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, August 19, 2013

The Byzantine Crimean Fortress of Mangup

Mangup Kale
Byzantine Fortress in the Crimea

Mangup (Ukrainian: Мангуп, Russian: Мангуп, Crimean Tatar: Mangup) also known as Mangup Kale is a historic fortress in Crimea, located on a plateau about 9 miles due east of Sevastopol (ancient Chersones).

In medieval times it was known as Doros, later it was given the Kipchak name Mangup (kale means fortress).

Roman Crimea

Roman Crimea is the area of the Crimean Peninsula that was under control of the Roman Empire and mostly coincided with the Bosporan Kingdom.  For nearly five centuries it was a Roman "Client State", but under emperor Nero it was briefly an area of the Roman Province of Moesia inferior (from 62 to 68).

Rome started to dominate the Crimea peninsula (then called Taurica) in the 1st century BCE.
Anonymous city-ruler in the Bosporan
Kingdom, a Roman vassal state in
the Crimea (180).

The region was temporarily conquered by the Goths in 250, but the Eastern Roman Empire took again control of the region under Justinian I.


The Mangup settlement dates back to the 3rd century AD and was fortified by Justinian I in the mid 6th century.

It was inhabited and governed primarily by Crimean Goths, and became the center of their autonomous principality, the Metropolis of Doros during the 5th to 7th centuries. It was conquered by the Khazars in the early 8th century.

The historian of Justinian I, Procopius of Caesarea, (Kissariisky) wrote that Justinian I rebuilt and renovated the walls of Chersonese and Bospor. In addition to this he built two other fortresses at Alushta (Alustan) and Gurzuf (Gorzubity). The location of these two fortresses are in present day resort cities on the Black Sea coast, and are being excavated by archaeologists.

In the last few years rumor has it that Justinian fortress traces have been found. Procopius wrote also about the construction of long walls, in Greek Makratei. These long walls have been found and one of the walls cuts thru the valley on the approach to Mangup from the north. Along the asphalt top highway the wall crossed the valley.

Evidently the construction of the fortresses on Mangup and on neighboring Eski-Kermen took place during the last years of Justinian's life. Procopius never mentions the construction of the fortresses on those sites. However on Mangup a tablet was found with an inscription bearing the name of Justinian I and archaeological research has led to the conclusion that the time period for the construction of the Mangup fortress was during his reign.

Why would they go to such tremendous trouble to build a fortress up on Mangup?

The fortress is very close to Kherson and defended the approaches to Chersonese. The general reason was to give the neighboring population and refuges a safe haven from attacking armies. The proximate reason was the emergence of the huge Turkic Khaganate state laying in Asia from the Azov Sea to the Pacific Ocean basins.

In the last decades of Justinian's rule, that in the sixties and seventies of the sixth century, it is generally accepted that the Turkic Khaganate posed a real military threat and that Justinian was well aware of this. Later, in the eighties of the sixth century, the Turkic armies did conquered the Bosphor, but were unable to conquer this area. These were the early, Turkic peoples, who preceded the Cumans and Pechenegs, (Kipchaks).

The Pechenegs came about at the end of the 9th century, whereas the early Turkic (pronounced "Tiurki"), formed a state in the 6th and 7th centuries.
Later in the 8th century was the center of an unsuccessful Gothic revolt against Khazaria led by Bishop John of Gothia.  John was a Metropolitan bishop of Doros. During the period of Byzantine Iconoclasm, John reputedly gathered Orthodox refugees from Constantinople in the Crimea. He overthrew and expelled the Khazars from Gothia 787; the Khazars however managed to retake the city in less than a year, and John was imprisoned in Fullakh (Stary Krym). He later managed to escape, and sought refuge in Amasra in the Byzantine Empire, where he died in 791.

Bakhchisaray. Cave town Chufut-Kale, Karaites cemetery
Nearby Chufut-Kale is a national monument of Crimean Karaite culture and Tatar fortress in Crimea, near Bakhchisaray. Its name is Crimean Tatar and Turkish for "Jewish Fortress".  Some consider it to be a Byzantine fortress founded in the 6th century.

Kievan Rus under the walls of Constantinople (860).
The Rus were one of many invading groups that threatened the
Empire's northern borders and Byzantine Crimea.

The principality of Doros was under Byzantine domination from the mid 9th century to approximately 1000, when it fell under the influence of competing powers - Kievan Rus and the Kipchak tribal confederacy. The town was severely damaged by an earthquake in the 11th century., yet managed to maintain autonomy during the Mongol conquest of Crimea but was compelled to pay tribute to the Great Khan.

