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, October 16, 2015

The Road to Manzikert - Battles of Kapetron, 1st Manzikert, Caesarea and Iconium

Turkish Warriors (Hurriyet Daily News)

The Coming of The Seljuk Turks

By 1045 the Byzantines had stabilized their eastern borders with the Arabs and eliminated Bulgaria as a threat.  But they were still being pressed by Muslim armies in Italy as well as the Christian Normans.

This fairly peaceful situation did not last.  A new enemy appeared.  The second half of the 11th century was marked by the strategically significant invasion of the Seljuq Turks, who by the end of the 1040s had succeeded in building a vast nomadic empire including most of Central Asia and Persia.

The Seljuqs united the fractured political scene of the eastern Islamic world and played a key role in the first and second crusades. Highly Persianized in culture and language, the Seljuqs also played an important role in the development of the Turko-Persian tradition, even exporting Persian culture to Anatolia. 

The settlement of Turkic tribes in the northwestern peripheral parts of the empire, for the strategic military purpose of fending off invasions from neighboring states, led to the progressive Turkicization of those areas.

Turkish attacks in green, Byzantine attacks in red.

Anatolia - Ground Zero for Invasion

By the 10th century the Roman Army led was less reliant on the militia of the themes; it was by now a largely professional force, with a strong and well-drilled infantry at its core and augmented by a revived heavy cavalry arm. With one of the most powerful economies in the world at the time, the Empire had the resources to put to the field a powerful host when needed, in order to reclaim its long-lost territories.

From 1048 to 1069 the Eastern Roman Army took on the invading Muslim Seljuk Turks in a series of four large battles and no doubt countless unreported smaller attacks and skirmishes.

All these battles were leading up the the disastrous final confrontation at Manzikert that gutted the Empire.

Once again detailed campaign histories of these vital events are lost in time or were simply not written at all.

10th Century Byzantine Varangian Guard

Kapetron  (1048)

The Turks had invaded the Roman military theme of Iberia, and for some time there appears to have been a considerable amount of fighting on the eastern border.

The Turks under İbrahim Yinal attacked the city of Arzen, a vibrant commercial center in the Byzantine-administered in IberiaThe Turks set fire to the city reducing it to ashes.

As Roman troops entered the area it was reported that tens of thousands of Christians had been massacred and several areas were reduced to piles of ashes. 

In 1048 a large combined Roman-Georgian army of 50,000 men made first contact with, and defeated the Seljuks at the Battle of Kapetron in a fierce nocturnal battle.

The destruction in the east was horrific.  Armenian historians claim that 140,000 people were killed and that the Turks filled the slave markets of the east with women and children.

First Battle of Manzikert  (1054)

The Turks were defeated and driven out of eastern Anatolia.  The defeat must have made a major impression on the Turks for there was not another major invasion until 6 years later in 1054.

That first success was followed by yet another Byzantine victory against the Turks at the First Battle of Manzikert.

General Basil Apokapes, patrikios and strategos, rallied local forces and the people of Manzikert to repulse an attack by the Seljuks under Sultan Toğrül.


Battle of Caesarea  (1067)

The Battle of Caesarea occurred in 1067 when the Seljuk Turks under Alp Arslan attacked Caesarea as part of the wave conquests implemented by him to expand west of Central Asia.

By the mid 11th century, the Seljuk Turks had deposed the current Abbasid caliphate, with the leader of the Seljuk Turks taking the title for himself. Their expansion into the Middle East brought them to the borders of Antioch and Armenia which were under the control of the Byzantine Empire.

With the hope of capturing Caesarea Mazaca, the capital of Cappadocia, he placed himself at the head of the Turkish cavalry, crossed the Euphrates, and invaded.

The Byzantine Empire had steadily increased in power, with a large force capable of being assembled from their successful tagmata army. Despite this, the Byzantines seemed not to have been prepared for this danger, since Seljuk raids had been occurring across Armenia and Caesarea was stormed by the Seljuks in 1067 culminating with the sack of Caesarea and the plundering of the Church of St Basil.

A Byzantine counter-attack was launched from Antioch. Details are not available, but it appears the Turks abandoned or were driven from the city of Caesarea.

