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, June 16, 2016

The Roman Army on the Eastern Front - Provincia Cappadocia

(Roman Empire.net)

The Front Line Against Persia
Roman Province from 18 AD to the 7th century

The Eastern Front of the Roman Empire was in endless danger of invasion by the Persians.  There were many outposts and strongpoints meant to stop or slow down an invading enemy until reinforcements could arrive.

The front line against Persia was Cappadocia, a province of the Roman Empire in Anatolia, with its capital at Caesarea. It was established in 18 AD by the Emperor Tiberius (ruled 14-37 AD), following the death of Cappadocia's last king, Archelaus.

Cappadocia was an imperial province, meaning that its governor (legatus Augusti) was directly appointed by the emperor.

Bording the Euphrates river to the east, Cappadocia was the most eastern province of the Empire. Its capital, Caesarea, was located in more central Anatolia, further back from the Parthian frontier. Upon annexation, the province was governed by a governor of Equestrian rank with the title Procurator. The Procutors commanded only auxiliary military units and looked to the Senatorial ranked Imperial Legate of Syria for direction.

The 16th Legion was one of
many stationed on the frontier.
The first Cappadocian to be admitted to the Roman Senate was Tiberius Claudius Gordianus, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius during the middle second century AD.

When the emperor Vespasian added Commagene to the Roman empire (72 CE), the upper Euphrates became a frontier zone; across the river were the Oersian Parthian Empire and the buffer state Armenia.

The main road along the Roman border (limes) was from Trapezus on the shores of the Black Sea to Alexandria near IssusSeleucia, and Antioch near the Mediterranean in the south.

The legionary bases in the general area of this highway included the Sixteenth Legion Flavia Firma, Melitene (XII Fulminata), Samosata (VI Ferrata), Zeugma (IIII Scythicaand XV Apollinaris.

The city-fortress of Satala was a main strongpoint because it commanded not only the Euphrates, but also the road from central Anatolia to Armenia.

The province of Cappadocia was ground zero for the endless invasions and counter invasions on the Persian frontier. 

Although warfare between the Romans and the Parthians/Sassanids lasted for seven centuries, the frontier remained largely stable. A game of tug of war ensued: towns, fortifications, and provinces were continually sacked, captured, destroyed, and traded. Neither side had the logistical strength or manpower to maintain such lengthy campaigns far from their borders, and thus neither could advance too far without risking stretching its frontiers too thin. Both sides did make conquests beyond the border, but in time the balance was almost always restored. 

The line of stalemate shifted in the 2nd century AD: it had run along the northern Euphrates; the new line ran east, or later northeast, across Mesopotamia to the northern Tigris. There were also several substantial shifts further north, in Armenia and the Caucasus.

Provincia Cappadocia

The Eastern Empire and Cappadocia

As the 300s progressed the Western Empire was put under more and more pressure by invading barbarians.  That meant the Eastern Empire was acting increasingly in an independent manner until the final break between east and west in 395 AD. 

In the late 330s, the eastern half of the province was split off to form the provinces of Armenia Prima and Armenia Secunda. In 371, emperor Valens split off the south-western region around Tyana, which became Cappadocia Secunda under a praeses, while the remainder became Cappadocia Prima, still under a consularis.

As the re-organization of the province took place, the wars with Persia went on. From the war of Emperor Julian in 363 the Persian conflicts around Cappadocia continued for centuries.
6th Century Roman Soldier

In the period 535-553, under emperor Justinian I, the two provinces were rejoined into a single unit under a proconsul. Throughout late Roman times, the region was subject to raids by the Isaurians, leading to the fortification of local cities. In the early 7th century, the region was briefly captured by the Sassanid Persian Empire.

The Persian Empire was totally crushed in 628 AD. But peace lasted only a short time.  In the 630s and 640s the eruption of the Muslim conquests and repeated raids devastated the region.

The old Roman province of Cappadocia became a frontier zone with the Arabs and dissolved as an administrative unit.

