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

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Farmer's Law, 7th - 8th Centuries

5th century Byzantine mosaic

After the attacks by Persians, Arabs and Slavs, there is some indication that the great landed estates of late antiquity gave way, in the Byzantine heartland of Anatolia, to a system of free peasant farms. These peasants paid taxes to the state and enabled a functional local army to operate throughout the empire. Although this might be overemphasized, the contrast with western Europe is outstanding. In the west the "state" as a function of society either disappeared or shrank to insignificant proportions and distinctions between public and private power were minimal. 

In Byzantium, by contrast, the state maintained its distinctive identity. The lives of Byzantine peasants are not entirely invisible to us: we can see them in hagiographical material, such as the Life of St. Theodore of Sykeon, as well as in legal sources. Here are extracts from the 7th-8th century Farmer's Law, which regulated the behavior of free peasants.

The Farmer's Law, 7th - 8th Centuries

The Farmer who is working his own field must be just and must not encroach on his neighbor's furrows. If a farmer persists in encroaching and dock's a neighboring lot - if he did this in plowing time, he loses his plowing; if it was in sowing time that he made his encroachment, he loses his seed and his husbandry and his crop - the farmer who encroached.
If a farmer without his landowner's cognizance enters and plows or sows let him not receive either wages for his plowing or the crop for his sowing - no, not even the seed that has been cast.
If two farmers agree with the other before two or three witnesses to exchange lands and they agree for all time, let their determination and their exchange remain firm and secure and unassailable.
If two farmers, A and B, agree to exchange their lands for the season of sowing and A draws back, then, if the seed was cast, they may not draw back; but if the seed was not cast they may draw back; but if A did not plow while B did, A also shall plow.
If two farmers exchange lands either for a season or for all time and one plot is found deficient as compared with the other, and this was not their agreement, let him who has more give an equivalent in land to him who has less; but if this was their agreement, let them give nothing in addition.
If a farmer who has a claim on a field enters against the sower's will and reaps, then, if he had a just claim, let him take nothing from it; but if his claim was baseless, let him provide twice over the crops that were reaped.
If two territories contend about a boundary or a field, let the judges consider it and they shall decide in favor of the territory which had thee longer possession; but if there is an ancient landmark, let the ancient determination remain unassailed.
If a division wronged people in their lots or lands, let them have license to undo the division.

