestina Salutaris.  In 629 AD a force of Romans and their Christian Arab allies mauled the invading Muslim army forcing them to return to Medina.

Part II  -  In Part II we saw the Muslims turn their attention to a weakened Persian Empire. Muslims defeated the Persians in a series of battles. In 634 the Muslims marched up the Euphrates River through Persian Mesopotamia finally coming within 100 miles of the Roman frontier at Firaz. 


Firaz was at the outermost edge of the Persian Empire but it still contained an undefeated Persian garrison. There the Persians joined forces with the local Roman garrison and with Christian Arabs to take on the invaders. They were soundly defeated.
Byzantine cataphract
(pinterest)

Part III  -  In Part III we have the Emperor Heraclius organizing the defense of Palaestina Salutaris.  Muslims made a wide flanking movement of hundreds of miles through waterless deserts to threaten Damascus.

The Romans held their own in eastern Syria against this attack and effectively defeated the Arabs at the Battle of Marj Rahit in 634. They drove the Arabs south away from Damascus. The Romans had also dug in at the Daraa Gap fortifications in eastern Palestine and held their positions against Arab attacks.

But the Romans were defeated in southwest Palestine allowing Muslim forces to fan out reaching as far north as Lydda and Jaffa.

Part IV  -  Battle of Ajnadayn 634. The Romans were dug in at Daraa in Syria and were successfully holding off the invading Muslim army. Emperor Heraclius sent a second army down coastal Palestine with the support of the Roman Navy. The goal was to defeat the smaller Muslim army at Beersheeba and then block the lines of communications to Mecca of the Muslim army at Daraa forcing them to retreat back to Arabia.

Part V  -  1st Battle of Yarmouk (634 AD).  In a huge multi-day battle the Roman Army is pushed out of their prepared defenses at the Daraa Gap. The Romans began to withdraw and made an orderly retreat north to Damascus and other walled cities.

The door to Syria had been forced open.


Part VI  -  After a siege lasting for six months Damascus falls to Muslim invaders who lacked any siege equipment. Traitor Christians inside the city opened the gates and allowed the Muslim troops to enter the city. Damascus was sort of a great victory for the Arabs. After months of a siege the Muslims could not carry the city's defenses and needed Christian traitors within the walls to win the day.

The Muslims may have opened the door to Syria, but victory was a long way off. There were Roman armies operating all over Palestine and Syria and holding walled cities such as Jerusalem, Caesarea, Tyre and Tripoli. The coastal cities could also be resupplied and reinforced by the Roman Navy.


Part VII  -  After the fall of Damascus, Syria Muslim forces started their move north. Escaping Roman civilians and soldiers were massacred at Maraj-al-Debj in September of 635. Many survivors were sold into slavery by the Muslims.

The Muslims went on to lay Siege to the city of Homs from December 635 to March 636. After the fall of Homs the Muslims set out once again for the north, intending to take the whole of Northern Syria this time, including Aleppo and Antioch. They went past Hama and arrived at Shaizar

There they stopped as they faced a new Roman army raised by the Emperor Heraclius.

Map from The Great Arab Conquests (1964)
As the Muslims moved north into Syria they were leaving active Roman armies behind them in Jerusalem and in coastal cities like Caesarea, Tyre, Sidon, Beirut and Tripoli.

The Roman Army Gathers

By the winter of 635 AD the Muslim forces had conquered most of Syria.

The Muslims were just a march away from Aleppo, a Roman stronghold, and Antioch, where Heraclius resided. Seriously alarmed by the series of setbacks, Heraclius prepared for a counterattack to reacquire the lost regions.

In 635 Yazdegerd III, the Emperor of Persia, sought an alliance with the Roman Emperor. Heraclius married off his daughter Manyanh to Yazdegerd III, to cement the alliance. While Heraclius prepared for a major offensive in the Levant, Yazdegerd was to mount a simultaneous counterattack in Iraq, in what was meant to be a well-coordinated effort. 

The Emperor had not been idle on the southern front. Heraclius directed the Roman garrisons in Syria and Palestine to stand their ground.

After his past experiences, Heraclius now avoided pitched battle with the Muslim army. His plans were to send massive reinforcements to all the major cities, isolate the Muslim corps from each other, and then separately encircle and destroy the Muslim armies.

So as the Muslims moved north into Syria they were leaving active Roman armies behind them in Jerusalem and in coastal cities like Caesarea, Tyre, Sidon, Beirut, and Tripoli. The coastal cities could easily be resupplied by the Roman Navy. With Roman forces in their rear the Muslims were always looking over their shoulder. 

Muslim troops had to be pealed off from the northern invasion just to keep Roman garrisons bottled up in the cities.

With Roman garrisons in their rear, the somewhat smaller Muslim armies had advanced north into Syria about as far as they could go. While in a holding pattern word reached the Muslims of a new Roman army gathering around the Emperor based in Antioch.

