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

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Battle of Mons Lactarius - The end of the Gothic Wars

While not a Goth this Celtic/Gaulish Warrior Reenactor
might have looked much like the troops faced by the Romans.(From Pinterest)

The Gothic War (535 - 554 AD)

The Gothic War had its roots in the ambition of East Roman Emperor Justinian to recover the provinces of the former Western Roman Empire, which had been lost to invading barbarian tribes in the previous century.

The Gothic War between the Eastern Roman Empire and the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy was fought from 535 until 554 in ItalyDalmatiaSardiniaSicily and Corsica. It is commonly divided into two phases. 

The first phase lasted from 535 to 540 and ended with the fall of the Ostrogothic capital of Ravenna and the apparent reconquest of Italy by the Byzantines. During the second phase (540/541–553), the Goths' resistance was reinvigorated under Totila and put down only after a long struggle by Narses, who also repelled the 554 invasion by the Franks and Alamanni. Several cities in northern Italy continued to hold out, however, until the early 560s.

By the end of the conflict Italy was devastated and considerably depopulated.
Emperor Justinian I

Bogged Down in Italy

The Gothic War had become a slugfest lasting for years on end with neither side able to claim victory.

The new Goth King Totila reversed the tide of war, recovering by 543 almost all the territories in Italy that the Eastern Roman Empire had captured.

Totila was favored in his intention to restore the Gothic realm by three factors: the outbreak of the Black Death that devastated and depopulated the Roman Empire in 542, the beginning of a new Roman-Persian War, and the incompetence and disunity of the various Roman generals in Italy.

A new Italian campaign was organized under Justinian's nephew Germanus Justinus. With the death of Germanus in 551, Narses took on Totila.

A court eunuch, Narses, was appointed the new commander of the army, given supreme command and returned to Italy where twelve years previously he had been recalled. Many historians believe that Narses was put in command because of his old age, so that he would never be able to rebel successfully against Justinian. Narses had considerable military experience in Italy dating back to 538.

Narses' greatest asset in his newfound position was to have access to the Emperor’s financial resources. With the treasury, Narses was able to amass anywhere between 20,000 and 30,000 troops. Narses also seemed to be well liked by many of the soldiers of fortune, as he had treated them “especially well”. Procopius reported that Narses had built an army that in the requirement of men and arms was “worthy of the Roman Empire”. The army reflected many of Narses' previous commands, in that most of the troops were barbarians.

At the Battle of Taginae (552) Narses defeated and killed Totila.

Narses marched to Rome after the Battle of Taginae and had to conduct a short siege of the city. Narses attacked on one side with a large contingent of archers, while another part of the walls was attacked. From Rome, Narses would work to remove all of the remaining Ostrogothic forces from Italy.

The Battle of Mons Lactarius

The Battle of Mons Lactarius

Parts of the Roman army were sent throughout the country to deal with Teias, (the son of Totila, and the new Gothic king). Teias followed the example set by Narses on his march into Italy and around the Imperial Army. After engaging Narses in small skirmishes for nearly two months, Teias retreated into the mountains. 

The Goths maneuvered onto Mons Lactarius, where they soon faced death from starvation.

From: History of the Later Roman Empire
By J.B. Bury (1889)

The first act of Narses after his great success, for which he piously ascribed all the credit to the Deity, was to dismiss his savage allies, the Lombards, who, as soon as the victory was won, were devoting themselves to the congenial occupations of arson and rape. He rewarded them with large sums of gold, and committed to Valerian the task of conducting them to the Italian frontier. The remnant of Totila's army had fled with Teïas northward to Ticinum. There Teïas was elected king, and he hoped with the help of the Franks to restore the fortunes of his people. He had at his disposal the treasures which Totila had prudently left in Ticinum.

The Goths now showed themselves, without any reserve, in their true colours. (1) In Campania they put to death the senators who had been sent there by Totila and now proposed to return to Rome. (2) Before Totila went forth to meet Narses he had selected three hundred boys from Roman families of repute and sent them to the north of Italy as hostages. Teïas seized them and slew them all.
6th Century Roman Soldier

Teïas succeeded in getting into touch with his fleet and it was able to supply him with provisions. The situation was changed when Imperial warships which Narses summoned began to come in great numbers from Sicily and other places. The Gothic naval commander, anticipating their arrival, surrendered his fleet. The food-supply of the army was thus cut off.