Campaign of 1068

Though Caesarea was most likely re-captured, no doubt the Seljuk Turks had developed a taste for the lands of the Byzantine Empire.
Seljuk Sultan Alp Arslan

That winter the Turks camped on the frontiers of the empire and waited for the next year's campaigning season. The Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes was confident of Byzantine superiority on the field of battle, looking on the Turks as little more than hordes of robbers who would melt away at the first encounter. 

He did not take into account the degraded state of the Byzantine forces, which had suffered years of neglect from his predecessors, in particular Constantine X. His forces, mostly composed of SclavonianArmenianBulgarian, and Frankish mercenaries, were ill-disciplined, disorganized, and uncoordinated, and he was not prepared to spend time in upgrading the arms, armour, or tactics of the once-feared Byzantine army. It was soon evident that while Romanos possessed military talent, his impetuosity was a serious flaw.

The first military operations of Romanos did achieve a measure of success, reinforcing his opinions about the outcome of the war. Antioch was exposed to the Saracens of Aleppo who, with help from Turkish troops, began an attempt to reconquer the Byzantine province of Syria. Romanos began marching to the southeastern frontier of the empire to deal with this threat, but as he was advancing towards Lykandos, he received word that a Seljuk army had made an incursion into Pontus and had plundered Neocaesarea. 

Immediately he selected a small mobile force and quickly raced through Sebaste and the mountains of Tephrike to encounter the Turks on the road, forcing them to abandon their plunder and release their prisoners, though a large number of the Turkish troops managed to escape.

Returning south, Romanos rejoined the main army, and they continued their advance through the passes of Mount Taurus to the north of Germanicia and proceeded to invade the Emirate of Aleppo. Romanos captured Hierapolis, which he fortified to provide protection against further incursions into the south-eastern provinces of the empire. He then engaged in further fighting against the Saracens of Aleppo, but neither side managed a decisive victory. 

With the campaigning season reaching its end, Romanos returned north via Alexandretta and the Cilician Gates to Podandos. Here he was advised of another Seljuk raid into Asia Minor in which they sacked Amorium but returned to their base so fast that Romanos was in no position to give chase. He eventually reached Constantinople by January 1069.

Campaign of 1069 & Battle of Iconium
Copper follis of Emperor Romanos IV

Following Caesarea, the Seljuk Turks made another attempt invading Anatolia, with an assault on Iconium in 1069.

The Battle of Iconium was an unsuccessful attempt by the Seljuk Turks to capture the city of Iconium, modern day KonyaFrom Syria, a successful counter-attack drove the Turks back. 

The land around Caesarea was again overrun by the Turks, forcing Romanos to spend precious time and energy in expelling the Turks from Cappadocia. Desperate to begin his campaign proper, he ordered the execution of all prisoners, even a Seljuk chieftain who offered to pay an immense ransom for his life. Having brought a measure of peace to the province, Romanos marched towards the Euphrates River via Melitene, and crossed the river at Romanopolis, hoping to take Akhlat on Lake Van and thus protect the Armenian frontier.

Romanos placed himself at the head of a substantial body of troops and began his march towards Akhlat, leaving the bulk of the army under the command of Philaretos Brachamios with orders to defend the Mesopotamian frontier. 

Philaretos was soon defeated by the Turks, whose sack of Iconium forced Romanos to abandon his plans and return to Sebaste. He sent orders to the Dux of Antioch to secure the passes at Mopsuestia, while he attempted to run down the Turks at Heracleia. The Turks were soon hemmed in in the mountains of Cilicia, but they managed to escape to Aleppo after abandoning their plunder. 

Romanos once again returned to Constantinople without the great victory he was hoping for.

Campaign of 1070

Romanos was detained at Constantinople in 1070, while he dealt with many outstanding administrative issues, including the imminent fall of Bari into Norman hands.

Being unable to go on campaign himself, he entrusted the imperial army to one of his generals, Manuel Komnenos, nephew of the former emperor Isaac I, and elder brother to the future emperor Alexios. He managed to engage the Turks in battle, but was defeated and taken prisoner by a Turkish general named Khroudj. Manuel convinced Khroudj to go to Constantinople and see Romanos in person to conclude an alliance, which was soon completed. 

