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

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Justinian & Theodora were Fiends in Human Form

Emperor Justinian a Fiend?
Justinian's historian was there to see for himself what he viewed as an out of control Emperor. The endless wars, taxes, torture, murder and the stealing by the Emperor himself of everything not nailed down.

By Procopius of Caesarea
500 - 554 AD
The Secret History

Now the wealth of those in Constantinople and each other city who were considered second in prosperity only to members of the Senate, was brutally confiscated, in the ways I have described, by Justinian and Theodora. But how they were able to rob even the Senate of all its property I shall now reveal.

There was in Constantinople a man by the name of Zeno, grandson of that Anthamius who had formerly been Emperor of the West. This man they appointed, with malice aforethought, Governor of Egypt, and commanded his immediate departure. But he delayed his voyage long enough to load his ship with his most valuable effects; for he had a countless amount of silver and gold plate inlaid with pearls, emeralds and other such precious stones. Whereupon they bribed some of his most trusted servants to remove these valuables from the ship as fast as they could carry them, set fire to the interior of the vessel, and inform Zeno that his ship had burst into flames of spontaneous combustion, with the loss of all his property. Later, when Zeno died suddenly, they took possession of his estate immediately as his legal heirs; for they produced a will which, it is whispered, he did not really make.

In the same manner they made themselves heirs of Tatian, Demosthenes, and Hilara, who were foremost in the Roman Senate. And others' estates they obtained by counterfeited letters instead of wills. Thus they became heirs of Dionysius, who lived in Libanus, and of John the son of Basil, who was the most notable of the citizens of Edessa, and had been given as hostage, against his will, by Belisarius to the Persians: as I have recounted elsewhere. 

For Chosroes refused to let this John go, charging that the Romans had disregarded the terms of the truce, as a pledge of which John had been given him by Belisarius; and he said he would only give him up as a prisoner of war. So his father's mother, who was still living, got together a ransom not less than two thousand pounds of silver, and was ready to purchase her grandson's liberty. But when this money came to Dara, the Emperor heard of the bargain and forbade it: saying that Roman wealth must not be given to the barbarians. Not long after this, John fell ill and departed from this world, whereupon the Governor of the city forged a letter which, he said, John had written him as a friend not long before, to the effect that he wished his estate to go to the Emperor.

I could hardly catalogue all the other people whose estates these two chose to inherit. 

However, up to the time when the insurrection named Nika took place, they seized rich men's properties one at a time; but when that happened, as I have told elsewhere, they sequestrated at one swoop the estates of nearly all the members of the Senate. On everything movable and on the fairest of the lands they laid their hands and kept what they wanted; but whatever was unproductive of more than the bitter and heavy taxes, they gave back to the previous owners with a philanthropic gesture. Consequently these unfortunates, oppressed by the tax collectors and eaten up by the never-ceasing interest on their debts, found life a burden compared to which death were preferable.

Wherefore to me,- and many others of us, these two seemed not to be human beings, but veritable demons, and what the poets call vampires: who laid their heads together to see how they could most easily and quickly destroy the race and deeds of men; and assuming human bodies, became man-demons, and so convulsed the world. And one could find evidence of this in many things, but especially in the superhuman power with which they worked their will.

For when one examines closely, there is a clear difference between what is human and what is supernatural. There have been many enough men, during the whole course of history, who by chance or by nature have inspired great fear, ruining cities or countries or whatever else fell into their power; but to destroy all men and bring calamity on the whole inhabited earth remained for these two to accomplish, whom Fate aided in their schemes of corrupting all mankind. For by earthquakes, pestilences, and floods of river waters at this time came further ruin, as I shall presently show. Thus not by human, but by some other kind of power they accomplished their dreadful designs.

And they say his mother said to some of her intimates once that not of Sabbatius her husband, nor of any man was Justinian a son. For when she was about to conceive, there visited a demon, invisible but giving evidence of his presence perceptibly where man consorts with woman, after which he vanished utterly as in a dream.