Roman Emperor Heraclius
Crowned Caesar Flavius Heraclius Augustus in 610. Latin was still the official language of the military and government. The Emperor faced invasions by Persians, Avars, Spanish Visigoths and Muslim Arabs. The Emperor personally commanded Roman troops in an invasion into the heart of Persia.  He crushed their Empire and forced Persian troops to evacuate the conquered Roman provinces of Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Mesopotamia.


The exact size and composition of the Roman Army and its units in the Yarmouk campaign is a matter of considerable debate due to the scantness and ambiguous nature of the primary sources.

I laugh out loud reading "modern estimates" of an army ranging from 100,000 to 150,000 men. Those kinds of numbers had not been seen in centuries of Roman warfare. By the 630s the entire Roman Army from Carthage to Italy to Egypt to the Danube may have been 109,000 men.

A typical Eastern Empire field army often numbered 15,000 to 20,000 men. It is possible that this being a major effort to recapture Syria and Palestine then all stops might have been pulled out. I would put my guess at an army of 30,000 plus.

The endless battles and defeats were beginning to take a serious toll on the Romans. This was partly due to financial setbacks resulting in the Empire's treasury failing to provide salaries for some of the troops.

To help solve this problem the Emperor appointed Theodore Trithyrius as perhaps Commander-in-Chief in the newly raised army. Trithyrius was a Greek Christian and Roman Treasurer working for Emperor Heraclius and extremely loyal to the Emperor himself. He enjoyed supremacy under his title of sacellarius, usually appointed to the state treasurer.

Trithyrius's role with the army served as a constant reassurance. A certain lassitude had filled the air because Heraclius had to disband many regiments for economy's sake. There was no enthusiasm towards joining the army, however the presence of the Imperial paymaster encouraged recruitment.


Symbol of Secunda Armeniaca
Legio II Armeniaca (from Armenia) was a legion of the late Roman Empire. The Legion survived the fall of the Western Empire in 476 and went on to serve in the East. Armenian units were sent to fight the Muslims in Syria. Legio II Armeniaca may have been among them. 

Many Imperial regiments had been destroyed or badly mauled in recent campaigns. So the Emperor looked east to Armenia for the bulk of his troops. With the Persians defeated Armenia would have been a quiet front well able to spare frontier troops for Syria. 

Thus perhaps two-thirds of the new army were Armenians. 

This does not mean the Armenians were mercenaries. Far from it. While some Armenians may have signed on just for this campaign the history of Armenian Legions in the Roman Army goes back centuries. It is possible many of the Armenian troops were trained professionals or maybe partly trained militia that were called into service.

The units in the other one-third of the army varied. Roman ally Jabalah ibn al-Aiham, King of the Ghassanid Arabs, commanded an exclusively Christian Arab force. Other army contingents consisted of SlavsFranks and Georgians. Buccinator, a Slavic prince, commanded the Slavs. 

Byzantine sources mention Niketas the Persian, son of the Persian general Shahrbaraz, among the commanders. With Persia and Rome allied against the Muslims did Niketas bring with him a contingent of Persian troops? or did he command Romans? We do not know.

These different units coming together under one commander would not be new for the Romans. Foreign troops during the late Roman period were known as the Foederati ("allies") in Latin and often supplemented the regular army units.

There is little real historical information on just about anything. What kind of mix were the troops? What percent were cavalry, infantry or archers? Were they full timers or militia? Were there artillery units? etc.


The lack of meaningful information extends to the different commanders. 

The Commander-in-Chief in the army may have been Trithyrius. But Trithyrius was basically a bean counter from the Treasury. His level of military experience is unknown.  Vahan, an Armenian and the former garrison commander of Emesa, was in command of his Armenian units and may have had some command over the non-Armenian troops. . . . or perhaps command was partly shared with a somewhat joint council of the leaders of the different units.

Late Roman cohort reenactment group
(www.twcenter.net)

The Romans March South

Word had spread among the Muslims of this large new army. Now in the early months of 636 the Empire stuck back.

We may not know the exact size or makeup of the Roman Army. All we can do is judge the reaction of the Muslim forces facing them.

Simply, the Muslims abandoned all their gains and ran south as fast as possible.

The great walled cities of Damascus and Homs captured with months of siege warfare and much blood were abandoned without a single arrow fired. The story was the same for all the other towns and villages. The Muslims ran.

That reaction tells us two things:

  • 1) The Muslims were spread thin across Palestine and Syria and did not have the manpower to do open battle or even man the walls of the large cities. 
  • 2) As untrained wild raiders from the desert the Muslims still feared the organized Roman Army.

Under their king the mobile and nimble Christian Arabs acted as an ideal cavalry screen in front of the main Roman Army and pushed the Muslims almost totally out of Syria.

The Muslims fell back to the Daraa Gap where in the 1st Battle of Yarmouk (September 634) they had forced the Romans to leave their prepared fortifications.

The Muslims passed through the Gap with the Romans hot on their heals. The Romans re-occupied their old defenses and slammed shut the Door to Syria.

Heraclius' policy was to stonewall.

Syria was safe as long as the Yarmouk-Daraa Maginot Line held firm.

The Arabs with their fear of close country and mountains would never invade Syria to the west through Tiberias. To the east there was the dry desert that nearly killed the Muslims two years earlier when they threatened and failed to capture Damascus.