The Fourth Crusade of 1204 shattered the Eastern Eastern Roman Empire into competing Greek speaking states.

Crimea and Mangup became the center of the Principality of Theodoro, a state closely allied with the Empire of Trebizond

The Principality was formed after the Fourth Crusade out of parts of the Byzantine thema of Klimata which were not occupied by the Genoese. Its population was a mixture of Greeks, Crimean Goths, Alans, Bulgars, Kypchaks and other nations, which confessed Orthodox Christianity. The principality's official language was Greek.

The ruling dynasty, stemming from the Trapezuntine imperial house, was called Gabras.

In 1475, Stephen III of Moldavia sent his brother-in-law, Alexander Gabras, to Mangup with the purpose of replacing a local ruler from the Gabras family, who was Alexander's own brother and vassal to the Ottomans. In May that same year, the Ottoman commander Gedik Ahmet Pasha conquered Caffa and at the end of the year, after five months of besieging Mangup, the city fell to the assaulters. While much of the rest of Crimea remained part of the Crimean Khanate, now an Ottoman vassal, former lands of Theodoro and southern Crimea was administered directly by the Sublime Porte.

The town's inexorable decline continued. In 1774 the fortress was abandoned by the Turkish garrison. The last inhabitants, a small community of Karaims, abandoned the site in the 1790s.

The cave city Mangup Kale.  The fortress is located on a plateau
about 9 miles due east of Sevastopol.

The wall of the citadel.



The Fortress

The Eastern Roman Empire about 1025 AD
Rome started to dominate the southern Crimea peninsula (then called Taurica) in the 1st century BCE.  The Mangup settlement dates back to the 3rd century AD and was fortified by Justinian I in the mid 6th century. 
The region had been under Roman and later Byzantine imperial control until the early 8th century, but passed under Khazar control thereafter. Byzantine authority was re-established by Emperor Theophilos (r. 829–842).  The province remained under Byzantine control until the dissolution of the Empire by the Fourth Crusade in 1204, when it passed under the sovereignty of the breakaway Empire of Trebizond.

(archeologia.narod.ru)        (mangup-kale.ru)          (wiki/Mangup)

(xenophon-mil.org/crimea)          (Roman Crimea)         

(discover-ukraine.info)          (mapofukraine.net/crimean mountains)

Monday, August 5, 2013

Imperial Tagmata Regiments - The Central Reserve

Elite Soldier of the Imperial Tagmata of Excubita/Excubitores.

Tagmata - The Mailed Fist of Byzantium

The tagma (Greek: τάγμα, pl. tagmata) is a term for a military unit of battalion or regiment size. The best-known and most technical use of the term however refers to the elite regiments formed by Byzantine Emperor Constantine V and comprising the central army of the Byzantine Empire in the 8th–11th centuries.

In its original sense, the term "tagma" (from the Greek τάσσειν, "to set in order") is attested from the 4th century and was used to refer to an infantry battalion of 200–400 men in the contemporary East Roman Army.

Imperial guards, 8th–10th centuries

In later Byzantine usage, the term came to refer exclusively to the professional, standing troops, garrisoned in and around the capital of Constantinople. Most of them traced their origins to the Imperial guard units of the later Roman Empire.

By the 7th century, these had declined to little more than parade troops, meaning that the Emperors were hard put to face the frequent revolts of the new and powerful thematic formations, especially the Opsician Theme, the Asian theme closest to the capital. Within the first sixty years since its creation, it was involved in five revolts, culminating in the rebellion and usurpation of the throne by its commander, the Count Artabasdos, in 741–743.

After putting down the revolt, Emperor Constantine V (r. 741–775) reformed the old guard units of Constantinople into the new tagmata regiments, which were meant to provide the emperor with a core of professional and loyal troops, both as a defense against provincial revolts, and also, at the time, as a formation devoted to Constantine's iconoclastic policies. The tagmata were exclusively heavy cavalry units, more mobile than the theme troops, and maintained on a permanent basis.

During the defensive phase of the Empire in the 8th and 9th centuries, their role was that of a central reserve, garrisoned in and around the capital, in regions such as Thrace and Bithynia. They formed the core of the imperial army on campaign, augmented by the provincial levies of thematic troops, who were more concerned with local defense.