And some of those who have been with Justinian at the palace late at night, men who were pure of spirit, have thought they saw a strange demoniac form taking his place. One man said that the Emperor suddenly rose from his throne and walked about, and indeed he was never wont to remain sitting for long, and immediately Justinian's head vanished, while the rest of his body seemed to ebb and flow; whereat the beholder stood aghast and fearful, wondering if his eyes were deceiving him. But presently he perceived the vanished head filling out and joining the body again as strangely as it had left it.

Another said he stood beside the Emperor as he sat, and of a sudden the face changed into a shapeless mass of flesh, with neither eyebrows nor eyes in their proper places, nor any other distinguishing feature; and after a time the natural appearance of his countenance returned. I write these instances not as one who saw them myself, but heard them from men who were positive they had seen these strange occurrences at the time.

They also say that a certain monk, very dear to God, at the instance of those who dwelt with him in the desert went to Constantinople to beg for mercy to his neighbors who had been outraged beyond endurance. And when he arrived there, he forthwith secured an audience with the Emperor; but just as he was about to enter his apartment, he stopped short as his feet were on the threshold, and suddenly stepped backward. Whereupon the eunuch escorting him, and others who were present, importuned him to go ahead. But he answered not a word; and like a man who has had a stroke staggered back to his lodging. And when some followed to ask why he acted thus, they say he distinctly declared he saw the King of the Devils sitting on the throne in the palace, and he did not care to meet or ask any favor of him.

Indeed, how was this man likely to be anything but an evil spirit, who never knew honest satiety of drink or food or sleep, but only tasting at random from the meals that were set before him, roamed the palace at unseemly hours of the night, and was possessed by the quenchless lust of a demon?

Furthermore some of Theodora's lovers, while she was on the stage, say that at night a demon would sometimes descend upon them and drive them from the room, so that it might spend the night with her. And there was a certain dancer named Macedonia, who belonged to the Blue party in Antioch, who came to possess much influence. For she used to write letters to Justinian while Justin was still Emperor, and so made away with whatever notable men in the East she had a grudge against, and had their property confiscated.

This Macedonia, they say, greeted Theodora at the time of her arrival from Egypt and Libya; and when she saw her badly worried and cast down at the ill treatment she had received from Hecebolus and at the loss of her money during this adventure, she tried to encourage Theodora by reminding her of the laws of chance, by which she was likely again to be the leader of a chorus of coins. Then, they say, Theodora used to relate how on that very night a dream came to her, bidding her take no thought of money, for when she should come to Constantinople, she should share the couch of the King of the Devils, and that she should contrive to become his wedded wife and thereafter be the mistress of all the money in the world. And that this is what happened is the opinion of most people.


Facial recreations of Justinian and Theodora
Great Rulers
or All Four?
From childhood we are fed fairy tale type stories of Knights in shining armor and wise thoughtful Kings.
Decide for yourself, but in my view many of these "wise" Kings murdered their way to power, and the Knights in shining armor were simply hired thugs and killers on the payroll of the Kings.
That is my brutal view. As for Justinian, he may very well be the fiend described by Procopius. Perhaps not a supernatural fiend, but a monster none the less who would do anything to keep and grow his power.

Monday, January 9, 2023

Defender Of A Byzantine Fort Was Decapitated By The Ottomans

(Forbes)  On the acropolis of ancient Abdera in western Thrace, within the fortress of Polystylon, archaeologists discovered a cemetery dating to the final throes of the battle between local Byzantine occupants and invading Ottoman Turks. A single decapitated skull found in the center of the burials may be evidence of the last human trophy head, removed from a defender of the fort.

In the early 1380s, residents of Polystylon made a stand against the Ottoman Turks encroaching upon their family land. It was the last Byzantine stronghold that the Ottomans vanquished along the shores of western Thrace, after all its neighbors fell to the Turks. 

During the final occupation of Polystylon, a large number of people perished and were buried inside the walls. About two-thirds were kids between the ages of 4 and 11, and almost all the rest were adult men. Although DNA work has not yet been completed, skeletal and dental variations on the bones show biological kinship. One sole female skeleton has been found in the Late Byzantine cemetery at Abdera, due either to the evacuation of women prior to the commencement of fighting or to their capture and removal during warfare.