At the same time it began to suffer from the play of the engines which Narses installed in wooden towers along his bank of the stream. Teïas broke up his camp and retreated to the shelter of the mountain which overlooks the valley. This mountain, belonging to the St. Angelo range, was known as Mons Lactarius and still retains the name as Monte Lettere. On the slope of this hill the Goths were safe from attack, which the nature of the ground would have rendered too dangerous an enterprise, but they found themselves worse off for food, and they soon repented their change of ground. At length they resolved to make a surprise attack upon their foes. It was their only chance.

They appeared so unexpectedly in the valley that the Romans had no time to form themselves in the regular array prescribed by military handbooks. The Goths had left their horses behind and advanced as a solid mass of infantry. The Romans received them in the same formation.

In the battle there was no room for tactic, it was a sheer trial of personal strength, bravery, and skill. The Gothic king, a few warriors by his side, led the assault, and, the Romans recognising him and thinking that if he fell his followers who were formed in a very deep phalanx would not continue the contest, he became the mark for their most dexterous lancers and javelin-throwers.

It was a Homeric combat, and the historian has described it vividly. Teïas stood covered by his shield, which received the spears that were hurled or thrust at him, and then suddenly attacking laid many of his assailants low. When he saw that the shield was full of spears he gave it to one of his squires, who handed him another. He is 
said to have fought thus for a third part of the day, then his strength failed. There were twelve spears sticking in his shield, and he found he could not move it as easily as he would. Without retreating a foot or moving to right or left, smiting his foes with his right hand, he called the name of a squire. A new shield was brought, but in the instant in which he was exchanging it for the old his chest was exposed, and a lucky javelin wounded him mortally.
Ostrogoth Warrior

The head of the fallen hero was at once severed from his body and raised aloft on a pole that all his host might know that he had fallen. But the expectation of the Romans that their enemies would abandon the struggle was not fulfilled. The Goths did not flee like fawns, nor lay down their arms. They were animated by a spirit of desperation, and in a very different temper from that which they had displayed in the last battle of Totila. They fought on till nightfall, and on the next day the fray was resumed, and again lasted till the evening. 

Then, seeing that they could not win and recognising that God was against them, they sent some of their leaders to Narses to announce that they would yield, not, however, to live in subjection to the Emperor, but to retire somewhere outside the Roman frontiers where they could live independently. They asked to be allowed to retire in peace, and to take with them any money or belongings that they had individually deposited in Italian fortresses.

On the advice of John, who made a strong plea for moderation, these conditions were accepted, on the undertaking of the Goths that they would not again make war on the Empire.


Though the Ostrogoths were essentially defeated and driven out of Italy for good, Narses soon had to face other barbarians who were invading the Byzantine-occupied borders of northern Italy and southern Gaul. In 554, a massive army of about thirty thousand Franks and Alemanni invaded northern Italy and met the Byzantine army on the banks of the river Volturnus

The Roman legions under Narses formed up the central defenses, while several detachments of Herulian mercenaries controlled the flanks. In the Battle of Volturnus, the Franks and Alemanni were driven back, suffering heavy losses.

The somewhat pyrrhic victory of the Gothic War drained the Byzantine Empire of much-needed resources that might have been employed against more immediate threats in the East. In Italy, the war was devastating to the urbanized society that was supported by a settled hinterland. The great cities of Rome and her allies were abandoned as Italy fell into a long period of decline. 

The impoverishment of Italy and the drain on the Empire made it difficult for the Byzantines to hold Italy. Imperial gains were fleeting: only three years after the death of Justinian, many of the the mainland Italian territories fell into the hands of a Germanic tribe, the Lombards.

But even so, large parts of Italy remained part of the Empire until the final Siege of Bari in April, 1071.

