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 28, 2014

Byzantine Sardinia - Imperial Province

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

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

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

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

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

Conquest by the Roman Republic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vandal Conquest

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

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

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

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

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

The Byzantine Re-Conquest

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

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

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

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

Walls of the Byzantine castrum at Tharros

The Byzantine Castra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Incursions of the Arabs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ending Byzantine Rule

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Akritai - Byzantine Border Troops

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

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

Border Security
Late Legionary - 5th century AD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who were the Akritai?

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

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

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

Their role in the East

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, March 3, 2014

Column of Flavius Arcadius Augustus

Assassins Creed - Forum of Arcadius

The column of Arcadius was a Roman triumphal column begun in 401 in the forum of Arcadius in Constantinople to commemorate Arcadius's triumph over the Goths under Gainas in 400. Arcadius died in 408, but the decoration of the column was only completed in 421, so the monument was dedicated to his successor Theodosius II.

During his reign, an old marketplace, known as the Forum of the Cow, was redecorated and renamed Forum of Arcadius.

Because on the Forum of Constantine and the Forum of Theodosius the emperors were commemorated with honorific columns, Arcadius also received such a monument, about fifty meters tall, and there was statue stood on top of it. It fell off during an earthquake in 704.

If we can believe a sixteenth-century drawing, the shaft was decorated with spiral bands of sculpture, representing scenes from a war. This frieze wound itself around the column fourteen times. Inside was a spiral staircase, which enabled people to climb to the top. (The war scenes must have been fairly stereotypical, because the emperor never went
to the front.)

On the pedestal, one could see Arcadius and his brother Honorius, united and triumphing over the barbarians; above them, two angels carry the sign of the cross, suggesting that the two rulers had received their power from God.

The Column of Arcadius was intentionally destroyed in 1715, because, after an earthquake, it had become unstable and it was likely to collapse. The ivy-clad, sad remains of this momument -that is: the inner core of the pedestal- can be found near the corner of the Cerra Pașa Caddesi and Haseki
Kadın Sokagi.

The detail of the shaft's decoration is conserved in a series of drawings made in 1575.

Forum of Arcadius

The Forum of Arcadius was built by the Emperor Arcadius in the city of Constantinople.

Built in 403, it was built in the Xerolophos area and was the last forum before reaching the Constantinian city walls and the Golden Gate in a line of forums, including the Forum of Theodosius, the Forum of Constantine, the Forum Bovis, and the Forum Amastrianum, built westward from the city center along the Mese.

The forum was later converted to a bazaar by the Ottomans, referred to as the Avrat Pazarı or "Women's Bazaar", which was mistaken with the Slave Market at Tavukpazari near Nur-u Osmaniye used for the auctioning of female slaves.

Emperor Arcadius

Arcadius (Flavius Arcadius Augustus; 377/378 – 1 May 408) was Eastern Roman Emperor from 395 until his death in 408. He was the eldest son of Theodosius I and his first wife Aelia Flaccilla, and brother of the Western Emperor Honorius. A weak ruler, his reign was dominated by a series of powerful ministers and by his wife, Aelia Eudoxia.

Arcadius was born in Hispania, the elder son of Theodosius I and Aelia Flaccilla, and brother of Honorius, who would become a Western Roman Emperor. His father declared him an Augustus and co-ruler for the Eastern half of the Empire in January, 383. His younger brother was also declared Augustus in 393, for the Western half.

Arcadius issued an edict of religious persecution by ordering that all remaining non-Christian temples should be immediately demolished.

Arcadius was dominated for part of his rule by Anthemius, the Praetorian Prefect. Arcadius himself was more concerned with appearing to be a pious Christian than he was with political or military matters, and he died, only nominally in control of his Empire, in 408.

In this reign of a weak Emperor dominated by court politics, a major theme was the ambivalence felt by prominent individuals and the court parties that formed and regrouped round them towards barbarians, which in Constantinople at this period meant Goths. In the well-documented episode that revolved around Gainas, a number of Gothic foederati stationed in the capital were massacred, the survivors fleeing under the command of Gainas to Thrace, where they were tracked down by imperial troops and slaughtered and Gainas dispatched.

The column was built to honor the victory over the Goths.

Idealizing bust of Arcadius in the Theodosian style combines
elements of classicism with the new hieratic style.
(Istanbul Archaeology Museum)

Base of the column

Column of Flavius Arcadius Augustus
Venetians, Turks and others would have met in markets like this one in the Jerrahpasha district of Constantinople, across the Golden Horn from the Venetians’ trading centers. The spiral column shown in this illustration from a 16th-century Ottoman manuscript was erected in about 405 by the Eastern Roman Emperor Arcadius.

(Emperor Arcadius)      (Column of Arcadius)      (Livius.org)