The cemetery within the fortification walls of Polystylon was discovered in 1991 and contained at least 20 graves, all of which were studied by Anagnostis Agelarakis, a bioarchaeologist at Adelphi University. One particular grave, that of a young child, was found nearly dead center in the cemetery. Rows of nails were all that remained of a simple wooden coffin. The child wore bronze beads that likely formed a bracelet around the left wrist and had every indication of healthy teeth and a good quality diet. Also found next to the child was a single human head, that of a middle-aged adult male.


"In my 30-plus years of working in bioarchaeology, it was the first time that I have uncovered such a find," Agelarakis tells me. "It's a truly spectacular time capsule of the Late Byzantine period safely preserved in the earth at Polystylon." In a recent report in the journal Byzantina Symmeikta, Agelarakis details the remains he studied and weaves a narrative of the fall of the fortress and decapitation of one of its last occupants.

Agelarakis's investigation of the adult skull revealed a traumatic injury to the front midline of the skull caused by a sharp blow from a heavy weapon that likely fatally penetrated the frontal lobe. The presence of three small neck vertebrae fragments and the jaw suggest that the head was still mostly fleshed at the time it was deposited near the child's grave, but no clear evidence of the location of the decapitation was found.

Because of this information, Agelarakis hypothesizes that the man may have been decapitated and his body unburied for a period of time. While the rest of the body has not been found, it is possible that someone pitied the man and clandestinely buried his head in the Late Byzantine cemetery. A large fragment of utilitarian pottery was found near the two bodies; it may have been used as a shovel, and then was left in the pit with the head after burial.

Beheadings are not commonly found on archaeological sites from this period, which means the timing of the injury and decapitation is particularly interesting. On the one hand, if beheading was the cause of the man's death, then the head trauma would have been the post-mortem mutilation. If the head wound preceded the beheading, though, then the decapitation would represent a post-mortem mutilation of the man's body.

"Historical records," Agelarakis writes, "provide ample narratives of both executions by impalement and beheading of combatants that had surrendered in battle against the Ottomans, and decapitations for the verification through trophy keeping of important individuals who had fallen while resisting Ottoman subjugation."


The importance of the decapitated man may be seen in the trauma he suffered about a decade before his death. Agelarakis notes that he sustained a fracture of his lower jaw that healed, although not particularly well. While the exact mechanism of this injury is unknown, he may have broken his jaw falling from a horse, from being struck by a spear or dagger, or from being hit by a projectile.

To survive and thrive after such an injury suggests some amount of medical care was tendered to the man while he recuperated. It also may suggest that he was important to the people of Polystylon. Cutting off the man's head may therefore have been a "revengeful act of subjugation, a punishment toward worthy opponents, possibly aimed to belittle, dehumanize, and silence him forever," Agelarakis suggests.

Unusual cases of human skeletons are interesting to look at, but in the end, their importance rests with what new information they can provide about life in the past. As an example of healed trauma, the isolated head reveals evidence that practices detailed in the much earlier Hippocratic Corpus were followed, Agelarakis tells me. And as an example of decapitation, he says, "the warrior head adds valuable data to the historical record of the time period and the relative dating of the Polystylon fortress."


The Byzantine Empire in the early 1300s.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

"On Skirmishing" - Eastern Roman Cavalry Tactics


Late Roman cavalry

I found a great little 2009 article on Byzantine cavalry tactics. Sadly, the good old copy and paste method is blocked. Why??? Who knows? No one is going to pay for this material. So I will do a summary of part of it.

The internet has provided me so many odd tidbits of information on the Eastern Roman Army. For example, articles on hand grenades, heavy artillery, land mines and infantry squares. You can find these articles and others on the right side of this page under "Army".

The picture we get is of a highly sophisticated, trained and powerful Roman military machine.

It was not an accident that the Eastern Empire survived endless attacks from every possible direction by every barbarian tribe imaginable plus by the armies of the civilized Persian Empire. The Roman Army lost and regained ground constantly. But the bottom line is, because of the army and navy the Empire survived for centuries.

"On Skirmishing"

Mobile cavalry was vital in defending the huge eastern border. Strong points would be defended by the infantry.

The military treatise "On Skirmishing" was written during the reign of Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas (963-969) and deals with tactics involved with border warfare.

In the words of the author "Our part by writing down these things just as our predecessors handed them on to us, as well from our own experience which goes back a long time." References are made about generations of military knowledge handed down.