This act motivated the Seljuk Sultan Alp Arslan to attack the Byzantine Empire, besieging and capturing the important Byzantine fortresses of Manzikert and Archesh. Romanos, in return, offered to officially exchange Manzikert and Archesh for Hieropolis in Syria, which Romanos had taken three years previously.

Looking Ahead to Manzikert

As the year 1070 ended there was no hint at all of the coming military disaster at Manzikert.

The Emperor Romanos IV had his hands full on the Anatolian front as well as the Norman war in Italy.  But the Emperor had proved himself a fairly good general. He commanded troops right on the front lines, and he gave the Turks punches just as hard as they were giving him.

By the start of 1071 the front lines of the Seljuk War were more or less the same as in previous years.  The coming disaster at Manzikert was more the result of betrayal within the Byzantine ranks than from poor generalship.

Seljuk Warrior

(Manzikert 1054)      (Romanos IV Diogenes)      (Caesarea)

(Constantine X Doukas)      (Iconium 1069)      (Byzantine Studies)

(Alp Arslan)      (Seljuq wars)      (Seljuq dynasty)      (Seljuk Empire)


Friday, October 2, 2015

Political Castration and Mutilation in the Byzantine Empire

Emperor Justinian II had his nose cut off after being overthrown.

Brutal Byzantine Politics

The great failing of politics in the Roman and Byzantine Empires was the lack of political participation by the different segments of society.

Gone were the elected Roman assemblies which had the ultimate authority over elections, legislation, and criminal trials.  The Senate became little more than a rubber stamp institution if it met at all.

Over the centuries the Empire increasingly became a top down dictatorship.  Without the old Roman system of elections the only choice to change government was murder, a violent coup d'état or civil war.

The eastern Emperors used military force to grab power and adopted mutilation of political enemies to frighten the public into submission.
Isaac II Angelos
Isaac was overthrown by
his brother and blinded.

Mutilation in the Eastern Roman Empire was a common method of punishment for criminals of the era but it also had a role in the Empire's political life. 

The mutilation of political rivals by the Emperor was deemed an effective way of sidelining from the line of succession a person who was seen as a threat. In Byzantine culture the Emperor was a reflection of heavenly authority. Since God was perfect the Emperor also had to be unblemished; any mutilation, especially facial wounds, would disqualify an individual from taking the throne. An exception was Justinian II (ὁ Ῥινότμητος, "the slit-nosed") who had his nose cut off (Greek - rhinokopia) when he was overthrown in 695 but was able to become Emperor again in 705.

Some disfigurements practised bore a secondary practical rationale as well. This can be seen in a common method of maiming, blinding. By blinding a rival one would not only restrict their mobility but make it almost impossible for them to lead an army into battle, then an important part of taking control of the Empire. 

Castration was also used to eliminate potential opponents. In the Byzantine Empire, for a man to be castrated meant that he was no longer a man, half-dead, "life that was half death". Castration also eliminated any chance of heirs being born to threaten either the Emperor or the Emperor's children's place at the throne.

Blinding as a punishment for political rivals and a recognized penalty for treachery was established in 705, although Emperor Phocas used it earlier during his rule as well, becoming common practice from Heraclius onwards.

Justinian II (r. 685-695 and 705-711)

Justinian II was the last Roman Emperor of the Heraclian Dynasty, reigning from 685 to 695 and again from 705 to 711. Justinian II was an ambitious and passionate ruler who was keen to restore the Empire to its former glories, but he responded poorly to any opposition to his will and lacked the finesse of his father, Constantine IV. Consequently, he generated enormous opposition to his reign.

In 695 the population rose under Leontios, the strategos of Hellas, and proclaimed him Emperor. Justinian's nose was cut off to prevent his again seeking the throne. He was exiled to Cherson in the Crimea. Later his nose was replaced by a solid gold replica of the original.
Emperor Leontios (695-698)
Leontios cut off Justinian's nose,
but had his own nose cut off and
tongue slit when he was overthrown.

With the support of the Green faction the new Emperor Leontios was in turn overthrown in 698.  In what had by now become a tradition for deposed emperors, Leontios had his nose and tongue slit and was imprisoned in the monastery of Psamathion in Constantinople.