Following the disastrous defeats of the 630 - 640 period, units of the East Roman Army fell back into central Anatolia.  The army of the magister militum per Armeniae (the "Armeniacs") was withdrawn from Syria and settled in the areas of PontusPaphlagonia and Cappadocia, giving its name to the region - the new theme of Armeniac.  The new Anatolic Theme also took over part of the area.

The Ameniac theme's capital was at Amaseia, and it was governed by a stratēgos, who ranked, together with the stratēgoi of the Anatolic and Thracesian themes, in the first tier of stratēgoi, drawing an annual salary of 40 gold pounds. In the 9th century, it fielded some 9,000 men and encompassed 17 fortresses. Its size and strategic importance on the Byzantine Empire's north-eastern frontier with the Muslims made its governor a powerful figure.

After six centuries Cappadocia and it's main enemy Persia were gone. But wars never end. The Eastern Empire simply reorganized the provinces to face their new enemy - Islam.
Reconstruction of a Persian Sassanid Cataphract

The expense of resources during the centuries of Roman–Persian Wars ultimately proved catastrophic for both empires. The prolonged and escalating warfare of the 6th and 7th centuries left them exhausted and vulnerable in the face of the sudden emergence and expansion of the new Muslim Caliphate, whose forces invaded both empires only a few years after the end of the last Roman–Persian war.

(livius.org)      (Persian Wars)      (Cappadocia)

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Byzantine Empire – Manuel I Aspron Trachy

Byzantine Gold Coins

Making The World Go Around Since 395 AD

(Coin Week)  -  In 1092 CE the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus enacted sweeping coinage reforms. He stopped production of previous denominations and introduced five new ones:
The gold hyperpyron (which served as the unit of account for the new money), the electrum aspron trachy, the billon (copper and silver) aspron trachy, the copper tetarteron, and the copper noummion or half-tetarteron. Three electrum aspra trachea equalled one hyperpyron.
Electrum is a naturally-occurring alloy of gold and silver, and was the metal of choice for the Lydians of Asia Minor, who are generally agreed to have made the first coins in European history. When found in nature, the admixture of the two precious metals can differ depending on the geographical point of origin. But in the case of the aspron trachy, the Byzantines mixed the electrum themselves, with six karats of gold to 18 karats of silver.
This predominance of silver in the alloy gave the denomination the first part of its name; aspron was a Byzantine term meaning “white” when used in reference to silver. The second part (trachy) referred to the “rough” or uneven shape of the coin.
“Cupped”, in other words.
Starting in the early 11th century–almost 60 years before the reforms of Alexius–the Byzantine Empire began to produce gold coins with a slight curve. Within a hundred years, the majority of Byzantine coinage in all metals and alloys was deeply cup-shaped. Exactly why has intrigued numismatists for generations, but according to CoinWeek’s Mike Markowitz, a thin and debased coinage became increasingly concave in order to improve its sturdiness and durability.
Design-wise, Byzantine cup-shaped (scyphate) coinage typically features an image of Jesus Christ on the obverse (the convex side), with the ruler featured on the reverse. The coin pictured above and below is a fully struck aspron trachy minted at Constantinople during the reign of Manuel I Comnenus (ruled 1143-1180 CE).
Manuel I Komnenos (November, 28 1118 – September, 24, 1180).  Eager to restore his empire to its past glories as the superpower of the Mediterranean world, Manuel pursued an energetic and ambitious foreign policy. In the process he made alliances with the Pope and the resurgent West. He invaded the Norman Kingdom of Sicily, although unsuccessfully.
The passage of the potentially dangerous 
Second Crusade was adroitly managed through his empire. Manuel established a Byzantine protectorate over the Crusader states of Outremer. Facing Muslim advances in the Holy Land, he made common cause with the Kingdom of Jerusalem with a combined Byzantine-Crusader invasion of Fatimid Egypt. Manuel reshaped the political maps of the Balkans and the eastern Mediterranean, placing the kingdoms of Hungary and Outremer under Byzantine hegemony and campaigning aggressively against his neighbors both in the west and in the east.