The Gothic Wars
After his amazing conquest of North Africa the great General Belisarius organized the invasion of Italy. In 535 Belisarius landed his army in Sicily while General Mundus (magister militum per Illyricum) invaded Goth held Dalmatia and captured its capital Salona.  By 536 the Goths had permanently left, and Dalmatia was again in Roman hands.
In 536 Belisarius marched up Italy capturing Naples, Rome and Ravenna, but the Goths refused to be conquered and the war dragged on until 554.

(Gothic War)      (Mons Lactarius)      (Mons Lactarius)      (Narses)

(Pinterest.com)      (Pinterest.com)

Monday, November 16, 2015

Column of the Goths in Constantinople

The Column of the Goths is a Roman victory column dating to the third or fourth century A.D. It stands in what is now Gülhane Park.

One of the most beautiful monuments of Constantinople is this granite monolith. It can be found immediately north of the famous Topkapı Palace, overlooking the Bosphorus. The monument, which stands fifteen meter tall, was erected somewhere between the mid-third and mid-fourth century. 
Emperor Claudius II Gothicus
According to the inscription, it was erected to commemorate how the Romans had defeated the Goths. The Byzantine author Nicephorus Gregoras says that on top of the column stood a statue of the legendary founder of Byzantium, king Byzas.

It is not entirely clear for which commander this column was erected. Several generals defeated the tribes north of the Danube that the Romans, using archaisms that went back to Herodotus of Halicarnassus, called Scythians, Getae, or Goths, no matter how the tribes called themselves. One of the most famous Roman victories was achieved by the Emperor Claudius II Gothicus, who defeated the Herulians in 269. 

It is certainly possible that this event was commemorated with the Column of the Goths. Another candidate is Constantine the Great, who overcame the Sarmatians in 315, 322, 328-329, and 332, and is known for his building activities in Constantinople.

On balance, however, Claudius II appears to be the more likely candidate, because Constantine would not have permitted a statue of the founder of the city that he had refounded, and - moreover - is not known to have erected monuments in this part of the city, the ancient Acropolis. 

Although it is not entirely clear how Christian Constantine was, it is reasonably clear that he sympathized with this monotheism, and did not pay much attention to the pagan temples, of which there were many on the Acropolis. 

In fact, this pagan part of the city was left abandoned for centuries, until the Ottomans decided to build the Topkapı palace on this unused grounds. Although this does not prove that the column was erected for Claudius, it suggests that it was not done for Constantine.

The barely legible text of the inscription:

For Fortuna Redux
owing to the defeat of the Goths
Fortuna Redux was the Pagan personification of Fortune as the restorer of things.

The Column of the Goths is located in Istanbul's Gülhane Park

(Livius.org)      (Column of the Goths)

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The art of healing - Roman and Byzantine Military & General Medicine

A scene from Book XII of the Aeneid: the physician Iapyx treats the
wounded Aeneas, who is supported by his weeping son Ascanius.

A Matter of Life and Death
Good health has always been a concern. But keeping the troops 
ready to fight is a priority for governments.

(From the Daily Sabah)  -  The Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation Pera Museum is hosting an exhibition titled "Life is Short, Art Long: The Art of Healing in Byzantium" to shed light on the medical history of the world during its 10th year anniversary. Curated by Brigitte Pitarakis, the display explores the healers of antiquity from Apollo and Asklepios to the founders of rational medicine, Hippocrates and Dioscorides, as well as the healing methods of the Byzantines including faith, magic and rational medicine, healing and miracle centers in Constantinople as well as the roles of physicians and saints in medicine through icons, reliquaries, amulets, marble carvings, medical equipment, plants and herbs and medical and botanical manuscripts.

Health has been always one of the most important subjects for mankind. Studying a civilization through a perspective of their approach to the body in terms of health and illness reveals the depths of its identity. "Life is Short, Art Long: The Art of Healing in Byzantium" offers a brief glance to Byzantine civilization and its community through three traditional healing methods: Faith, magic and medicine. The display reveals the effects of the Byzantine Empire's ancient cultural heritage on religious and rational thinking as well as contemporary scientific developments and innovations around the Mediterranean. Moreover, the important role of the Byzantine Empire in passing down the secrets of art of healing to the future generations is emphasized through the exhibition as well. 