Imperial Tagmata Regiments - The Central Reserve
The Eastern Roman Emperors needed a professional full time army that was directly under their control to act as a counter weight to provincial forces that could rise up against central authority.  The Tagmata Regiments were stationed in and around Constantinople itself.  This force grew over the years from 18,000 to 42,000 men under arms.  Groups of Tagmata regiments could be sent to meet invasions in Anatolia or the Balkans picking up thematic militia units along the way.

In addition, like their Late Roman counterparts, they served as a recruiting and promotion ground for young officers. A career in a tagma could lead to a major commands in the provincial thematic armies or a high court appointment, as promising young men had the opportunity to catch the Emperor's attention.

Officers in the tagmata came primarily either from the relatively well-off urban aristocracy and officialdom, or the landed aristocracy of the Anatolian themes, which increasingly came to control the higher military offices of the state. Nevertheless, the tagmata, as indeed military and state service in general, offered a degree of upwards social mobility for the lower strata of society.

In their heyday in the 9th and early 10th centuries, there were four tagmata proper:
  • the Scholai (Gr. Σχολαί, "the Schools"), were the most senior unit, the direct successor of the imperial guards established by Constantine the Great (r. 306–337). The term scholarioi (σχολάριοι), although in its stricter sense referring solely to the men of the Scholai, was also used as a general reference for all common soldiers of the tagmata.
  • the Exkoubitoi or Exkoubitores (Lat. Excubiti, Gr. Ἐξκούβιτοι, "the Sentinels"), established by Leo I.
  • the Arithmos (Gr. Ἀριθμός, "Number") or Vigla (Gr. Βίγλα, from the Latin word for "Watch"), promoted from thematic troops by the Empress Eirene in the 780s, but of far older ancestry, as the archaic names of its ranks indicate. The regiment performed special duties on campaign, including guarding the imperial camp, relaying the Emperor's orders, and guarding prisoners of war.
  • the Hikanatoi (Gr. Ἱκανάτοι, "the Able Ones"), established by Emperor Nikephoros I (r. 802–811) in 810.

Other units closely related to the tagmata, and often included among them, were:
  • the Noumeroi (Gr. Νούμεροι, from the Latin numerus, "number") were a garrison unit for Constantinople, which probably included the Teichistai (Gr. Τειχισταί) or tōn Teicheōn regiment (Gr. τῶν Τειχέων, "of the Walls"), manning the Walls of Constantinople. The unit's origins may lie as far back as the 4th–5th centuries.
  • the Optimatoi (Gr. Ὀπτιμάτοι, from Latin optimates, "the best"), although formerly an elite fighting unit, had by the 8th century been reduced to a support unit, responsible for the mules of the army's baggage train (the τοῦλδον, touldon). Unlike the tagmata, it was garrisoned outside Constantinople and closely associated with its garrison area: the thema Optimatōn, which lay across Constantinople and comprised northern Bithynia. The commanding domestikos of the Optimatoi was also the governor of the thema.
  • the men of the central Imperial Fleet (βασιλικόν πλώιμον, basilikon plōimon), are also counted among the tagmata in some sources.
In addition, there was also the Hetaireia (Gr. Ἑταιρεία, "Companions"), which comprised the mercenary corps in Imperial service, subdivided in Greater, Middle and Lesser, each commanded by a respective Hetaireiarchēs.

Byzantine Infantry, 11th Century 


There is much debate as to the exact size and composition of the imperial tagmata, owing to the inaccuracy and ambiguity of the few contemporary sources (military manuals, lists of offices and Arab accounts, primarily from the 9th century) that deal with them.

Our primary sources, the accounts of Arab geographers Ibn Khurdādhbah and Qudāmah are somewhat ambiguous, but they give the overall tagmata strength at 24,000. This figure has been seen by many scholars, such as John Bagnell Bury and John Haldon, as too high, and revised estimates put the strength of each tagma at 1,000–1,500 men. Others, like Warren Treadgold and (in part) Friedhelm Winkelmann, accept these numbers, and correlate them with the lists of officers in the Klētorologion to reach an average size of 4,000 for each tagma (including the Optimatoi and the Noumeroi, for which it is explicitly stated that they numbered 4,000 each).

The tagmatic units were all organized along similar lines. They were commanded by a domestikos, except for the Vigla, which was commanded by a droungarios. He was assisted by one or two officers called topotērētēs (Gr. τοποτηρητής, lit. "placeholder", "lieutenant"), each of whom commanded one half of the unit.