A bearded Christ stands on a dais facing the viewer, wearing a tunic known as a colobium and a full-body cloak called a pallium. A halo with a cross inside it (nimbus cruciger) surrounds His head. Two eight-pointed stars appear next to Him, one on each side. To the left of Jesus are the letters IC; the letters XC are to the right. In His left hand is a book of Gospels.
There appears to be significant strike doubling of the halo and Christ’s left shoulder.
A bearded, front-facing and full-body image of Manuel I stands on the left while a similarly bearded, front-facing and full-body image of St. Theodore (presumably St. Theodore of Amasea, one of two military saints named Theodore in the Eastern Orthodox Church) stands on the right. Manuel appears to be closer to the ground than St. Theodore. Both men hold a Patriarchal cross (a version of the Christian cross with a second, smaller crossbar on top) between them, St. Theodore’s right hand above Manuel’s left. At the bottom of the cross is a ball or globus.
A halo surrounds Theodore’s head. The emperor wears a crown, along with a long, close-fitting military tunic (divitision). A long, embroidered, gem-encrusted scarf (loros) is wrapped around his abdomen. St. Theodore appears to be wearing some kind of military tunic, possibly armor, and boots. Both men rest their other hands on the handles of unsheathed swords.
The letters MANOVL are usually found to the left of the emperor, but here are practically illegible.

Coin Specifications:

Nationality: Byzantine
Issuing Authority: Manuel I
Date: ca. 1143-1180 CE
Metal/Alloy: Electrum (1:3 gold to silver)
Denomination:Aspron Trachy
Weight: approx. 3.90 grams
Diameter: approx. 31 mm

The Wealth of Constantinople
Constantinople was a prime hub in a trading network that at various times extended across nearly all of Eurasia and North Africa. The Eastern Roman Empire had the most powerful economy in the world. From the 10th century until the end of the 12th, the Byzantine Empire projected an image of luxury, and the travelers were impressed by the wealth accumulated in the capital.

By the end of Marcian's reign, the annual revenue for the Eastern Empire was 7,800,000 solidi, thus allowing him to amass about 100,000 pounds of gold or 7,200,000 solidi for the imperial treasury. The wealth of Constantinople can be seen by how Justin I used 3,700 pounds of gold just for celebrating his own consulship. By the end of his reign, Anastasius I had managed to collect for the treasury an amount of 23,000,000 solidi or 320,000 pounds of gold.

By 1343 the Byzantine economy had declined so much that Empress Anna of Savoy had to pawn the Byzantine crown jewels for 30,000 Venetian ducats, which was the equivalent of 60,000 hyperpyra. In 1348, Constantinople had an annual revenue of 30,000 hyperpyra while across the Golden Horn in the Genoese colony of Galata, the annual revenue was 200,000 hyperpyra.

(Coin week)      (Manuel I Komnenos)      (Economy)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Byzantine Castello Baradello in Italy

Byzantine Castello Baradello near the Alps

Defending Byzantine Italy

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

The Gothic Wars

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

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

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

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

The Castello Baradello 

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

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

Castello Baradello near Como, Italy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Procopius: How Justinian Ruined His Subjects

Emperor Justinian

How To Bankrupt An Empire

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

By Procopius of Caesarea
500 - 554 AD
The Secret History

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

throughout the empire.
Read More:

Byzantine North Africa under Justinian

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

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

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



Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Zoroastrians and Christians vs Islam - The Amorium Campaign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roman Emperor Theophilos

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

The Faravahar symbol of Zoroastrianism
and ancient Persia.

A Zoroastrian - Christian Alliance

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roman Invasion of Mesopotamia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So much for the Emperor's "victory".

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

The Muslim Counter Invasion

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

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

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

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

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

The Caliph divided his force into two parts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Siege and Sack of Amorium

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

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

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

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

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

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

A "Battle Shy" Emperor

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

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

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

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

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

Click to enlarge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Came After

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amorium - click to enlarge

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