The author says the strategy of many generations we perfected in the 10th Century:

  • "To the best of my knowledge, it was Bardas, the blessed Caesar, who brought this method to the summit of perfection. I do not want to enumerate all the ancient commanders but shall limit myself to those in our time whom everyone knows. When this method had completely vanished, it was Bardas who brought it back."

Roman Cavalry
Living history military re-enactment group The Ermine Street Guard at Kelmarsh Hall. Photo taken in Kelmarsh, Northamptonshire in July 2009.

The evolution of Roman strategy allowed them to defend the eastern frontier in the 7th and 8th centuries and then reach a point where they could reconquer lost provinces in the 10th century.

On Skirmishing exclusively deals with the eastern front and the non-stop fighting with the Arabs. Secondly, it directly addresses the general on how to face the enemy.

On Skirmishing can be divided into two parts: 

  1. Weaken the enemy as efficiently as possible. This is done by limiting forage, harassing any vulnerable detachments, utilizing favorable terrain, and constantly shadowing the enemy.
  2. Try to defeat the enemy as efficiently as possible once they are worn down. This would be done using a variety of ambushes, night attacks, blocking the enemy's retreat and striking when and where they least expect it.

Basically the plan allows the enemy to march into Roman lands while trying to gain military victories as efficiently as possible.

It is stressed that generals buy time so the Roman peasants could relocate to safer areas. 

Preserving the Roman economic base was vital to the long term health of Empire. The question is asked: "What can be done if the enemy launch a sudden concentrated attack . . .  before Imperial forces have been assembled?" In this case, the general is recommended to do the following:

  • "Dispatch the turmarch of that region, or other officers, with great speed to get ahead of the enemy and, as best they can, evacuate and find refuge for the inhabitants of the villages and their flocks . . . give the enemy the impression that he is getting ready for a battle right then (at night). By doing this he might succeed in forestalling their attack and preserve the region unharmed . . . He himself should advance with selected officers and good horsemen and give the enemy the impression that he has been making preparations to fight against them in order to launch an attack . . . if there is no river or rough ground along the road, he should still expose himself a bit and advance as though to fight . . . By such procedures he will save the villagers from impending assault and from captivity, and they shall keep their freedom. With great precision and foresight, let him make his appearance and charge against them with a few selected horsemen, as we have said. These will immediately turn tail and retreat to the strong places and fortresses and be preserved from harm."

A comparison should be made with the collapse of the Western Roman frontier in the 4th and 5th centuries and the successful defense of the Eastern Empire's frontier from the 7th to 10th centuries.

The Western Romans saw an economic collapse as various barbarian tribes moved in and laid waste to the countryside. The destruction of the economic base helped speed along the military collapse.

The Eastern Romans not only staved off destruction but were able to support themselves and regain the offensive and expand the Empire.

Europe around 800AD
The Eastern Romans had a long border 
to defend with the Caliphate.

Setting traps for the enemy was discussed.
  • "Have him (an experienced commander) order a few of the men under him to dress like farmers, and mix in some real farmers and herdsmen with them. All of them ought to be unarmed and their heads uncovered. Some should be barefoot. All should be on horseback, carrying very short wooden staffs. Do all this to deceive the enemy and to give them the impression that these men are not from the army but just some farmers, of the sort called stewards . . . our men, then, who are disguised as farmers and peasant stewards, when the enemy have begun to follow them, should hurry to reach the site of the ambuscade. There the enemy who are following them, caught off their guard, will fall right into the ambush."
To a large degree On Skirmishing talks about avoiding major battles while protecting the local peasants and economy. Chewing up intruding enemy forces and pushing them back across the border was the goal. But larger battles were discussed.
  • "You should launch your attack from the rear with infantry units. Divide the remaining infantry into six divisions; station three off to the right side of the enemy, and three off to the left . . . leave open and unguarded the road, and that alone, which provides safe passage for the enemy toward their own land. After they have been vigorously assaulted and they discover the open road, beguiled by the idea of being saved, of fleeing the battle, and of getting back to their own land, they mount their horses and race along that road to escape, each man concerned about his own safety . . . He (the general) should occupy the mountain heights (on the enemy's path of retreat) and also secure the road passing through . . . hasten to seize the passes before they do and without delay launch your attack directly against them."
On Skirmishing advises exploiting the retreat of the enemy for maximum effect. The goal is to limit your losses while inflicting the maximum number of losses on your retreating foe.