If a farmer on shares reaps without the grantor's consent and robs him of his sheaves, as a thief shall he be deprived of all his crop.
A share holder's portion is nine bundles, the grantor's one: he who divides outside these limits is accursed.
If a man takes land from an Indigent farmer and agrees to plow only and to divide, let their agreement prevail; if they also agreed on sowing, let it prevail according to their agreement.
If a farmer takes from some indigent farmer, his vineyard to work on a half share and does not prune it as is filling and dig it and fence it and dig it over, let him receive nothing from the produce....
If a farmer takes over the farming of a vineyard or piece of land and agrees with the owner and takes earnest-money and starts and then draws back and gives it up, let him give the just value of the field and let the owner have the field.
Workers on the field (down) and pay time (up),
Byzantine Gospel of 11th century.
If a farmer enters and works another farmer's woodland, for three years he shall take its profits for himself and then give the land back again to its owner.
If a farmer who is too poor to work his own vineyard takes flight and goes abroad, let those from whom claims are made by the public treasury gather in the grapes, and the farmer if he returns shall not be entitled to mulct them In the wine.
If a farmer who runs away from his own field pays every year the extraordinary taxes of the public treasury, let those who gather in the grapes and occupy the field be mulcted twofold.
Concerning Herdsmen. If a neat herd in the morning receives an ox front a farmer and mixes it with the herd, and it happens that the ox is destroyed by a wolf, let him explain the accident to its master and he himself shall go harmless.
If a herdsman who has received an ox loses it and on the same clay on which the ox was lost does not give notice to the master of the ox that "I kept sight of the ox up to this or that point, but what is become of it I do not know," let him not go harmless, but, if he gave notice, let him go harmless.
If a herdsman receives an ox from a farmer in the morning and goes off and the ox gets separated front the mass of oxen and goes off and goes into cultivated plots or vineyards and does harm, let him not lose his wages, but let him make good the harm done.
If a herdsman in the morning receives all ox from a farmer arid the ox disappears, let him swear in the Lord's name that he has not himself played foul and at he had no part in the loss of the ox and let him go harmless.
If a guardian of fruit is found stealing in the place which he guards, let him lose his wages and be well beaten.
If a hired shepherd is found milking his flock without the owner's knowledge and selling them, let him be beaten and lose his wages.
If a man is found stealing another's straw, he shall restore it twice over.
If a man takes an ox or an ass or any beast without its owner's knowledge and goes off on business, let him give its hire twice over; and if it dies on the road, he shall give two for one, whatever it may be....
Roman farmers in Sicily
If a man steals all ox or an ass and is convicted, he shall be whipped and give it twice over and all its gain.
If while a mail is trying to steal one ox from a herd, the herd is put to flight and eaten by wild beasts, let him be blinded.
If a man finds an ox in a wood and kills it, and takes the carcass let his hand be cut off.
If a slave kills one ox or ass or ram in a wood, his master shall make it good.
If a slave, while trying to steal by night, drives the sheep away from the flock in chasing them out of the fold, and they are lost or eaten by wild beasts, let him be hanged as a murderer.
If a man is found in a granary stealing corn, let him receive in the first place a hundred lashes, and make good the damage to the owner; if he is convicted a second time, let him pay twofold damages for his theft; if a third time, let him be blinded.
If a man at night steals wine front a jar or from a vat or out of a butt, let him suffer the same penalty as is written in the chapter above.
If people have a deficient measure of corn and wine arid do not follow the ancient tradition of their fathers but out of covetousness have unjust measures contrary to those that are appointed, let them be beaten for their impiety.
If a man delivers cattle to a slave for pasture without his master's knowledge and the slave sells them or otherwise damages them, let the slave and his master go harmless. Where a man destroys another's beast on any pretense, when he is recognized, let him indemnify its owner.
If a man harvests his lot. before his neighbor's lots have been harvested and he brings in his beasts and does harm to his neighbors, let him receive thirty lashes and make good the damage to the party injured.
If a man gathers in the fruits of his vineyard arid while the fruits of some lots are still ungathered brings in his beasts, let him receive thirty lashes and make good the damage to the party injured.

If a man lawlessly, when he has a suit with another, cuts his vines or any other tree, let his hand be cut off.
If a man who is dwelling in a district ascertains that a piece of common ground is suitable for the erection of a mill and appropriates it and then, after the completion of the building, if the commonalty of the district complain of the owner of the building as having appropriated common ground, let them give him all the expenditure that's due to him for the completion of the building and let them share it in common with its builder.
If after the land of the district has been divided, a man finds in his own lot a place which is suitable for the erection of a mill and sets about it, the farmers of the other lots are not entitled to say anything about the mill.
If the water which comes to the mill leaves dry cultivated plots or vineyards, let him make the damage good; if not, let the mill be idle.
If the owners of the cultivated plots are not willing that the water go through their plots, let them be entitled to prevent it.

extracted from W. Ashburner, trans., "The Farmer's law", Journal of Hellenic Studies, 32 (1912), 87-95

(Fordham.edu - farmers law)

Farmers milking goats, ancient Byzantine mosaic in Istanbul.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Byzantine Fortress of Archaeopolis (Nokalakevi) in Georgia

The Fortress of Archaeopolis
Roman strong point in the endless Persian Wars

The Eastern Roman fortress of Archaeopolis (Greek Αρχαιόπολις, literally meaning "ancient town") and Tsikhegoji ("Fortress of Kuji"), is a village and archaeological site in the Senaki municipality, Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region, Georgia.  It is also known as Nokalakevi in Georgian.

Its population, known as the Caucasian Iberians, formed the nucleus of the Georgian people (Kartvelians), and the state, together with Colchis to its west, would form the nucleus of the medieval Kingdom of Georgia.