This was a stunning, total and virtually bloodless Roman victory.

Heraclius must have heaved a sigh of relief when he heard that the Daraa Gap had been reoccupied and the Muslims had been pushed out into the desert beyond. Syria, he must have thought, was saved. Now he could concentrate on the recapture of Palestine.

Map from The Great Arab Conquests (1964)
When faced with a new Roman Army the Muslim forces in northern Syria abandoned all their gains.  Without firing a shot they ran as fast as they could run far to the south through the Daraa Gap into the desert.

Limitanei static frontier guard troops existed 
through the Persian Wars and the Arab Conquest.

.



Bedouin Warrior.
The Romans may have faced troops much like this man.

(flickr.com)


(Great Arab Conquests)    (Levant)    (Yarmouk)


Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Emperor Basil II - Front Line General


(Deviantart.com)

Basil II

"He crushed rebellions, subdued the feudal landowners, conquered the enemies of the Empire, notably in the Danubian provinces and the East. Everywhere the might of Roman arms was respected and feared. The treasury was overflowing with the accumulated plunder of Basil's campaigns. Even the lamp of learning, despite the emperor's known indifference, was burning still, if somewhat dimly. The lot of ordinary folk in Constantinople must have been pleasant enough. For most of them life was gay and colourful, and if the city's defensive fortifications were at some points in disrepair they had no cause to dread attacks."



Basil II, one of the best rulers of the empire. Emperor of the year 976 AD until 1025 AD the longest government of an emperor in Roman history.

He asked to be buried next to the training camp of the imperial cavalry tagmata in hebdomon, instead of the sumptuous place reserved to the emperors in the roundabout of the holy apostles of Constantinople. His contemporaries believed that so he could hear from heaven to his armies prepare for the fight for the empire. In 1204 his tomb was desecrated and plundered by the crusaders.

Epitaph of Basil II on his sarcophagus at the church of San Juan Evangelist in Hebdomon as recorded in late eastern Roman manuscripts:

Others of the old kings
An old man in the holy land,
But I, Basil, a child,
Hístēmi in the place of land
And the pain of pain
Whom in the name of a child, whom I have loved
For a spear did not see them,
Since the king of heaven, I am
The Land, great king;
But I have saved life time
The children of the new eryómēn
I'm going to go to the church,
I turn to them the people of the tribe,
Histō̂n trophies of the land of myría;
And this is what I am doing, and I am
With which you are born, Ishmael, áraps, íbēr;
And now, o, o, o, o, o,
We are looking forward to the future of the

Other past emperors
Previously they had designated for themselves other burial sites.
But I Basilio, born in the purple camera,
Placed my grave on the site of hebdomon
And I take the Saturday break from endless efforts
That I fulfilled in the wars I endured.
Because no one saw my spear in rest
When the emperor of heaven called me
To the government of this great empire on earth,
But I stayed vigilant throughout my life
Taking care of the children of new Rome
Marching bravely to the west,
And even the same borders of the east.
Persians and scythians bear witness to this
And along with them the abasgos, Ismaili, Arabs and iberians.
And now, good man, looking at this grave
You can make it up with prayers in exchange for my campaigns



From Facebook:  Bizancio Maravillosa - The Life in the Eastern Roman Empire


The historian Psellos describes a defeated enemy giving Basil the following advice:
.
"Cut down the governors who become over-proud. Let no generals on campaign have too many resources. Exhaust them with unjust exactions, to keep them busied with their own affairs. Admit no woman to the imperial councils. Be accessible to no-one. Share with few your most intimate plans."

Fighting Emperors

Is it good or bad to have a Head of State directing his troops and even fighting in the front lines?

One can say that in an age when there were endless military plots to overthrow the government it was good to have an Emperor embedded with his troops. He could keep an eye on his generals, build loyalty with the troops and create stability in the state - - - - stability if he was a successful general.

From ancient times on most Heads of State stayed home tending to civilian matters and directing the military in a general way from afar if at all.

The occasional Alexander, Heraclius, Fredrick the Great or Napoleon were the exceptions, not the rule. The debate is eternal if they actually helped their nations or after a point simply bled their countries white in endless wars.

Basil was a very successful soldier on horseback.

Basil II was praised by his army because he spent most of his reign campaigning with it rather than sending orders from Constantinople, as had most of his predecessors. This allowed his army to be largely supportive of him, often making his stance in political and church matters unquestionable. 

He lived the life of a soldier to the point of eating the same daily rations as the rest of the army. He also took the children of dead army officers under his protection and offered them shelter, food, and education. Many of these children became his soldiers and officers, taking the places of their fathers.

Basil oversaw the stabilization and expansion of the eastern frontier of the Empire and the complete subjugation of the First Bulgarian Empireits foremost European foe, after a prolonged struggle. 

Although the Roman Empire had made a truce with the Fatimid Caliphate in 987–988, Basil led a campaign against the Caliphate that ended with another truce in 1000. He also conducted a campaign against the Khazar Khaganate that gained the Roman Empire part of Crimea and a series of successful campaigns against the Kingdom of Georgia.