While in exile, Justinian began to plot and gather supporters for an attempt to retake the throne. In spring 705, with an army of 15,000 Bulgar and Slav horsemen Justinian appeared before the walls of Constantinople. For three days, Justinian tried to convince the citizens of Constantinople to open the gates, but to no avail. Unable to take the city by force, he and some companions entered through an unused water conduit under the walls of the city, roused their supporters, and seized control of the city in a midnight coup d'état. 

Justinian once more ascended the throne, breaking the tradition preventing the mutilated from Imperial rule. After tracking down his predecessors, he had his rivals Leontius and Tiberios brought in chains before Justinian in the Hippodrome, now wearing a golden nasal prosthesis. There, before a jeering populace, Justinian placed his feet on the necks of Tiberios and Leontios in a symbolic gesture of subjugation before ordering their execution by beheading, followed by many of their partisans, as well as deposing, blinding and exiling Patriarch Kallinikos I of Constantinople to Rome.

Justinian's tyrannical rule provoked another uprising against him. Cherson revolted and under the leadership of the exiled general Bardanes, the city held out against a counter-attack and soon the forces sent to suppress the rebellion joined it. The rebels then seized the capital and proclaimed Bardanes as Emperor Philippicus;Justinian had been on his way to Armenia, and was unable to return to Constantinople in time to defend it. He was arrested and executed outside the city in December 711, his head being sent to Bardanes as a trophy.

On hearing the news of his death, Justinian's mother took his six-year-old son and co-emperor, Tiberius, to sanctuary at St. Mary's Church in Blachernae, but was pursued by Philippicus' henchmen, who dragged the child from the altar and, once outside the church, murdered him, thus eradicating the line of Heraclius.

In May 713 soldiers rebelled in Thrace. Several of their officers penetrated the city and blinded the new Emperor Bardanes on June 3, 713 while he was in the hippodrome.

The Mutilation of the Emperors Justinian II and Bardanes.

John Athalarichos
John Athalarichos was an illegitimate son of the 7th century Byzantine Emperor Heraclius. In 637, he was alleged to have taken part in a plot to overthrow Heraclius and seize the throne.

Heraclius ordered the amputation of each plotter's nose and hands. In addition to being thus mutilated, Athalarichos was exiled to Prinkipo, one of the Princes' Islands. Theodore received the same treatment, but was sent to Gaudomelete with additional instructions to cut off one leg.

Emperor Heraklonas
Constantine Heraclius (LatinFlavius Constantinus Heraclius Augustus; 626–641), was the son of Heraclius and his niece Martina, and was Byzantine Emperor briefly between February and September 641.

The revolt which ensued toppled Heraklonas and his mother, who were subjected to mutilation and banishment. This was the first time a reigning emperor had been subjected to mutilation, which was a practice probably borrowed from the Persians; in this case, Martina's tongue and Heraklonas' nose were cut out. Nothing further is known about Heraklonas after his removal and exile to Rhodes.
A Imperial Chinese Eunuch

Castration as Political Punishment

Castration as a punishment for political rivals did not come into use until much later, becoming popular in the 10th and 11th centuries. Castrated men were not seen as a threat, as no matter how much power they gained they could never take the throne, and numerous eunuchs were entrusted with high and confidential offices in the Byzantine court and administration. 
A good example is that of Basil Lekapenos, the illegitimate son of the Emperor Romanos I Lekapenos, who was castrated when young. He gained enough power to become parakoimomenos and effective prime minister for three successive emperors, but could not assume the throne himself. 
Other mutilations were the severing of the nose or the amputating of limbs.
The last to use this method voluntarily was Michael VIII Palaiologos, although some of his successors were forced to use it again by the Ottoman Sultans.

Family of John the Orphanotrophos
John the Orphanotrophos was the chief court eunuch (parakoimomenos) during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Romanos III (r. 1028–1034).

As the epilepsy afflicting Michael IV worsened, John's grip on power tightened. John convinced the empress to adopt Stephen's son Michael as her own, thus ensuring the continuation of the Paphlagonian line. Michael IV died on 10 December 1041, possibly in suspicious circumstances, and Michael V succeeded him. Having seen Michael elevated to the imperial throne, John made his nephew Constantine his protégé with the object, according to Psellos, of ensuring his succession. 
The gold solidus of
co-Emperor Constantine
who was castrated.