The term Caucasian Iberia is used to distinguish it from the Iberian Peninsula in Western Europe.

Roman Period

This close association with Armenia and Pontus brought upon the country an invasion (65 BC) by the Roman general Pompey, who was then at war with Mithradates VI of Pontus, and Armenia; but Rome did not establish her power permanently over Iberia. Nineteen years later, the Romans again marched (36 BC) on Iberia forcing King Pharnavaz II to join their campaign against Albania.

While another Georgian kingdom of Colchis was administered as a Roman province, Iberia freely accepted the Roman Imperial protection. A stone inscription discovered at Mtskheta speaks of the 1st-century ruler Mihdrat I (AD 58-106) as "the friend of the Caesars" and the king "of the Roman-loving Iberians." Emperor Vespasian fortified the ancient Mtskheta site of Arzami for the Iberian kings in 75 AD.

The next two centuries saw a continuation of Roman influence over the area, but by the reign of King Pharsman II (116 – 132) Iberia had regained some of its former power. Relations between the Roman Emperor Hadrian and Pharsman II were strained, though Hadrian is said to have sought to appease Pharsman. However, it was only under Hadrian's successor Antoninus Pius that relations improved to the extent that Pharsman is said to have even visited Rome, where Dio Cassius reports that a statue was erected in his honor and that rights to sacrifice were given.

The period brought a major change to the political status of Iberia with Rome recognizing them as an ally, rather than their former status as a subject state, a political situation which remained the same, even during the Empire's hostilities with the Parthians.

In 65BC an invasion by General Pompey first extended the influence
of the Roman Republic into the Caucasus Mountains.

Between Rome-Byzantium and Persia

Decisive for the future history of Iberia was the foundation of the Sasanian (or Sassanid) Empire in 224. By replacing the weak Parthian realm with a strong, centralized state, it changed the political orientation of Iberia away from Rome. Iberia became a tributary of the Sasanian state during the reign of Shapur I (241-272).

Relations between the two countries seem to have been friendly at first, as Iberia cooperated in Persian campaigns against Rome, and the Iberian king Amazasp III (260-265) was listed as a high dignitary of the Sasanian realm, not a vassal who had been subdued by force of arms. But the aggressive tendencies of the Sasanians were evident in their propagation of Zoroastrianism, which was probably established in Iberia between the 260s and 290s.

However, in the Peace of Nisibis (298) while the Roman empire obtained control of Caucasian Iberia again as a vassal state and acknowledged the reign over all the Caucasian area, it recognized Mirian III, the first of the Chosroid dynasty, as king of Iberia.

Roman predominance proved crucial in religious matters, since King Mirian III and leading nobles converted to Christianity around 317 and declared Christianity as state religion. The event is related with the mission of a Cappadocian woman, Saint Nino, who since 303 had preached Christianity in the Georgian kingdom of Iberia (Eastern Georgia).

The religion would become a strong tie between Georgia and Rome (later Byzantium) and have a large scale impact on the state's culture and society.

However, after the Emperor Julian was slain during his failed campaign in Persia in 363, Rome ceded control of Iberia to Persia.

The rivalry continued for centuries between both Rome and Byzantium against Sasanian Persia for supremacy in the Caucasus.

The Eastern Roman Empire extended into the Caucasus Mountains.

The Nokalakevi-Archaeopolis Fortress played a pivotal part in the major wars fought between the Byzantines and Sasanians in the South Caucasus during the sixth century AD. It was one of the key fortresses guarding Lazika from Sasanian, Persian and Iberian attack.

The Persian Sassanids recognized Lazica (Egrisi) as part of the Byzantine sphere of influence by the "Eternal Peace" Treaty of 532.

During the Byzantine–Sasanian Lazic War of 540 - 562 AD, the Persians' failure to take the Nokalakevi-Archaeopolis Fortress from the Byzantines and the Laz eventually cost them control of Lazika.
Sasanian Empire Cavalry
For over 700 years Rome faced
endless wars with Persia.