Despite near-constant warfare, Basil distinguished himself as an administrator, reducing the power of the great land-owning families who dominated the Empire's administration and military, filling its treasury, and leaving it with its greatest expanse in four centuries.

On a side note, in the early years of his reign, administration remained in the hands of Basil Lekapenos, President of the Roman Senate.


Click to enlarge
The Eastern Roman Empire at the death of Basil II in 1025

Basil's first expedition to Syria


Basil intervened personally in the East; with his army, he rode through Asia Minor to Aleppo in sixteen days, arriving in April 995. Basil's sudden arrival and the exaggeration of his army's strength circulating in the Fatimid camp caused panic in the Fatimid army, especially because Manjutakin, expecting no threat, had ordered his cavalry horses to be dispersed around the city for pasture. 

Despite having a considerably larger and well-rested army, Manjutakin was at a disadvantage. He burned his camp and retreated to Damascus without battle.

The Byzantines besieged Tripoli unsuccessfully and occupied Tartus, which they refortified and garrisoned with Armenian troops.

Conquest of Bulgaria

The Muslims were under control on the Eastern Front. That left the Bulgarian Empire as the major enemy in the field.

In 986 the Bulgarian Tsar Samuel, won a decisive battle at the Trajan’s Gate. Almost the entire Roman army was destroyed in the battle, the entire convoy was lost, and the Emperor himself narrowly escaped capture.

Sharply in need of ships for the rapid transfer of troops to various parts of the empire, Basil entered into negotiations with the Venice. In 992, a large Venice embassy arrived in Constantinople, which achieved a seven-fold reduction in customs duties. A special order was issued which initiated the exclusive status of the Venetians in Constantinople. 

This was the beginning of the end for the Empire.

The Emperor got immediate help from Venice but at the cost of long term reduced income to the Imperial Treasury. This was the first of many concessions to neighbors that over time prevented the Empire from raising the money needed to defend itself.

Basil sought to restore former territories of the Roman Empire. Beginning in 1000, Basil was free to focus on a war of conquest against Bulgaria, which he fought with grinding persistence and strategic insight. In 1000, the Byzantine generals Nikephoros Xiphias and Theodorokanos took the former Bulgarian capital Great Preslav.

The Bulgarian wars went on and on for years.

On 29 July 1014, in the Battle of Kleidion, he and his general Nikephoros Xiphias outmaneuvered the Bulgarian army, which was defending one of the fortified passes. Samuel avoided capture through the valor of his son Gabriel. Having crushed the Bulgarians, Basil exacted his vengeance cruelly—he was said to have captured 15,000 prisoners and fully blinded 99 of every 100 men, leaving one one-eyed man in each cohort to lead the rest back to their ruler. Samuel was struck down by the sight of his blinded army and died two days later on 6 October 1014 after suffering a stroke.

Bulgaria fought on for four more years, but it submitted in 1018. The rulers of neighboring Croatia, who were previously allies of Bulgaria, accepted Basil's supremacy to avoid the same fate as Bulgaria; Basil warmly received their offers of vassalage and awarded them the honorary title of patrikios. Croatia remained a tributary state to Basil until his death in 1025.

Before returning to Constantinople, Basil celebrated his triumph in Athens. He showed considerable statesmanship in his treatment of the defeated Bulgarians, giving many former Bulgarian leaders court titles, positions in provincial administration, and high commands in the army. In this way, he sought to absorb the Bulgarian elite into Roman society.

Assessment

At the time of his death, the Empire stretched from southern Italy to the Caucasus and from the Danube to the Levant, which was its greatest territorial extent since the Muslim conquests four centuries earlier.

Basil was to be buried in the last sarcophagus available in the rotunda of Constantine I in the Church of the Holy Apostles but he later asked his brother and successor Constantine VIII to be buried in the Church of St. John the Theologian at the Hebdomon Palace complex outside the walls of Constantinople. 

The epitaph on Basil's tomb celebrated his campaigns and victories. During the pillage of 1204, Basil's grave was desecrated by the invading Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade.

Depiction of Basil II from the Menologion of Basil II


(about-history.com)      (Basil II)      (sourcebooks)

(Kleidion)      (Georgian wars)

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Archaeologists Unearth 2,200-Year-Old Mosaics




One of the most important cities in the Eastern Roman Empire was Zeugma: A once flourishing city home to 80,000 inhabitants situated in the present-day province of Gazientep in southern Turkey.

Now, researchers are digging up exciting ancient mosaics. Excavations began in 2007 and just seven years earlier, in 2000, the ancient city was completely submerged underwater.

To this day, 25 houses of the 2000-3000 discovered remain under water. Not only were the finding of the houses remarkable, but three incredibly well preserved colored glass mosaics that date back to 2nd century BC were also discovered.

The first mosaic depicts the nine Muses – the goddesses of the inspiration of literature, science and the arts.

The second mosaic depicts Ocean – the divine personification of the sea – and his sister Tethys. The third, smaller in size mosaic, depicts a young man.