Michael V exiled John to the Monastery of Monobatae in 1041 and then, again according to Psellos, had all of John's male relatives castrated. John and his brother Constantine were blinded in 1042 on the orders of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael I Cerularius. In the reign of Constantine IX, John was sent to Lesbos and blinded. He died at Lesbos on 13 May 1043.

Constantine (Son of Leo V)
Symbatios was the eldest son of the Byzantine emperor Leo V the Armenian (r. 813–820). Soon after the coronation of his father, he was crowned co-emperor and renamed Constantine (Κωνσταντίνος). He reigned nominally along with his father until the latter's deposition in 820.

After the assassination of his father on 25 December 820, Constantine was banished to the island of Prote along with his mother and three brothers. There, the four brothers were castrated and tonsured. They spent the rest of their days there as monks, although Emperor Michael II the Amorian (r. 820–829) allowed them to keep part of the proceeds from their confiscated estates for their and their servants' upkeep.

Depiction of the blinding of Leo Phokas the Elder after
his unsuccessful rebellion against 
Romanos Lekapenos, from
Madrid Skylitzes chronicle.

Creating a Eunuch

(From Reddit Historians)  -  There are two basic types of eunuchs in history, “clean-cut” (no penis or testicles) or just a removal of the testes. A simple removal of the testes is historically the most common sort. There’s a third type where the penis was removed but the testicles left, but it’s only referenced in a few places for Islamic eunuchs and seems to have been a very limited thing, and there’s really no reason to do it like this other than punishment.

For clean-cut eunuchs there was basically only one method, cutting it all off in one go which I described for the Ottoman black eunuchs in that link, and here’s the Chinese version from G. C. Stent who is probably our most reliable Western reporter:

When the operation is about to take place, the candidate or victim--as the case may be--is placed on a kang in a sitting--or rather, reclining position. One man supports him round the waist, while two others separate his legs and hold them down firmly, to prevent any movement on his part. [...] with one sweep of the knife he is made a eunuch.
The operation is performed in this manner:--white ligatures or bandages are bound tightly round the lower part of the belly and the upper parts of the thighs, to prevent too much haemorrage. The parts about to be operated on are then bathed three times with hot pepper-water, the intended eunuch being in the reclining position as previously described. When the parts have been sufficiently bathed, the whole,--both testicles and penis--are cut off as closely as possible with a small curved knife, something in the shape of a sickle. The emasculation being effected, a pewter needle or spigot is carefully thrust into the main orifice at the root of the penis; the wound is then covered with paper saturated in cold water and is carefully bound up. After the wound is dressed the patient is made to walk about the room, supported by two of the "knifers," for two or three hours, when he is allowed to lie down.
The patient is not allowed to drink anything for three days, during which time he often suffers great agony, not only from thirst, but from intense pain, and from the impossibility of relieving nature during that period.
At the end of three days the bandage is taken off, the spigot is pulled out, and the sufferer obtains relief in the copious flow of urine which spurts out like a fountain. If this takes place satisfactorily, the patient is considered out of danger and congratulated on it; but if the unfortunate wretch cannot make water he is doomed to a death of agony, for the passages have become swollen and nothing can save him.

The exposed urethra would form a standard stoma. Scrotal tissue healed with some cicatrix formation but really nothing too dramatic. There are some historical drawings and photographs of this but I do not link to them in here as they were obtained non-consensually. Google “stoma” if you really need to know though, they all form the same looking thing really.

For removing the just the testes, you’ve got a few more options.

  • Crushing the testes inside the scrotum with no cutting, most likely used for Assyrians (through some context clues I can go into), reportedly used for young boys and infants in the Byzantine empire, and also reportedly used for Italian castrati.
  • Cutting the scrotum open and removing the testes. This is rather finicky but one method reportedly in use in Italy during the heyday of the castrati.
  • A full removal of the scrotum with testes inside. I don’t suppose you do any livestock farming? This is the method in which the “castrator” tool was for, which are still used for livestock. It would often be heated to cauterize the wound right off, which prevented infection.

(John Athalarichos)      (Heraklonas)      (John the Orphanotrophos)

(Constantine)      (Justinian II)      (Eunuchs)      (Political mutilation)