The exhibition exposes that the belief that illnesses used to be caused by demons, which was a common thought based on the teachings of Hippocrates. This belief coexisted alongside a rational understanding of health and medicine. The display also explores the daily rituals conducted by physicians, saints and magicians in order to cleanse body and soul.

Basil of Caesarea
Byzantium was the first empire in which dedicated medical establishments flourished. These were usually set up by individual churches or the state and parallel modern hospitals in many ways. The first hospital was built by Basil of Caesarea in the late a.d. 4th century.  By the 8th and 9th centuries hospitals began to appear in provincial towns as well as the cities.

Religious images in Byzantine times

Representations of Christ, his miracles and the saints had the function of conveying the biblical story as well as teaching about saints and the Church calendar commemorating them. They also served as an accompaniment to prayer and veneration in church and in private worship. In addition to the conventional nimbus evoking divine grace, the main features of saints, their dress and their attributes, were individualized and consistently represented to allow the faithful to recognize and relate to as well as venerate. Each saint's dress and attributes identified the nature of his or her power. The bishops and deacons recall the recitation of the liturgy, warriors in full military attire do battle with the devil and physicians, their surgery instruments and medicine pots in hand, stand ready to heal the bodies and souls of the faithful.

Demons, symbols and the cosmos

Beliefs surrounding illness and healing in Byzantium stem from the myths, astrology and magic practiced around the Mediterranean by Jews, Egyptians, Mesopotamians and Greeks. Amulets were widely prescribed, even by medical treatises, against demonic invasion, thought to be a primary cause of illness. One also finds green jasper gemstones featuring the lion-headed serpent Chnoubis, hematite stones showing Herakles fighting the Nemean lion and octagonal rings invoking solar symbolism and resurrection that feature astral lions.

Wondrous cures in Constantinople

The shrines that created the glory of Constantinople through their lavish beauty were also repositories of precious relics and thus, sources of healing. Early on, the city was placed under the protection of the Virgin Mary, who sanctified the waters of numerous springs there. In addition to such all-encompassing healing places as the shrine of the physician saints Kosmas and Damian near Eyüp, there were also specialized shrines, like St. Artemios for curing male-oriented diseases and St. Anastasia for mental illness.

Fear of pain, surgery, hemorrhages and infection led many among the faithful to turn to the saints whose healing interventions were painless, immediate and free of charge. Expressions of thanksgiving after miraculous cures contributed to shrines' wealth and fame. Often, the imperial couple influenced devotional practices at healing shrines, as did Leo VI and Zoe, whose son Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (b. 905) was born after the intervention of the Virgin of Pege.

The medical art

Hippocrates was born on the Aegean island of Kos around 460 B.C., the golden era of ancient Greece. Celebrated as the "father of medicine," he developed a system of rational medicine in which supernatural precepts played a minimal role. Hippocrates characterized the substance of medicine as a "techne" (art) with distinct limits. The medical art requires particular skills that involve training, and the incurable is beyond the boundaries of this art.
Byzantine surgery to separate conjoined twins.

The physician must not only have specialized knowledge of the body, but also a broad understanding of the workings of nature and the cosmos. Hippocratic medicine requires that physicians treat the patient as a whole, not merely its parts. The aim of therapeutic practices is to restore the body's natural balance, a peculiar kind of art. The first aphorism of Hippocrates declares that a lifetime would not be long enough to achieve perfection in this art.

The practice of rational medicine
Byzantine medical art was grounded in the Greco-Roman medicinal tradition transmitted by Hippocrates and Galen and new concepts introduced by such physicians as Oribasios of Pergamon, Aetios of Amida, Alexander of Tralles and Paul of Aegina. The 12th century ushered in a significant transfer of knowledge between Byzantium and the Arab and Persian worlds as well.

Men as well as women practiced medicine. Theoretical teaching was coupled with a practical internship in a hospital. Diagnosis relied on analysis of the pulse and urine. Diet and bathing were integral parts of remedies. External remedies included casts, ointments and eyewashes, while internal treatments ranged from pills, powders and oils to gargles, enemas and infusions.