The early Byzantine defensive fortifications of Nokalakevi-Archaeopolis take advantage of the site's position within a loop of the river Tekhuri, which has carved a gorge through the local limestone to the west of the fortress. Furthermore, the steep and rugged terrain to the north of the site made the citadel established there almost unassailable.

A wall connected this 'upper town' to the 'lower town' below, where excavations have revealed substantial stone buildings of the fourth to sixth century AD. Beneath these late Roman period layers there is evidence of several earlier phases of occupation and abandonment, from the eighth to second centuries BC.

Archaeological work at the site

Modern study of the site began in the decades before the formal Russian annexation of Samegrelo, with a visit by the Swiss philologist Frédéric Dubois de Montpéreux in 1833-4. He identified the ruins as the Archaeopolis of Byzantine historians and argued that the site was Aia, the ancient Colchian capital of the Greek Argonaut myth.

This, unsurprisingly, stimulated much scholarly interest, which culminated in the 1920s with proposals for an archaeological excavation. In the winter of 1930-31, a joint German-Georgian team, led by Dr Alfonse-Maria Schneider of Freiburg University, traced the line of the walls and excavated about 40 survey trenches and one of the towers, as well as what they erroneously believed to be the agora in the 'lower' town.

Their findings — including an impressive hoard of gold solidi of the Emperor Maurice (AD 584-602) — confirmed Dubois de Montpéreux's identification of the site with Archaeopolis, without settling the question of Aia.

Fortress of Archaeopolis

Aerial View of Archaeopolis. Photo by travelgeorgia.ru via Wikimedia

The Forty Martyrs Church

The early Byzantine defensive fortifications of Archaeopolis take advantage of the site's position within a loop of the river Tekhuri, which has carved a gorge through the local limestone to the west of the fortress. Furthermore, the steep and rugged terrain to the north of the site made the citadel almost unassailable.

The Byzantine Fortress of Archaeopolis in the center of Lazica.

(Lazic War)        (Caucasian Iberia)        (georgiaabout.com - Nokalakevi-fortress)

(antiquity.ac.uk/projgall/everill)        (en - Nokalakevi)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Battle of Rusokastro - Bulgarians vs. Byzantines

14th Century Byzantine Troops

The Last Battle
Rusokastro was the last major battle in the 700 year
struggle between Bulgaria and Byzantium.

The Battle of Rusokastro occurred on July 18, 1332 near the village of Rusokastro, Bulgaria, between the armies of the Bulgarian Empire and Byzantine Empire. The result was a Bulgarian victory.

Origins of the Conflict

In 1328, the emperors of Bulgaria and Byzantium, Michael Asen III and Andronikos III Palaiologos, signed a secret treaty against Serbia. While Michael Asen III was fighting against the Serbs in 1330, the Byzantines invaded Thrace and captured the Bulgarian towns there.

Following the defeat of Bulgaria in the Battle of Velbazhd the Byzantines got a firm foothold in Thrace.


The Byzantines were not ready for war. Their Empire was rent with civil unrest and the army was fighting against the Turks in Asia Minor. In the Bulgarian Empire, there were internecine struggles as well but the new Emperor Ivan Alexander knew that the decisive confrontation with Byzantium was yet to come and decided to improve his relations with the Serbs.

In 1332, he concluded a peace treaty with them which lasted till his death. The treaty was secured with a marriage between the Serb king Stefan Dushan and the sister of the Emperor, Elena.

In the summer of 1332, the Byzantines gathered an army and without a declaration of war headed towards Bulgaria, looting and plundering the villages on their way.

Bulgarian Light Cavalry
From the 10th to 12th century period.
The Byzantines seized several castles because Ivan Alexander's attention was focused towards fighting the rebellion of his uncle Belaur in Vidin. He tried to negotiate with the Byzantines but ultimately failed. The Emperor decided to act swiftly during the course of five days whereby his cavalry covered 230 km to reach Aitos and face the invaders.

The Bulgarian Army

The country and the army declined after Ivan Asen II's death. His successors could not cope neither with the external nor with the internal problems. Mongol, Byzantine and Hungarian invasions were combined with separatism among the nobility and several civil wars. In 1277, a peasant named Ivailo rebelled against Emperor Constantine Tikh.