If an enemy general refuses to fall for the Roman traps then it is advised to ignore the invaders and attack the enemy homeland.
  • "Therefore, General, when you are at a loss about how to injure the enemy with stratagems and ambushes, because they are very cautious and guard themselves carefully, or if, on the other hand, it is because your forces are not up to facing them openly in battle, then this is what you ought to do. Either you march quickly against the lands of the enemy, leaving the most responsible of the other generals behind, with though troops for skirmishing and for security of the themes . . . When the enemy hear of this, they will force their leader, even if he is unwilling, to get back and defend their own country."
It is important to note the context of the time when On Skirmishing was written.

The Romans had lost their richest provinces: Africa, Egypt, Palestine and Syria to the Arabs. This was a serious blow to the Empire in both manpower for the military and a loss of taxes to support the troops.

The Romans were permanently on the defensive against the now numerically superior Arabs.

To survive the Romans adopted guerilla warfare against the Arabs. They used small, well-led bands of men from local provinces to wear down the enemy. Speed and surprise was the rule of the day and swiftly moving light cavalry was of supreme importance.

After defeating several invading Arab armies the border began to stabilize. The Arabs were reduced to using raiding parties to gather loot. The Romans replied in kind.


Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Battle for Africa - The Defeat at Heliopolis


Roman Reenactors

The Beginning of the End 
for Roman Africa, Part II

What if . . . . ??????

In 425 BC the Greek playwright Aristophanes wrote:  "Ah! the Generals! they are numerous, but not good for much!"

So true.

Most generals appear to be vaguely aware that it is best to point their army in the general direction of an enemy. Beyond that "generalship" is often seriously lacking. The bulk of generals are little more than career bureaucrats who specialize in shining chairs with their asses. Add or take away one or two key generals out of any war and results can change radically.

A good example, take out U.S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman from the American Civil War and the South might have remained an independent nation.

So the question is, what if the invading Muslim Arabs had faced a younger Emperor Heraclius who had just crushed the Persian Empire? Facing him personally in the field at the peak of his powers as a general would have changed Middle East history.  Or what if the great early Muslim commander Khalid ibn al-Walid had died of food poisoning years before the Arab invasions had started?

History could have been very different. As it was the other Eastern Roman Generals showed modest to little talent. 

After successfully conquering Syria between 634 and 638, the Arabs turned their attention to Egypt. The attack on Africa took the Romans by surprise. Heraclius’s generals had advised him that the Muslims would need a generation to digest Persia before undertaking another wholesale conquest. The increasingly frail Emperor was forced to depend on his generals, and the result was complete disaster.

In 639, less than a year after the complete fall of the Sassanid Persian Empire, an army of some 4,000 commanded by Amr ibn al-A'as, under orders of Omar, began the invasion of the Diocese of Egypt. That relatively tiny force marched from Syria through El-Arish, easily took Farama, and from there proceeded to Bilbeis, where they were delayed for a month. But having captured Bilbeis, the Arabs moved again.

Egypt Was Conquered by Persia
In the early 600s, centuries of Roman rule in Egypt, Palestine and Syria came to a violent end with Persian armies invading and the lands being absorbed into the Persian Empire. For over 10 years the locals looked to Persia for their economy, laws, religious freedom and security. Constantinople and ties to Rome faded in the minds of an entire generation.

 In the summer of 629, the Persian troops began leaving Egypt and a fleet from Constantinople arrived at Alexandria to garrison the country with Roman troops.

But Roman authority in Egypt had been undermined by the 10 year rule of Persia and the religious freedom that came with it.

When the Muslims crossed into Egypt the local Coptic population was not very interested in defending an Empire that was crushing their freedom.

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

Another 12,000 Muslim reinforcements were marching into Egypt to join with the 4,000 already there under Amr.. The smaller Arab force, commanded by a charismatic and tactically brilliant commander went behind enemy lines, and caused chaos all out of proportion to their size. 