Ophthalmological diseases, epilepsy, hernias and gout were among the most common afflictions. The Byzantines' successful system of hospitals performed more than 100 different surgical procedures, including mastectomy, aneurysmectomy and trepanation along with ear and nose reconstructions. Moreover, some surgical instruments of great utility are still used today.

Treatment with medicinal herbs

Knowledge of plants and the practice of healing are closely entwined. The toxic or hallucinogenic nature of some roots and the dangers associated with picking them conferred a mythical or magical character and power. Pedanius Dioscorides (ca. 40A.D. to 90 A.D.), a physician from Anazarbus,in Cilicia, described more than 500 plants and alimentary products, including medicinal uses, preparations and dosages in "De Materia Medica" (On Medical Substances). Those recorded included varieties from the Mediterranean basin and an array of prized exotic plants. The transmission of "De Materia Medica," including its translation into Arabic and Latin, was made possible through Byzantine manuscripts, the earliest surviving witnesses of the text.

Galen of Pergamon (ca. 129 A.D. to 216 A.D.), a physician and surgeon, employed medicinal plants individually and as complex concoctions devised for specific therapies. His "theriac" (antidote) for Emperor Marcus Aurelius consisted of more than 70 ingredients, among them opium. His pharmacopoeia also covered cosmetics and commotics.

Roman Auxiliary reenactors - Photo timetrips.

Roman Military Medicine

Under Emperor Augustus for the first time occupational names of officers and functions began to appear in inscriptions. Caches of surgical instruments have been found in some legion camps. From this indirect evidence it is possible to conclude to the formation of an otherwise unknown permanent medical corps.

The term medici ordinarii in the inscriptions must refer to the lowest ranking military physicians. No doctor was in any sense “ordinary”. They were to be feared and respected, just as they are today. During his reign, Augustus finally conferred the dignitas equestris, or social rank of knight, on all physicians, public or private. They were then full citizens (in case there were any Hellenic questions) and could wear the rings of knights. In the army there was at least one other rank of physician, the medicus duplicarius, “medic at double pay”, and, as the legion had milites sesquiplicarii, "soldiers at 1.5 pay", perhaps the medics had that pay grade as well.


Trajan's Column depicts medics on the battlefield bandaging soldiers. They were located just behind the standards; i.e., near the field headquarters. This must have been a field aid station, not necessarily the first, as the soldiers or corpsmen among the soldiers would have administered first aid before carrying their wounded comrades to the station. Some soldiers were designated to ride along the line on a horse picking up the wounded. They were paid by the number of men they rescued. Bandaging was performed by capsarii, who carried bandages (fascia) in their capsae, or bags.

From the aid station the wounded went by horse-drawn ambulance to other locations, ultimately to the camp hospitals in the area. There they were seen by the medici vulnerarii, or surgeons, the main type of military doctor. They were given a bed in the hospital if they needed it and one was available. The larger hospitals could administer 400-500 beds.
The posts of medicus legionis and a medicus cohortis were most likely to be commanders of the medici of the legion and its cohorts. They were all under the praetor or camp commander, who might be the legatus but more often was under the legatus himself. There was, then, a medical corps associated with each camp. The cavalry alae (“wings”) and the larger ships all had their medical officers, the medici alarum and the medici triremis respectively.
From Roman Empire.net
The Roman Legions were highly structured and very efficient. By the time the Roman military medical service became a standard part of the legions, the Roman military medical service was also highly organized and efficient. Most sources suggest that the Roman medical service expanded on the Greek military variety of purposes.
The Roman author Vegetius wrote that the Roman army should be "preserved" by providing a good, clean water supply, taking seasonal considerations into account, the use of medicine, and exercise for the troops. Specifically, Vegetius suggested that commanders not march the troops in the hot sun or in freezing weather and that they provide the troops with clean drinking water at all times. Once more, he said that sick soldiers should be "brought back to health by suitable food and cured by the skills of doctors." Likewise, it was recognized that soldiers could get sick from overeating after experiencing a famine. Most important, as recognized in today's best armies, the ranks of the Roman armies were filled with only the most physically fit soldiers, who had to pass a medical examination before their service began.
In the early days of Roman military medicine, there was little distinction between medical and veterinary services, and human and animal hospital services were set up side by side. Later, when formal medical service became as highly organized as the rest of the Roman army, a praefectus castrorum was placed in overall charge of medical services. The optio valentudinarii were responsible for running the hospitals at legion fortresses. Wounded soldiers were cared for by medics called capsarii, who carried bandage boxes.
Archaeologists have found medical instruments at Roman forts and campsites that are classified as probes, spatulas, spoons, tweezers, scalpels, lances, curved and straight needles, medical glassware, small vessels, and ointment boxes. One of the most prolific Roman army medical service archaeology sites is at Baden, Germany, where the remains of a Roman military hospital were excavated. Artifacts described as earscoops, catheters, spoons, and other medical equipment were found. Coins found in association with the medical equipment showed the fort was active between A.D. 100 and 200.