In the ensuing battle the Emperor was defeated and slain, and Ivailo proclaimed himself Emperor of Bulgaria in Tarnovo. Although he managed to defeat both the Mongols and the Byzantines, a plot among the nobility forced him to seek refuge among the Mongol Golden Horde, where he was killed in 1280.

The army now numbered less than 10,000 men — it is recorded that Ivailo defeated two Byzantine armies of 5,000 and 10,000 men, and that his troops were outnumbered in both cases.

After the end of the rebellion of Ivailo, the Bulgarians were no match for the Mongols who plundered the country undisturbed for 20 years. With the reign of Theodore Svetoslav (1300–1321), the situation of the army improved — in 1304 he defeated the Byzantines at Skafida. Under his successor the garrison of Plovdiv numbered 2,000 heavily armed footmen and 1,000 horsemen.

In 1330 Michael III Shishman raised a 15,000-strong army to face the Serbs but was defeated at the battle of Velbazhd. Two years later the Bulgarian army numbered 11,000 men.

Strategy & Tactics

The Bulgarian army employed various military tactics. It relied both on the experience of the soldiers and the peculiarities of the terrain. The Balkan mountains played a significant role in the military history of Bulgaria and facilitated the country's defense against the strong Byzantine army which conveyed the Roman military art in the Middle Ages.

Tsar Ivan Alexander
Ruled Bulgaria from 1331 to 1371.
He commanded his army at the 
Battle of Rusokastro.

Most of the nine campaigns of the ambitious Emperor Constantine V to eliminate the young Bulgarian state, which suffered political crisis, failed in the mountain passes of the Balkan. In 811 the whole Byzantine army was destroyed in the Varbitsa pass and in 12th-13th centuries several other Byzantine forces shared that doom.

The Bulgarians maintained many outposts and castles which guarded the passes and were able to locate an invading force and quickly inform the high command about any enemy moves.

Another widely used tactic was to make a false retreat and then suddenly attack the enemy — breaking the lines when in pursuit. This trick won many victories, most notably at the Battle of Adrianople in 1205 against the Crusaders.

Sometimes the Bulgarians left a strong cavalry force in reserve which attacked in the sublime moment and tipped the balance in Bulgarians' favour, for instance in the battle of Anchialus in 917. Ambush was another widely used and very successful strategy especially during the Cometopuli dynasty.

The Bulgarians usually avoided frontal assault and waited the enemy to attack first. After the opponent inevitably breaks his battle formation the Bulgarians would counter-attack with their heavy cavalry. In several battles the Bulgarian troops waited the Byzantines for days until the latter attack — for instance at the Second Battle of Marcellae (792) or Versinikia (813) - and scored decisive victories. In one of the rare occasions in which the army made a frontal attack on the enemy, the result was a defeat despite the heavy casualties the enemy suffered - battle of Anchialus (763).

After a successful battle the Bulgarian would pursue the enemy in depth in order to eliminate as much soldiers as possible and not to allow him to reorganize his forces quickly and effectively. For instance after the victory at Ongal in 680 the Byzantines were chased for 150–200 km. After the success at Anchialus in 917 the Byzantines were not given time to prepare their resistance properly and the result was the annihilation of their last forces in the battle of Katasyrtai.

During war the Bulgarians usually sent light cavalry to devastate the enemy lands on a broad front pillaging villages and small towns, burning the crops and taking people and cattle. During the Second Empire that task was usually assigned to the Cumans. The Bulgarian army was very mobile — for instance prior to the battle of Klokotnitsa for four days it covered a distance three times longer than the Epirote army for a week; in 1332 it covered 230 km for five days.

Mongol Mercenary Cavalry
Re-enactment of a Mongol cavalry advance in 2006 on the 800th anniversary of Mongolian statehood.  The Bulgarians had a 3,000-strong Mongol cavalry detachment in their army.