“From now on, we will work on restoration and conservation. We plan to establish a temporary roof for long-term protection. We estimate that the ancient city has 2,000-3,000 houses. Twenty-five of them remain under water. Excavations will be finished in the Muzalar House next year,” said head of the excavations, Professor Kutalmış Görkay.  

--- from Can You Actually

Zeugma is an ancient city of Commagene; located in modern Gaziantep ProvinceTurkey. It was named for the bridge of boats, or zeugma, that crossed the Euphrates river at that location. Parts of Zeugma have become submerged in the Euphrates River since the construction of the Birecik Dam.



The use of mosaics was a practical, albeit expensive, means of creating a smooth, level floor; but they were also highly decorative, designed to impress with their beautiful and sophisticated use of decorative tesserae, which were carefully placed to create geometric patterns or scenes with mythological themes. 

More than 2,000m of mosaics were uncovered at Zeugma, and most are now exhibited over the three floors of this museum. While the majority of the mosaics come from Zeugma, there are also some examples recovered from other sites around Gaziantep, including some 6th century AD artworks from churches in the region.

The mosaics from Zeugma are displayed as they were found, positioned according to their original on-site locations: those uncovered closest to the Euphrates are the first on view inside the museum entrance; those from higher up the terrace above the river bank are laid out beyond and on the upper floors of the building. 

Visitors ‘enter’ Zeugma as if from the river level, then rise up as though climbing the terrace sets on a stroll through the city. The effect is of wandering through the villas, seeing how the people lived, their beliefs, their culture, and their daily life. Gigantic photographic displays of Zeugma on the walls add to the illusion, and those mosaics where part of the image has been damaged or lost have been ‘filled in’ by light projection.

The bathhouse is displayed on the lowest level of the museum, along with the magnificent statue of Mars, God of War. On the next level are the houses that once sat along the banks of the Euphrates, now given the names ‘Poseidon’, ‘Euphrates’, and ‘Dionysus’, according to the subject of their fine mosaics.

One of the most striking mosaics portrays the Titan Oceanus and his wife Tethys – mythological primordial sea deities, parents of the world’s rivers, fountains and lakes – with each of their 3,000 daughters, nymphs called Oceanids. But the most famous artwork is the haunting mosaic nicknamed ‘Gypsy Girl’. In fact, she is a Maenad – a follower of Dionysus – and her beautiful portrait, housed in a special room with labyrinth-themed decorations, has become the unofficial symbol of the Zeugma excavations.

--- from Turkey Cultural Tour


Mars, God of War








(canyouactually.com)    (Zeugma -Commagene)    (turkeyculturaltour.com)

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

General Belisarius in Sicily and Constantinople


General Belisarius in Syracuse, Sicily
(Illustration of Mile Jakubiec, drawn for the book "Ancient Generals").

One of Rome's Greatest Generals


This beautiful painting of General Belisarius during his conquest of Sicily caught my eye.

Belisarius, December 31, 535

Procopius of Caesarea, "History of Wars"

(...) because, having received the dignity of the consulate because of his victory against the vandals, while he had that honor, and after having won all Sicily, on his last day of consulate, he marched to Syracuse, being applauded by The Army and the Sicilians and throwing gold coins to all of them. That coincidence, however, did not intentionally come out of him, but it was something happy for that man, who after having recovered the whole island for the Romans left to Syracuse on that particular day; and even though he was not in the Senate of Byzantium, as usual, delivered the mandate of the consuls and became ex-Consul. Therefore, that gave good fortune to Belisario ".


Belisarius then refused to accept the western imperial crown offered by the Ostrogoths in Italy. Not only that, but led to Constantinople the crown crown to offer it to Justinian.

Although it seems amazing, the history of Sicily was repeated 621 years later there and in Southern Italy when the imperial army was launched to the reconquest of Southern Italy and Sicily in 1156. The citizens of Bari opened their doors And they welcomed Emperor Manuel Komnenos as a liberator.


Thanks to Facebook: Life in the Eastern Roman Empire


Artist conception of Vandal and Alan warriors
defeated by Belisarius in North Africa.


By Procopius of Caesarea
(AD 500 – c. AD 565)

After the re-conquest of North Africa, General Belisarius war given a Triumph in the Hippodrome of Constantinople where he was awarded the office of Consul.


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.


The Hippodrome of Constantinople
Image from Istanbul Life.org

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.


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.


Belisarius and his Staff
(Johnny Shumates Portfolio)
kk
Read More:
kk
Battle of Callinicum - Romans vs Persians

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Swaying Struggle - Battle for the Middle East Part VII


Roman soldiers 6th and 7th century
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The Muslims March North
Battle for the Middle East Part VII



Here we are at Part VII of the titanic Battle for the Middle East.

Where Eastern Roman military history is addressed at all there are casual references to the Battle of Yarmouk in 636 AD. "Historians" effectively say the Arabs just magically showed up one day at Yarmouk and defeated a weak Roman Empire.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  This series details a Roman-Muslim slug fest taking place over many years and many battles over a huge geographical area.