military hospital unearthed at Vetera (now Xanten, Germany) revealed hospital wards, rooms full of medical instruments, surgical suites, convalescence rooms, and possibly mortuaries. Among the discovered artifacts were levers and scoops thought to be used for extracting missiles from the body and notched probes that may have been used for extracting arrowheads after the arrow shaft was broken off. Although later than the heyday of the Roman legions, surgeon Paul of Aegina described how stones and other missiles from slings were to be removed by an ear probe, modified for the job at hand by adding a scoop.
Roman army records show that Celsus suggested using a "weapon extractor." Celsus noted that missiles that have entered the body and become fixed inside "are frequently troublesome to extract," because of their shape, size, or the way they have penetrated. "If the head of the weapon has fixed in the flesh," he wrote, "it is to be drawn out with the hands or by laying ahold of the appendage which is called the shaft, if it has not fallen off. When it has fallen out we make the extraction by means of a toothed forceps." 
Celsus went on to say that when he saw a curable wound he looked at two things: preventing hemorrhage and preventing inflammation. He suggested vinegar to staunch the flow of blood yet said that to prevent inflammation, blood must flow. He noted that inflammation was more likely when bone, sinew, cartilage, or muscle was injured. "If the wound is in a soft part, it must be stitched," he noted. "But if the wound is gaping, stitching is not suitable." Celsius also wrote on bandages, preferring bandages of wide linen "sufficiently wide to cover in a single turn not only the wound but to a little extent the edges on both sides."
From Roman Empire.net
Roman industrial arts also aided in the cause of treating wounded soldiers. New metal alloys of bronze and silver provided sharper edges and were less expensive to manufacture. Because of rust, iron was not used for medical instruments. Artwork as well as poetry from just before and after the first century A.D. depict Roman army doctors removing arrows from soldiers.
Amputations were also performed by Roman military doctors. Celsus may have been one of the first military surgeons to discuss the merits of amputating above or through the damaged flesh. He advocated cutting only through good flesh and then sawing through the bone as close as possible to the good flesh, but leaving enough good flesh as a flap to cover the bone.
Roman army doctors also had a firm knowledge of pharmacology. Many medicines mentioned by Celsus are not unlike those of today made for the same purposes. Archaeologists have found the remains of five medicinal plants at Roman fort excavations. St. John's wort, used for blood ailments; fenugreek for poultices; figs for treating wounds; and plantain for dysentery have been found. Medicated wine was also thought to have been used. Some historians have suggested that the courtyard of each Roman army hospital was laid out as a garden for growing medicinal herbs.
The axiom "an army marches on its stomach" could well date to Roman times. Records show that Roman doctors knew that a balanced diet was necessary for healthy troops. Sources suggest that Roman soldiers were kept fed with corn, cheese, ordinary wine, fresh fruit, and vegetables. Bread was considered the most nutritious food, and each soldier received a ration of panis militaris--army bread made of wholemeal. Special diets were prepared for sick and wounded soldiers. Garden peas, lentils, and figs seemed to be popular for treating the sick.
Roman army doctors also understood that soldiers were prone to overeating after a battle or after going without food for a long time. The Roman historian Appian wrote after the siege of Mutina in 43 B.C. that a number of soldiers fell sick after "excessive eating." The Roman remedy--drinking a concoction of wine and olive oil--probably cured many.
Not only did Roman military medical instruments influence military doctors for the next millennium, their experience and their records, particularly those kept by Celsus and Galen, directly influenced future military surgeons, who improved the art and science of military medicine in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Modern reconstruction of 15th century Byzantine archer.