During the Second Bulgarian Empire, foreign and mercenary soldiers became an important part of the Bulgarian army and its tactics. Since the very beginning of the rebellion of Asen and Peter, the light and mobile Cuman cavalry was effectively used against the Byzantines and later the Crusaders. For instance, fourteen thousand of them were used by Kaloyan in the battle of Adrianople. The Cuman leaders entered the ranks of Bulgarian nobility, and some of them received high military or administrative posts in the state.

During the 14th century the Bulgarian army increasingly relied on foreign mercenaries, which included Western knights, Mongols, Ossetians or came from vassal Wallachia. Both Michael III Shishman and Ivan Alexander had a 3,000-strong Mongol cavalry detachment in their armies.

In the 1350s, Emperor Ivan Alexander even hired Ottoman bands, as did the Byzantine Emperor.

The Eastern Roman Army

The Byzantine army continued to use the same military terms with regards to numbers of troops and officers as did the Komnenian army. However there were fewer territories to raise troops from. In Anatolia, the local support for the Ottoman conquerors grew daily, whilst in Greece the ravaging by the Crusaders states, by Serbia, by Bulgaria, and earlier on by the Angevin Empire ended the region's prominence as a of source of Byzantine levies.

After 1261, the central army consisted 6,000 men, while the number of total field troops never exceeded 10,000 men. The total number of troops under Michael VIII was about 20,000 men; the mobile force numbered 15,000 men, while the town garrisons totaled 5,000 men.

Andronikos III Palaiologos
Eastern Roman Emperor
Ruled from 1328 to 1341.
He commanded the Roman army
at the Battle of Rusokastro.
However, under Andronicus II the more professional elements of the army was demobilized in favor of poorly trained and cheaper militia soldiers. The Emperor decreased the entire army's strength to 4,000 men by 1320, and a year later the Empire's standing army dropped to only 3,000 men.
Even though the Empire had shrunk considerably by the time of Andronicus III's reign, he succeeded in assembling an army of 4,000 men for his campaign against the Ottomans.

By 1453, the Byzantine army had fallen to a regular garrison of 1,500 men in Constantinople.

Byzantine troops continued to consist of cavalry, infantry and archers. Since Trebizond had broken away, Cumans and Turks were used for cavalry and missile units. In the Palaiologan era, the main term for a standing regiment was the allagion.

Palace and imperial guard units included the Varangian Guard, the obscure Paramonai and the Vardariotai.


After Constantinople was retaken, Michael VIII army's continuous campaigning in Greece ensured that the Nicaean army, an offshoot of the expensive but effective Komnenian army remained in play.

Under Andronicus II however, the army was reduced to destructively low numbers - mercenary troops were disbanded to save money and to lower taxes upon the disgruntled population. Instead the use of poorly equipped and ill-disciplined militia soldiers saw the replacement of the vitally important expert soldiers. The results were obvious; Byzantine losses in Asia Minor occurred primarily under Andronicus II.

In 1302 the center of military expenditure shifted back again towards mercenaries, notably the Catalan Company, but after their leader was murdered the company returned to Thrace and Greece were they overthrew the Crusader Duchy of Athens and seriously undermined Greek rule so that on both sides of the Bosporus the Empire suffered. Even so, mercenaries continued to be used after Andronicus II's reign. Ironically Andronicus' successor's policy of using many foreign fighters worsened Byzantium's fortunes in the same way that Andronicus had done so with their disbandment.

The use of Serbs, Bulgarians and Turks of Aydin and of the Ottomans opened Byzantium up to more foreign incursions. The deployment of up to 20,000 Turkish soldiers from the Ottoman realm to assist her nominal Greek ally only eased future conquests of the area.

Since Byzantium became increasingly incapable in raising a "loyal" Greek army, foreigners such as the Knights of Rhodes, Venetians, Genoans and Italians were added to Byzantium's fighting forces. Since the Imperial treasury was bankrupt after c 1350, these foreign fighters fought only for political reasons and often in civil wars, rather than to strengthen Byzantium's position.

Mercenary Catalan Troops.
Some 6,500 men went to fight for the Eastern Empire in 1303.  Mercenaries were used because the Byzantines became increasingly incapable in raising a "loyal" Greek army.