In 629 AD the Roman Empire was enjoying a much deserved period of peace after a brutal 26 year long war of all wars with the Persian Empire.  Finally there was peace.  No one in Constantinople had any idea that a fresh invasion from the southern deserts would happen in a matter of months.

Part I  -  In Part I of this series we saw the first military contact between Romans and Muslim Arabs at the Battle of Mota (Mu'tah) in the Roman province of Palaestina Salutaris.  In 629 AD a force of Romans and their Christian Arab allies mauled the invading Muslim army forcing them to return to Medina.

Part II  -  In Part II we saw the Muslims turn their attention to a weakened Persian Empire. Muslims defeated the Persians in a series of battles. In 634 the Muslims marched up the Euphrates River through Persian Mesopotamia finally coming within 100 miles of the Roman frontier at Firaz. Firaz was at the outermost edge of the Persian Empire but it still contained an undefeated Persian garrison. There the Persians joined forces with the local Roman garrison and with Christian Arabs to take on the invaders. They were soundly defeated.

Part III  -  In Part III we have the Emperor Heraclius organizing the defense of Palaestina Salutaris.  Muslims made a wide flanking movement of hundreds of miles through waterless deserts to threaten Damascus.  


The Romans held their own in eastern Syria against this attack and effectively defeated the Arabs at the Battle of Marj Rahit in 634. They drove the Arabs south away from Damascus. The Romans had also dug in at the Daraa Gap fortifications in eastern Palestine and held their positions against Arab attacks. 

But the Romans were defeated in southwest Palestine allowing Muslim forces to fan out reaching as far north as Lydda and Jaffa.

Part IV  -  Battle of Ajnadayn 634. The Romans were dug in at Daraa in Syria and were successfully holding off the invading Muslim army. Emperor Heraclius sent a second army down coastal Palestine with the support of the Roman Navy. The goal was to defeat the smaller Muslim army at Beersheeba and then block the lines of communications to Mecca of the Muslim army at Daraa forcing them to retreat back to Arabia.


Part V  -  1st Battle of Yarmouk (634 AD).  In a huge multi-day battle the Roman Army is pushed out of their prepared defenses at the Daraa Gap. The Romans began to withdraw and made an orderly retreat north to Damascus and other walled cities. 

The door to Syria had been forced open.


Part VI  -  After a siege lasting for six months Damascus falls to Muslim invaders who lacked any siege equipment. Traitor Christians inside the city opened the gates and allowed the Muslim troops to enter the city. Damascus was sort of a great victory for the Arabs. After months of a siege the Muslims could not carry the city's defenses and needed Christian traitors within the walls to win the day.

The Muslims may have opened the door to Syria, but victory was a long way off. There were Roman armies operating all over Palestine and Syria and holding walled cities such as Jerusalem, Caesarea, Tyre and Tripoli. The coastal cities could also be resupplied and reinforced by the Roman Navy.

The Emperor Heraclius had not given up. More troops were being raised for yet another counter attack.


Bedouin Warrior. The Romans may have faced troops much like this man.
(flickr.com)

Map from The Great Arab Conquests (1964)
As the Muslims moved north into Syria they were leaving active Roman armies behind them in Jerusalem and in coastal cities like Caesarea, Tyre, Sidon, Beirut and Tripoli.


The Massacre at Maraj-al-Debj (September, 635)


Thomas, the Roman commander-in-chief and governor of Damascus and son in law of Emperor Heraclius, after hearing that Muslim troops had entered Damascus at the Eastern gate, wisely tricked the Muslim corps commanders at the other gates by suing for peace. The peace offer then was accepted by them. 

After the trick was unveiled the Muslim commanders advised Khalid ibn Walid that the peace agreement should be kept, because if the Romans in Syria heard that the Muslims had given a guarantee of safety and then slaughtered those whose safety had been guaranteed, no other city would ever surrender to the Muslims, and that would make the task of conquering Syria immeasurably more difficult. 

Khalid pretended that he agreed. But he immediately dressed his troops in the garb of local Arabs to hide their movements from any Romans they encountered and set out to attack the fleeing army.

The 10,000 fleeing Damascus Romans included soldiers, women, children and other civilians along with all their worldly possessions.

One historian says the Muslims caught up with the convoy a short distance from Antioch, not far from the Mediterranean Sea, on a plateau beyond a range of hills called Jabal Ansariya, in Northern Syria.

Due to a heavy downpour, the Roman convoy had dispersed on the plateau, seeking shelter from the weather, while their goods lay all over the place. So many bundles of brocade lay scattered on the ground that this plain became known as Marj-ud-Debaj, i.e. the Meadow of Brocade, and for this reason the action described has been named the Battle of Marj-ud-Debaj, or the Battle of Meadow of Brocade.

But it would be generous to call this a "battle". It was more of a massacre of helpless people in a quest for revenge and loot. 

There was a financial incentive. Each Roman captured as a slave was money in the bank for the Muslims plus there were all the personal possessions the refugees had with them. Attacking the Romans was about cold hard cash - - - with a dash of "religion" as a fig leaf.