Byzantine Military Medical Corps

The Western Empire may have fallen in 476AD, but there would have been no sharp break in military formations, organization and command structure for the surviving armies of the Eastern Empire. 

Soldiers were still being wounded and treatment would still be needed. The medical units attached to Eastern Roman Legions would have continued. The medical lessons learned on the Roman battlefields would naturally have been passed down to future generations of military doctors.
Serious detailed contemporary Byzantine military histories are thin at best. It is hard enough to get an account of a battle. Reports on the medical care given to the troops after the battle are neglected.
Byzantines at Sea - A 7th century manuscript by Paul of Egina remarks on medical men at sea. In his De Re Medica Paul reminds the seagoing physician of the importance of taking with him text books on healing. Ships would be in remote locations where immediate treatment was needed to prevent death. Paul's remarks were directed at government officials (navy) as well as private merchant ships.
The large Byzantine Navy, with thousands of men, was a vital part of the defense of the Empire. It is logical to assume that there would be a degree of medical care to keep the sailors fit for battle and to treat the wounded. Though we lack details we can assume some type of naval medical service would have been active at sea.
Byzantine Army - The many lessons learned over the centuries would have continued in the Eastern Armies.

We do not have a lot of detail, but both the Emperors Maurice (582-602) and Leo IV (886-912) wrote on medical subjects. The Eastern Army had deputati and scribones - first-aid men.  

Maurice says it was their duty to rush into the thick of battle are carry out wounded soldiers to the rear. For the cavalry there would be a unit of 8 to 18 men assigned to each detachment of 200 to 400 men. They would follow some 200 feet behind the front line troops in order to bring the badly wounded away from danger. To that end, the saddles of their horses had two ladder-stirrups on the left side, and flasks of water to revive the faint.

The bearers received a piece of gold for every wounded soldier rescued. After the battle they collected the arms of the wounded and of the survivors to prevent plundering. They would also get a share of any booty.

The same organization is described 300 years later by Leo and showed the rigidity of Byzantine administration.

Army surgeons were classified as non-combatants. The litter bearers were selected from the weaker elements of the command and the old arrangement of the ladder-stirrups and water flasks was still in place.

The Emperor Leo writes: "Give all the care you possibly can to your wounded, for if you neglect them, you will make your soldiers timorous and cowardly before the battle, and, not only that, but your personnel, whom you might preserve and retain by proper consideration for their health and welfare, will otherwise be lost to you through your own negligence."
I suspect that many of the wounded troopers (perhaps based on rank?) many have been referred to the system of Byzantine hospitals. The Byzantines appear to have provided asylums for disabled soldiers. Emperor Justin II (565-578) had the Lobotropheion. Emperor Alexis Comneus I (1081-1118) had the Orphanotropheion for sick and invalided soldiers.

The Hospital of Sampson was located between the Hagia Eirene and Hagia Sophia.  
All were destroyed by fire during the Nika Riot in 532. They were subsequently restored by Emperor Justinian.
This image used under FAIR USE from Byzantium1200.

Doctors themselves were well trained. Some attended the University of Constantinople, as medicine had become a scholarly subject by the period of Byzantium. Despite the prominence of the great physicians of antiquity, its status as a science was greatly improved through its application in formal education, particularly in the University of Constantinople. This rigidity through professionalism (similar to the professionalism exhibited in the Byzantine bureaucracy) bears many hallmarks of today's modern hospitals, and many comparisons are made by modern scholars studying this field.
We know that in the 12th century, 
Constantinople had two well organized hospitals staffed by medical specialists (including women doctors), with special wards for various types of diseases and systematic methods of treatment.

The Princess Anna Komnene was capable not only on an intellectual level but also in practical matters. Her father placed her in charge of a large hospital and orphanage that he built for her to administer in Constantinople. The hospital was said to hold beds for 10,000 patients and orphans. Anna taught medicine at the hospital, as well as at other hospitals and orphanages. She was considered an expert on gout. Anna treated her father during his final illness.

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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)