The Roman commander Theodore had built up a considerable army of perhaps 20,000 men around the fortress of Babylon. 

Theodore had the opportunity to attack the smaller Arab army before the new army arrived. Instead out of fear? or excessive caution? Theodore remained inactive at Babylon.

The second army dispatched by Omar arrived at Heliopolis and began to lay siege to it. Amr retraced his route across the Nile River, and united his forces with those of the second army. They began to prepare for movement towards Alexandria – but scouts reported that Theodore and the Roman Army were finally on the move.

Why Theodore waited for the two smaller Arab armies to unite into one large army of 15,000 is not known. Perhaps Theodore was shamed by his officers for inaction.

Perhaps the morale of Theodore's troops was undermined by the reports of Arab victories against both the Persians and Romans in Syria and Mesopotamia

Heliopolis was a major city of ancient Egypt. It was the capital of the 13th or Heliopolite Nome of Lower Egypt and a major religious center.

The major surviving remnant of Heliopolis is the obelisk of the Temple of Ra-Atum erected by Senusret I of Dynasty XII. It still stands in its original position, now within Al-Masalla in Al-Matariyyah, Cairo.

Heliopolis is the Latinized form of the Greek name Hēlioúpolis (Ἡλιούπολις), meaning "City of the Sun".

Click to enlarge
Map from The Great Arab Conquests (1964)
by Lieutenant-General Sir John Bagot GlubbKCBCMGDSOOBEMC

The Battle

So in July, 640 Theodore decided to march out of Babylon and take on the now united Arab force. He advanced across the plain to attack Heliopolis.

We do not know much about the Roman troops - how much cavalry, infantry or local militia for example.

What we do know is Amr fought a brilliant battle at Heliopolis. 

When the Roman Army began approaching, Amr divided his army into three separate units, with one detachment under the command of a trusted commander, Kharija. Under the cover of darkness this unit marched abruptly east to nearby hills, where they effectively hid. This unit was to remain there until the Romans had begun the battle, at which point they were to fall on the Roman flank or rear, whichever was more vulnerable. The second detachment Amr ordered to the south, which would be the direction the Romans would flee if the battle went badly.

The two Arab flanking parties had moved in the dark and were not seen by the Romans.

The two main armies met in desperate hand hand-to-hand combat. Once the Roman forces initiated contact with Amr's forces and commenced an attack, the detachment of Kharija attacked the Theodore's rear, which was completely unexpected by the Romans.

Theodore had not kept scouts out, or, if he had, he ignored their warning of the approaching Arab horsemen.

This attack from the rear created utter chaos among the Roman ranks. As Theodore's troops attempted to flee to the south, they were attacked by the third detachment, which had been placed there for just such a purpose. This completed the final break-down and defeat of the Roman army, which fled in all directions.

Theodore survived, but with only a tiny fragment of his army, while the remainder was killed or captured. Many survivors retreated to the Fortress of Babylon.


In the battle's aftermath, most of southern and central Egypt fell to Amr's forces. The defeat at Heliopolis was crucial, as it removed the last Roman force standing between the Islamic invaders and the heart of Egypt. However, not only did the Battle of Heliopolis leave Egypt practically defenseless.

The defeat encouraged the disaffected natives, most of whom were Monophysite Christians and had suffered on-and-off persecution at the hands of Constantinople, to rise up against their Roman oppressors.

Although the Eastern Empire was certainly by lineage the Roman Empire, its traditions, language, and ruling elite, by this time, were Greek. The Greeks of Egypt, whose numbers could scarcely equal a tenth of the native population, were overwhelmed by the universal defection of those same natives from obedience to the Roman Empire. As Bury wrote in the History of the Later Roman Empire from Arcadius to Irene:

”The Greeks had ever been hated, they were no longer feared: the magistrate fled from his tribunal, the bishop from his altar; and the distant garrisons were surprised or starved by the surrounding multitudes.”

Bishop John of Nikiu said, "And thereupon the Moslem made their entry into Nakius, and took possession, and finding no soldiers (to offer resistance), they proceeded to put to the sword all whom they found in the streets and in the churches, men, women, and infants, and they showed mercy to none. And after they had captured (this) city, they marched against other localities and sacked them and put all they found to the sword. And they came also to the city of Sa, and there they found Esqutaws and his people in a vineyard, and the Moslem seized them and put them to the sword.