Strategy & Tactics

The Byzantine Empire's main strategy aimed to make maximum use of an often outnumbered army. The key behind this approach was the use of border fortifications that would impede an invading force long enough for the main Imperial army to march in to its relief.

Reconnaissance and ambushing enemy columns remained a favorite Byzantine tactic. At the Battle of Pelekanos, the Ottomans were successfully spied upon by the opposing Byzantine troops.

More serious shortcomings in Byzantine strategy occurred in Asia Minor, particularly against the Ottoman Turks who would raid Byzantine lands and then retreat before any serious resistance could counter. The local population endured heavy burdens in providing officials with food and matériel, but such burdens were to difficult to take as the ravages of warfare were brought home by the Ottomans and their ghazi followers.

After the Imperial army suffered defeat in Asia Minor, Andronikos III saw Anatolia as a lost cause and began reorganizing the Byzantine fleet; as a result the Aegean remained an effective defense against Turkish incursions until Gallipoli was at last captured by the Turks in 1354. From then on, the Byzantine military engaged in small scale warfare against her weak Crusader opponents, mixing in diplomacy and subterfuge, often exploiting civil conflict amongst their Ottoman opponents.

The Battle

The Byzantine Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos advanced into Bulgaria in the summer of 1332 to reclaim former lands of the Empire.  The invasion protracted Bulgarian military operations against rebel forces in their country.

The Byzantines overran Bulgarian-controlled northeastern Thrace, but Ivan Alexander rushed southward with a small army and swiftly caught up with Andronikos III at Rusokastro

Ivan Alexander had troops of 8,000 while the Byzantines were only 3,000.  Though he outnumbered the Byzantines, Alexander did not immediatly attack.  As a brand new ruler already dealing with civil war, Alexander may have been unsure of his ability and position.

There were negotiations between the two rulers, but the Bulgarian Emperor deliberately prolonged them because he was awaiting reinforcements.

In the night of July 17 they finally arrived in his camp (3,000 cavalrymen) and he decided to attack the Byzantines the next day.  Now facing a Bulgarian force of 11,000 men, the greatly outnumbered Andronikos III had no choice but to accept the fight.

The Byzantine army consisted of 16 squads and six of them made up the first column.

The right wing was commanded by the protostrator, the left wing was under the megas papias Alexios Tzamplakon, and the center was commanded personally by the emperor. The army formed a wide front in two lines with the flanks positioned behind the center forming a crescent.

The battle began at six in the morning and continued for three hours.

The Byzantines tried to prevent the Bulgarian cavalry from surrounding them, but their manoeuvre failed. The cavalry moved round the first Byzantine line leaving it for the infantry and charged the rear of their flanks. After a fierce fight the Byzantines were defeated, ran away from the battlefield and hid in Rusokastro.

The Bulgarian army surrounded the fortress and at noon on the same day Ivan Alexander sent envoys to continue the negotiations.

Bulgarians killing Byzantines. 
The Holy Coronas are there to imply that the Byzantine men being slaughtered are martyrs for the Christian faith. 


The Bulgarians had returned to them their lost lands in Thrace and strengthened the positions of their empire. The eight-year old son and successor of the Bulgarian emperor Michael Asen was married to the daughter of Andronikos, Maria, confirming the peace between the two countries.

This battle was considered by the medieval Bulgarian historians as a great triumph of Emperor Ivan Alexander. That was the last major battle between Bulgaria and Byzantium as their seven-century rivalry for domination on the Balkan peninsula was soon to come to an end after the fall of the two Empires under Ottoman domination.

Rusokastro Rock at the north entrance to McFarlane Strait in the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica is named after “the settlement and medieval fortress of Rusokastro in Southeastern Bulgaria.”

Monument for the Battle of Rusokastro.
The Byzantine Empire in the early 1300s.

(Palaiologan Byzantine Army)      (Byzantine Army)      (Medieval Bulgarian Army)

(Byzantine - Bulgarian Wars)      (Second Bulgarian Empire)      (wikipedia.org)