Muslim scouts established the location of the convoy without being spotted and they brought back sufficient information for Khalid to plan his attack. Khalid arranged a skillful plan of attacking the Byzantines from four different sides. First a cavalry regiment of 1000 warriors would attack the Byzantines from their rear in the south, subsequently followed by an attack of a cavalry regiment 1000 warriors from the east, north (thereby blocking their retreat to Antioch) and finally from the west to encircle them completely.

The Romans received their first indication of the presence of the Muslim army when a regiment of 1000 cavalry came charging at them from the south, along the road from Damascus. Half an hour later another cavalry regiment of 1000 warriors led by Raafe bin Umair, appeared from the east and struck the Byzantine's right flank. Within the span of half an hour another cavalry regiment of 1000 warriors from the north, struck the Byzantines at the rear thus blocking their way to retreat north towards Antioch. After about another half an hour later the final Muslim cavalry of 1000 warriors led by Khalid ibn Walid appeared from the west and attacked the Byzantine's left flank.

The Romans were totally encircled by the Muslim's cavalry.

Khalid personally killed Thomas (Son in Law of Emperor Heraclius) in a duel. After some more fighting, Roman resistance collapsed. Since the Muslims were too few to completely surround the Roman army and the fighting had become confused as it increased in violence, thousands of  Romans were able to escape and make their way to safety. 

But all the booty and a large number of captives, both male and female, fell to the Muslims.

Maneuver of Muslim army (in red) against the Byzantine convoy (in blue).
(Graphic Wikipedia)

Roman soldiers 6th and 7th century
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Siege of Homs (December 635 - March 636)

The city of Homs was an important center of Eastern Christianity and Roman administration. Starting in 634 the Emperor Heracilus made Homs his forward command post to better direct operations against the invading Muslim armies.

Other Emperors would sent out orders from distant Constantinople without any first hand knowledge of events, of the people or of the geography. Heracilus was a front line commander who had spent considerable time in Syria and Palestine.

One has to wonder how events would have turned out if the Emperor's poor health had not prevented him from commanding Roman troops in person. The destroyer of the Persian Empire might have crushed the Muslim invasion way back in July 634 at the Battle of Ajnadayn.

But with Muslim troops moving on Homs the Emperor retired back just a bit to Antioch to set up his new command post.

After the fall of Damascus most of the Muslim corps returned to their original areas of operations. Amir ibn al Aasi marched back to Palestine and laid siege to Jerusalem which he was still unable to assault. Shurahbil ibn Hasana returned to Jordan and accepted the surrender of Beisan and Tiberias. Abu Ubaida moved north receiving the capitulation of Baalbek, Homs and Hama.

Only Jerusalem and Caesarea still held out in Palestine. Further north the coastal cities of Tyre, Sidon, Beirut and Tripoli were able to hold out because the Roman Navy could provide troops and supplies.

Roman Emperor Heraclius
Crowned Caesar in 610. Latin was still the official language of the military and government. The Emperor faced invasions by Persians, Avars, Spanish Visigoths and Muslim Arabs. The Emperor personally commanded Roman troops in an invasion into the heart of Persia.  He crushed their Empire and forced Persian troops to evacuate the conquered Roman provinces of Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Mesopotamia.


In late 635 AD, Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah sent Khalid ibn Walid with his mobile guard to begin the siege of Homs and later joined him along the main body of the army. The Roman garrisons of Homs and Qinnasrin made a truce with the Muslim army. It was agreed that Homs would pay 10,000 dinars and deliver 100 robes of brocade and in return, the Muslim army would not attack Homs for one year. If, however, any Roman reinforcements arrived to strengthen Homs' garrisons, then the truce would become defunct. The gates of Homs were opened as soon as the truce was signed.

The governors of Homs and Qinnasrin made the truce for reasons of expediency. Both hoped that their garrisons would be reinforced by Emperor Heraclius, and as soon as that happened they would repudiate the extortion of the Muslims. Muslim armies raided many cities in northern Syria, as well as the major towns of ArethusaHamaShaizarApamia. One by one, each city and town that fell to the Muslim army surrendered in peace and agreed to pay the jizya.

It was while the Muslims were at Shaizar that they heard of Roman reinforcements moving to Qinnasrin and Homs. This, naturally, led to the invalidation of the truce established by the city of Homs. The arrival of winter gave the Roman garrison a further assurance of success. In their forts they would be better protected from the cold than the Muslim Arabs, who were not used to intense cold, and with only their tents to give them shelter would suffer severely from the Syrian winter. 

Heraclius wrote to Harbees, the military governor of Homs, "The food of these people is the flesh of the camel and their drink its milk. They cannot stand the cold. Fight them on every cold day so that none of them is left till the spring."

The Roman garrison at Homs was perhaps 8,000 men. The coming Muslim armies had perhaps 15,000 men.

This sample photo of a fortress shows what the Muslims were up against. The Arabs were fast moving raiders who longed for battle in the wide open deserts. They were helpless when faced by the walled fortifications and moat of Homs. The Roman garrison should have stayed in safety inside the walls awaiting reinforcements.