Sir Walter Scott was correct when he said “the fate of Byzantine Africa was decided at the Battle of Heliopolis.” 

The permanent loss of the Egypt left the Roman Empire without an irreplaceable source of food and money.

Late Roman Reenactors
The East Roman Army was a direct continuation of the eastern portion of the Roman Army, from before the division of the empire. How the Eastern Roman soldiers dressed we know almost nothing.

During early Byzantine times, shields were recommended to be painted the same color in order to distinguish the troops. 

By the fifth century, soldiers were being paid in cash to purchase their own armor and equipmentThis meant that a high degree of uniformity in appearance must have been unlikely.

Armor was non-standard. A soldier might have brought his grandfather's old armor & sword. Also, uniforms themselves were not a concept at that time. So colors of the tunics worn by different men in the same unit could vary.
Photos from Magister Militum

The Beginning of the End 
for Roman Africa

(Heliopolis)    (Glubb, Great Arab Conquests)    (Heliopolis)

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Late Roman Army Archers


From The Barcarii Facebook page

The Late Roman army used archers or sagittarii extensively in the infantry and cavalry units and these ranged from light all the way up to heavy units, often mixed or intermingled with the main troops or raised as dedicated sagittarii units.
In terms of the equipment used by a sagittarius, the main bow is generally understood to be the composite bow, sometimes referred to as the Hunnic bow, which used asymmetric limbs. The lower limb was the shorter of the two. This composite bow was reinforced with bone or antler laths - 2 on each limb and 2 more in the central grip. Few remains have survived in the archaeological finds and what has is invariably the laths - the wood and other perishable remains having long since rotted away.

These bows were common in the eastern portions of the Roman Empire and had a long tradition in the Nomadic, Syrian, Arab and other cultures. In the west, which did not have a strong bow tradition, the self-bow or ‘arcubus ligneis’ predominated, examples of which survive in the Nydam finds.

These were long bows with asymmetric nocks, sometimes with horn or iron tips or cordage bound about the limb - but not always. These bows were used in the Late Roman army as mainly training bows for the recruits until they were competent enough to progress onto the main composite bow as describe by Vegetius (Book 1, 15).
In this context, it is worth noting that the only Imperial or State fabrica dedicated to the manufacture of bows was located in the west at Pavia, indicating that the eastern portions of the Empire were manufacturing composite bows using local craftsmen in sufficient numbers that the army suppliers could purchase them in volume out with a fabrica need.

The quiver is represented on a number of illustrations, mosaics, carvings and statuary, often in mythological contexts. It is usually a leather tube with perhaps a wooden core, with sometimes a fringed decoration and a cap to protect the arrows from the weather.

The Nydam finds contain a wooden tube made of maple grooved to allow straps or fabric to be wound around for carrying. The position of the quiver is a matter of some debate.

Conventional opinion usually states that quivers were carried hung from the belt whereas back-slung quivers are relegated to mythology and not actually worn as such in warfare. However, various manuscript illustrations and carvings do show back-slung quivers which hint at a more complex situation.

As always, in reality, the needs and demands of the moment will outweigh convention or training and it might be that in a main battle-line or siege quivers were hung from the belt to aid drawing while skirmishing or hunting or on an extended march, they were then slung across the back so as to not impede movement.

The advantages of sagittarii in a naval or riverine context do not need to be overlaboured here. As Vegetius makes clear in his section on naval warfare, missile weapons predominate over ramming prior to boarding.
The images below show a variety of Late Roman archers using the composite bow and self-bow after the Nydam model. The composite bows on show here lack the bone or antler laths and are therefore anachronistic as far as is known. It is possible that the ‘arcubus ligneis’ referred to by Vegetius is not actually a self-bow after the Celtic or Germannic models but instead a lesser composite by lacking the laths and hence merely a wooden bow as understood by the Romans.

Recruits therefore train on this model before progressing to the more powerful Hunnic version. This, however, is speculation. Such a bow would not survive in the archaeological finds and so remains unknown.