Unlike the thematic units, there were no permanent intermediate command levels (tourmarchai, chiliarchoi or pentakosiarchai) until Leo VI introduced the droungarios ca. after 902. The largest subdivision of the tagmata was the bandon, commanded by a komēs ("count"), called skribōn in the Exkoubitores and tribounos ("tribune") in the Noumeroi and Walls units.

The banda in turn were divided in companies, headed by a kentarchos ("centurion"), or drakonarios ("draconarius") for the Exkoubitores, and vikarios ("vicar") for the Noumeroi and Walls units. The domestikos tōn Scholōn, the head of the Scholai regiment, became gradually more and more important, eventually coming to be the most senior officer of the entire army by the end of the 10th century.

The following table illustrates the structure of the Scholai in the 9th century, according to Treadgold:

Officer (No.)UnitSubordinatesSubdivisions
Domestikos (1)Tagma4,00020 banda
Topotērētēs (1/2)2,00010 banda
Komēs (20)bandon2005 kentarchiai
Kentarchos (40)kentarchia40

In addition, there were a chartoularios (χαρτουλάριος, "secretary") and a prōtomandatōr (πρωτομανδάτωρ, "head messenger"), as well as 40 standard bearers (βανδοφόροι, bandophoroi), of varying ranks and titles in each tagma, and 40 mandatores ("messengers"), for a total unit size of 4,125. On campaign, every tagmatic cavalryman was accompanied by a servant.

The next table gives the evolution of the theoretical establishment size of the entire imperial tagmatic force, again as calculated by Warren Treadgold:
Total size18,00022,00024,00028,00032,00036,00042,000

Professional regiments, 10th–11th centuries

As the Byzantine Empire embarked on its campaigns of reconquest in the 10th century, the tagmata became more active, and were posted often in garrison duties in the provinces or in newly conquered territories. In addition to the older units, a number of new and specialized units were formed to meet the demands of this more aggressive style of warfare.

Michael II (r. 820–829) raised the short-lived Tessarakontarioi, a special marine unit (named after their high pay of 40 nomismata), and John I Tzimiskes (r. 969–976) created a heavy cataphract corps called the Athanatoi (Ἀθάνατοι, the "Immortals") after the old Persian unit, which were revived in the late 11th century by Michael VII Doukas (r. 1071–1078).

Other similar units were the Stratēlatai, likewise formed by John Tzimiskes, the short-lived Satrapai of the 970s, the Megathymoi of the 1040s or the Archontopoulai and Vestiaritai of Alexios I. Many of the new tagmata were composed of foreigners, such as the Maniakalatai, formed by George Maniakes from Franks in Italy, or the most famous of all tagmatic units, the 6,000-strong mercenary Varangian Guard, established ca. 988 by Emperor Basil II (r. 976–1025).

The reign of Basil II also saw the beginnings of a profound transformation of the Byzantine military system. In the mid-10th century, the decline in the numbers of the thematic forces and the exigencies of the new offensive strategy on the eastern border gave rise to an increasing number of provincial tagmata, permanent professional forces modelled after the imperial tagmata.

New Varangian Guard at the Abbey Medieval Festival

The great conquests in the East in the 960s were secured by the creation of an array of smaller themata, in which detachments of these professional forces were based, eventually to be grouped under regional commanders with the title of doux or katepanō. This strategy was effective against small-scale local threats, but the concurrent neglect of the thematic forces reduced the state's ability to respond effectively to a major invasion that succeeded in penetrating the frontier buffer zone.

The decline of the part-time thematic armies and the increasing reliance on a large array of permanent units, both indigenous and mercenary, was based not only on the greater military effectiveness of the latter in the more offensive Byzantine strategy of the era, but also on their greater reliability as opposed to the thematic troops with their local ties.

The tagmata recruited from the larger themata were probably 1,000 men strong, while those from the smaller themata may have numbered ca. 500 men. Foreign, chiefly Frankish mercenary units, also seem to have numbered 400–500 men.

Consequently, in the 11th century, the distinction between "imperial" and provincial forces largely vanished, and the term tagma was applied to any permanent formed regiment, and regional origins and identities are prominently displayed in the units' titles. After ca. 1050, like the thematic armies, the original tagmata slowly declined, and were decimated in the military disasters of the latter third of the 11th century.

Except for the Varangians, the Vestiaritai, the Hetaireia and the Vardariōtai, the older guard units disappear altogether by ca. 1100 and are absent from the 12th-century Komnenian Army.

In the Komnenian army, the term tagma reverted to a non-specific meaning of "military unit".


(Explore Byzantium.com)            (Byzantium Tagma Military)