Abu Ubaidah decided to take Homs first, and thus cleared his rear flank from the enemy before undertaking more operations in northern Syria. The Muslim army marched to Homs with Khalid's guard in the lead. On arrival at the city, a short battle was fought between Khalid and the Roman garrison. The Muslims drove the Roman guard back, which forced the Roman's to withdraw into the fort and close the gates.

Homs was a fortified circular-shaped city with a diameter of less than a mile, and it was surrounded by a moat. There was also a citadel atop a hillock inside the fort.

The winter siege continued and every day there was an exchange of archery, but no major action took place which could lead to a decision either way.

It was about the middle of March 636 when the worst of the winter was over, that Harbees decided to make a surprise sally and defeat the Muslims in battle outside the fort, as the Roman hope of the cold driving the Muslims away vanished. Supplies were running low, and with the coming of spring and better weather the Muslims would receive further reinforcements and would then be in an even stronger position.

Early one morning the Rastan Gate was flung open and Harbees led 5,000 men into a quick attack on the unsuspecting Muslim army facing that gate. The speed and violence of the attack took the Muslims by surprise, and although this was the largest of the four groups positioned at the four gates, it was driven back from the position where it had hastily formed up for battle. 

A short distance back the Muslims reformed their front and held the attack of the Romans, but the pressure became increasingly heavy and the danger of a break-through became clearly evident. 

Abu Ubaidah sent Khalid to restore the situation. Khalid moved forward with the mobile guard, took the hard pressed Muslims under his command and redeployed the Muslim army for battle. After all these defensive measures Khalid took the offensive and steadily pushed the Romans back, though it was not till near sunset that the Romans were finally driven back into the fort. The sally had proved unsuccessful.

Colorized photo of a Bedouin warrior holding a spear / lance, late 1800s to early 1900s.
(pinterest.com)


The following morning Abu Ubaidah held a council of war and expressed his dissatisfaction with the manner in which the Muslims had given way before the Roman attack, whereupon Khalid remarked, "These Romans were the bravest I had ever met."
Abu Ubaidah asked Khalid for his advice and Khalid told him his plan. The next morning they would make a fake withdrawal of the army from Homs giving the Romans the impression that the Muslims were raising the siege and were withdrawing to the south. The Romans would surely attack the rearguard of the withdrawing Muslim army and at that moment the army would turn back, encircle the Roman army and annihilate them.
According to the plan, early the following morning, the Muslims raised the siege and withdrew to the south. Viewing it as a brilliant military opportunity, Harbees immediately collected 5,000 Byzantine warriors and led them out of the fort to chase the Muslims. He launched his mounted force into a fast pursuit to catch up with the retreating Muslim forces and strike them down as they fled.

The Roman army caught up with the Muslims a few miles from Homs. The leading elements of Roman cavalry were about to pounce upon the 'retreating Muslims', when the Muslims suddenly turned and struck at the Romans with ferocity.

As the Muslims turned on the Romans, Khalid shouted a command at which two mounted groups detached themselves from the Muslim army, galloped round the flanks of the surprised Byzantines and charged from the rear. Steadily and systematically the Muslims closed in from all sides.

At the time when the Muslims started their attack on the encircled Romans, a group of 500 horsemen had galloped back to Homs to see to it that no escaping Roman got into the fort. As these horsemen neared Homs, the terrified inhabitants and the remnants of the Roman garrison which had not joined the pursuit hastily withdrew into the fort and closed the gates. Muslim troops deployed in front of the gates to prevent the soldiers inside Homs from coming out and the Romans outside Homs from getting in.

As soon as this action was over the Muslims returned to Homs and resumed the siege. The local inhabitants offered to surrender on terms, and Abu Ubaidah accepted the offer. This happened around the middle of March, 636. The inhabitants paid the Jizya at the rate of one dinar per man, and peace returned to Homs.

It was said that only about a hundred Romans chasing the Muslim army got away. The Muslims claimed to have lost about 235 dead in the entire operation against Homs, from the beginning of the siege to the end of the last action. That very low number is highly doubtful. 

But no matter how the real numbers broke down this was a major victory for the Muslims with yet another large Roman army eliminated from the war.

Aftermath

Soon after the surrender of Homs, the Muslims set out once again for the north, intending to take the whole of Northern Syria this time, including Aleppo and Antioch. They went past Hama and arrived at Shaizar

Here a Roman convoy taking provisions to Qinnasrin and escorted by a small body of soldiers was intercepted and captured by Khalid. The prisoners were interrogated, and they provided the information regarding the plan of the Emperor Heraclius, and concentration of a large Roman army at Antioch. 

The Emperor had not been idle. Heraclius directed the Roman garrisons in Syria and Palestine to stand their ground.

While these units kept the Muslims busy, the Emperor was gathering troops in northern Syria from all over the Roman Empire for a major counter attack. Heraclius was bringing in Roman regiments from the Balkans and Asia Minor. In addition he collected a large force of Christian Arabs and Armenians to join in the march south.

But more of this in Part VIII.

Limitanei static frontier guard troops existed 
through the Persian Wars and the Arab Conquest.

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(Great Arab Conquests)    (Maraj-al-Debaj)    (Conquest of the Levant)

(Emesa)